“Down to the Wild Blue Yonder” Recipient of Bewildering Stories’ Annual Review Awards Edition

Bewildering Stories’ Annual Review, 2017

“Down to the Wild Blue Yonder” has been selected for Bewildering Stories Mariner Awards edition. These stories, poems, essays and dramatic works are judged to be the years’ “best of the best” by Bewildering‘s editors. I am pleased and honored to be part of such a great publication.

Click here for the story:

Down to the Wild Blue Yonder

And here is my bibliography at Bewildering Stories:

Harry Lang Bibliography

 

 

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Out of Sight

“No, Mommy!” protested six-year old Sarah Reid.  “It’s too scary!  People will get scared!”

Beth Reid looked at her daughter’s eyes peering out from the holes cut in the old sheet.  The ghost costume was a Halloween classic and Sarah liked Casper the Friendly Ghost.  Seemed simple enough to a busy adult but kids were never simple.

“I know what to do,” said Beth as she rummaged through a desk drawer that was only opened to stuff in things that had no place else to go.  She soon found a big red Christmas bow, which she stuck on top of Sarah’s head.

“What do you think?” she asked hopefully as she held up a mirror.  “Now they’ll know you’re a friendly ghost, not a scary one.”

“Okay!” Sarah agreed as she picked up the plastic Jack-o-lantern with the open top, imagining the candy that would soon overflow.  “Let’s go!”

The eastern sky still held traces of ashy gray behind dark screens of skeletal tress as Beth and Sarah joined the parade of monsters, princesses, comic book characters and last-minute-anybody’s-guess presentations wandering along the suburban street.  The smoky smell of the fallen leaves swishing around the bottom of Sarah’s costume and the radiant, golden beams of candlelight shooting from the Jack-o-lanterns made thoughts of cackling witches and bristling black cats impossible to avoid.  The spooky chill it gave Sarah was, well, spooky but deliciously fun.

“Okay, baby,” said Beth as they came to Mrs. Jorgenson’s house, their first stop.  “Remember what I told you.  Ring the bell and shout, ‘Trick or treat!’ when she opens the door.  I’ll be watching.”

Sarah started up the walk but didn’t let go of Mom’s hand.  “Come with me,” she pleaded, pulling as hard as she could.

“All right,” agreed Beth.  She was in no hurry to not be needed.

The door flew open before Sarah could reach for the bell, releasing a flood of laughing, well-disguised characters of various shapes and sizes, all clutching bags starting to bulge with the evening’s haul.  “Hi Mrs. Reid!” chirped one or two as they passed.  “Hi Sarah!”

Sarah didn’t recognize any of them.  She hoped Mrs. Jorgenson hadn’t heard them call her name.

“My!” exclaimed gray-haired Mrs. Jorgenson, a slight, jovial woman who sometimes babysat Sarah and her brothers when Mom and Dad went out.  The heavy aroma of a dinner that included cabbage filled the little house and Sarah could see Mr. Jorgenson sitting in the dining room, reading a newspaper.  “What a pretty little ghost!  I like your bow,” she added as she slipped two candy bars into the Jack-o-lantern.  “Now let’s see.  You must be… Joey Fein?”

Sarah giggled.

“Melissa Stuart?”

“No!”

“I give up,” sighed Mrs. Jorgenson, virtually overcome by exasperation and bewilderment.  “Who is in there?”

“It’s Sarah!” she announced, struggling to lift the sheet without letting go of the Jack-o-lantern.

Sarah soon picked up on the confusion between what was genuine and what was pretend.  Mrs. Jorgenson certainly saw Mom standing there, yet she really seemed perplexed…

Sarah decided that confusion and good-natured deception must be part of the fun.

They went laughing from house to house, marveling at the transformation Halloween had wrought upon the neighborhood, stopping to guess at who lurked behind disguises or gab with neighbors, friends and classmates.  As the night went on, Sarah inched closer to flying solo up to the bright, friendly porches and doors but could never quite keep up her nerve.

