The Hopeful Wanderer – To Be Known

Cradled in the palms of a young man was a nest of interwoven brown twigs, the bowl filled to the brim with tiny eggs the color of spring. Buttery yellow, pastel pink, hazy purple, soft white. All speckled with little red dots, minuscule dribbles of blood. The clack as they jostled against each other promised thick, hard shells, filled with gooey, spicy delight. My stomach twisted at the memory of overindulgence.

We stood together in a faded barn loft, where the boy had just pulled the nest down from among the rafters. Straw so old it had gone to white littered the wood floor and fine dust wandered away through the open loft doors. The eggs almost glowed with color by comparison with our drab surroundings.

As if in offering, the boy held the nest out to me. “Take these.”

Though desire arced through me, I raised my hands as if to ward him off. “Why do you want me to have them?”

“They’re my secrets,” he said. “I need you to hold onto them. Don’t you want to know?”

My mouth watered with the heady scent of sugar wafting up from the eggs. I swallowed. “If I take these,” I warned, “I will devour them.”

As his eyes widened, he hugged the bundle of eggs a little closer to his chest. “Why would you do that?”

I slipped my hands into my pockets, resisting temptation. “Don’t be so willing to give your secrets out,” I growled. “No one can protect them like you.”

The boy’s head bowed. “I’d still risk it,” he whispered. “To be known.”

“You know yourself,” I replied. Though he flinched, I pressed on. “Secrets are dangerous and therefore delicious. Be careful who you feed.”


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The Hopeful Wanderer – Making Arrangements

Stacks of desert rocks dotted the sand, piled high and straight. Each painted a different color of the rainbow, each the size of my head or bigger. But in the early morning light, my guide and I noted in silence how around the toes of these rainbow pillars, the light pink and the light blue rocks lay scattered about in the sand. My guide frowned, his mustache twitching.

“Are they always like this?” I asked. The sun had not yet grown hot, but I could feel fingers of warmth tickling my spine as it crested the horizon.

“Not at all,” my guide replied. If anything, he looked a little green. “The ancients meant for all the colors to support one another, as we all support one another.”

I stalked around the cluster of pillars. Those still standing looked faded and weather worn, but the blues and pinks each featured a dent in them, exposing raw, fresh color to the air. “Looks like someone hit these very hard. Hard enough to knock them out of the stack without upsetting the rest.”

My guide hefted one of the pink rocks in his hands, regarding it as if it could speak to tell him why this had happened. “The ancients placed these pillars here long ago. We have guesses, but we don’t know much about the colors’ meaning.”

“Can we put them back where they were?”

“Not without help.”

“We can’t leave them like this.” The sight of such a targeted attack left my stomach wrung out.

“We’ll get help,” my guide reassured me. “After.”

Before we went back, we stacked the pinks and the blues at the tops of each pillar. That felt right. That the other colors should, for a moment, support those which had gotten knocked down.

That felt right.


The beautiful image in this post courtesy of Paulo Jacobe on Unsplash.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Opening the Box

In the very last car of a subway train, I heard a squeak, as of skin sliding against glass. I glanced around the empty car from my seat somewhere in the middle, where I waited for takeoff. The noise came again, from the back door. Getting up to investigate, I wondered if someone was trying to sneak a ride.

But when I peered through the back door window, I found, somehow, another car attached to the back of mine. I had not noted this car when I boarded. Knew I had chosen the car very farthest back for a little peace.

In spite of my certainty, I could not deny this mysterious extra car. I opened my door and stepped into the service space between doors. A pair of hands were pressed against the other car’s window from inside. Another squeak sounded as the palms flattened further, as if desperately trying to push the door open.

No lights illuminated the inside of the car. I could not see the owner of the hands, which themselves were long and slender.

Above the door’s pull handle was a lock knob twisted shut. She was locked in there. In the dark. Who knew what she needed to escape? I reached for the knob.

A faint whisper in my ear. “Don’t unlock it.”

The lock snicked open beneath my fingers. The hands within pushed and pushed, shoving me aside. I stepped back to let her out, shuffling in the tight space.

But when the door swung wide, there was no one on the other side. Nothing but inky darkness. A cool breath of air brushed my cheek in passing and the semi-open door behind me creaked. Shocked, I pushed the mysterious car’s door shut, wondering what I had just released into the world.


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The Hopeful Wanderer – A Dusty Day

Thick dust whirled upward in a swirling column, thinning out and widening in breadth the higher the wind whipped into the sky. A dust devil. Close enough to my position in the middle of sandy scrub land that the dusty air rendered the sun above hazy. Close enough for the wind whistling through desert plants and scattering gravel every direction to take on the rattle of millions of skittering little feet.

Close enough.

