The summer heat is broiling but the promise of fall is rolling in as fast as summer is rolling out. Sundays will soon belong to Gods and football, and the arena will continue to give you the best free short stories on the internet.
Fiction often soars to lofty heights, but it doesn’t often actually fly. This week our authors took to the air with a prompt about airplanes. These machines are a breeding ground of stories. The stories range from simple like being suffocated under the girth of a giant sleeping man, to aerial combat and pocket dimensions. The possibilities are endless when you are in an aluminum tube at 36,000 feet.
Maybe it’s ironic that in two stories about airplanes our main characters stayed mostly on the ground.
Joe Prosit makes time fly in “The Plane in the Woods.”
Josh Springs watched the world turn in “Look Up At the Sky.”
Let’s see what our judges have to say. This week we have a special guest judge in Corinne O’Flynn.
Corinne O’Flynn is a native New Yorker who now lives in Colorado and wouldn’t trade life in the Rockies for anything. She loves writing flash and experimenting with short fiction. Her novel, THE EXPATRIATES (Oct. 2014) is a YA fantasy adventure with magic and creatures and lots of creepy stuff. She is a scone aficionado, has an entire section of her kitchen devoted to tea, and is always on the lookout for the elusive Peanut Chews candy.
When she isn’t writing, Corinne works as the executive director of a nonprofit. She is a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Mystery Writers of America, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. You can find her online at her website, Facebook, or Twitter @CorinneOFlynn.
Thanks to the Arena for inviting me in this week. I enjoyed reading both stories for the battle and I loved the theme.
Airplanes represent adventure for some, a means of escape for others, and evoke white-knuckle dread for many. They’ve been around for more than a century now, and have become an indispensable part of our existence. Give writers the cue to draft a story that features airplanes prominently, and the possibilities roll out before us like lights along a runway—too many to count. Let’s see how airplanes featured in this week’s stories:
“The Plane in the Woods” by Joe Prosit – This story drew me in from the start. The setting came alive in a way that was detailed without being overdone, providing a sense of place that felt solid. The author managed to weave the physical details of each scene in with a light touch throughout the story, which I feel is a hallmark of good storytelling. I also like the way we start mid-action; we don’t need to know what changed to make Alice bring Jack to the airplane in the woods in the first place, we just know that she decided to trust him and so we trust him too.
I liked the little cues the author dropped which, once you finish the story, make a different kind of sense. For example, while exploring the cockpit, Jack comments that this looks like the plane Alice’s dad flies. And when Alice comments about the rotting, smelly mess in the pilot’s seat she says, “Something died there. It wasn’t this bad before.” Both seem like harmless observations, but once you finish reading and realize what’s happening, the effect is eerie.
Time travel is difficult to do well, and this one is a mind-bender. It’s also hard to flesh out all the details within the constraints of a short story, but I felt like the author found a balance between what the reader needed to know to move forward, and what could be left for the reader to fill in the blanks. I thought it was well done, and could see this being developed into a longer piece.
“Look Up At the Sky” by Josh Springs – This was an interesting read, for the story itself as well as the fact that it was told in second person, present tense. It’s an unconventional style choice, but it’s smoothly written and I found myself inside the main character’s head from the start. The scene was easy to visualize with clarity, and musing over the inner lives of the people on the airplanes as they flew overhead was compelling.
I liked the concept, and the voice of the main character was great. The self-conscious reference to his hairiness and his ape-arm was genuine and endearing. And while it’s written well, I wanted this story to have more of a sense of progression from beginning to middle to end. We started strong with our main character and this new girl and his awkwardness and then moved into the strange surety of her telling the airplane people’s stories like she really did know them, which pushed him to share a very personal secret from his past. Great questions arose for the reader: Is she psychic? Is he in danger? Something’s weird here…
But we left them shortly after he revealed his secret, and she told him to choose the next plane. This felt more like a scene than a complete story to me. It’s very interesting, but it lacks a sense of closure on some level that I think a story requires in order to be satisfying. Like the other story in this week’s battle, I would love to read an expanded version of this!