Before long they found themselves around the corner and halfway down the block.  This street gave her a little shiver.  There was one house with a big, shaggy hedge and broken pavement that was scary even in the light of day.  In fact, all the kids were told to stay away from it.  They never went down the street by themselves and always walked on the other side.

“Hi, Beth,” called a voice from the darkness.  It was Mrs. Fein, with Joey in tow.  Sarah knew it was Joey because the helmet of his homemade Stormtrooper costume was falling apart and it was easy to see his face.

“Hi Rachel,” said Beth.  “Did you get that permission slip for the field trip?”

Sarah sighed, knowing the two of them would talk forever.  The wind was getting chilly and her pumpkin head was full and heavy.  It was time to go home.

“Can I go across the street, Mom?” asked Joey, who was old enough to do things like that with a minimum of supervision.  Permission was granted and Sarah was alone with the two forever-talkers.

That’s when she realized they stood at the foot of the broken pavement leading through a gap in the shaggy hedge and up to the dark old porch of the scary old house.

As the two moms talked and talked Sarah got an idea.  She’d been to a lot of strange houses that night, only to discover fun inside.  The spooky houses usually turned out to be the most fun of all.  Maybe this one was fun, too.

Getting up all the six-year-old nerve she could muster Sarah slipped away from the talking moms and glided up the walkway, feeling like a real ghost.  The sheet did its best to bunch itself up under her feet as she climbed the steps but she soon made her way to the darkened doorway and found the bell.

Beth and Rachel were shaken from their mom-talk trance by the blaze of the porch light and a little voice shouting, “Trick or treat!”

“Sarah?” called Beth.  “No, honey!  Not this house…”

It was too late.  The door opened.  A dark silhouette stood out against the light from within.

Beth and Rachel were on the porch with magical swiftness, hearts pounding, ready to face what they expected to find at the door.  They were surprised to see a stout, middle aged woman clutching a handkerchief.  Her eyes were red but she forced a smile as she spoke to her little visitor.

“I’m sorry,” she said.  “I don’t have any candy.”

Noticing the perplexed looks on the faces of the two mothers, the woman explained.  “You expected to find Charlie, didn’t you?  I’m his sister, Doris.  Charlie’s been sick.  I came down from Doylestown to stay with him three months ago.”

“Oh,” said Rachel.  “Well, we won’t bother you.  Come on, Sarah.”

“You don’t have to worry,” said Doris.  “Charlie passed away last night.  His doctor said the stress of the appeal was too much for him.  He always was sensitive.  Anyway, the conviction was overturned.  His name is coming off the registry.”

“I see,” said Beth coldly.  She had followed the media accounts of the case closely.  She was not happy with this piece of news.

“There was more to it than the news reports said,” Doris went on, her voice tense and exhausted.  “It wasn’t as simple as they made it out to be.”

“Is it ever?” challenged Beth.  “Come on, Sarah.”

Sarah wasn’t exactly sure what to do.  She knew this was serious and Mom was mad at the lady on the porch.  Mom told her not to talk to strangers.  Did she get the lady in trouble?

She took a Hershey bar from her Jack-o-lantern.  “Here, Mrs. Doris,” she said.  “Everybody should have candy on Halloween!”

“Thank you, dear,” said Doris.  “Thank you very much.”

“And here’s one for your brother,” said Sarah, handing over a Three Musketeers bar.

“Oh, but, I told you… my brother isn’t here.”

“If he’s a good brother he won’t mind if you have it,” said Sarah, who did not yet understand what passed away meant.  “Is he a good brother?”

The lady couldn’t answer.  She just nodded and went back into the house with her candy bars.

The mothers were quiet as could be as they walked down the broken pavement and back through the gap in the hedge.  Sarah couldn’t imagine what could keep them from talking.

“Fine!” Beth finally said.  “I’ll bring her a casserole tomorrow.  You have to bake her a pie!”

“I can do that,” replied Rachel.

They both acted mad but they were both going to make something delicious and bring it to the lady.  At first Sarah was confused but then she realized she had stumbled upon one of life’s great truths.  Grown-ups pretended way more than kids.