Heat beat down on the top of my head. My bag lay somewhere to my left, to avoid getting mucky. I stood in the path of the column of dust, which rose and fell, rose and fell. I panted from my run to get there, eyeing the erratic motion of the thick base. Three times my width.

Here was good.

The dust devil bore down on me with a roar. I screwed my eyes shut and opened my palms at my side. Leaned into the wind slapping at me from all directions, twisting my hair. Felt dust and sand and gravel scour at my cheeks and palms. Wished the wind would lift me from my feet and carry me away.

But my feet remained bound to earth. In a blink, the dust devil passed, leaving me gasping in its wake. Hair and face and skin caked in dirt.

Turning, I watched the dust devil recede, losing momentum and structure. I licked my lips and spat, brown sludge mixing with the sand between my shoes. The thirsty ground wicked the moisture right up.

In the distance, the dust devil abruptly fell apart, collapsing and drifting away in the hot wind as if it had never existed.

Little granules of dirt ground between my teeth when I grinned. What fun.

In the distance, another dust devil rose.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Secondhand Furniture

“When you said you needed help in your shop, I thought it would be a little more… finished.”

Afternoon light squirmed in through the front door of a very run down rental space, cascading through floating dust motes kicked up by my vigorous pushing of a broom. The floating dust would render my efforts useless later when they settled back to the floor, but I felt satisfied with my little pile of dirt and old leaves, with the clean white tiles left behind.

Nearby, my host knelt, carefully uprooting a sapling from where it had grown through a gap in the floor. Its branches strained toward the sunlight, growing just a little in shadow. A large pot waited ready for it.

“I been doing all this work myself,” said the shopkeeper. “Not a lot of folks willing to help out just for a couple nights in a bed.” She shot me a curious look over the tops of her glasses.

Before I could reply, a sneeze shook me to my toes. The shopkeeper, now also my host, offered me a handkerchief to blow my nose. “Sometimes,” I said with a sniffle, “it takes work to satisfy curiosity.” Said curiosity being at a cloud of dust billowing from a tiny shop tucked between two department stores in a city (usually) devoid of things like dust. “Why here, though? Seems more trouble than it’s worth.”

My host straightened up from repotting the sapling. She looked around at the boarded up windows, furniture so used as to no longer be secondhand, and weeds pushing up from beneath the floor. “I like rescuing things,” she said. “Besides, I’ve wanted to run a shop forever. Figure it’s time to put down roots.”

I gave her a smile to show I understood, not understanding at all.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Jealous Grass

A person was laying in the grass, and she had been for quite some time. Flat on her back. A bouquet of big white and yellow daisies clutched in her hands lay across her chest. When she continued not to move from her grassy bed, I walked over to investigate.

Blue eyes widened when I came into her view. The woman, more of a girl, did not move at my approach, which concerned me most. My next concern being the large white daisy stuck in her mouth, slender petals folded inward between her lips.

“Looks like a ritual,” I murmured. To her, I said, “Was this on purpose?”

An emphatic head shake.

When I tried to pull her up by the arm, her back stuck to the grass. A quick peek beneath her showed grass woven into the fibers of her shirt. Sitting back on my heels, I plucked the flower from her mouth.

Gagging, the girl spat more petals into the air. One stuck to her cheek. “It’s the flowers,” she wheezed. “You have to run!”

A grass petal slithered across the toe of my shoe. I shook it off.

“What started this?” I demanded.

A tear slid from the girl’s eye as grass wove lovingly into her hair. “I picked this bouquet,” she whispered.

“Throw them away!”

“I can’t let go!”

I snatched the bouquet from the girl’s hand, stems slipping from her unresistant fingers with ease, and tossed it as far as I could, loose petals raining down in the bouquet’s wake.

Grabbing her hand, I hauled the girl upright. Grass petals fell from her hair past her shocked expression. “I couldn’t… get out,” she whispered.

“You can now,” I replied. In the distance, the bouquet had begun sinking below a layer of jealous grass. “Let’s go.”

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The Hopeful Wanderer – An Ocean Come to Stay

Warm, salty air blew in my face as I made my way to my favorite market, a place I had not visited in awhile. A setting sun pinking the soft clouds overhead let me know I needed to hurry before they closed down for the night.

I turned a corner for the stairs leading down into the market. But my feet slowed as I approached, for ocean water slapped against the bottom of the iron handrail, covering the steps halfway up.

All across the market was ocean.

As I stared out at the calm waves, my mind scurried around, searching for an answer. Though some time ago now, the last time I had visited this market, the ocean had lurked over a mile off, trapped behind the barrier of a sea wall to prevent flooding. The market itself had bustled with lively trade, the brick paths ringing with music and voices raised with the joy of shopping. Colorful awnings and overhangs had protected from the sun and seagulls. Street food scenting the air.

Yet the waves lapped and lapped at the stairway. Going nowhere. Giving up nothing. To me, it appeared as though the ocean had come to stay.