Both stories this week take the theme in completely different, and very interesting directions. I found them both to be well written, fabulously visual, and I would have continued turning the pages on both stories if there were more to enjoy. But my vote must go to the story that left me feeling the most satisfied in the conclusion. That story is “The Plane in the Woods” by Joe Prosit.
Airplanes are a shining symbol of the human race’s command of the world around us. Using science and ingenuity we soar through the air surrounded by thousands of pounds of metal . Airplanes are also one of the most effective vehicles of war. Allowing death and destruction to be delivered virtually anywhere on earth. How did our authors pilot their way through this prompt? Let’s see:
“Look Up At the Sky” by Josh Springs – Second-person narrative. We’ve seen this before and we know this can be tough handle sometimes. Definitely interested in seeing how it goes.
Lying in the back of a pickup truck watching planes takeoff and land is an interesting choice for a second date. That seems like the kind of thing you do after you know each other pretty well but this just goes to the idea that she is a little different. Different is good, usually.
The game of describing people on the planes starts and gets strangely specific very quickly. Then we get “our” turn and what should be an exercise in fiction and storytelling is deemed “wrong” as soon as the narrator begins. Asked how she knows this stuff, she replies “I just kinda know it” and rubs the goosebumps from her arms in the chilly air. I love how this is handled. Is she psychic or just plain weird? That’s up to you to decide.
The game continues and causes our narrator to think first about the failed relationship in his past and then about the attempted runaway when he was a teenager. If I thought that this girl had psychic powers, I would point out that she just stripped the narrator down to his essence by making up stories of passengers of planes flying overhead.
Maybe that’s why he voices his wonder at the weirdness of this relationship and maybe what she found is why she smiles and agrees. It’s a rare Arena tale that leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy inside instead of feeling like something warm and fuzzy is inside me, and I appreciate it.
“The Plane in the Woods” by Joe Prosit – Right off the bat, it seems like the airplane in this story is going to be in a little rougher shape than the ones in the previous story. I love when authors approach the prompt in such different ways.
Alice and Jack are kids playing in the cabin of a long abandoned airplane, Alice’s hideout for years, when they find bones. Human bones.
Alice swears they have never been there before, and I was really starting to wonder which way this story was going to go (whether Alice is telling the truth and they are new to the scene or is Alice unstable and untrustworthy) when she goes back to the plane. We’re pretty sure the tail wasn’t there before and we know the skeleton wasn’t there when Jack was there before.
I was trying to figure out why this plane was un-decomposing when it was revealed that it was Alice’s father’s experimental plane. Mentions of gravity waves and “bonding time” offered possible solutions.
The info dump from Alice’s dad seems to confirm it in every way. This was my least favorite part of the story. I’m not really sure what he was trying to do, was it a ham-handed apology or an attempt to get her interested in his work? It just seemed forced and a little convenient to the story.
Now that they know for sure what must be done, Alice and Jack manage to destroy the machine that will send the plane backwards through time. The final hammer blow delivered from Jack was done well, defying an adult and destroying their prized possession in front of them takes guts. I wonder if there was a way to work in the fact that he was going to lose Alice, too, just to ratchet up the tension another notch.
All in all a strong, inventive story. Well done.
Two interesting ways to approach this week’s prompt by two talented writers. We have a story of innocence and wonder with a touch of the unknown up against a paranormal tale of time travel with hints and pockets of youthful sweetness. My choice is never easy, and this week is no exception to that. Ultimately, my vote went to the story that seemed to resonate with me. That story is “Look Up At the Sky” by Josh Springs
A split decision! When this happens, our audience gets to decide the winner. Let’s take a look at the poll.
The vote is in and Josh Springs has won! Congratulations Josh!
Joe Prosit you put up quite a fight and should be proud of your story. I have a feeling we will be seeing both of these authors again someday.
The Arena is resting this week and their will not be any new stories until the Tuesday after tomorrow. Be sure to look back at our excellent stories and consider picking up our anthology. We’d also like that thank Corinne O’Flynn once more for being our guest judge.