“Come on, Little Miss Sunshine,” said Beth, taking Sarah’s free hand and leading her back around the corner.  “It’s a school night and you still need a bath.”

Sarah hated baths but looked forward to the warm, sleepy feeling she got when she was all dried off and in her pajamas, ready for bed.  She had a whole pumpkin head full of candy.  The old, dark house was no longer a mysterious menace.  Mom and Mrs. Fein had a new neighbor.  And she hadn’t scared anybody.

It was a good night’s work.

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Why Do You Support Monsters?

You have to ask yourself why you support monsters.  Until you can answer this question about yourself you really don’t have the wherewithal to engage in meaningful debate.

When Jesus says, “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble,” why is your answer “Not so, Jesus.  It is merciful, compassionate and progressive to kill the ‘unwanted’ ones?”  You need to answer that question about yourself.

When you resort to hiding behind ‘science’ without understanding or acknowledging that science is exactly how we know the unborn are human beings from the moment of conception and feel excruciating pain when the curette slices or the saline scalds you have to stop and ask yourself why you look away from science instead of being persuaded by it.  That’s a question you really need to answer about yourself.

When ethics, morality, the evidence of your own eyes and conscience tell you “These are people and it’s wrong to kill people,” and your answer is “Conscience avaunt!” you really have to ask yourself what makes you that way.

You have to ask yourself why you’re proud to dehumanize the most helpless among us.  You have to ask yourself why you regard it as a badge of honor to side with monsters instead of defending their victims.  You can’t credibly defend this great evil until you know this most elementary thing about yourself.

Why do you support monsters?

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Adding Velocities or; the Little Engine that Shouldn’t

I haven’t posted anything lately.  It seemed like a good time to rerun this one.

If you stand at the rear of a train moving in a straight line at 60 miles per hour and you start walking forward at 3 miles per hour, common sense and Galileo tell you that you are now moving in a specific direction at a speed of 63 miles per hour relative to the ground.  However, if you’ve been on the train so long that you’ve stopped perceiving its 60 mile per hour motion, you only recognize the following:

  1. You were slacking off until you got up off your fat bottom and started walking.
  2. You could walk faster if you were serious.

If you remember anything from your school days about such thought exercises, you’ll remember that the initial problem is just the gateway.  I’m convinced that people like Einstein only go into physics so they can build elaborate thought-mazes to torment students but since science claims exclusive right to logic I’m afraid we must follow where it’s practitioners lead.

To continue, let’s assume you were doing something before you started walking, say, eating lunch, maybe while going over the family budget or scheduling people to care for your aging mother while the usual caretaker is on vacation, or doing the grocery shopping.  You’ve been at these activities as long as you’ve been on the train; they also fall under the “no longer noticed” heading.  They are just part of the stationary frame of reference against which you measure your anemic 3 mile per hour hike down the aisle.

Along the way you encounter the conductor.  He advises you to return to your seat for safety.  This interruption changes the velocity, the speed and direction, of your walk.  It must be factored in to your calculations.

Moving past the conductor you now come across multiple conductors, or so it seems.  Some are authentic, others are imposters who happen to enjoy telling people what to do.  These run-ins result in more delta v, changes in speed and direction, but in your mind the initial conductor encounter has already been absorbed by the stationary frame of reference.

You continue your walk, making the same, plodding progress.  Like a character in Snowpiercer you’ve lost virtually all connection with the world outside the train; for all you know there is no such place.  All you see is the slow, often interrupted walk past endless rows of seats.

But there is a world outside.  The train travels along a track which now takes it up grades, around curves, from switch to switch.  Focused as you are, you don’t notice these changes but your inner ear does.  You feel unsteady and disoriented but you can’t imagine why a simple, lethargic walk along a straight line would produce such effects.  You’re frustrated; why can’t you walk a simple straight line?  Why can’t you keep to the “straight and narrow?”  Is there something wrong with you?  Has God abandoned you?  Do you have some moral flaw that is somehow manifesting its malignancy in your physical actions and well-being?