A few people moved along the sidewalk behind me, including a kid. A girl who gawked at me but tried to hide it.

As she passed, I cleared my throat to get the girl’s attention. “Excuse me, there used to be a market here,” I said, pointing at the waves. “Where is it now?”

The girl pointed in the same place. When I looked in the direction of her index finger, I saw a corner of red and white tent cloth waving from a few inches below the water. “The sea rose too fast,” she explained. “We couldn’t save any of it.”

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The Hopeful Wanderer – A Seven Vessel Mission

Seven boats lay keeled over on their sides in the shallows of a cloudy bay. Water swallowed the gray sky above until they became mirrored reflections, indistinguishable, and lapped against the exposed ribs of the boats like a kitten at a captured fish. Wood and metal creaked as the tide began to shift back out to sea.

I crouched on a nearby pier, watching these boats. The sunlight grew wan, wearing on toward evening.

When the tide had well turned, a low creak echoed around the cove. The sound somewhere between the call of whales and the scraping of metal upon stone. Each boat, large and small, shuddered, wood planks groaning as their skeletal frames shifted. Though they did not, could not float, the boats rose on their keels as field beasts rising from a nap, shaking themselves off.

Surprised the boats had, in fact, activated, I flicked a switch on a device cradled in my palm. Seven dots lit up on the radar screen. I’d heard about this curious phenomenon, which occurred on a regular if infrequent schedule, and I wanted to know where they would go.

Ripples grew into waves crashing against the rocks at the foot of the pier. The boats clustered into a formation sensible to some bygone programmers, ranging from the largest in the middle to the smallest at the ends, arranged in a crescent.

Then the boats floated away. No pilots. No captains. No motors or sails. They angled out to sea, ragged black outlines against the setting sun. The tracker screen showed the dots growing more distant, but their glow remained steady and a digital needle pointed in their direction.

Between one blink and the next, the boats slipped beyond the horizon.

And the dots and the arrow on my tracker winked out.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – A Desperate Apology

“This world is dying.”

A woman stood in the middle of the crumbling living room in an abandoned house. She looked like a specter, with the dim afternoon sunlight struggling in through the dusty windows at her back, with her flowy dark clothes and her flowy dark hair, with the small deer skulls perched on her head in a macabre wreath. But she sounded just like a woman, sad and maybe getting over a cold.

I stood outside a broken bay window, peering into the living room. “I know,” I replied. “Everyone knows that.”

A little flame sparked as she struck a match, setting it to a sprig of some green plant she held. The glow lit up her face, darkening the hollows of her eyes. “I just don’t know what else to do,” she said. Her hard gaze flicked to my face. “Don’t try to stop me.”

“From what?” I asked. But then she dropped the smoldering herbs.

Sparks leapt in all directions and caught on the dry wood flooring, little tongues of flame curling up around the woman’s bare toes. She stepped delicately over them and made for the door, leaving a small inferno behind.

I stared, mouth agape. The woman joined me outside and watched the living room burn with me.

My eyes watered with the sting of smoke. “Why would you do this?”

She shrugged. “As an offering, I guess.” Fire climbed to the rafters and smoke billowed upward, but it was a windless day and the flames seemed disinclined to leave, though it wouldn’t have mattered. People had abandoned this neighborhood long ago.

“As an apology, too,” the woman continued. “To this world, for my part in helping to kill it.”

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Field Guardians

In a remote field of faded stubble, buried deep in the woods, I had almost crossed to the other side when two young women stepped out in front of me. I pulled up short, but they just stood there next to each other. Both wore a lacy white sun dress and no shoes. They seemed identical, except one had a tattoo on the top of her thigh, peeking from beneath the hem of her dress.

Each held a large section of tree bark in front of their faces.

In the silence, a cricket chirped nearby. When I tried to walk around, they shuffled to remain in my path. Dust rose from crackling stubble, drifting aside on a faint breeze.

I swallowed down the taste of earth. “May I pass?”

The one lacking tattoos motioned with an open hand. “Our field lies uncultivated. Won’t you contribute some seeds for the planting?”

I had no seeds with me, but I had eaten from a wild strawberry bush back the way I’d come. Trekking back beyond the field, I plucked a strabwerry and brought it back. Squeezing it to a red pulp, I picked out the seeds and placed them into the free hand of the tattooed one.

“And some water to help them grow?” said the first.

Uncapping my water bottle, I splashed some over the seeds. They floated in the water cupped in the woman’s hand.

“And a place to plant them?”

Crouching, I dug into the dirt at the woman’s feet, scooping out a fist sized hollow. The tattooed one knelt and poured the water and seeds inside. I closed up the hole with dirt scraped back over and a little green sprig sprang up.

The two women stepped apart and I nodded to each as I passed between them.

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