A bright blue beam pulls you from the comfort of your warm bed, dragging you through the terrors of another Monday. You feel disconnected from the world, almost like you aren’t in control of your body, your mind. Is it aliens? Or just another work day?
This isn’t the first time aliens have been spotted in the arena. They seem to ooze from genre fiction, looking to probe us, murder us, or turn us into their slaves. Even when their purposes aren’t nefarious, alien’s motives are highly suspicious. Both of our stories today explore alien abduction, but which one will be shot down over the New Mexico desert?
Joseph Devon asked us to breathe deep in “Procedure.”
David Webb took us to the beach with “Fish Out of Water.”
Let’s see what our judges have to say.
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our first 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).
Perhaps no modern preternatural phenomenon has captured the imagination the way that alien abduction has. While many cultures describe encounters with other-worldly visitors—be they angels or demons, sidhe or jinn—only in the modern world do these visitors come from outer space and take us for purposes unknown.
I think it’s that unknown purpose that provides the greatest room for creativity for the author. I’m excited to see what two Arena veterans like Joe and David did with the theme. As is my custom, I’m going to commend briefly on the two stories before giving my vote.
“Fish Out of Water” by David Webb – I wasn’t so sure about this story at first. A divorced father spending a day at the beach with his son, trying to re-live some of the best points of his own childhood. Certainly there seems to be something off about Oliver, but it was hard to see what any of this has to do with alien abduction.
And then came the ending. A brief conversation, and all the little pieces came together for me. The son and father interaction. The crab taken from the tidal pool. Oliver’s strangeness. David doesn’t spell everything out, but he doesn’t have to.
Sometimes subtlety can work against a writer. In this case, I think David has managed to hit all the notes just right. Bravo!
“Procedure” by Joseph Devon – This is a story right up my alley. A seemingly normal situation that slowly takes a left turn into the bizarre. It plays on such a common fear and then ramps it up to eleven. I like the fact that we don’t really know why the aliens want the teeth. I like that we don’t really know whether the story actually happened or was a nitrous oxide-induced hallucination. Part of me likes to think that this story takes place in a world where every dentist since the dawn of time has secretly been an alien.
On the down side, the viewpoint character, in addition to being passive throughout the story, is rather vague for my tastes. While I went along with the aliens as dentists for the fun of the story, the logic of the situation might not bear too close scrutiny: Why not work for a place that specializes in dentures? They could get all the teeth that way. Or at a mortuary…
I think that a view more telling details about him and the situation would have perhaps enhanced the situation. Still, a very solid big of surreality.
Two very different stories, yet they both solidly implant tropes of the alien abduction myth into what might otherwise be seen as mundane events. Long-time readers of the Arena know that I am going to cast my vote for the story which more moved me emotionally. And this week, that story was:
“Fish Out of Water,” by David Webb.
Alien abduction is in its own class of terror. Stolen against your will and removed from the very plant you call home is beyond scary. Virtually any other monster or threat offers at least a very small chance of escape. If you manage to escape from the aliens, then what do you do? I’m pretty sure we’ve all had nightmare about this topic. Let’s see if our authors have given us a couple more:
“Fish Out of Water” by David Webb – This story starts out as a wonderful ‘slice of life’ story about a special Saturday for our main character, Kevin. I love how the specialness of this Saturday is shown in many small ways; he is awake early, showered and ready to go so as to not “be late even by a minute”. He treats himself to a coffee and sings along to songs in his car. We are carried along for the ride and get excited without even knowing why.
Then we get to Sharon’s house and we understand it all. I can’t even imagine what shared custody would be like, especially when you don’t get along with your ex-spouse at all. The hopeful excitement that Kevin has for the day he gets to be with his son was heart-lifting. Even the inclusion of Matty’s friend Oliver, while not what Kevin was hoping for, is taken in stride so Kevin can be with Matty.
The trip to the seaside is well written, the passing of time in the car, the ‘reveal’ of the sea when they arrive, and the tourist traps all brought back memories of my own beach trips.
Oliver is an interesting character. He is odd in just about every way possible and seems to know things he really shouldn’t have any idea of. The moment Kevin has in the car and Oliver’s response, the conversation about Kevin’s father at the beach, and a few others are hints that Oliver may be something more than he seems.
This is one of those times where knowing the prompt that the authors had to write to is a bit of a detriment. If I had just picked this story up and read it, Oliver would have been odd but I don’t think I would have jumped right to alien. Here, of course, we do. Mr. Webb understands this, though, and handles it very well.
Once I had Oliver pegged as the alien, I started wondering who he was going to abduct. Matty? Kevin, Both? Or was Oliver already abducted and an alien was imitating him now?
All the excitement of the morning is mirrored by sadness on the ride home. Faced with having to return Matty to Sharon and not spend more time with him makes Kevin very pensive, even making him talk to himself about how to be the best Dad he can.
I loved the ending and the throwback to the rock pools. The blue light and the rippling ceiling give us the feeling that Kevin is, as the baby crab was before, no worse for the wear. I spent so much time waiting for the abduction and wondering that I never even considered that the abduction was happening during the story. Well done, sir, well done.
“Procedure” by Joseph Devon – Alien abductions and a dentist’s office. That combination made me squirm all through this story. It is missing only giant spiders to be a custom made horror story for me.
Mr. Devon does, as always, a wonderful job of putting us right there next to Gary in this story. The descriptions of the office include little details that flesh out the scene so vividly I could hear the buzzing of the light and the footsteps on the tile. That doesn’t make what is to come any easier.
I have had the pleasure of wisdom teeth extraction done under twilight anesthesia and I am glad my experience was better than Gary’s. There were still enough similarities, though, to make me uncomfortable as I read. I liked how the changes in the dentist and his assistant could be chalked up to the interaction of drugs in Gary’s system. The walls getting all wavy and metallic had a couple possible explanations as well; was the dentist’s illusion dropped when he was under? Or was it all just a very lucid side effect?
I loved the idea that the “aliens” value teeth so much. For whatever reason, these small bits of bone seem more precious to them than gold is to us. It’s one of those quirks that helps to sell a good alien story.
The aftermath of it all was well done too. Gary is not fully coherent when he first wakes up and can’t fully trust all that he “saw” while he was under. He doesn’t feel comfortable around the people he thinks may be monsters and wants his Mommy. Disoriented by the drugs or recovering from an unexpected peek behind the veil? We don’t know and neither does he. Unnerving to say the least.
That he finally chooses, at least subconsciously to write it all off as a foggy, drug induced dream is understandable and part of what makes this story that much more realistic.
Two fantastic stories this week from two veterans of the Arena. I had hardly more than nits to pick in either story. I would feel comfortable voting for either story on any given week. Set against each other, however, one story did shine a little brighter, did embrace the prompt that much more. That story is “Fish Out of Water” by David Webb.
That’s a unanimous vote from our judges! Congratulations David Webb! You have won TWA 69!
Let’s see if our audience agrees.
They do! This was a unanimous and resounding victory for our TWA Championship runner up. Congrats again David! We hope to see more of you in 2016.
Be sure to come back tomorrow for more free short story action! Ryan Dalton enters The Writer’s Arena for the first time to take on the bald menace Albert Berg.