Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Free Books

I wanted to list some Christmas books that are available free online--audio versions too.

The Christmas Angel (audiobook here) is generally comparable to A Chritsmas Carol, but the Scrooge is an embittered old woman who decides to test the Christmas spirit on Christmas Eve by dropping childhood toys out her window for passersby. (She had meant to simply burn them.) Will she see honesty and altruism or greed and deceit? The trials seem to confirm her cynicism, but one of the remaining items, an angel that topped a childhood Christmas tree, becomes the Christmas Angel and shows her the rest of the stories--the events she didn't see. The theology is a little quirky in spots, but no worse than that of A Christmas Carol. And the reader for the audio version is especially good for this kind of work. It's short--under two hours for the audiobook.

A couple of stories by Kate Douglas Wiggin, best known for Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm:

The Old Peabody Pew (audiobook here) is about an aborted romance between a small-town failure who left to make his fortune and the girl he left behind. It's rather low-key but moving.

The Romance of a Christmas Card (audiobook here) concerns a pair of Christmas cards produced by a minister's wife and their unforeseen effects.

Both stories are a bit slow-moving at first by modern standards, but they're worth the time.

(Technically there's also The Birds' Christmas Carol--audiobook here or here. It's an engaging story of the doomed-pious-waif variety. Such things don't bother me as much now as they used to, but I thought I should warn you.)

If you don't mind a Catholic touch--and I hope you don't--there are two short stories by Francis J. Finn (audio):

"Looking for Santa Claus" in My Strange Friend (audio version is 17 here) has innocent, pious munchkins inadvertently overcoming evil.

"The Wager of Gerald O’Rourke: A Christmas Story"--no e-text, but it's number 26 on the same page--involve's a sleepyhead's bet about getting up early and how it changes some lives for the better. This is a good intro to Finn.

On a purely humorous level, there's "The Thin Santa Claus" by Ellis Parker Butler. There are audio versions, but this is dialect humor, which requires specialized skills. You can try these, but I haven't heard them and can't vouch for them (you will have to search the pages):

Version 1
Version 2

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving in the Church

I had a disquieting experience last Sunday. The church I attend had its Thanksgiving meal after service, and I remarked to a few friends that it was fitting to celebrate Thanksgiving in a church, considering that "Eucharist" means "thanksgiving." I was astonished to find they did not know that. They weren't ignorant, really, though I suspect a Catholic or Orthodox would've been better informed.

So what does it matter? Much or little, depending on your view. It could be regarded as trivia; I've already written about a case of trivializing the Eucharist, and I doubt most Evangelical Protestants would even notice the problem. But even they would likely admit that Thanksgiving alone isn't as good as Thanksgiving with family and friends.

But thanksgiving is an important feature of the Christian life. I suspect if we were truly thankful for the Atonement, we would take the Eucharist more seriously. We have forgotten that ingratitude was involved in the first sin: would Adam and Eve have considered disobeying God if they had been truly grateful for all he had given them? Wasn't ingratitude the hallmark of the Israelites who grumbled against Moses and God?

The holiday season creates special problems. In the US, Thanksgiving leads into the Christmas season, and all the partying hinders proper focus. Are we really thankful now? Will we really focus on preparing ourselves for Advent? Probably not.

Perhaps we could learn from the Catholics and especially the Orthodox. They have a fast before their main feasts (Easter and Christmas), so by the time the feast arrives, they feel proper anticipation. If we did that, all the noise about the commercial aspect of Christmas would wither up: the consumerist orgy probably couldn't survive a good fast.

Or at the very least we could wait until the proper time. Christmas parties begin early in December. What if we followed the older route and waited until Christmas itself? The Christmas season used to run twelve days--from Christmas through Epiphany. That's enough time for some good parties, and as children know, the anticipation is half the fun. Patience produces gratitude, and both should be welcome in the church.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tales of the Dim Knight

No, not one of my stories, though it's similar. Nor is this the review proper--I meant to do that on Monday, the 22nd, but this has been an even more hectic week than I imagined. So I'm using my amazing powers to reset the post date to Monday. (Yes, that does make me a pre-dater--without dreadlocks, yet! Please don't tell the cops.)

Anyway, this is basically a blurb; I hope to get to the review as such, guest starring the League of Superheroes, of course, in a day or so.

In the meantime, Tales of the Dim Knight is a superhero spoof by Andrea and Adam Graham. (Adam is the primary author, but I believe in ladies first, and he's no lady. Ask anyone.) Click here for the publisher's Dim Knight page. Click here for Laser & Sword Magazine, another Graham product. Click here for the Wikipedia article on salt-cured meat. It has no bearing on the Grahams or their story, but there aren't any articles on them yet.

A brief synopsis: Superhero spoof.

A less brief, more informative synopsis: Clueless superhero fanboy Dave Johnson, a janitor for the FBI, finds himself paired with an alien fashion accessory. It's actually a shape-changing alien named Zolgron. (His mother dressed him funny, too.) Zolgron is being punished for being a cosmic jerk, with the result that he must help out whoever he becomes attached to. He confers numerous super powers on Dave, who becomes even more immersed in superhero fantasies and real-world implications, including increased family and marital problems. Since Dave has a poor learning curve anyway, there's a lot of comical flailing about as he tries to gain legal standing as a superhero, find some crime to fight, and stay married to a woman who thinks he's gone from mildly delusional to full-bore looney.

Will Dave grow up? Will Zolgron finally get out of Purgatory? Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Okay, you're on your own for the last one, but for the first two, read the book and find out!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dark World: The Homing Signal

“That’s Darren’s signal,” Dr. Fleming told Lassiter. “Our new friend is somewhere just outside. All going well, he will give up and go home, and Darren can track him. Then we can pay him a visit. I hope he’ll be in a talkative mood.”

“Why doesn’t Darren grab him here and save us a trip?” Lassiter asked.

“First, because the quarry will be on his guard here and thus will be harder to catch. Second, there may be items of interest wherever he’s staying, and I’ll want to examine them.”

“And third, he may have friends who will be watching for him.”

“Unlikely. I admit, however, that I’d like to know in advance whether he really is Edward Henry. That would tell me a lot—and puzzle me even more.”

“Who is Edward Henry?”

“He was a weasel desperately trying to be a successful quack, armed with several unorthodox ideas and a perverse desire to turn them to his advantage. I always suspected his medical degree was a fake, which is why I never called him ‘doctor.’ I knew him briefly when I was making my first discoveries some years ago and a relative of one of his patients called me in to undo some damage. He left town in a hurry, and I didn’t see him again for some years. I almost didn’t recognize him when I did: he had undergone several physical changes, to say nothing of changing his name. But the changes hadn’t gone nearly as far as they have since, and close scrutiny enabled me to identify him. He admitted the truth, though not happily, but I decided to let bygones be bygones, especially as he seemed to have reformed. He still had the same bizarre ideas, but he had somehow made them work—at least for himself. And he was beginning to have some undeniable success with some other people—cases no one else could cure.”

“He sounds like Dr. Newman. Is that how you met him—through Henry?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Dr. Fleming replied, turning away to gaze out the window into the gloom. “I mentioned a name change. When we met the second time, Edward Henry called himself Dr. Adam Newman.”

Another ding.

“And that means Darren is ready for us to follow him and his quarry.”

Next: At Loose Ends

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dark World: New Nemesis or Old

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

“Who's Edward Henry?” Darren whispered. “Not a friend, presumably.”

“Probably not,” Dr. Fleming muttered. “He looks like Edward... But it can't be—not now. I haven't seen him like this for years...” He paused. “He's definitely watching us, though, and that makes him irresistibly interesting to me. I'd rather follow him to see where he goes, but we may be forced to capture him instead. Let's break up the meeting; I'll go out to the car, and Darren can follow. I think he is one of Lassiter's many admirers, so Lassiter and Miss FitzHugh should linger at the table and follow us out after about two minutes.”

Without waiting for a response, he got up from the table and left, paying the bill with a somewhat larger bill and telling the cashier to keep the change. Darren pursued him almost immediately with the air of a man impatient to discuss something, and Lassiter and Clio collected their gear, tidied up the table slightly, and glared after their companions with unfeigned annoyance.

Nonetheless they were evidently in no hurry to leave. Indeed, they seemed to dawdle almost out of spite as they worked their way out of the room. Clio started to leave the building as well, but Lassiter pointed out that she had a room there and it was getting too late for her to wander about outside inconspicuously.

Dr. Fleming entered, interrupting the budding argument. “Come on, Lassiter; we're ready to leave. Miss FitzHugh, I bid you good night. Lock your door and window, and keep your gun handy. We shall call for you at eight.”

Clio scowled but retreated up the stairs, and Lassiter smiled. “She already dislikes you, and you're making it worse.”

“I haven't time to care.”

“You will. She believes in revenge. Just because we had to work together to defeat the Shiny One doesn't excuse you.”

