The Hopeful Wanderer 32 – Moon Mother Mourning

She carried the moon with her – a rounded orb of lunar rock, lit by the invisible reflection of a missing sun, somehow an echo of the real thing hanging in the night sky. She cradled it in her palms like an offering and whispered, “Where is my sun?” 

So many had heard her question and gone mad seeking the answer. ‘In the sky’ would not do, nor would any variation. Though she witnessed the sun, and its distant twin cousins, every day, she asked still. 

Flicking her gaze to me, she said, “Where is my sun?” Her question burned like the drag behind my belly button pulling me toward her; I had moved too far into her range. Pain weighted her calm eyes, dense as the devastating iron that collapses the hearts of stars.

The very marrow of my bones grew heavy, the next step forward like escaping the grasp of an event horizon. When I reached her, however, I placed my hand atop the tiny moon, soft, powdery dust clinging to my palm. My eyes met hers as I pushed the orb lower. “Your son was at the space station,” I said, “when the life support failed.” 

No tears reached those cold eyes, but her voice quivered. “Where is my son?” 

“He died at the space station,” I repeat. “You know this. You cannot keep using his gift from his moon landing to drive people mad like this.” 

At last, she dropped her hands, the orb clutched at her side. It dimmed and flickered out, releasing its painful weight on my body. I inhaled deeply, expanding crushed lungs. 

“My son, my sun,” she murmured, “strangled in the sky that he loved so much.” She brushed her thumb across the gift from her astronaut, her head hung in silent grief.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 31 – A Migrating Forest

Worry had just begun to gnaw at me when I felt the thin silver chain wrapped around my fingers twitch. In what I thought looked like an ancient river bed, I paused, swinging the pendulum hanging from my hand back and forth. Slowly, slowly. At the bottom end of the chain hung a smooth orb of iolite, tinged a dusky purple. It spun a little, but remained vertical. Not a good sign. Maybe I had imagined it.

There had been so many directions to choose from, so full of possibility, and only one the right choice. I chewed my lip, looking around myself again. It was the way big, smooth rocks poked out of the dirt here, as if worn away by constant water flow. But it wasn’t like underground rivers had to follow their old routes exactly. This one could have looped miles away, leaving me here, with vulnerable friends counting on my help.

The pendulum chain twitched again. I paused, squinting at the dangling orb in the failing light. It spun and spun as I swung it around myself. But then, when I had walked several hundred feet to my left, the chain at last leapt away from the ground, hanging at an angle almost horizontal.

I grinned. This was it.

I ran almost a mile back the way I had come and clambered over a huge limestone deposit. At the top, I shouted down to the forest of tall, spindly trees below. “Northwest!”

As one, the trees shook to life, digging roots through leaf loam and dry dirt as they shifted northwest, edging around the limestone that had blocked their path along their river.

The tree passing me ran a cluster of twigs through my hair. “Well done, Wanderer,” it whispered with rustling leaves. “Thank you.”

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The Hopeful Wanderer 30 – Fifteen Minutes

Fifteen minutes of hope. That was all it took to drive me into standing in line for a week, winding step by step through the bottom of a valley alongside hundreds of other travelers from the world over, all sharing that same hope with me. No one maintained the line, yet in it we stood, hemmed in by long-standing tradition set down by years of previous hopefuls. Old stalls set up along the line sold food and supplies at intervals. I told tales of my wanderings to those around me and heard more in turn. Line mates became friends became family, until they reached the end of the line and departed, never to return.

For the destination of this line was a single sandglass set upon a stone pedestal, containing fifteen minutes’ worth of black sand within. From where I stood, I could see it at last, glinting in the setting sunlight. A woman took her place on a worn stump set before the pedestal, hands clenched as she stared into the upper glass bulb. Then she smiled, laughing as her eyes filled with tears, spirited away to the past. From here, only the mirage of images danced inside the glass, disclosing none of her secrets to onlookers. Fifteen minutes of perfect, detailed memory. But only once, never again.

Variations of the same repeated with the next several in line. When I reached the sandglass myself, night had fallen and tiny stars winked overhead. Anything, I thought as I took my seat. I hoped for any of my memories from before I began to wander. Anything at all.

But when I flipped the sandglass and stared into the orb, precious sand running to the bottom, no images materialized. Nothing, not a single recollection, up until the last grain fell through.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 28 – A Deceptive Drift

I was digging. Cold, dry flakes of snow bit at my bare fingertips, leaching the warmth from them. Knee deep in it, I didn’t dare move any farther forward. She had gone down right here, the snow too light to bear her weight, closing over her head with just a small impression to show where she had vanished.

Breathing hard, I shoveled armfuls of snow aside, sweat dripping into my eyes. I was up to my chest in it now, unable to feel my fingers anymore. How far had she sunk into this snow drift? She’d been tossing handfuls of flakes into the air, laughing at the way they glittered golden white in the morning sunlight. Leaping and dancing with the joy of the first snow.

I had yelled it. “Wait!” Just before she stepped off the ledge. I didn’t know this area, but I hadn’t liked the way the distant line of the rocky shelf curved around right next to her and vanished beneath the smooth plane of snow.

