The Hopeful Wanderer 17 – Accessory to Conceit

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Undulating waves of cotton candy pink and sapphire blue filled up my vision, shifting, swirling. Like gazing into a sunrise and finding it could dance. Over and over, the display stole my breath, made my heart sing. Dizzying me with euphoria. I desired nothing more than to keep watching; I wanted desperately to look away. Though I recalled no reason for either of these warring thoughts, they consumed me and tore at me, stretching me thin until soon I must break. A scream bubbled at the back of my throat, unreleased.

A harsh voice in my ear. “Wake up, human!”

I was standing knee-deep in a night-dark pond. Bright green lily pads clustered upon the watery surface and large gray rocks cluttered the rim. From among the cattails growing between these, crickets chirruped pleasant night songs. Cold water and mud oozed into my ruined shoes, the realization of which instantly irritated me. They would have to be replaced. Again.

Pink and blue light glowed from beneath the water.

As I clambered out of the pond, water sluicing from my pants and my shoes, I noticed a large land turtle perched atop one of the rocks. It regarded me with knowing eyes. As I sat down alongside to rest my rubbery legs, wondering how long I’d stood there, I said, “You woke me?”

The turtle nodded. “I guard this pond,” it explained. “Don’t mind my neighbor; he loves admiration.”

Cutting my gaze sideways, I saw a beautiful koi at the center of the bright glow. If a fish could look snooty and dismissive, this one managed it, turning his face from me in a huff.

“You’ve had enough of my attention,” I told the koi. With a nod of thanks for the turtle, I stumbled away, shoes squelching in the dark.


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The Hopeful Wanderer 16 – Pebble Prophecies

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White surf hissed against a pebbly black shore, curling around my toes in a wash of cold spray. Secrets from distant lands washed onto this ancient beach, catching on pebbles and snagging within tide pools. Collected and kept here where few knew to seek them.

The older secrets rested further up the beach, but the most recent ones lived here at the tide line. Dipping my fingers into the salty water, I came back up with a smooth stone the size of my thumbnail. No feature indicated what kind of wisdom it might hold, but I liked its shape.

Bringing the black pebble close to my mouth, I murmured, “Make your secrets known to me.”

Turning my head, I listened close over the roar of the pounding surf. Nothing, nothing.

Maybe this one contained no hidden message after all. But then… something. A mournful voice from far across the ocean, breaking with sorrow.

“Not all dreams come true.”


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The Hopeful Wanderer 15 – Warning Signs

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Blood on the dirt path ahead of me. So fresh it glistened bright red in the noonday sunlight, still puddling around bits of gravel. Just a moment ago, a hare had hopped down this turn, tall sunflower stalks obscuring it from my line of sight. Now it was gone. Now, the blood.

Sunflowers. Though the sun glared down from just overhead, every bloom lining the ditch to either side faced one direction. Faced me. Staring like brown pupils within unsettling yellow irises, unblinking. Tall stalks rubbed against enormous leaves, making a noise like bristly leather. No other sound broke the silence. My scalp prickled at the tension, at the sense of expectation.

I would not travel down this path. Despite the lack of breeze, a hissing rustle set up from the sunflowers as I turned away. Perhaps they should’ve waited to kill the hare, if they’d wanted to snare bigger prey like me. How could such a dangerous patch of plants be left alone out here?

Off to the side, I spied more red hidden within a clump of tall grass. A sign, though of a different kind than the blood. When I hauled the sign from the thick tangle of plants, I read on it warnings of danger ahead in four different languages. Do not pass. At least someone out there had tried. I side-eyed the sunflowers, noting the way younger stalks grew around a gap in the ground where the sign must have once stood. Suspicious.

Since the warnings couldn’t have saved the life of the poor hare, I silently thanked the unfortunate creature as I used a rock to hammer the sign back into the ground. Far enough away that the sunflowers could not cut it down again anytime soon.


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The Hopeful Wanderer 14 – A Ghostly Guardian

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A thick cloud came to rest over farmland and countryside, shading the afternoon in sepia tones and muffling the distant sounds of highway traffic. To avoid a wide, unnecessary loop of interstate, I was cutting across an open field, boots squishing in mud from overnight rainfall. Yellowing grass swished against my knees, soaking my pants legs to my ankles, and moisture beaded in my hair, dripping cold down my face. Everything smelled damp, full of possibility.

