TWA #19 – Reality Bites JUDGEMENT!

19-judgeFor most of us, Friday is the day where we feel most sane. It’s when we get to slam through our work day, kick our shoes off, and enjoy a nice victory beverage to start our weekend. It also happens to be when the arena crowns its weekly champions.

This week we got into people’s heads. It was a contest of experimentation, of business, and in the end, a complete breaking of sanity.

Arena denizen and writer extraordinaire Albert Berg bought us an insidious tail of human experimentation gone wrong with ‘Excerpts of Classified Data Recovered in the Aftermath of Project Lethe’.

Arena newcomer Thomas A. Mays went another direction, and brought the haunting into your home with The Gaslight Consultant.

It’s time to pick a winner. Let’s see what our judges had to say:

Rich Alix is our first judge. He is a patron of The Human Echoes Podcast, and an all-around awesome guy. He is the voice of the common man in this contest, and here is his judgment:

This week we asked for stories about the blurry edges of reality. Are we alone? Is there life after death? Are you sure? Lets take a look.


‘The Gaslight Consultant’ by Thomas A Mays – I like the idea behind this story, who would know how to create a haunted house better than a ghost. I really enjoyed the twist in that even with a true apparition as part of the team, they still used the tricks and technology to create the effects needed. It was also a nice touch how the ghost woman is the one who doesn’t really want to create this haunted house. Got me thinking a little.


I could have gone for a little more of the actual haunting, but I know that wasn’t really the focus of this story. The parts with Henry were nice, let us get to know him so that the ultimate betrayal was really no surprise. The way that this story wraps up, with Cyrus and Henry out of commission and our heroes Smythe and Shade set for life, kinda makes me look at it like a revenge tale. I wonder if there could have been a connection or reference made between Henry’s father and John or Emily.


One thing that I wasn’t a big fan of was the way that Emily was handled with respect to Henry. If Emily being a ghost was supposed to be kept a secret, the scenes with Henry ruined it. If it wasn’t a secret than the scenes with Henry confused me. Why would John be so coy about her. Maybe it was just me but I think that could have been done a little better.


‘Excerpts of Classified Data Recovered in the Aftermath of Project Lethe’ by Albert Berg – Longest title in arena history? Probably.


Another interesting idea for this prompt, I think it fit rather well too. Beings that exist alongside us and yet beyond our perceptions is creepy and horrifying and fantastic.


The fact that the first people to experience this are prisoners who pretty much by definition cannot be trusted really helps fulfill the prompt. The readers and the characters in the story who are in charge have that extra doubt that really enhances the story.


The mix of document types was well done also. Memos, inter-office mail, and transcripts work together to tell the story in a cohesive way.


I would have expected more of the documents to be redacted but I have never looked at actual redacted docs so that might just be Hollywood tainting my expectations.


What I didn’t like about this story is the ending, or lack of it maybe. Presenting the documents as a collection like this implies, at least to me, that somebody collected them. Why? What did they do with the information in here? It’s the same problem I had with Cloverfield and it drives me crazy wondering what happened between the end of the story and the time it was put together.


Two strong contenders in the arena again, it came down simply to which story I liked more.


This week it was ‘The Gaslight Consultant’ by Thomas A Mays


Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our second judge this week. 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 or via Twitter @haikufictiondju).

Are we already on Week 19 in the Arena? It seems like such a short time ago that this adventure began, and now it has become such a fixture in the Human Echoes entertainment empire. Another excellent prompt this week, and another pair of really excellent stories.


“The Gaslight Consultant” — Such a very charming heist story, if that’s the best way to describe it. I absolutely love, love the names of the characters (especially Ms. Shade, given the twist), though I wonder if they might sound more euphonious as Shade and Smythe rather than the other way round (Ladies first?).


I did not guess the twist, which I always enjoy in this sort of stories. And I love the reference to the classic film; I can very easily imagine this story filmed in a gritty noir fashion.


I wonder though if the story might have been stronger told in the third person rather than the first. I would have liked a little more focus on the action and less time in Mr. Smythe’s head. Either that, or I would prefer the first person to be a little more…breathless, if that’s the right word. I have Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man in mind. (Wow, William Powell and Myrna Loy as Shade and Smythe — wouldn’t that have been fun!)


A very small quibble with a great story.


“Excerpts of Classified Data Recovered in the Aftermath of Project Lethe” — This story is a very different tale both in concept and in execution. On reading it, I couldn’t help but think of Human Echoes episode 72, where the guys review Banshee Chapter: an experimental drug, the users of which see beings that may or may not be there. Very similar setup, but different story (Perhaps hints of the Slenderman here too?).


“Excerpts” is a much rougher story in a lot of ways than “Gaslight Consultant.” The epistolary format requires a lot more work out of the reader, but in the end that’s why I like it as much as I do. There is a whole world outside of the story that we only catch glimpses of. Who’s doing the redacting, and why? Are they trying to make sure that no one repeats Project Lethe’s mistakes, or are they trying to duplicate their success for reasons of their own? If you take the effort to read between the lines, you realize that there are several horrors here — the personal horror experienced by the test subjects, the horror of the project researchers as they piece together what’s really going on, and the horror of the unknown redactors excerpting the report of Project Lethe for reasons of their own.


If you ignore the masked man behind you, maybe he’ll go away.


I love so much about “The Gaslight Consultant.” I would really like to see more about Smythe and Shade. They are excellent characters. But in the end I will always vote for the story that had the greatest emotional impact on me. And on account of its multi-layered creepiness and haiku-fiction style, this week I have to vote for:


“Excerpts of Classified Data Recovered in the Aftermath of Project Lethe,” by Albert Berg.


It looks like we have another tie in the arena, at least from the judges. When this happens, we resort to our wonderful fans to decide. Lets take a look at how the voting turned out.

[poll id=”15″]

Congratulations to Thomas A. Mays! The Gaslight Consultant is the winner of TWA #19! Bringing down a competitor like Albert is a tough task for anyone, but your story endured.

Battle #19 is in the books. Tune in next week when we ask our authors to build a better villain.




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