The Hopeful Wanderer – Forth

A deep groan sounded through heavy fog as I inched my way up to a lane of thin ice running through a frozen lake. Though I was on the lookout for travelers along this lane, I also watched against any misstep that would send me plummeting below to a shivering grave. Several such lanes of thinner ice wound and turned beneath the frozen crust, steel gray water just visible below. Rushing from where one river fed into the lake to where another, far away, led back out. The lake itself stretched to the horizon, reflecting the fog and the white sky back and forth until I wondered if I stood in an upside down world.

As the groan died away, I took one cautious step back from where an ominous crack had split the thinner ice.

In the silence that followed, beneath that crack rushed a dark, amorphous shape, wriggling and reshaping. A water soul. Following by another, and another. All streaking along these icy lanes toward a world I could not reach. Not yet.

With care, I crouched next to the ice lane, little slivers of frost poking at my knees. I pulled off one glove and laid my hand flat over the crack. This fractional fracture, this threat to my very existence, was all that separated me from the other side. An impossible thing, an impossible distance away. Cold nipped at my fingers, leaching the warmth from my skin.

As I contemplated the passing souls, a much deeper cold settled into my bones.

Though I couldn’t swear it happened, as the last of the water souls passed, a vaporous hand had pressed a palm to the ice beneath mine. There for a flash. Gone in a breath. Leaving behind the freezing memory of connection with the dead.


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The Hopeful Wanderer – Buried Tracks

At the bottom of a lake long dried up, my hazy gaze rested hopefully on a cloud building in the distance. Dust rose up around my plodding feet, settling on my cracked tongue. The size of this lakebed desert must have grown since the last estimation. I didn’t have enough water to get back; I could only move forward and hope I reached the edge before I ran out.

I tried not the think about how dehydration could have me just walking in circles.

A ridge of reddish rock stretched across my path, a veritable fortress wall. In the distance, it culminated at a former island, towering upward. I had tried to scale the wall only to slide back down on slopes of shale. When I had rolled to a stop at the base, dust in my hair, I picked myself up and followed the wall instead, looking for a break. Better to save my energy.

The cloud inched closer, pure white edges blurring with the horizon.

A break in the wall appeared all at once to my left. In the moment I registered freedom to continue forward, I stumbled on a hard object in the sand, going down to my knees. Tiny rocks skittered away from my hand as I scraped the object free. At first, I frowned, not understanding what I found.

A railroad tie. Attached to a railroad rail. The line passed through the break leading straight to… the oncoming cloud.

I got to my feet as the rippling heat revealed a dark train running toward me from the distance. The cloud of steam puffed upward, better than any raincloud I could imagine.

As the train neared, I stuck out my thumb to hitch a ride. The brakes squealed as the train started to slow.


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The Hopeful Wanderer – Preservation Efforts

Without a breath of air to stir them, a plume of snowflakes rose up from the drifts coating the mountainside. Where the morning sunlight had not yet touched, deep blue shadows crept beneath a forest of firs. Nothing moved but the flurry of flakes, whirling around each other, the whole cluster angling upward along the mountain’s flank.

I crouched behind a screen of snow-heavy tree limbs, a tiny encampment from which I had not shifted all night. My legs hurt and snow soaked through the knees of my pants. Cold nipped at my lips. My breath fogged white, then gold, sparkling where the sunlight had just glanced over my shoulder, lancing between the trees down the mountain in a wide ray.

My breathing stopped. In the revealing light, the mysterious plume of snowflakes passing by my hiding place had resolved into a shape. Gold glimmered along the faint outline of a delicate creature – a long low body, tufted ears perked in my direction, pointed nose twitching for scent, one of four paws raised in consideration. Blinding white feathery wings folded along its back.

A breeze had lifted from my back, carrying my scent straight to the creature. All in a rush, it flapped those wings hard, scattering snow in every direction. The whoosh of wind threw flakes in my face, stinging my cheeks. Only four pawprints and the faint pattern of wings on the snow remained.

As well as one feather.

When I lifted the feather and moved it back and forth between shadow and light, it vanished in the darkness, though its icy touch stung my fingertips.

As promised to the people in the town below, hanging this at the community coop would at least deter any more of these creatures from stealing their chickens. That should appease the hunters.


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The Hopeful Wanderer – Burning Roads

Someone set a field on fire with me in it.

Gray smoke rolled skyward and drifted along the tilled dirt, tangling around my feet and stinging my eyes. I had picked this field to cross because nothing grew in it, so I couldn’t imagine what the fire consumed. Pulling my shirt up over my nose and mouth, I trudged along with my head down.

I hoped I wasn’t trapped.

With so much haze in the air, blowing ahead and behind me, I almost walked straight into a thick swath of fire. Orange flickered at the base of a line of heavy black smoke rising into the afternoon, flashing warning lights. The leading edge of flames churned ahead in a straight line.

Making a barrier right across my path.