“I'll take my chances. Now let's get out to the car. Darren's waiting.”

Lassiter followed the doctor outside, and he took his usual position in the back. He started briefly when he realized that Darren wasn't all there, but then he settled back as the car set out toward the doctor's lab.

“We can talk, I think,” Dr. Fleming said. “Just not loudly, perhaps. I suspect Edward, or whoever he is, is acting alone.”

“And Darren?”

“Darren has plenty of hunting experience. He's probably a better tracker than you are, and anyway, our new friend seems interested in you, so you can't very well follow him. We'll head for home and make a show of retiring early—I wish I could actually do so, but I'll have to wait. Then we'll see what Darren discovers.”

“I wonder if Rick Shafer knows the guy,” Lassiter mused. “If Darren's right, the two of them were practically taking turns watching us.”

“Kindly refrain from mentioning your lunatic friend. I suppose I owe him my life for bringing you to help me, but I'd rather not think about him just now. I'm likely to have nightmares as it is.”

They made the rest of the trip in silence. The doctor sped up near the end to make sure any pursuers weren't close enough to see them remove the coat and hat that substituted for Darren. They were barely inside when a package the doctor was carrying dinged.

Next: The Homing Signal

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dark World: Council of War

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

“The first order of business,” Dr. Fleming said, “is to pool our experiences and determine our goals. Or are we satisfied with the stories we swapped in the Shiny One's lair?” A quick glance at the others confirmed this, and he continued, “Enemies and problems, then. By my count, excluding people we've merely annoyed but who aren't likely to harm us, we have the dark witch, assorted Nazis, whoever tried to kill Dvorak, possibly Dr. Newman, and some Tehros—at least until they realize that Lassiter isn't changing to a werewolf anymore. It seems to me that the witch is the worst threat, since she can appear without warning practically anywhere and overcome even an armed force.”

“You should leave her to me,” Clio said. “I could deal with her easily.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because I lack your masculine weakness for women.”

“That doesn't matter,” Darren stated. “Her power is not sexual, at least not primarily, and it would affect you as strongly as any man.”

“What do you mean?” Lassiter demanded. “Of course it's sexual.”

“Spoken like a former wolf,” Dr. Fleming said. “Nevertheless, Darren is right: despite her striking appearance, her attraction is primarily...well, psychological, really, though I'm sure Darren would call it spiritual: she appeals to any perceived void or desire. A little careful introspection will confirm that.”

“And she's the only one on your list that really scares you.”

“She's the only one worth being scared of, except perhaps the murderous mastermind of Dvorak Manor, and we haven't heard from him since he tried to kill us with perhaps the world's largest fragmentation grenade. The other threats we can guard against without much difficulty.”

“None of that matters to me,” Clio stated flatly. “I just want to find Father and bring him back.”

“I doubt you can bring him against his will,” Darren said. “And anyway, we have to deal with at least some of these enemies like it or not.” He glanced back into the dining room toward the entrance and continued casually, “Lassiter, call the waiter over to refill your beer, and examine the man by the door as closely as you can without especially noticing him.”

Lassiter did so, and when he turned back to the group, he frowned with puzzlement. “He looks familiar, somehow, but I can't place him.”

Darren smiled. “I think I can. Remember when you thought you saw Shafer and I thought it was someone else? That's the man I saw.”

“Hardly Shafer's twin,” Clio commented.

“He was concealed by trees and dim light.”

Dr. Fleming studied the man carefully yet inconspicuously for a moment. Then his eyes grew widen and he forced himself to look away. “Edward Henry?” he murmured.

Next: New Nemesis or Old

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Matter of Life and (Un)Death

As I've noted before, vampirism is a tricky plot device, and the modern tendency to extend cheap grace to all and sundry makes it worse. The usual way out is to have a creature that is merely vampiric without being an actual vampire(see the first link again). The "Twilight" series goes beyond that by trying to redeem vampires.

It doesn't work. The main theological problem is that vampirism involves drinking blood, which is always under a curse. Leviticus 17: 12–14 mentions this, and it’s echoed for Christians in Acts 15: 20, 29. The point is that the blood of a creature (human or not) represents its life, so drinking its blood means appropriating its life, which is how vampires work. It’s also a parody of the Atonement, because just as we live eternally by spiritually partaking of Christ’s blood and life, so the vampire prolongs its existence by partaking of a creature’s life. This is true even when the blood is taken from an animal: the idea of "good" vampires using rodents instead of people doesn't eliminate the problem.

Yet the unique idea of the "Twilight" series is that the change is effectively good, or anyway not evil. Instead of "Choose life" we have "Choose (un)death." Considering how confused zand outright persverse our culture is concerning abortion and euthanasia, such an attempt to make death a positive shouldn't come as a surprise.

And there is a point of theological interest in putting a spiritual or allegorical spin on vampirism. Early Christians were considered vampiric because they drank the blood of Christ in their rituals.

But that's the rub: Christian "vampires" would be a eucharistic crowd; they would subsist on the only blood freely given for that purpose. And while Christian theology stresses dying yet living, it won't fit well in the undeath category. We are not less alive than before; we are overflowing with the life of God Himself.

In fact, it would be nearer true to say that we are all vampires by birth, lacking life and trying to suck it from things around us that can never truly fill or cure the void. It is only in Christ that we find sufficient life to do the job, restoring us to true life from our twilight of undeath.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Another Status Report

In case anyone wonders why my posting has been so sporadic lately, there are several reasons. One on-going problem is that I'm using Gmail now, so I can no longer blog and check mail at the same time. Since checking mail is a bit more important to me, I'm not quite as apt to spend time blogging. I used to pre-write my posts, and I still prefer to do so, but it's harder to fit into my current schedule.

Anyway, I've also been dealing with some theological issues lately, and I'm not sure whether to post about them here. I try to stick with what I call "basic Christianity"--not to be confused with "Mere Christianity," which is the body of doctrines held by most Christians at most times. Basic Christianity has to do with points of agreement among the various Christian confessions. There are more of them than you might think, and they tend to be the fundamental truths of the faith, unlike the denomination-specific ideas that we tend to idolize. Mere Christianity includes some non-basic doctrines that might actually be incorrect, though not dangerously so. Basic Christianity does not.

Yet the topics I've been considering aren't in this basic group, so they are more controversial. As my tagline indicates, I have investigated Christianity beyond the confines of the views I was raised with, and I am in the odd position of being strongly ecumenical (I accept the validity of all the historic Christian groups, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant in particular) yet without a home: theologically I'm very close to Orthodox, but on a few grounds I don't believe I could ever become Orthodox. Catholicism wouldn't be a good fit either. Anglicanism and Methodism are possibilities, though both have theologically liberal tendencies. (There are exceptions, however.) I'm tempted to post about all that, but I'm not sure it's a good idea.

Anyway, I need to get back to Dark World; I hadn't intended so long a break. God helping me, I'll try to get back to regular posting.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Crevice: A Free Book review

I've pretty much decided not to bother with negative reviews, except that I may occasionally list free books worth avoiding along with a quick explanation of why.

The Crevice (audiobook here) by William J. Burns and Isabel Ostrander is exceptional, however, so I'll explain why in a sense it's a good example of a bad example. For a start, a quick perusal of the audiobook summary and the article on William J. Burns should give you a justifiable suspicion: yes, this is an ego trip for Burns, who, as Henry Blaine ("the Master Mind," yet!), is even more heroic than he thinks, if possible.

Now, that's annoying, but what tempted me to stop almost as soon as I started was the stereotypical portrayal of a minister as obsequious and hypocritical. It's possible to have such a character without stooping to stereotype--for example, the Rev. William Collins in Pride and Prejudice. And he's present at the end, too, just to reinforce the point that he still hasn't learned anything and is a far less noble character than Blaine, who has magnanimously chosen to reform a minor criminal the reverend would have preferred to rot in prison. And in case we're too oblivious to comprehend an already ham-handed bit of propaganda, it's spelled out for us:

"If I'd gone to any Sunday school he presided over, when I was a
kiddie, I'd have been a train-robber now!" he observed darkly.

There are of course some perfunctory references to God, but Blaine himself is too modern for that. But what is his track record, even taking the story on its own terms?

1. He manages to cow a subordinate who has an attack of conscience (he's called on to lie a lot and betray confidences) with the observation that, sure, the man is betraying an innocent girl, but Blaine's own client is an innocent girl who has been betrayed. So two wrongs do make a right, apparently.

2. He talks a woman into abandoning her scruples against a villain's advances, the better to obtain information from him. This leads to considerable tragedy--a pair of deaths, among other things--and he doesn't even get much information out of it. Them's the breaks, though, and the silly minister probably couldn't have done it.

And I'll skip some essentially criminal activities such as chloroforming a night watchman and burgling a safe to get evidence--that was occasionally done at this period, sometimes even by cops, it seems.

