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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 827 Response

Wayward Dogs

with Gary Clifton

Wayward Dogs” appears in issue 827.

Challenge 827 asks: Why does the story end with Officer Dunagan carrying terrible news to Michelle?

The implication is: What would you say? And what ought to happen next? The author explains that the story dramatizes an incident in real life, when he was on the police detail in this case.

[Gary Clifton] That’s another actual incident. We stumbled on the kids while trying to confirm the address from the mother’s welfare card found at the scene of her murder.

The guy at the store, who did not own the building, referred to the children with a much more offensive term than “wayward dogs.”

The oldest kid told us about the mother’s taking the last bus home at night.

Children’s Protective Services came out and probably fed the girls their best meal in a while. We didn’t see much to eat in the apartment; that’s why I dubbed in the dialogue about no food.

The mother also had a food-stamp card, but where was the food? We figured she had a man staying with her part-time who traded off the food vouchers for cash and stole the welfare money.

[Don Webb] Thank you, “GC.” Readers must feel a certain helplessness at a story of such neglect due to indifference or ignorance. We can be glad that you and the Childrens’ Protective Services were there when you were needed.

Now, Bewildering Stories has no official holiday issues. And yet certain kinds of stories, poems and essays tend to accumulate around February 14, October 31 and in the last regular issue of the year. They’re what our contributors send us. But issue 827 appeared on October 7. Why have I saved your explanation for so long?

I wanted to recall “Wayward Dogs.” It is hardly a “Christmas story” in any traditionally modern way. Officer Dunagan’s conversation with the religion-spouting but mean-sprited Murphy illustrates starkly and simply an all too recognizable cautionary tale.

But neither is the Biblical story of the first Christmas a comfortably modern story; it was a story of social revolution at the time and has remained one ever since. “The Kingdom of God is at hand” is not a promise, it’s a statement of fact; we can reach out and touch it. And we don’t even have to worry about whose God it is or whether we even believe in one; we can bring it to the person next to us or on the other side of town or on the other side of the world. And we can never be sure when or how it might happen. That is what Officer Dunagan does in reprooving Murphy and leading the way to care for little Michelle and her sisters.

Copyright © 2019 by Gary Clifton
and Bewildering Stories

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