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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The Hopeful Wanderer – Evidence of a Struggle

Along a well-maintained forest path, I found myself walking beside an old stone fence. Sunlight streaming through the leaves overhead caught among mossy fibers, turning them to filaments of fire, wreathing the green fence in a golden glow. Rocks piled on rocks made for a lumpy surface, but the thick cushion of moss looked so inviting, I had to stop for a sit.

I plopped down next to a thick spike of stone that reared up from among the rest of the rocks. As high as my head, coming to a point. I leaned back to regard this rock. Some of the moss near the top had rubbed off. In the bare patch, instead of the gray stone I expected, white glinted in the sun rays.

Standing with a scrape of my shoes on the fence, I wiped away the moss around the bare spot, green catching beneath my fingernails. More white revealed, less like any kind of rock. Smoother. More like…

Enamel.

Frowning, I took in the row of fence with knew eyes. The shape and structure of the piles. Realizing that beneath all that moss were enormous teeth.

Under my palm pressed against what must be an eye tooth of the largest kind, I sensed grooves carved into the surface. Scraping more moss away released a wet, green scent. A crude etching of a battle lay beneath, of small people battling a giant. On front of the tooth was an inscription.

“Dedicated to the brave fallen warriors who redeemed this land from a giant. May we flourish here in peace.”

I glanced around at the empty forest surrounding me. A narrow footpath and a mossy stone fence the single markers of humanity. I guessed they hadn’t needed the land from the giant so bad after all.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – A Pink Path for Pilgrimage

While rambling through a remote area of woodland, I happened upon a river of pink flowers flowing along the forest floor. Meandering back and forth across my path from my left to my right. I suspected the flowers must have sprung up from the moisture in an old river bed, yet my heart fluttered at the wondrous picture they created of a lovely pink path.

A sweet scent rose from the blossoms, along with several rustlings. Upon closer look, I realized small creatures traveled down the flower path, hidden beneath the thick cluster of plants. I crouched down closer, noting how all the little animals moved in the same direction, toward my right.

Leaning forward, I parted the pink flowers over one such spot of rustling. Among the stalks crouched a white rabbit with one black-rimmed eye, staring up at me. Little nose quivering. “Shh…” the creature whispered. “If you ask questions, the magic disappears.”

Biting my tongue on all the things I had started to ask, I nodded. “I could follow,” I suggested.

The rabbit’s ears waggled in thought. “Our destination is no place for you,” it pronounced. “Don’t follow.” Then it hopped away, vanishing behind a screen of leaves.

Letting the blooms fall back into place, I pursed my lips and sat back. Wondering whether I dared satisfy my curiosity at the ruin of this woodland pilgrimage. With care, I stepped one foot down into the river of blooms, pink enveloping my leg up to my knee. Two creatures diverted around my foot. The warmth of greenery gathered in my mouth.

For a moment, I wobbled on one foot, deciding. But a quick hop landed me on the other side. The flowers where I had stood sprang back upright, as if to pretend I had never tread there.

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