In short, Blaine came across to me at least as a rather repugnant object, and that put me off the story. But the mystery itself is somewhat pedestrian. I figured out most of the mystery easily enough as information became available, and what wasn't fairly obvious came across as hokum. Oddly, we don't even find out what "the crevice" is until late in the story, and it's not convincing either. (I supposed it would be the villains' lair.)

About the only point of interest is a cryptographic anticipation of Leet:

"...we find that '3' when viewed from the
under side of the paper will look very much like an English _E_; 7
like _T_; 9 like _P_; 2 like _S_, and so forth."

On the other hand, if you're interested to see how far back attitudes like Blaine's go--well, they go back beyond this book, but this is a good example of the preening self-assurance of an early modern thinker, blind to his faults and contradictions.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Who is this Verne person, anyway?

A bit of a depressing post this time. I recently encountered someone (yes, an adult) who didn't know who Jules Verne was. Now, when I mentioned Twenty Thousand Leagues Beneath the Sea, among others, recognition dawned. But still, given that most people in the US at least only know Verne from movies, and hardly any of the movies are faithful adaptations. A lot of people think the Nautilus was nuclear powered, for example. It wasn't, and Verne was clear about that. It was electric, run on batteries that were in turn powered by old-fashioned coal-generated electricity. In the early days especially, Verne tended to merely extend current technology; he didn't do the weird, visionary stuff until later, as in Facing the Flag, with its weapon of mass destruction--a kind of guided missile.

Also, Verne dealt more in adventure stories than in sci-fi: practically all of his stories are adventures, but many aren't sci-fi. (The only non-sci-fi work by Verne that is well-known in the US is Around the World in Eighty Days.) So we've seriously skewed his work. Even putative fans are sometimes off: The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne displayed considerable ignorance of Verne's work, portraying the modern legend more than the reality. Comparatively few of the episodes fit Verne or his work at all well; most were modeled after The X-Files instead: there was a tendency toward supernatural and occult themes generally foreign to Verne's actual work.

I've done some tinkering with Verne's work myself, and perhaps we'll get a look at Ty Addison's "I Am Called No Man" on the blog in the not-too-distant future.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Planet Strappers: A Free Book review

The Planet Strappers (free audiobook here) by Raymond Z. Gallun is a tale of the awkward age of space exploration from the awkward age of sci-fi. We were beginning to realize that maybe it wasn't quite so simple after all, that Mars probably didn't have any canals or ancient sages, that Venus was more hellhole than paradise.

A bit of a disappointment, really. I think that's why there's so much interest in retro science-fantasy where it really is as easy to get into space as the comic strips implied.

Anyway, in The Planet Strappers, the Solar System is still being explored: men have personally visited everything within Jupiter's orbit, and probes have reached much of the rest. Mars used to have an advanced civilization, but it and a rival civilization from what is now the asteroids wiped each other out, and now only plants rule the Red Planet.

It's the tech angle that I found interesting. Space travel (beyond escaping earth's gravity well) is managed on the cheap, thanks to Archers, space suits so thoroughly self-sufficient that they double as spaceships for fairly short trips, and bubs, or space bubbles, which are essentially large, spinnable plastic bags with ion drives that can take you from planet to planet in a few months. I couldn't help thinking what a little genetic engineering and nanotechnology could do to make bubs self-maintaining. The main problem (outside of shifting orbits, which I think would take more power than Gallun allowed for) would be psychological: even in a convoy of bubs where you could visit or call others, the isolation would get to most people. Still, it's an attractive idea, if only for fiction.

As to the story itself, it concerns a group of would-be space travelers who are more diverse than the crew of the Enterprise: woman who wants to make it in a man's world? Check! Black guy? Yup. Hispanic? ¡Por supuesto! Jock? Take two; they're big. Mama's boy? Don't make me cry! Rich kid? Ka-ching! Rebel without a clue? Why, soit'n'y! We've even got a handicapped guy--two if you count the innumerate goof who needs mathematical and other nursemaiding. Against all odds--well, except for the rich kid, whose odds are pretty good--they get a shot at the Big Vacuum, though there are washouts along the way--and some surprise returns. They go their separate ways, and we get a tour of space with a few of them.

It's a good yarn on the whole--a transition from the early gee-whiz sci-fi into the more realistic kind.

The Planet Strappers

Monday, October 11, 2010

Let 'Em Breathe Space: A Free Book Review

Let 'Em Breathe Space (free audiobook here) is a novella by Lester del Rey. It's a space-borne murder mystery in which an expedition to Saturn finds itself plagued by potentially harmful accidents and eventually a series of murders and the destruction of plants that maintain the air supply. Who would be foolish enough to endanger the entire ship? Why would anyone be so desperate to abort the trip to Saturn?

The mystery is fairly good, though I had a general idea who had done it (but not exactly why) somewhat before the narrator. In addition to the mystery proper, there is the problem of getting enough breathable air to reach any destination but the grave--the alternative being a death lottery to cut down the number aboard ship to something the remaining plants can support. Even if the narrator, a former engineer washed up by an accident and reduced to a glorified handyman, can find the murderer, there's still the matter of the missing oxygen.

I was surprised, even given del Rey's gifts, at how well the story worked--not only as a mystery, but as a kind of engineering problem and even (in small part) as a kind of romance. Let 'Em Breathe Space is short--just under two hours--and would go quite well with chili or burritos and popcorn. (That will more or less make sense after you've read it.)

Again, that's

Let 'Em Breathe Space

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Problem with Lateral Converts

By "lateral convert" I mean someone who moves from one branch of Christianity to another: Catholics who become Protestants (and vice versa), Protestants or Catholics who become Orthodox (and vice versa again), and so on. I may explain my own view of ecclesiology at some point, but for now I'll just say that I consider the main groups just mentioned valid forms of Christianity; I just don't consider any of them the One True Church.

Anyway, my own background is Protestant--Evangelical and Pentecostal, in fact--but I make a point of learning from other Christians. My theology is actually closer to Eastern Orthodox than Protestant in many ways, and I have studied Catholic and Orthodox positions as well as those of other Protestant groups. Within Protestantism, my best match would probably be a conservative Methodist group.

End of disclosure.

The problem is that in studying these various groups, I tend to run into converts from some other group who have gone the True Believer route. (Note: I am not a particular fan of Hoffer's, though some of his points are valid.) This is particularly annoying when one of them starts pontificating about what some group, usually the one he left, believes.

They are typically wrong.

This leads to an observation: the lateral converts I've encountered (personally or through media) tend to be ignorant of the beliefs they left behind. The Catholics-turned-Protestant I've met have been remarkably ignorant of Catholic doctrine. The Protestants-turned-whatever regularly demonstrate abysmal ignorance of Protestant views, often lumping very different groups together.

Even the scholars goof. I've recently encountered people who ought to know better claiming that the Protestant idea of "sola fides" (salvation by faith alone) meant a rejection of works of any kind: just believe you're saved; you don't have to live out your salvation. But anyone familiar with Protestantism can trace the opposite view easily, from Philipp Melancthon ("Sola fides iustificat, sed fides non est sola"--"Faith alone justifies, but faith is not alone") to the modern idea that "if you're gonna talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk." And I frequently hear Protestants claim that Catholics (more rarely Orthodox) believe in salvation by works. (Properly speaking, they don't.)

Nicodemus asked the Sanhedrin, "Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?" (John 7:51) It's still a good question--even if you're talking about the group you left.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dark World: Back on the Trail

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

When they got home—when they reached the subterranean terminus, that is—Dr. Fleming looked around. “I had little opportunity for sightseeing last time.”

“Once we’ve rested up, I’d like to go exploring,” Darren said.

“No,” Clio replied. “Not unless we can reach Father from here. Can we, Shafer?”

“Call me Rick. No, you can go a lot of places from here, but the Dark World is different.”

“But the Tehros know about it, don’t they?”

“Not the new guys. The original group maybe did, but they died out, and the next group—the Veuti—found out, because they went exploring in the Dark World and never came back. But these guys don’t even know the old language. I think only Mantong did.”

“He didn’t even know English well,” Dr. Fleming said.

“He knew it; he just talked funny to bug people. He hated English-speakers.”

“How is it you’re stupid and well-informed by turns?”

“I’m not stupid. My momma used to tell me, ‘stupid is as stupid does.’”

With that, he selected a destination and left in the cart.

“Diplomatic to the last, Victor?” Darren said.

“He is stupid and well-informed—”

“Most people are. He just thinks it’s all a game. If you think about it, he’s knowledgeable most of the time; the information simply doesn’t matter to him.”

“It’s still infuriating. Let’s go get our bearings and figure out our next move.”

It was early evening when they emerged, and Dr. Fleming decided the first order of business was to find Miss FitzHugh a place to stay the night. “There’s a hotel a mile down the road. From what you’ve said, I doubt you bothered getting a room before coming out here.”

“I didn’t, but I don’t need your help. I can get my own room.”