You clutch at remedies.  If you could be a better parent, stick to a budget or get more involved in ministry at church, maybe then you could walk a straight line.  If you had the money to fix up the house or pay for the kids’ tuition your walk along the aisle would be a piece of cake.

Maybe, if you could just add enough velocities, you could make real progress.

Never mind that your focus is zeroed in on the end of the train which is speeding you over miles and miles while you eat lunch, take care of your family, pay the bills, work full time, tithe, teach, minister to brothers and sisters, neglect your own health in service to others, spare little for eventual retirement as you spend it on the people you value here and now, draw closer to Christ through reading, fellowship and prayer, lose sleep over souls, take the abuse of the blindly ungrateful and so on and so on.  All those things that get relegated to the stationary frame of reference aren’t stationary at all.  Einstein’s observer on the embankment couldn’t take in a fraction of the action as your train flies past.

Writers often reference the hypnotic effect of clack-clacking over railroad tracks.  Maybe it’s not such a hackneyed device after all.  Maybe we get so intent on making progress that we don’t see the progress we’re making.

Maybe God scratches his divine head as he watches us zig and zag over the landscape of the life he’s given us, oblivious to almost everything we accomplish in obedience to him as well as the rewards he both promises and delivers.  Maybe Jesus’ “straight and narrow” is more than the simplistic moral formulation we assume it to be.  Maybe it is a clear, unambiguous direction about how we ought to live our lives but in true human, pride-filled, sinful fashion we take his perfect declaration, hammer it into something recognizable only to Satan then lament our inability to obey.

But that’s what we get for riding trains when we were made to walk.

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Another Man’s Poem

 

I wish I could remember the words to another man’s poem.

There’s a mountain of myrrh and the lilies where the fawns roam.

But when I feel it most

That old poem is just a ghost of my love for you.

 

A wise king loved a woman when the world was younger.

But he only gave her some of his heart so he fell to the hunger.

I can only speculate

That great king met his bitter fate because he didn’t have you.

But I do.

 

Maybe I’m over my head.

My little well of wisdom is not so deep.

But the king didn’t mean what he said.

His words were fine but his talk was cheap.

 

“Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.”

It’s true of everything in the world and it’s true of love.

I’ll say it with my dying breath;

The only thing strong as death is my love for you.

My love for you.

 

Copyright Harry Lang, 2014

 

 

 

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Alternative Facts?

See, there's this thing called biology...

There’s a catch phrase out and who does not love culture, politics,and words? “Alternative facts,” is the new phrase,  as in you are not entitled to your alternative facts.

Au contraire, I am totally entitled to my alternative facts. In a world full of endless narratives, moral relativism, and subjective truth, you do not suddenly get to claim possession of “the facts.”

It’s a bit amusing, I have long been a champion of alternative facts, so when this little phrase suddenly popped up on the news and in the culture, I was quite delighted. It warmed the cockles of my cold little heart.

I know, I know hearts don’t really have cockles, but like I said, I am fully entitled to my alternative facts.

Ever since I’ve been on the internet the bane of my existence, indeed, the very blight on my potato, has been this pedantic assault of the…

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The Mariner’s Dream

Ocean storm

It was the night we rounded the Cloven Hoof, a curious feature of the nameless island guarding the mouth of the Windy Straits, east of the Greater Diamond Cloud ice shelf.  A deceptive bit of sea, it is, with water clear as air lying atop a plateau of rare blue granite and a narrow channel twisting its way roughly parallel to the island’s northern coast.  Balloonists tell us it’s impossible to distinguish the depth of the channel from the shallows of the formation by sight alone as the shades of blue are identical.  A pilot must be specially licensed by the Maritime Ministry to attempt it.  Most of the freight lines plying the Great Seas of the north avoid the island and the treacherous shallows but The Merchants of the Western Thunder built their reputation for speed and reliability by boldly taming such risks, thereby making their fortune.

The deck master was down with “the wobbles” so I had just finished my second watch of the day, shivering at his post on the afterdeck while himself lay snug and warm in sick bay.  Not that I’d wish such gastric mayhem on my hardest foe.  The mess is ungodly.