Realization dawning, I ran. Lungs heaving, eyes streaming, feet digging into soft earth, I caught up with the fire. Leaped across in its path. The scent of gasoline hung heavy in the air, assaulting my already overwork lungs. Clinging to my shoes where liquid soaked the earth.

On the other side, the wind blew the smoke away from me. Indifferent to my near escape, the flames crept along the gasoline trail while I stood with hands on knees, taking huge gulps of clean air.

Later, as I climbed the side of the valley, I got high enough to see the shape of the roads burning through the field. They spelled out words in huge cursive letters. Big enough to be seen from space.

SAVE US.

The irony got to me and I laughed a little until I coughed up more sooty phlegm. I could’ve been trapped inside those lines.

If the fire starters wanted to message aliens, I sure hoped those aliens could read cursive.


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#Spooktober2020 Day 30: Plague

My mouth was a weapon. One I could aim and fire at anyone. But once. Just once. Too obvious and the authorities would take me down.

Shouldering my way through the crowd, I grinned at the knowing.

So, so many people had gathered for our high school reunion. I hadn’t been invited, but found out about the reunion anyway. All these people who picked on me. Shunned me. They would make a perfect ground zero.

When I got to the middle of the gymnasium, lost in the crush of my peers all around me, I

opened my mouth

and

coughed.

#Spooktober2020 Day 29: Mirror

Seven mirrors in the house and I smashed every one to pieces when you left me. Seven times seven equals forty-nine years of bad luck. Worth it to never see your face look back at me again.

You wanted to ‘be your own person.’ To ‘do things for yourself for once.’ But what about me? Together from the womb, you and I. My bad luck that you abandoned me.

Crying and gasping amidst the wreckage of the mirrors around me, I grasped the iron crowbar with shaking hands, lifting it one last time. Just one more mirror to destroy.

You.


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The Hopeful Wanderer – Guard Against

As I passed through a night dark farm, the door of a wood shed near the farmhouse rattled from the inside. A voice from within yelled, “Let me out! Let me OUT!”

I stopped at the door, hand on the cold iron latch, but didn’t open it. “Who’s in there?”

Something heavy slumped against the inner door. “This farm’s guardian. A scarecrow.”

Raising an eyebrow, I asked, “What’s a guardian doing locked up in the wood shed?”

“The farmer gave up on the harvest. Stored me in here.” The voice sounded more angry than plaintive. A thump like a slammed fist made me jump. “I ask you, what’s a scarecrow without crows to scare?”

I shrugged. Unable to argue with that logic, I pulled the door open.

All at once, I was face to face around the edge of the door with a bright orange pumpkin, light from within casting two broad black exes for eyes in stark relief. Body made up of an orange raincoat and red shirt. A trail of holiday lights led away from the back of the scarecrow’s neck into the shed.

The scarecrow’s head tilted as it looked me up and down.

I raised my hands. “Easy…”

“You’re no crow,” the scarecrow observed. A warm scent like decaying pumpkin pulp drifted to me. “More of a wren, I’d say. Now I have work to do. Leave this land.”

The scarecrow thumped and jerked away, headed for the withered cornfield I had cut through earlier. The holiday lights clicked along the ground in its wake, until somewhere inside the shed, the cord popped free from the plug.

The pumpkin in the distance blinked. Blinked. And went out. The scarecrow’s silhouette vanished in the darkness.

“Hey, you’re welcome,” I muttered.

In the trees overhead, a crow cawed.


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#Spooktober2020 Day 28: Nightmare

On my way into the kitchen to make breakfast, I tripped over something soft and squishy. When I flipped on the a light, there was a teddy bear, sitting in the doorway. Facing the fridge.

I had no kids and owned no teddy bears.

Following the teddy’s gaze to the fridge, I found words spelled out with my letter magnets. Two words.

‘He’s coming.’

I woke up. I had my dream journal with me in bed. Pen in my hand. Half asleep, I had written two words.

‘He’s coming.’

In the dark morning outside, a tapping started on my window.


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#Spooktober2020 Day 27: Spellbound

Her influence started small, but she caught you up in her spellbound following early on. You obsessed with her – the pictures, the status updates, the videos. All about her.

You wanted to be her so bad. It didn’t matter that I said you were more than enough.

Coming home one day to find her in the house – you as her look-alike – shouldn’t have surprised me. But it did. Not a trace of you remained in her face.

She didn’t spellbind me the way she did you. The way you did me. You became a stranger to me.

I miss you.


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#Spooktober2020 Day 26: Culling

We started sticking together when more and more of us disappeared each night. At first we consoled ourselves with the story that those who went missing had made it off the streets. Reconciled with family. Gotten clean. Begged enough to rent an apartment.

Until seven of the homeless community vanished at once.

Huddled together beneath a bridge, we didn’t realize we had made culling us easier until unmarked white vans pulled up, surrounding us.

Leaving my belongings behind, I scrabbled away before city officials could hem me in. Covering my ears to block out the screams echoing in my wake.


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