“You could sleep in a tree, as is likely your wont, but you’re a friend of a friend, so I’ll treat you like a lady regardless of my feelings. Unless you brought cash, you may find it useful to have someone of good local reputation vouch for you.”

Thus only a few minutes later, a lady from out of town got a room courtesy of a good word and fifty dollars cash from Dr. Fleming, whose wealth was better known locally than his character, and a council of war convened in a corner of the hotel dining room.

Next: Council of War

I'm going to do another recap, and I'll also wander into some theological topics for a little while. Then we'll get into a bit of a long arc in Dark World.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dark World: An Arrow Escape

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

“Hold your fire until the thing actually reaches the filaments,” Dr. Fleming warned Clio. “The whole point is to make sure our filament connects the thing with the power source above.”

“What if that just strengthens it?” Lassiter asked.

“It won’t. If it did, the thing wouldn’t bother with the globe. No, it needs the power to be converted into a more usable form.”

The Shiny One rose slowly with its load.

“Keep going,” the doctor muttered. “That’s a good monster.”

“Go toward the light,” Shafer said.

“Idiot—there’s no light up there.”

“There will be when she shoots that arrow.” Shafer spat again for good measure, and the doctor said, “Fire!”

The arrow’s trajectory brought it slightly through the Shiny One, and the damp filament left a strange and visible trail before it connected with another filament. Multicolored lightning blazed through the misty creature, which glowed brilliantly.

“The wall’s open!” Shafer called, and the others piled through just before a blast of incandescence filled the cavern.

Darren blinked as he tried to regain his vision. “Did that destroy it?”

“And the cave too, no doubt,” the doctor replied.

“Wall won’t open,” Shafer observed.

“Can’t blame it,” Lassiter said. “Is the thing really dead this time?”

“Yeah,” Shafer said. “Blew the whole thing that time. Besides, you can feel when a Dehros dies.”

“You’ve done this before?” Lassiter asked.

“Yeah. The Tehros use me as a decoy. I don’t mind—you get a better view that way.”

“So now what?” Dr. Fleming asked. “Can we go home?”

“Sure. And when we get back, you’ll have enough miles to come through yourself next time. Try it! It’s more fun to figure out for yourself.”

So saying, Shafer did something near the cart and directed them to get in. This time even he didn’t seem inclined to raise his arms and yell.

Next: Back on the Trail

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dark World: I Spit My Last Breath At Thee

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

They switched the flashlights off while everyone got reoriented. It was somehow easier in the dark. Finally a brief discussion established that they would try to leave the way they had come, so they turned on the flashlights and moved carefully toward the section of wall that led to the cart home.

Dr. Fleming examined the spot where the globes had been, only to find blackened shreds of something. A quick inspection of the floor revealed filaments of an unknown material. The doctor carefully collected samples, warning the others to avoid the crystalline shards on the floor.

“Don’t touch anything! It could very well be poisonous.”

“If it is,” Lassiter remarked, “there’s probably enough harmful material floating around as dust to kill us all.”

“Some dangers we can’t avoid, but there’s no point in multiplying them.”

“What are those filaments, anyway?”

“I suspect they are the wiring of the globes. They may not conduct electricity, but they probably carried whatever energy the globes used. Perhaps I can bring the equipment here someday to analyze all this properly.”

They reached the wall. Shafer was leading, Dr. Fleming and Lassiter lagged behind, still absorbed in studying the debris, and Darren urged Clio along; she was busily adjusting her bow to its normal draw weight. But they all stopped short as Shafer muttered, “Uh-oh.”

“What do you mean, ‘uh-oh’?” Dr. Fleming demanded.

“The wall won’t open. The Shiny One is holding it shut. I don’t think it likes us.”

“The Shiny One is the Dead One now.”

“Not dead, just terribly, terribly hurt. Pretty angry, too. It’s using a lot of power to hold the wall shut. We might be able to get through anyway, but it would just track us down.”

“Victor,” Darren said, “there’s luminescence in the pool that wasn’t there before.”

It didn’t take long to verify this: the glow was increasing slightly but noticeably. Soon a faint light emerged from the pool. It carried a globe as it slowly rose toward the roof of the cavern.

“It’s got a replacement bulb!” Shafer cried.

“That means there’s still power up there,” Dr. Fleming said. “Clio—Miss FitzHugh—could you hit those shreds up there with an arrow?”


“Even if I glue one of these filaments to it?”


He uncapped a bottle, dipped an arrow in it, then poked a filament and handed the assemblage to her. As she was fitting it to the string, Shafer walked up and spat on the filament.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

“Gotta have spit. It messes the creature up.”

“Like the guy in the diary,” Darren muttered.

Clio added her spit, and said, “‘From hell's heart, I stab at thee. For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee.’”

“Aye-aye, Captain Ahab,” Darren murmured. She grinned and prepared to release the arrow.

Next: An Arrow Escape

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dark World: The Shiny One

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Darren had scarcely prepared his next arrow when a mist filled with corruscating colors and angry, discordant jangling rose from the pool. Though only a faint shadow of the thing described in the journal, it was definitely the same, and it was still so full of terrible, awesome glory that Darren and his friends all murmured, “Oooh! Shiny!”

Then Dr. Fleming broke the spell. “Right. Now we’re done with that, let’s kill the thing.”

Darren raised the arrow, vaguely surprised that the creature was rising toward the globes as well. It probably was drawing closer to absorb more power, but he had the odd feeling it was also going to wipe off the doctor’s concoction. He released the arrow without thinking, and it struck its target with a deafening din that shook the misty creature like smoke caught in a violent gust.

Darren himself had scarcely recovered when Dr. Fleming pressed another arrow into his hand. A quick glance showed Shafer and Clio trying to find their way off the floor and Lassiter rising painfully with the help of a wall. Darren targeted the second available globe and fired.

A typhoon was raging through a synesthetic sea that only gradually and painfully began to coalesce into a familiar order. Pain was the one great constant: everything else might be an illusion, but the pain was undeniably real. Eventually other sensations tagged along and organized themselves, and some memories and thoughts also emerged. Finally a sensation turned out to be the name “Darren,” and it was being repeated. The recognition of his own name prepared Darren to identify the speaker as Dr. Victor Fleming.


“Ah, good. Then we aren’t dead. At least I can’t imagine us sharing an afterlife.”

Darren had arrived at the same conclusion, but he decided not to pursue the topic. “Can you see?”

“Yes. Or hallucinate, anyway. That second shot must have overloaded the system: its harmonics converged and probably almost destroyed the place—and us. I’d like to see what’s left.”

“Are you sure we can see? Most of the light came from the globes; it was getting pretty dim at the end.”

An inarticulate noise of disgust followed. “I should have thought of that. I’ve still got my flashlight...”

Darren found his about the same time. A quick check revealed that their companions were still alive. Lassiter was attempting to crawl. Clio was evidently running through a mental checklist prior to exerting herself. And Shafer was sitting up unsteadily and babbling, “Let’s do it again!”

The next look showed that the giant chamber still existed, though the floor was strewn with debris. There was no sign of the Shiny One.

Next: I Spit My Last Breath At Thee

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dark World: Assault on the Globes

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Dr. Fleming got what he wished for, and Darren what he prayed for. The globes did not pulse, and eventually everyone agreed it had to be daylight. So they did the best possible thing; they ate some of their provisions and slept as best they could.

The doctor said it was probably early afternoon when they got up, and he eyed the globes warily. “On the one hand, it would be a good idea to cover them now and try to prevent the monster’s formation. On the other hand, I’d prefer to wait until they begin pulsing so the solution will be fresh and the energy can perhaps help harden it. I’ll definitely want everyone as close to the stairs as possible: if those globes do explode, even one of them, it will be infinitely worse than when Darren struck the globe last night.”

“You realize,” Darren said, “that there’s a flaw in your brilliant plan.”

Dr. Fleming didn’t even scowl; in fact, he half smiled. “Which is?”

“Those are spheres. I doubt I could achieve better than fifty percent coverage on even a remarkably good shot. It will take at least two shots to cover any one of them more than that, and at least one of those shots will be unprotected: I’ll have to fire on the inner side sometime.”

“You’ll fire on it first. The globes are fairly close together; this arrow has a larger charge than the others, and you’ll aim it at the center point of their circle. It shouldn’t create the murderous din of a direct hit, and it should largely cover the inner surfaces. You can shoot from cover at the outer surfaces of at least two of the globes, so the overall coverage should either prevent the Shiny One from forming or overload the globes.”

“But everyone else will be on the stairs, ready to run outside?”

“I am confident, not foolhardy.”

“Good to know. When do we do it?”

“In a few hours. I noticed that the globes glowed last night, probably at moonrise, and I have a fair idea when they’re likely to start tonight. We’ll strike just before that. I wish I could use rockets to get complete, simultaneous coverage with fuses for delayed action, but I didn’t pack any.”