The night was sharp and cold, with a full moon shining like ice in the bottomless violet sky and stars thick as flying snow.  The banshee-wail of the wind in the rigging sang with an eloquence not of this world, calling me to contemplate the frail mortality of my kind and the fascination that drew us to such extreme places, where impending disaster was the air we breathed.  But this clear, star-strewn night held no catastrophic portents, at least none as could be read by an ignorant old sailor like me.

I eased my knotted muscles and frosted bones down on the edge of my rack, racing against onrushing sleep to pull off my sea boots but the race was over before it began.  I am in my seventy-fifth year at sea and not the rock I still fancied myself to be.  Down I went, leaving ghostly impressions of the moonlit compartment fading behind me, on through the gate of sleep.

Of late my dreams have carried me to the sun-drenched fields of the farm where I grew up under the watchful care of my widowed mother, gone these forty years and sorely missed.  How the dear used to worry, especially about the state of my eternal soul!  “Have a care, my boy!” she would say, her soft, amber eyes glistening with the tears she fought to hide.  “I’ve seen how the sea can rob a man of his faith before sending him on to the next world.  Beware!”

She needn’t have worried.  I’d sooner forget the way from stem to stern than Him who stills storms and rescues the shipwrecked souls.

There was to be no visiting the old place this time.  The waving fields of turquoise grass gave way to more fluid vistas as my slumbers took me far from the rustic comforts of home and showed me things long forgotten or never seen before.

‘Twas a bracing wind that flew us across the foaming tops of the steely gray waves.  Our sky-blue sails, now tinged with red from the hidden sun ahead, were swollen with the gale and the old ship’s timbers creaked and cried as if they knew their time had come.  I felt the speed of our reckless dash away from the churn of the blackened sky and sea swallowing our wake in the cold distance aft and smelled the crisp, clean scent of ozone that came with every snap of lightning.

As I pondered these things my gaze was drawn to a ship emerging from the ruddy glare of the sun-infused mist, his course parallel but opposite to my own.  A curious thing!  Could there be two strong winds running counter to each other in such proximity?

He drew closer and I saw his blue sails tinged with that same red illumination, filled with the opposing wind.  No signal passed between us and we were too far apart to make out the forms of men but as he sailed by I felt a great sadness for the trials he would endure in the grip of the storms ahead.  The icy blasts of his life upon the sea would surely sap his youthful strength, harden his character and cut him off from loved ones upon the land.  Likely he would see good ships wrecked and good mates go down to the black depths, where souls never rest quiet.

Even so, for all that knowledge of dangers and pains, I felt a boundless longing to abandon my trusty old ship and swim across the briny waves to join him.  A fine thing that would be, to mingle my ancient knowledge of the mariner’s arts with his youthful vigor!  A fine thing indeed, but tide and currents did their work and I was powerless to do aught but watch as his ship continued on its appointed course toward the black-shrouded horizon.

My own vessel glided smoothly now, with hardly a ripple upon the quiet, calming waters.  Ahead lay the warming embrace of the rosy haze, inspiring reflections upon the passage in the old, old Book; “By blood have ye gone out; through Blood shall ye return…”

~

I awoke to the songs of nesting birds ringing sweetly through our snug little house all full of sun.  My mother was at the hearth, my gear was stowed neat and ready in my sea bag by the door.

“Have a care, my boy!” said my mother, looking up at me with eyes impossibly soft for all the hard things they’d let in to her mind and heart.  “I’ve seen how the sea can rob a man of his faith before sending him on to the next world.  Beware!”

“Mother, my dear,” I answered, “you’ve nothing to fear!  Last night I had a dream that I take for a prophecy.  I saw an ancient ship upon the ocean, sturdy but battered from long years of hard use.  Its course was for home as mine was for the mystery of the open sea.  A great peace came upon me as I watched, for it sailed quietly into the calm red waters of heaven.”

“His will be done,” she said with tender reverence, relinquishing me to the care of The Commander of The Sea.

With a final look about the dear old place I hefted my sea bag, said my goodbyes and made for the stormy seas.

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