Friday, October 28, 2011

We Were Wonder Scouts

Short Story by Will Ludwigsen
Free Audio from Podcastle (Narrated by Christopher Reynaga.)
Originally published in Asimov's, August 2011

Our protagonist is telling a story of his 1920s youth to the campers at Camp Manticore. As a boy, his father couldn't stand imagination or reading of fiction. So the narrator joins The Wonder Scouts, a fictional organization run by the real life Charles Fort. I like their oath:
On my honor, I will do my best
To confound the expectations of society,
To observe the super-consciousness in all is workings,
To seek independence in body, in intellect, and in spirit.
Not content to merely talk about ghosts and UFOs and portals to other worlds, the Wonder Scouts plan a trip to the Adirondacks, where several young girls have vanished in the past few years. Possibly abducted by Little People, possibly fallen through some sort of spacetime vortex. The answer isn't at all what they expect, but our narrator himself sees something the others don't. Maybe it was his imagination, or maybe it was something a little bit magical.

I like the storytelling tone of the story, and the story within the story, and particularly the story that Fort told the narrator around a campfire, when the Scouts asked for a scary story. It's a bit scary, in a traditional ghost story sort of way, but it's also really, really sad. It's about regretting your lack of courage and curiosity, and the fear that maybe you aren't special, but other people are. I can see kids not getting excited about it as a ghost story, but that makes it more special as a sad adult story.

That's the real take-home message here: the narrator experienced something terrifying and dangerous, but he went back into the woods later in life, and he doesn't regret it. And maybe if he'd been afraid and stayed safe at home, or stayed with the group, he'd have been safer, but he'd have regretted not knowing. Curiosity is important, as is the courage to indulge it. And we can always hope for a more fantastic answer, somewhere out there.

4 cryptozoology merit badges out of 5.

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