Children are being dragged kicking and screaming back to their places of learning, but the Arena never left. Sure, it slumbered for a week but we are back to providing you the most pulse pounding short stories on the internet.
This week is particularly daunting as you can hardly see whats coming. A fin in the water, a hulking predator that can sniff out your very blood for miles. There’s no way to naturally outrun it, and hardly any way to defend against it. This week, our authors tested their characters against that oceanic menace, the shark.
Joseph Devon saw something in the mist in “Shallow Monsters.”
Christina Durner went deep with “Endangered.”
Let’s see what our judges have to say.
Our first judge is an arena regular and author, David Webb.
David Webb, who prefers to be called Dave, and prefers that sentence to start, “Would you like a cup of tea,” is a Brit. He lives in Leicester (pronounced “Less-tah”), where his day job constantly gets in the way of writing, but he’s willing to live with that since it means not being homeless. When not writing, he reads. When doing neither of those he can be found on twitter as @dococcupant. He has a fiction blog on that Internet thing, which you should absolutely read and tell your friends about.
It’s nice to be back. Shall we get started?
“Endangered” by Christina Durner Endangered species turn the tables on Mankind. It’s such a good premise for a story that I’m sure it’s been done, on TV, recently. Possibly on the Scifi channel. It’s never about whether the idea has been done before – they all have – it’s how much fun the reader has with the story and how the writer presents their take on the idea. Overall, I enjoyed the story. Christina manages to put a much longer tale into the Arena word count, which is an achievement in itself, but for me that causes a number of elements to suffer. I wanted more setup for Caraleigh and her husband, because they meet and fall in love in about a hundred words. I wanted to see more of why they are together and more of the non-crisis hubby. I also wanted to see a stronger ending. The helicopter arriving by coincidence stretched my credulity a little. I’m not a fan of coincidence, but given the limitations Christina faces in the Arena I can accept that as word about the animal events gets around, people might just hop in a helicopter and go see if anyone is in trouble. These things said, the sharks were handled really effectively. The tension in that sequence builds really well and the action is well handled, as is Caraleigh’s reaction to the stress. This was definitely a highlight, and makes the story stand up as a good read.
“Shallow Monsters” by Jospeh Devon – There’s very little to say about “Shallow Monsters” that the story doesn’t say for itself. My sole critique is that the prose very occasionally needs tightening. One more re-write? And I’m being really, really picky when I say that. I’m actually looking for things to critique. I like the way the story develops. There is something sharklike in the way Jospeh puts the story together and allows it to play out. The whole story is just below the surface and all you can see is part of it – a fin – to let you know that something bad is coming. The narrative voice is strong. I imagined the light and life draining out of the voice as the story reached the conclusion. Was the ending a surprise? I don’t care. I was in this for the journey, not the destination (although I was sort of expecting the narrator to be the monster). I found this to be a very strong entry from Mr. Devon, one of the best he’s produced in a while.
The Verdict: This competition showcased two talents and the difficult nature of writing for the Arena. Both stories worked and were sufficiently different that it’s hard to draw direct comparisons. Do I go for the cinematic “Endangered”? Or the inexorable horror of “Shallow Monsters”? It’s a tough choice. In the end, one story carried itself better than the other and was still with me hours after reading. That story was “Shallow Monsters”, which gets my vote this week. Saying this, Christina has won herself another fan and I want to see a lot more of her work.
Sharks. Monsters or misunderstood? Why do we fear them so much? There are many other things that are more likely to kill us, and that are equally as capable. Hell, cows kill five times as many people as sharks. But cows have never had a movie made about them killing have they (not a real movie at least, who knows what The Asylum has done)? Did our authors try and set the record straight, or did they choose to play on one of our darkest fears? Let’s take a look:
“Endangered” by Christina Durner – I like the way this story opens. The quick background and scene setting in the form of a bride reminiscing. The little touches like her fear of heights and their shared love of learning seem to make them more real.
The descriptions of the locations were well written and painted pictures in my mind vividly and quickly. I felt the sand and heard the surf like I was there.
The stories about the frogs and the dogs were a little different. There were a couple issues that didn’t sit right with me too well. I wondered how they knew that the first group had found the frogs, and how Jameson had said “they attack without any warning.” about the frogs with a straight face.
I understand what the stories were meant to do and they do their job, but maybe a little to heavy handed. Foreshadowing starts to turn into telegraphing the ending, especially combined with the prompt and his career.
The best part of this story for me, though, is the shark attack. The action is written wonderfully, from the look of dread on Jameson’s face through to the medevac team I was fully engrossed. The tension just keeps building and building; I loved it.
The end of this story reminded me a lot of The Happening and that’s both good and bad. I was intrigued by the idea of animals banding together and launching a semi-coordinated attack on humans but I kept asking “How?” How did they even know they were “endangered”? Did they do their own census? Little thing, but it just stuck in my head.
All in all a strong story with the highs and lows that most arena stories display.
“Shallow Monsters” by Joseph Devon – This story had me guessing from the start. At first I got a strong “Jaws” vibe and thought we might be getting a re-telling from a different view. Then I thought maybe the kid had some supernatural powers. What we got instead, though, was something else entirely, something better.
I enjoyed the tone of this story, the way that the narrator conveys his childish beliefs in a way that acknowledges his naivete and at the same time makes no apologies for it. He was a child then and knew things only through a child’s eyes.
I liked the comparisons made in this story between the “silent predators” of the sea and those who preyed upon the young girls of the area. The way we go back and forth, sometimes within a paragraph or two, with the narrator making comments that could easily be applied to either monster. “Personify them, make them into something you can understand and that, in turn, understands you… then they aren’t dangerous. You can delude yourself into believing that monsters won’t turn on you, not on you, never on you.”
I enjoyed the way that the victims got closer and closer to our narrator. From strangers to acquaintances to his very own sister. It, as I am pretty sure it was intended to, evoked images of sharks circling and circling and spiraling nearer and nearer.
The fact that it was his father who was the serial killer was a nice touch. What I liked best about it is how Mr Devon didn’t try to save that until the end as a big twist or shock. The actual arrest is just another part of the story. It’s living with it after that is the real horror.
Our narrator is in a bad place by the end of this story. Afraid he may have some of his father inside him and equally afraid that anyone he meets may be a monster in disguise he is struggling to put his life back together even years later. The callback to the foot off the bed was a nice touch.
If I had a problem with this story it was that our narrator doesn’t have much of a part to play before his father was arrested. He is there so little that I even thought he was a girl the first two times I read it. (Truth be told I even had to go back and fix the pronouns in this verdict) When I finally realized he was a he, I wondered if the story would have been better if he was a she. Although it would have added a bit more personal danger to the story I think the ending is better if our narrator is male, it makes the fear of following in his father’s footsteps a bit more real.
Two good stories this week, and two vastly different takes on the prompt. Literal sharks vs metaphorical, but both were equally as scary. In the end I had to cast my vote for the story that I felt had more depth, that felt like it was about something “more”. That story was “Shallow Monsters” by Joseph Devon
There you have it folks, a unanimous decision for Mr. Joseph Devon. Let’s see if our audience agrees.
Wow. That is a little one sided. There is going to be some controversy again this week as Christina Durner destroyed the popular vote. She hasn’t been able to get the judge’s decision, but our readers sure do enjoy her work. Be sure to check out her website if you liked this story to get more like it.
Be sure to come back tomorrow as Albert Berg takes on The Writer’s Arena Tournament winner Donald Uitvlugt! It promises to be an extraterrestrial battle!