And so it was that some hours later Darren fired a heavily wrapped arrow almost straight up into the midst of the globes. The detonation caused at least as thunderous a reverberation as the previous night’s direct hit, and Dr. Fleming recovered in time to help Darren to his feet. Darren gazed up at the darkened inner surfaces of the globes, but the doctor directed his attention to the usually placid surface of the pool, now strangely turbulent even after the aftershocks had mostly died away.

“The Shiny One has had a wake-up call, and I don’t think it likes it a bit.”

The globes began to pulse and the pool to shimmer, and the doctor added, “I’d been going to ask you to hit the center again, but all things considered, I think our work here is done. Head for the stairs and prepare to fire on the globes from there.”

They ran for cover, but they couldn’t help looking back at the pool’s choppy, scintillating surface.

Next: The Shiny One

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dark World: Another Fine Plan

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Dr. Fleming examined the chemicals critically. “I should’ve packed more,” he muttered, “but even one or two successes should be enough.” He began concocting something with occasional help from Lassiter while the others watched.

Soon Darren decided to have a look at the journal the doctor had mentioned, and that only left Clio and Shafer unoccupied, which was bad enough. Clio eventually joined Darren, and Shafer started wandering around the area.

“Find anything interesting?” Clio asked Darren.

“Depressing is more the word. The first few had no idea what was going on, but eventually a couple of people wandered in together and the survivor chronicled what happened. They were mostly scientists, so they tried to find a solution. Only one came at all close, and that was an accident.”


“He got mad and spat at the thing. He said it recoiled briefly and its colors changed in a way that made him think he’d hurt it a bit. But it must’ve gotten him anyway: the entry breaks off suddenly.”

“I think my strategy shall prove more effective,” the doctor said. “I am going to use those arrows to send a chemical solution up to the globes. If I can coat the globes, even one or two of them, that should destroy them all. They appear to be harmonically linked, so hitting one should stress the rest.”

“What does the solution do?” Darren asked.

“It’s a general insulator. When the affected globe tries to send energy to the pool, the coating should block the energy, producing an overload. At the very least, the lack of one globe may be enough to keep the monster from forming or emerging. But I hope that overloading one globe will destroy the rest as well.”

“You said it might show tonight. Will you be ready if it does?”

“Not entirely. I’m rushing the first few; if we see the globes begin pulsing, we’ll have to use whatever we have and hope for the best. Since you’re going to pray anyway, pray that it will be punctual.”

Next: Assault on the Globes

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dark World: Expecting the Worst

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

“The key appears to be those globes,” Dr. Fleming said, pointing upward. Seven globes hung high above them, each a different color. “When the full moon rises, those globes light up and somehow energize the pool—and the Shiny One within it. A door at the upper end of those stairs”—he gestured toward an arch through which steps leading up could be seen—“opens, and the Shiny One goes out to seek its prey. I was hoping merely to be ready by that door and simply bolt outside and try to escape or hide before the Shiny One appeared. But now that you are here with some of my equipment, I think I shall try to destroy the menace.”

Lassiter brought out his gun and inspected the globes. “If they’re just glass—”

“It won’t work,” the doctor said. “I tried that right after reading about the globes. Whether it’s the range or the material, a bullet is not the answer.”

“Perhaps an arrow is,” Clio suggested, readying her weapon. “A bow has greater range and accuracy than a handgun.” She aimed briefly and released the arrow, which flew upward and struck one of the globes with a faint clink. She scowled. “Do you want a try, Darren?”

Darren took the bow and an arrow, and she went off to retrieve her first shot. “I’m stronger, but she has better aim,” he explained. “Still, those things aren’t much of a challenge.” He adjusted the tension on the string, increasing the draw weight, nocked an arrow, and fired.

This time the sound was more noticeable. In fact, it was impossible to ignore, as if Darren had struck a crystal bell with such force that all the neighboring bells resounded in sympathy. Darren and his friends fell to their knees before the acoustic onslaught.

“Darren,” Lassiter gasped, “do…not…do…that…again!”

“I didn’t do it,” Darren said. “Did I?”

Dr. Fleming was on his feet, gazing imperturbably up at the globe. “If you mean, did you generate all that force directly, no. I think the impact caused the globe to release a little pent-up energy, which set up a general resonance. Were it not for the extreme unpleasantness involved, I’d almost like to keep hitting the globes to see whether they would eventually break under the strain.”

“I think we’d break first,” Lassiter grumbled.

“Perhaps. Still… Darren, could you hit it even if the arrow were heavier—say, five to seven times heavier?”

“I think so. I couldn’t hit it very hard—”

“The general area should be sufficient. And how many arrows are there?”

“Twenty-five,” Clio answered, bringing Darren’s arrow back.

“And you re-packed the chemicals, Lassiter?”

“Yes, Doctor.”

Dr. Fleming smiled. “Then I think I have an idea.”

Next: Another Fine Plan

Monday, September 6, 2010

Dark World: Lair of the Shiny One

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Darren had no proper sense of time, but he was beginning to get tired of holding the bar and listening to Shafer’s whoops and singing well before he saw something ahead that he took to be their destination. Sure enough, the cart was headed for a large subterranean vault with a kind of pool or well that seemed to go down for miles. But as they drew closer, the most important point was a familiar figure sitting on some steps reading.

Shafer reached over and took control of the bar, much to Darren’s relief, and the cart soon slid gently to a stop. The group got out and without thinking passed through a wall and entered the cavern.

Dr. Fleming got up and ran to them. “You all came?”

Darren smiled happily. “Of course, Victor. We’re all your friends, more or less, so we all—”

“No, I mean you all left that infernal vehicle! That means you’re stuck here, too, as I understand it.”

Clio was in the rear, and she turned and touched what was now clearly a solid wall. “Mr. Shafer,” she began, and Darren thought her face might crack with the smile she forced on it, “you can get us back through, can’t you?”


“Mostly?” Her tone was flat, and so was her smile. “What does that mean?”

“Well, the Shiny One can block us a bit. The Dehros guys can really mess up Tehros; that’s why the Tehros players dislike them. The Shiny One will keep at least one of us from going back unless we destroy it or something, and it’ll eat whoever stays behind.”

“When?” asked Darren.

“At the rising of the full moon,” Dr. Fleming muttered. “Does anyone know where we are so I can try to estimate when that is likely to be?”

“Shafer said you were on the other side of the world,” Darren replied, “so I guess we’re in the neighborhood of New Guinea.”

Shafer nodded, and Dr. Fleming checked his watch and scowled as he performed some rapid mental calculations. “If this is the southern hemisphere, it’s springtime, and the days are getting longer. Still, it’s already afternoon. If that thing is punctual, we have a little more than a day to prepare; otherwise it might show up in six hours or so.”

“What is it?” Darren asked, and though he was staring at Shafer, it was the doctor who answered.

“Apparently it’s some kind of energy creature that rises out of that pool. The delightful savages who brought me here left a journal from one of the thing’s previous meals as a guidebook. It’s been here for a while—I guess you could say it’s more of a guest book—and each person or group to try its luck signs in. At least they’ve told me what to expect.”

Next: Expecting the Worst

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dark World: Choice of Tehros

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Shafer led the group to a multilingual display with pictograms next to writing in more languages than Darren could even recognize. Clio, who knew ancient as well as modern languages, peered at the display.

“Wait—Atlantis? The real Atlantis?”

“Wet place,” Shafer said. “Hardly worth the bother.”

“This one with the lion looks fairly recent,” Darren said. “Huh. ‘Narnia.’ Never heard of it, but somehow I’d like to go there.”

“Winter all the time,” Shafer remarked. “And a really grouchy witch. I didn’t mean to hit her with that snowball; I was aiming at her stupid dwarf.”

“Well, we’ve had enough of witches anyhow,” Darren muttered, “and we need to find Victor. Where’s that symbol?”

“Over here,” Shafer replied. “It’s the Shiny One.” He paused. “Of course, we could go somewhere else instead.”

“No. The Shiny One it is. Do you press something, or…”

Shafer sighed and passed his hand over the symbol, not touching it, then circled it. A strange object like a metal cart without wheels drew up beside them, and Shafer motioned for them to get in.

“The one up front has to hold that bar. You don’t have to steer; you just control the speed.”

“You don’t want to do that?”

“No, it’s more fun sitting next to the guy who does it. That way I’m up front with my hands free.”

Darren suddenly noticed that Lassiter and Clio had taken seats in the back, so he resigned himself to holding the bar.

“Why is it important to sit up front with your hands free?” he asked as he got in.

Shafer just gave him a troubling grin and motioned for him to push the bar forward. He did, and the car lurched forward. After the initial surprise, however, Darren was able to hold the bar steady, and they began accelerating smoothly right through the wall as though it didn’t exist.

Darren glanced back. “Imagine all that being so close to Victor’s place.”

“It isn’t,” Shafer said. “I don’t know where it is. But you can reach it from any cave if you know what you’re doing. But don’t talk; this is time for whee.”

