The Hopeful Wanderer – Footprints in the Sand

Along a stretch of grayscale sand, swept smooth and clean by the wind, a set of unusual footprints appeared. No one made them. None that I could see, anyway, which was troubling to begin with. But more worrying was how the footprints raised instead of imprinted, moonlight glinting along the outlined relief. As if someone walked upside down beneath a thin layer of the ground.

Walked in my direction. Sedate, even steps. Yet the tranquility of the pace unnerved me. Not quite stalking, but unhurried in the manner of a confident hunter.

Very little nearby could afford me shelter. Just empty desert and scattered boulders. I made for the nearest of these. The footprints turned to follow, steps widening, as of running.

At that, I sprinted away. Yet a glance behind revealed the footprints widened even further apart, stretching more than any person could stretch their legs. Gaining on me.

Just as I caught the boulder’s rough surface, one of the footprints raised beneath the sole of my foot.

Pain seared up my leg as the print fused through the bottom of my shoe to my skin. I screamed as my foot sank into the sand. Keeping my grip on the boulder, I lifted myself and my free foot from the ground, hauling on my trapped foot. The sand pulled back, growing hotter…

…until at last my foot came away with a sickening rip of skin.

I flopped upon my stomach across the boulder, dripping blood. Gasping. The footprints walked around to face me. Staring them down with all the bravery I could muster, I hoped they couldn’t appear on stone.

The mysterious footprints remained there, unmoving, for the rest of the night. Just as dawn touched the desert, pinking the gray sand, every footprint within view vanished.

Including mine.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Accepting Assistance

The hollow, wet thump of fruit smacking concrete still echoed around the fruit stall. Oranges, mangoes, lemons, kiwis all scattered. Rolling underneath the stand upon which stood more neat mounds of fruit. Most still neat, anyway. The rest of the pretty piles lay in ruins.

I peered over the short wall separating the beleaguered fruit stall and the one where I stood haggling for jerky. A woman sat on the floor, legs folded beneath her in an air of collapse.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

The woman stared down the corridor between myriad other stalls. Pointing a shaking hand, she whispered, “He took an entire crate…”

I glanced in the direction of her pointed finger. So did the woman trying to charge me too much for jerky. In the distance, a scruffy man barreled away, gait awkward beneath the weight of a wooden crate of pineapples.

The fruit seller balled her fists up. “I needed to sell that for medicine, you… you-!”

“Hey, listen,” said the jerky seller, peering over the wall at my side. “Why don’t I buy one and a half crates of fruit and you just give me one? I’ll throw in a box of jerky for the other half.”

The fruit seller blinked up at us. “But that’s way more than what your jerky’s worth. You’ll lose out.”

I slit my eyes in the direction of the jerky seller. “I knew you were overcharging me.”

She flapped a hand at me. “Don’t worry about it. Think of it as repayment for watching my kid when I had to bring him to work that one week.”

“I don’t know…”

“You should take the offer,” I said. “Then I’ll buy the jerky from you at a reasonable price.”

Grinning, I ducked a swipe from the jerky seller.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Detoured from Death

A sedate river of shaggy, horned beasts lumbered across the huge plain in my path. Snorting and lowing, their numbers stretched from the horizon on my right to as far as I could see on the left. Pressed together horns to tails, alternating between eating and walking. A cool wind blew them before it, sending them wherever they could find warmth.

I stood upon the single rise in this flat land, watching them pass below, noting how frost clung to brown curls. My own breath blew out white as I took a seat, resigned to waiting. No way could I pass through that herd in safety. At once, cold began seeping from the frozen ground into my bones.

Once I had built the weakest fire from withered prairie grass, I hunched over to shield the tiny flame from the ever-present wind, warming my chilled hands. When the ground shook beneath me, I looked up, surprised to find close by a young bison regarding me. Warm breath huffed into my face.

“The sun falls,” lowed the creature. “You will freeze to death soon.”

When I unclenched my teeth to speak, my jaw hurt from trying not to let them chatter. “I’m just waiting for you all to pass and I’ll be moving again.”

Turning its shaggy head to regard the passing herd, which showed no sign of abating, the bison said, “We will not pass soon enough. We’re not going the same way, but you can ride along with me for warmth.

I, too, gazed out at the herd, silhouetted black against the fading sunset, pondering the decision. Soon, though, I nodded and clambered up onto the beast’s back, snuggling into its thick woolly fur as it lumbered onward. Better detoured than dead.

A special thank-you to La Verna Joy for your support on Patreon! You are the best. Not only the best, but the very first Patreon supporter of this blog. Thank you so much, again and again.


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The Hopeful Wanderer – A Tower of Doors

Eighteen doors. Four atop six on top of eight. Their hues ran the gamut of the rainbow, with like colors clustered together within each layer. The bottom eight doors shifted from navy to indigo to cerulean; the middle six ranged from forest to emerald to lime; with the top four a mix of sunflower to apricot to blood.

This tower of doors had appeared in a busy square. Suddenly, where nothing had stood – gleaming in the afternoon sunlight like a rainbow invitation.

Many of us gathered around the mysterious tower, hands shading eyes, chins tilted back. Creaks and clicks sounded as various doors opened and closed on their own, as if invisible people walked through, even the ones at the top which opened into thin air. Within, we glimpsed swirls of colors that matched their respective doors.