My fingers brushed against long hair. Then I unearthed a waving hand, and the other. Wrapping my fingers around her wrists, I leaned back and pulled hard. Only the snow packed around my knees kept me from sliding down after her. When her head came free, she gasped in a huge gulp of air, coughing up lungfuls of snow. I dragged her back a step, and another, until she rolled onto the safety of the ledge with me.

We lay there like crash-landed snow angels. When she caught her breath, she looked back at the drift that had almost claimed her, the hole fast filling with dry, slithery snow. Then she said simply, “We’ll have to warn the others about that.”

I could only nod my agreement.


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The Hopeful Wanderer 27 – An Abandoned Bonfire

Orange sparks drifted upward into the night sky. Below them, flames fed upon fragrant pine boughs, leaping high and higher. The popping hiss of logs and branches lent the dancing flames voice, like a smoker singing to the tune of the whistling wind.

I had questions for the builder of this bonfire, for those fluttering sparks contained puffs of stardust, occasionally throwing off sunshine and sparkling colors. After I found it unattended, I waited, watching, long into the night, but the maker never returned. Nor did the fire burn down. As my mind grew weary, the crackling sounded more like laughter, and the flame tips looked like twirling fingertips.

Late into the night, one blink turned longer than the ones before, and on the other side of it, I found someone bent at the waist, peering into my face. This someone was made of fire.

I sat up straight where I had dozed against a tree trunk, drawing back from the heat of the flames.

The fire spirit squinted kerosene blue eyes in the approximation of a smile. “Well met, cousin.”

“Cousin?” I echoed. Behind it, the bonfire was nothing but embers.

In a voice like burning brush, the spirit said, “You have flames in your heart.” It then executed an exhilarated spin, shedding more colorful sparks into the grass all around.

I smiled at such delight. “And you have a star in yours.” Licking my thumb, I snuffed out a smoldering thread of my coat. “Which way from here, cousin?”

“Hopeward,” the fiery creature cried, dancing back onto its bed of coals. “Duskward!”

With a whoosh, the flames sank into the earth, leaving nothing behind but a patch of black soot. The final flaming tendril was a finger, pointing me toward the west.


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The Hopeful Wanderer 26 – An Inviting Stairwell

Dug several levels into the earth, a double set of stairs twisted around and around each other in graceful spirals – spirals that put me in mind of the arms of a galaxy. Black wrought-iron railing echoed the emptiness of space. This and the marble flooring below suggested opulence and grandeur deep underground. Warm, inviting light illuminated the steps, which were somehow clean despite exposure to the open sky. From my position where raw dirt met carved step, I straightened, taking in the contrasting ruined city around me, reminded of things like illusions and trapdoor spiders.

Below, what I had mistaken for statuary centered between the staircases suddenly moved. A man swiveled his head to look up at me, his handsome face illuminated in the weak afternoon light. He grinned and his smile was all white teeth. Making an invitational gesture, he said, “Come on down here.”

With a shrug, I obliged. The handrail bit my bare palms with cold but warmed as I descended. The man kept his eyes on me, contorting his neck around when I passed behind him. Predatory, hungering. Obvious. At last, I came to a stop before him, hands in pockets, eyebrows raised as if to say, well?

A pause. Then the man lunged forward, fingers outstretched, mouth open wide, wide, wide. But he stopped short, arms windmilling when his feet did not follow. He was stuck to the floor.

“I know of you,” I said, as he collected himself. “The townspeople entrapped you here, so you could not lure their families into your lair.”

His face contorted into misery. “Please free me,” he whimpered.

I shook my head. “Ask the descendants of your victims; maybe they’ll let you out to kill again.” At his hopeful expression, I said, “Somehow, though, I doubt they will.”


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The Hopeful Wanderer 25 – Hungering Mountain

Perched upon a porous boulder at the toes of a fiery mountain, I regarded a distant but nearing lava flow. No flames breathed from the peak above, but smoke billowed moodily into the evening sky. The ground vibrated with constant rumbling and heat soaked my hair with sweat. This was no place for people, yet many had waited here before me, judging by an ash-dusted stack of stones nearby.

It was not until after nightfall that the approaching lava flowed close enough for a vapor spirit to step from the fiery goo. The smokey creature billowed forth, eyes and mouth mere burning pits. Behind it, the lava strip glittered like a golden ribbon.

“My master has accepted your request for audience.” The spirit’s voice hissed like escaping gas. “You may ascend.”

I nodded my thanks, holding my breath against its toxic vapors behind a cloth mask.

Upon the mountaintop, I found bubbling magma simmering within a massive crater. Extreme heat snatched at my eyebrows.

“What would you ask of me?” the mountain growled. “A bountiful crop? Love? I cannot grant those wishes.”

Keeping my distance from the rim’s edge, I held up a carved jade figurine – a stylized bear, all wide eyes and snarling maw. “An offering. For safe passage.” With a grunt, I hurled the figurine far into the center; it burned up before even touching the surface.

The entire mountain hummed. “Delicious,” it rumbled. “You will pass in safety.”

I glanced out at the huge lava field blocking my way forward. Before my eyes, distant glowing stripes of melted rock and pockets of fire blinked out as the magma cooled and solidified. When I passed by the stone pile below, I set another on top, for solidarity with those who’d told me the secret of what to offer.


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