“For what?”

But they were now passing through what should have been solid rock, and for no reason Darren could imagine, he could see it rushing toward him and around him and even through him, all at incredible speed. And Shafer called to the others, “You have to hold your arms straight up! Whee!”

Next: Lair of the Shiny One

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dark World: Delvings Deep

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Once they were outside, Lassiter asked Shafer, “Are we driving or walking?”

“Oh, walking’s okay. I guess we’ll do this the quick way.”

Shafer led them into a nearby copse and with the aid of some flashlights soon found a rocky outcropping. “You see, the classy way is to go to one of the 500 or so buildings in the country with an elevator that goes below the basement. But this is quicker, and you avoid the crowds.”

He pushed through some greenery and into a small tunnel or cave.

“You mean there are 500 buildings in this country that are specially constructed for...” Darren stopped, unwilling to guess at the arcane purpose.

“I think so. Let’s see—fifty states, though Alaska and Hawaii—”

“Forty-eight states, and Alaska and Hawaii aren’t among them,” Clio corrected.

Shafer paused briefly; then he laughed. “Oh, yeah: nineteen thirties. Yeah.” He continued into the cave.

The entrance opened out slightly—just enough for them to all crowd into the slightly subterranean chamber.

“It’s got to be underground, and it’s better if it’s natural, not a building. If you’re really into Tehros, you could get in from a mountaintop or maybe even a skyscraper roof, but it burns miles.” He looked around at the others. “Okay, this is where you close your eyes and hold hands and sing.”

“Sing?” Clio asked. “Sing what?”

“It doesn’t matter. You don’t even have to sing; it’s just more fun. Come on: ‘Merrily we stroll along, stroll along, stroll along...’”

Darren counted the steps they were taking. The chamber had been large enough for perhaps four steps forward. They had gone twelve when they stopped. “Why twelve steps? And how?”

“Well, ’cause thirteen’s unlucky. You can open your eyes now.”

Darren did. They were standing before a large, actual room—not a cavern—and an odd device barred the entrance. A glance back hinted dimly at the small cave they had come through.

“How did you know this was here? And how do we get past that thing up ahead?”

“I can’t remember how it all works; it gives me a headache. You’re supposed to use a mystical talisman to pass the barrier—a to-ken. But I usually just jump the thing.”

He demonstrated, and the others followed suit.

“Now what?” Darren asked.

“Now we choose,” Shafer said, and he seemed suddenly serious, more awed than odd for once. “This is the entry to Tehros.”

Next: Choice of Tehros

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dark World: The Horror Sign

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

“Clio!” Darren cried. “Where did you come from?”

“A small village called Deephaven, where my mother had relatives. Rosa took me there, hoping it would help me forget what happened. But I slipped away—stranded her there, unfortunately—and came looking for your friend the doctor. And now I find someone else has beaten me to him.”

“Why couldn’t you make an appointment like everyone else? We’re trying to rescue him.”

“So am I.” At Darren’s incredulous expression she explained, “I can’t get my revenge until he’s safe. Besides, I’m beginning to think I shall need help reaching Father or getting him back.”

“What we’re learning now may help us find your father. Mr. Shafer, you said you didn’t know exactly where they took Dr. Fleming. What do you know about his whereabouts?”

“They took him a long way off. I hope it isn’t where I think. They’re probably going to let the Dehros deal with him though.”

“Wait! Does this piece of of paper mean anything?” Darren showed the man the scrap with the odd symbol. “I don’t know why, but it fills me with loathing.”

Shafer looked at it and shuddered. “Yeah, it makes everyone feel like that. Too bad. That doctor guy was a nice enough jerk.”

“Where is he?”

“Other side of the world by now.”

“What? How could he get there so quickly? And more to the point, can we get there and help him?”

“You can try. But you’ll never get out of there alive.”

“Just get us there. You don’t have to stay and fight.”

“Oh, that’s okay. I haven’t been killed in ages. I could use something to eat, though.”

“Lassiter, round up some travel supplies while I get your friend a sandwich. We need to leave as soon as possible.”

Since Lassiter had unpacked when they returned from Boston, he was able to re-pack quickly enough. He collected food and water for an overnight trip, and he got the doctor’s pack of equipment just in case.

Meanwhile, Clio ducked out and returned carrying a bow and a few arrows. “Quieter than a gun and every bit as lethal,” she muttered in response to the stares.

Darren helped Lassiter pack as Shafer began eating, and soon the strange vagrant was ready to take his sandwich along. Lassiter started for the door, Darren right behind him. But for a reason Darren himself couldn’t quite understand, he paused to scan the room: What was it? A faint, unaccountable darkness? A slight breeze where no current of air should have stirred? Something…

“Coming?” Lassiter called from the doorway.

The scan became a glance. “Yes, coming.” Unsure and unsatisfied, Darren headed for the door and the familiar darkness and breeze beyond.

Next: Delvings Deep

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Dark World: The Straight Dope

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

“Well, at least we know it’s Shafer,” Lassiter said after examining the unconscious man.

“What I want to know is where Victor went—or was taken,” Darren replied. “I can’t make anything of the tracks; they end at the road, and there might have been a car waiting, though I didn’t hear anything.”

“Let’s take Shafer inside and bring him around. With a little luck, he’ll tell us what we want to know.” So saying, Lassiter picked the man up and carried him inside, and Darren followed, puzzling over the strange sign on the scrap of paper.

Darren found Dr. Fleming’s medical kit and produced some smelling salts, but the results were not what they might have hoped.

“Put that away,” Shafer mumbled. “Try food. I always wake up for food.”

“Do you wake up for a thrashing?” Darren asked.

“No, that puts me to sleep.”

Lassiter growled something unintelligible and grasped the foil cap that was still clinging to Shafer’s head. “Wake up, or I’ll take this off and tear it up.”

Shafer’s eyes opened wide. “You wouldn’t!”

“I would, and so would Darren, here. We could each take an end and make a wish. Now talk! What happened to Dr. Fleming?”

“The guys who followed me caught him. It was really funny: they figured you would come out to see me, so they grabbed that doctor guy when he came instead.”

“They’re still after me? Why? And who are they, anyway? Mantong’s people?”

“Yeah—the Tehros. They’re pretty nice, except when they hit me in the head.”

“So Mantong’s a Tehro?”

“No, ‘Tehros’ is their game. There are two groups underground, and each one has a favorite game. Tehros is about crossing distances and mountains and stuff, and Dehros is about tearing people limb from limb. The guys who play Tehros are okay, but the guys who play Dehros are monsters. The Tehros—the guys who play it—hate the Dehros, and they think the Dehros came from the dark world. So they try to shut any openings to it and kill any Dehros that come through.”

“Then they think I’m a Dehros?”

“Well, yeah—you know, the werewolf bit, the Nazis... I try to tell them, but they won’t listen. They’d throw me out, but I got as many miles playing Tehros as they do, so they have to let me keep playing.”

Darren’s patience finally gave out. “So where is Dr. Fleming?”

“I don’t know, exactly.”

“But I’m sure you’ll find out,” said a familiar voice from the doorway, where Clio FitzHugh stood with gun in hand.

Next: The Horror Sign

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dark World: Vanished

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Darren decided not to wait to secure the house, but as the shutters swung into place, Lassiter again said, “It is Shafer. I could see his face plainly in the moonlight.”

Darren reversed the shutters slightly and peeked through a crack. “It is,” he announced, confused.

“I told you so.”

“This isn’t the man I saw before. That man skulked; Shafer doesn’t seem to know how. But in any case, it is Shafer now.”

“Excellent. I’m going to talk to him—try to get him to come inside. If we can get him to talk, he could tell us everything, or at least more than we know now. Do you want to come along?”

“I’m not sure either of us should go. There is the other man at least—maybe more. We don’t know who is out there or why, and I’d rather not do anything without telling…”

A gunshot cut Darren short, and he whirled around. “Victor!”

The next moment they were in the doctor’s bedroom, where they encountered a very belligerent would-be sleeper. His temper melted away as the lights came on, however.

“You’re wounded!” Darren said.

With a somewhat shaky calm, the doctor walked over to a cabinet and removed bandages and dressings. “Not really. I grazed my arm slightly, that’s all.”

“You did it? Why?”

“I had a dream—or something. The witch came for me, and the only way to break loose was to graze myself. I thought the pain and/or noise would rouse me, and it did. Of course, if it had been only a dream, the gunshot might not have worked.”

“We heard the shot; that’s why we came. And your gun has been recently fired. But considering how you would have been lying, the bullet should have hit the wall about here, and there’s no trace of it.”

Dr. Fleming inspected the wall minutely. “So you think it really happened?”

“Yes, though I don’t know how.”

“Shafer might know,” Lassiter interjected. “He is outside. Darren admits it.”

“Then I’ll get answers out of him if I have to drill and blast,” the doctor said. “This is simply too much. I refuse to be accosted in my own room.” With that, he left at high speed.