Intrigued, I stepped forward. “I’ll go in one.”

A young man also stepped up. “Me too.” He glanced about, as if expecting objection. Everyone else shrank back.

I chose a door from the bottom set. So did the man. The others looked too difficult to reach without a ladder. He and I braced and opened our doors. Mine revealed turquoise and teal, and as I stepped through, the scent of salt filled my nose. I couldn’t help closing my eyes as hues and smells crashed over me.

A roar sounded nearby. Warmth caressed my face and soft sand tickled my fingers where I lay. When I opened my eyes and sat up, I found myself at the sea. No sign of the other guy.

This stretch of shore seemed familiar. I realized then that the doors were portals and mine had sent me to the ocean, almost a week’s journey away. With a sigh, I flopped back down, resigned to catching up later.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – A Weary Drifter

On the side of an empty stretch of highway, I found a little white stuffed rabbit sitting in the winter-dead grass. It wore a red dress patterned with bursts of yellow flowers. From beneath the hem, fuzzy feet poked out front, seemingly sat there and left behind. Black button eyes turned down toward the toes, as if deep in contemplation.

A breeze ruffled the rabbit’s long ears as I stopped close by, frowning downward. When my shadow fell over it, the rabbit looked up at me.

“I’m too tired to keep going,” it explained. Its front paws hung loose at its sides and it slouched over a little. The posture of the weary.

My mouth quirked. “I understand that. Where are you going?”

“I’m not really going anywhere,” said the rabbit. “Just going.”

A glance around in all directions revealed nothing nearby. Just miles of brittle brown grass and a long stretch of highway. The wide sky above had that navy blue quality that promised cold rain. “In that case,” I said, “I’d suggest finding a place to stop wandering. Only this is not a good place.”

The rabbit’s gaze found the tips of its toes again. “It’s as good a place as any.”

Nothing more did the rabbit say. After a minute, I turned my feet back toward the road.

But I hesitated. “Looks like we were headed the same direction,” I observed. “Would it help… if I walked with you awhile? Until you find a better place?”

Still the rabbit said nothing. At last, I trudged back to the highway shoulder. But behind me, I heard a crunch of grass, then gravel.

The little stuffed rabbit stepped up beside me, looking improbable. “Okay,” it said. “Just until I find a better place.”

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Not Alone

Sneaking. Steps soft in slippery snow, I crept through a city filled to the brim with night. Too dark to see even my hands stretched ahead of me. Feeling my way forward with zero light.

Light attracted the things that hunted here. Growls and snarls in the distance. Nearby. My breaths quickened at the fear of stumbling against one unseen.

I almost got to my goal unnoticed.

But I stumbled straight into a parked car. My body thumping against the metal echoed up the skyscrapers. A call to feast. I bounced off the car, slamming onto the snowy asphalt.

A snap of teeth and hot breath against my face woke me. I rolled away, scrambling to my feet. Hot bodies surrounded me. Panic drove me forward between them as they leapt. Just missing. I stretched my legs, flying blind down the street.

I might have run until I collapsed had I not crashed my shoulder into a lamppost. The only one, at the city center. I sobbed with relief: I’d made it. Furious howls sounded in my wake, the thumps of huge paws shook the ground. My palms running over the lamppost base snagged on a hard switch.

The lamppost lit up with an electric buzz. Cold, white light cast a large circle around me, illuminating the night hounds. Mere ragged shadows, suggestions of huge dogs with no eyes. They curled up like smoke, vanishing with mournful cries. Burnt cinders scented the air.

I braced my hands on my knees, gasping for breath. Other people stumbled out of the night into the ring of lamplight. They huddled together at the base of the lamppost, chilled but safe in the harsh glow.

Only a small number had braved the night to get here, though; the rest remained lost in the shadows.

You are never alone in the dark; even your monsters accompany you unseen.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Ancient Advice

I stood at the foot of a giant, neck craned back to gaze up. Up past the treetops, up past the hilltop, up to the amethyst evening sky. Three vast arms stretched away from the top of the wind turbine, stars outlining the shapes of wide fan blades. These remained still in the evening quiet, no wind to spin them.

“Wanderer.” The arms creaked above. “What has brought you here?”

I could not imagine such a giant capable of hearing me so far down here, but I cleared my throat anyway. “I’ve been on this world a long time. I want to know what to expect if my life goes on longer.”

As evening fell into night, a red light appeared at the tower’s peak. Flicking on and off, a warning signal. To me the light appeared like an eye, blinking in thought.

“Few have lived as long as you, Wanderer,” the turbine intoned. “Yet I have stood here for time forgotten, long since all my sisters fell.”

The scent of pine needles rose. I knew from my trek up here that several turbines lay crashed to the forest floor, in varying states of decay. I’d been forced to walk all the way around one of them, bloody with rust and lichen. Eyeing the base of this turbine, I wondered how much longer it would last. The rust didn’t look too bad yet.

“You won’t notice too much after awhile,” the turbine finished.

Glancing back up, I said, “Really?”

“Nah. The older you get, the faster time moves, until it all becomes a blur.” The blinking red eye seemed to slow in reflection. “Though at that speed, whirling around and around the year, the changing of seasons looks really pretty.”

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