Darren followed, at first merely walking, but soon the potential danger pressed him to run. The front door was easier to exit than to enter, and the doctor was already out of sight by the time Darren got outside.

Unfortunately he remained out of sight even after Darren and Lassiter had searched the area. They found only three clues: tracks of a small group that had evidently intercepted the doctor, a strange symbol scrawled on a scrap of paper, and an unconscious and annoying enigma.

Next: The Straight Dope

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dark World: What Dreams May Come

As usual, mousing over non-English text will reveal a translation.

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

The first two weeks were the worst. Both Darren and Lassiter had roving habits, while Dr. Fleming preferred to stay at home—alone. But they couldn’t leave Lassiter on his own, and the fact that they lacked a fourth person to make two groups of two effectively confined them to the doctor’s lab regardless. Lassiter claimed to have seen Shafer lurking around, but Dr. Fleming said he was merely being paranoid. Darren thought he saw a short man on one occasion, but he didn’t think it was either Shafer or a member of Mantong’s group. Dr. Fleming suggested settling the matter by putting up a sign inviting any hidden watchers in for tea.

As the third week arrived, the thought of finally resolving the question of the full moon and just getting on with life buoyed them somewhat. Darren considered trying to summon up the priest again, but he didn’t want to risk getting someone else instead. The door was better left as shut as possible.

However, as the moon waxed, Dr. Fleming began watching Lassiter more closely, which was not well received. “Do you feel anything?” he asked one night as the moon looked especially large, just a few days before it would be full.

“No. I never felt anything unusual until the full moon rose.”

The doctor turned away, muttering, but Lassiter casually looked out the window—not up at the moon, but toward the ground, which was already well lighted by the pale, cold orb. “Darren, come quick!” he called stiffly. As Darren approached, followed closely by Dr. Fleming, Lassiter continued, “Just Darren. It’s Shafer again, and I don’t want him to know I’ve seen him.”

“I don’t know why not,” Darren said. “From what I’ve seen of him, Victor’s plan to put out an invitation to tea would probably work.” Still, Darren meandered over to Lassiter and strained his peripheral vision. “I think there is someone out there, but I’m not sure it’s Shafer.”

“Who else could it be? The height and build are right; it’s not stocky enough for Mantong’s people, and I can’t think of anyone else who fits the description.”

“Neither can I, but this man is furtive; Shafer isn’t. You have secured the place, haven’t you, Victor?”

“Not only secured, but defended with some painfully discouraging traps. I hope it is Shafer, and he’s in an inquisitive mood. I am in dormose mood, and I intend to indulge it. Shutter the window when you’re through gawking.”

With that, the doctor retired to his room. He swiftly changed his clothes, but the pajamas he chose, though comfortable, could also take a fair amount of abuse, and his robe and shoes were handy in case he needed to spring out of bed and into action. Then he lay down and shut his eyes.

Unlike many people of that time, Dr. Fleming never wore a sleep mask; he deplored sensory deprivation of any kind. He did have the window shuttered, however, and the only light source was from the door he had left cracked open.

So when a steady light shone in his face, he at first assumed the door had come further open. He could have slept anyway, but a wide-open door implied unacceptable potential noise. He opened his eyes and found the light came not from an open door but a full moon shining down on the ground where he was lying. He knew what or whom he would see when he looked at the hilltop, but he could not help looking anyway.

Yo ha venit por te, amico,” the dark woman said.

“This is a dream,” the doctor stated, trying desperately to believe it.

To ne fa nequo,” she replied. “Tu desir ha advocat me, e tu va sequer me.

Dr. Fleming found himself standing up, and he knew walking toward her was next. He could think of only one chance: by a supreme effort of will, he drew his gun and fired.

Next: Vanished

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dark World: The Calm

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

After an uneventful night, Dr. Fleming proved as good as his word, much to Lassiter’s annoyance. The latter found himself poked, prodded, and wired until he said he wished he could turn werewolf just to make it worth their while. To make himself useful and escape the fulminations inside, Darren decided to service the doctor’s car. He knew the doctor would insist on fine-tuning his work, but after all the driving they had done the last few days, a tune-up was called for.

Unfortunately, the peace of mechanics was short-lived, and Darren eventually had to go back inside, where the patient’s patience had deteriorated and taken the doctor’s with it. Lassiter showed “no discernable sign of significant anomalies,” Dr. Fleming said, and the insignificant anomalies were probably from the silver therapy.

“So am I cured?” Lassiter demanded. From the look on the doctor’s face, it wasn’t the first time, and the query had already worn out its welcome.

“I won’t know until the next full moon. Or until the witch comes looking for you, perhaps. What do you think, Darren?”

“I don’t know. The cases of shape-shifting I’ve heard of were simply demonic. This is more complex. At the very least, his sensitivity to silver when he is called implies something physical. I don’t think silver as such has any spiritual properties.”

“And yet you were quick to try it on the werewolf originally.”

“It was present, and it evidently wasn’t your idea. It seemed worth a try.” He glanced at Lassiter, who was busy stripping the doctor’s handiwork from his person. “Of course, since the call normally changes his body outwardly, perhaps it starts with a less obvious change—something that makes him sensitive to silver.”

“I’ve thought of that,” Dr. Fleming muttered as he tried to rescue his sensors from Lassiter’s irritation. “There’s just no way to prove it without the ‘call’—by which I suppose you mean either the full moon or the witch trying to summon him.”

“At this point I don’t think the moon will affect him. I suspect the moon triggered the demon, and the demon in turn triggered the change that made silver harmful. Absent the demon, the moon cannot effect the change. The witch’s call would, however.”

“I defy you to justify that rationally.”

“I can’t prove it, but it is reasonable. The moon by itself doesn’t change people into werewolves, and you’ve demonstrated that Lassiter is physically normal. There must be a change; the moon by itself cannot produce it; the witch’s call does.”

“If it weren’t for the descent into idiocy, I would invite you to prove that the moon doesn’t turn people into werewolves.”

“What I want to know,” Lassiter said, “is what we’re going to do about whoever drops in first. It’ll probably be the Nazis.”

“Perhaps,” Dr. Fleming replied, “but I fully expect Dr. Newman to show up. The Nazis probably know where I live; Dr. Newman definitely does, and he must suspect I’ve returned home.”

“Let’s try this,” Darren proposed. “Stay here until someone shows up or the moon becomes full—whichever comes first. After that, we may as well go hunting. I don’t think Newman or the Nazis know much, but perhaps we can use Neo Patwa to find Mantong’s men who deserted.”

“Rick Shafer knows a lot,” Lassiter said. “The only problem is getting him to talk coherently. And from what he said, he’ll be around.”

“I’d prefer the Nazis,” Dr. Fleming said. “Still, Darren has a point: we may as well rest and prepare. I doubt any of our enemies are particularly violent except for the Nazis, and they will need stealth around here. And once we’ve determined the moon’s effect, we can perhaps range as far afield as we like.”

And thus began their struggle with peace and relaxation.

Next: What Dreams May Come

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dark World: No Place Like Home

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Darren thought Dr. Fleming’s laboratory and residence seemed more forbidding than welcoming, and he was sure Lassiter spoke for them all when he said, “It seems like years since we left here.”

The doctor was driving, and he muttered, “A little over nine months at most.” But his eyes searched the scene for traps. “It will take me a moment to collect my gear. Darren, you have a key; go unlock the door while Lassiter and I begin packing our luggage inside.”

Darren smiled. It was as close as the doctor would probably come to admitting that they might confront a spiritual problem requiring a spiritual solution. For what it was worth, he didn’t sense such a thing though he still prayed as he opened the door.

The hasty cleanup from their recent campaign to civilize and humanize Lassiter definitely needed improvement, but Darren scouted the building first. It didn’t take long, but he had to poke his head out the door with an all clear anyway before his friends joined him. Then he went out for a load, though there wasn’t much left. Dr. Fleming had evidently insisted on carrying most of his gear, and Lassiter, who didn’t have any luggage, could easily pack most of the rest inside.

The doctor surveyed his home critically. “Apart from some untidiness, everything seems in order. Gentlemen, I suggest we turn in early; tomorrow I intend to run more medical tests on Lassiter than either of you have ever heard of.”

“Why?” Lassiter asked. “I haven’t even begun to change since we were on our way to Dvorak’s.”

“True, but the only other time you’ve encountered the witch lately was when she was busy with the Nazis. I want you to be ready for her next visit or the full moon, whichever comes first. And if you’ll recall, the last time you started to change, your failure was quite painful. I’d like to prevent a recurrence almost as much as you would.”

Lassiter nodded unhappily, and Darren said, “Where does that leave me?”

“On a centrally located couch,” the doctor replied. “You’re a light sleeper, and while I believe I trust Lassiter’s intentions, you are more likely to resist any attacks and provide useful assistance.”

“We have other potential enemies as well—whoever tried to kill Dvorak, and perhaps Newman.”

“Annoying but true. We sleep armed. I’ll feel a little better once I’m sure Lassiter’s problem is under control, however. An external menace is easier to defeat.”

With that, the doctor began locking the place down, though sunset was not imminent. Lassiter helped Darren move the couch, and the doctor opened his library for general use. Darren, who was already familiar with its occasionally quite non-utilitarian contents, located a small volume of Donne’s poems and headed back for the couch, while the others made selections and pulled up a couple of chairs for close if silent companionship and awaited the fall of night.

Next: The Calm

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Do-It-Yourself Communion

I encountered something distinctly troubling Sunday: news of a church that, in an attempt to accommodate those whose background involves receiving the Lord's Supper (or Communion or the Eucharist, whatever you want to call it) every week, would soon feature a place where anyone so inclined could take Communion solo without bothering anyone else.

No muss, no fuss.

No concept of sacrilege, either.

Shouldn't this be an obviously bad idea? It's called "Communion" by some at least, and the communion is not just with God but with our brothers and sisters in the Lord, even those not blessed to be in our church or denomination. Yet it is the people next to us in the pew or the line who are the most evident reminders of what it's about. Paul told the Corinthians not to go at their own pace but to wait for the others:

"When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat,
for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else." (1 Cor 11:20-21a)

"So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other." (1 Cor 11:33)

If there are people around you and you have your own private service, so to speak, isn't that wrong? (Sometimes you simply are alone, but that's a different matter.)

Beyond this, there is a great casualness about what is supposed to be a holy thing. This should be a solemn moment, but it's reduced to the convenience of a drive-through window at McDonald's. We have lost such sacredness as remains for non-liturgical Protestants, and even the liturgical set have their frivolous group.

Now, what makes this morbidly hilarious is that the some of the very people promoting this idea have been making a lot of noise about doctrinal purity and the fundamentals of the faith.

About the only upside here is that Satan may be incapacitated with laughter.

So, what to do other than gripe? Pray. I'm afraid these people wouldn't listen to an opposing view, probably even from God, but prayer is the only answer.

For the rest of you, as you receive communion next time--surrounded by your brothers and sisters and connected backwards in time all the way to the upper room where they first heard, "This is my body"; sideways to people receiving communion at the same time, even if elsewhere; and forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb of which this is the foretaste--pray for these people who have sacrificed the inconvenient glory of community for the convenient desolation of isolation, cut off from the Body and dishonoring the Head.

Lord, have mercy on us all.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Shadow of the Rope: A Free Book Review

"The marriage that I propose to you," continued Steel, "is simply the most convenient form of friendship of which I can think. I want to be your friend; indeed, that much I mean to be, if necessary, in spite of you. I was interested in your case, so I came up to hear your trial. I was more interested in your trial, but most interested of all in yourself. There, indeed, the word is too weak; but I will not vex your spirit with a stronger. My attraction you know; my determination you know; even the low wiles to which your pride reduced me, even my dodging and dogging, have been quite openly admitted to you on the first reasonable opportunity. ... What I can do, however," and Steel bent further forward, with eyes that held Rachel's in their spell; "what I can do, and will, is to go back with a lady who shall be my wife in name, my daughter in effect. We should, I trust, be the best of friends; but I will give you my word, and not only my word but my bond, that we never need be anything more."

This is the strange proposal that confronts Rachel Minchen, just acquitted by jury of murdering her husband, but considered guilty by practically everyone else in Britain, in The Shadow of the Rope (free audiobook here), by E. W. Hornung. A mysterious stranger—a rich, older man named Steel—watched the trial and offered Mrs. Minchen his assistance, which she spurned until the full horror of her desperate situation drove her to accept.

Who is he, really? Why is he interested in her, and what connection did he have with her husband and perhaps with his murder? And who did kill him, anyway? Steel is polite to Rachel, but there is a gulf between them, and sometimes he seems curiously unconcerned about her even as he has expressed or demonstrated attentiveness.

It isn't until Rachel's secret past (and perhaps Steel's) begins to come out that a friend, a writer, undertakes a proper investigation into the murder, about which Steel is not just uninterested but defiant, daring him to find the truth.

This is quite a good story on the whole. There are two things that bother me, though they are fairly minor.

First, only an idiot would think Rachel guilty. She had quarreled with her husband and was on the brink of returning to Australia when he was killed: why should she kill him, under the circumstances? And if she did kill him, wouldn't she realize how damning her preparations to leave would look? Someone tried (incompetently) to conceal the murder and make it look like the work of thieves; if that was her doing, she should have trusted to the deception and (again) not continued her preparations for departure. And then there's her decision to visit a sick friend when she should have been either fleeing or doing a better job covering up the crime. It's fairly obvious that she didn't know about the murder until well after the fact.

Second, we are told not to pity a certain character. Rubbish! Not to pity that character is to be a jerk. The character's effective end is in my opinion undeserved, and pity is deserved.

Otherwise, it's a good story that will puzzle and mislead the reader until the end.

Once again, that's

The Shadow of the Rope

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dark World Recap 2

The first recap is here.

The trip to Darren's old friend and mentor, Dr. FitzHugh, does not turn out well: the doctor went on a private expedition and has not returned. His daughter, Clio, goes to get some notes of his on a strange pidgin, Neo Patwa, and is attacked. In the confusion, Lassiter disappears.

Dr. Fleming believes that Dr. FitzHugh's disappearance was voluntary, and he gives Darren a clue that should lead to the doctor. Lassiter re-appears, saying he has encountered an old friend, Rick Shafer, who appears to be both remarkably well informed and patently insane.

The trio travels to Atlantis, an old haunt of Dr. FitzHugh's, where they are captured by people like the man who attacked Clio. These men seem afraid of Lassiter and connect him with various evil entities. The trio outwit their captors only to be met by Dr. FitzHugh, who is determined to go to the dark world for research. He reveals that he has discovered something extremely significant; it is related to a strange language (‘Est id deusk? Deusker quem temos.’ ‘Is it dark? Darker than darkness.’). He also says the door between the worlds has closed and Lassiter is the key to re-opening it.

They are interrupted by Nazis who want to send an expeditionary force to the dark world; the way indeed opens, and they are claimed by the mysterious Dark Lady and vanish.

Dr. FitzHugh prepares to depart, but Clio shows up at the last moment. She tries to join him, but winds up clutching air as he disappears. She says that Rick Shafer told her where her father was; she has no idea how Shafer gets around so quickly, because he arrived at Atlantis before she did.

In order to prevent Clio from rashly barging into danger, Dr. Fleming makes a bet with her that he can toss her in the lake, which he does by skill and trickery. As he, Darren, and Lassiter make good their escape, he also claims that he did it to distract her from her grief and simply because "she was annoying me."

They decide to return to the doctor's home and laboratory to figure out their next move.

I'll take a very brief break from the story. When we return, Dr. Fleming has an ambiguous and frightening experience that sets the stage for the first actual adventure with Shafer.

Next: No Place Like Home

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dark World: Flip You For It

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

“Poetry in motion,” Dr. Fleming quipped, briefly watching Clio transition from floundering to swimming. “Specifically, something by Sir Walter Scott.”

Then he noticed that Darren was fleeing in the direction of the car, with Lassiter close behind. He decided to utilize his scientifically trained running ability, though he didn’t get within hailing distance until they reached the woods.

“What’s the matter?” he called.

“I know Clio,” Darren said. “She’s not only an excellent swimmer but a very fast runner.”

The doctor wisely chose to save his breath for running and his expletive for later. A roar of feminine fury behind him confirmed this decision, and he was only slightly comforted to realize that her soggy clothing should slow her down.

Darren maintained his lead and was starting the car when the doctor arrived. He grabbed the door and braced himself on the running board as Darren rocketed through the brush and onto the path.

“You did know I was here, didn’t you?” the doctor asked.

“Could a scientifically trained runner not be?” Darren replied with a grin. “Are you scientifically trained for riding on a running board?”

“Not exactly,” the doctor muttered as he opened the door and swung inside. Lassiter waved a cheery greeting from the back seat, to his great annoyance.

“Now would you mind telling me what that was all about?”

“The wager? Isn’t it obvious? First, it should give her something to think about instead of her father, at least for a few minutes. That should take the edge off her grief, if I understand her correctly. She will still grieve, of course; but I think I’ve blunted its force. Second, I take her to be an honorable woman, so her pledge not to get involved should keep her from rampaging around in dangerous places while she’s too distraught to think. And third, she was annoying me.”

“So now what?” Darren asked. They had reached an actual road, and the intersection required a choice.

“Home. I see no reason to stay away from there now, and I’d rather have the home ground advantage in whatever else transpires. I’d also like to sleep in my own bed for once. You and Lassiter can argue over the guest room and the couch, and I’ll get another bed and room set up as soon as possible. Like it or not, we’re in this together now.”

Next: No Place Like Home
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