Watching where I stepped, I almost missed it. A gentle whuff of breath and warmth radiating at my side alerted me to the presence of another walking with me, pace sedate, bearing regal. Just visible in the fog was an enormous buck, brown coat fading into the the landscape. Its antlers grew shaped like tree branches, winter dull twigs rattling together as it turned its head toward me.

A guardian. Legends spoke of the wisdom of the ancient guardians, rarely seen, who imparted their knowledge to those they deemed worthy. Shocked, I stopped, and when it realized I no longer kept pace, it paused ahead.

I stared. It looked back at me. The thudding of my heart crashed in my ears.

“I have questions,” I whispered. My voice sounded like nothing at all. “Please.”

Those liquid black eyes bored into me. My breathing stalled altogether as I waited, hoped. A beat of time passed, but then slowly, silently, the guardian turned and walked away, vanishing into the white fog.

Alone now, I tipped my chin back, searching for meaning in the swirling mist above. Nothingness and emptiness. I let out a breath and quietly accepted rejection.

Of course we all had questions; that made none of us special. I hoped one day that someone would learn from this guardian what I could not.


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The Hopeful Wanderer 13 – Doughnut Offerings

In which the Wanderer shares sweets. #microfiction

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In a distant train station on a snowy afternoon, a fellow traveler passed me by. Shoulders hunched, hands in pockets, expression distant. For my part, the spring in my step threatened to launch me into the clouds — I had a paper sack of pastries in hand and a new destination ahead.

On the crowded platform, he sidestepped me, his foot landing square on a patch of ice. Hands flying from his pockets, feet sliding out from under him with a gritty scrape, he started to fall.

We both whooped in surprise. I snagged his upper arm, keeping him upright despite the slush. For a moment, we froze, him half-suspended in mid-air, me still as stone to prevent us both going down. Then he clambered up my shoulders, righting himself on shaking legs.

“Thank you,” he gasped.

I helped him over to a nearby bench, standing next to him while he caught his breath. An engine roared in the distance, fast approaching. As he steadied himself, I reached into my paper sack, withdrawing a fresh jelly doughnut. The warm scent of sugar and fried dough cut through that of sharp, cold air. I offered the confection to him wrapped in a napkin.

Eyeing the pastry, he waved a hand. “Oh, I couldn’t eat your doughnut!”

Before he could protest further, I tipped the bag to show him the chocolate doughnut nestled in the bottom. “Don’t worry, I saved the best for myself.”

My new friend accepted my offering. “One could argue I got the best,” he said, and took a huge bite.

Licking the sweet, sticky glaze from my chilled fingertips, I hustled off toward my approaching train, cautious of the slush. Over my shoulder, I tossed him a grin and a wink. “One could argue,” I agreed.


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The Hopeful Wanderer 11 – Unrooted

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An ornate greenhouse existed not only far from civilization, but smack in the middle of an already existing forest. Enormous, though in height rather than breadth. Craning my head back to gaze upward at its towering, clear walls, I wondered what must grow within.

So I went inside.

Warmth blanketed my face like an unpleasant breath, filling my lungs with dew. The warring scents of growth and rot assailed me. Lush green plants grew in clay pots set upon plastic bench tops, rows and rows lined up neat from the door to the back wall. Some small enough to fit in my palm, others taller than me. None of them explained the reason for such a tall building.

But there, in the center. Looking like a shaggy Christmas tree, an enormous Douglas fir rose toward the glass ceiling, roots knotting deep into the dirt. I saw no one else, so I approached the fir. The only sound was the crunch of gravel beneath my shoes.

When I stopped before the  fir, a deep, timber creak rumbled over me, shaking leaves and rattling pots. “Are you a plant?” the tree asked me.

“Not at all,” I replied. “I’m the opposite.”

“A wanderer, then,” the fir sighed. “You have arrived at last.”

My eyebrows rose. “Where is here?”

“Your last stop,” said the fir. “All in my greenhouse once wandered, but they took root here, and now they’re safe.”

With new eyes, I took in the plants around. So many wanderers. All trapped in pots, unable to even touch true earth. A shudder rushed through me. “I’m not staying.”

All the way to the exit, roots followed me, breaking the earth threateningly behind my feet. Fir needles rustled in hissing laughter at my back. “When you weary of wandering, you will return.”


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The Hopeful Wanderer 10 – The Scribbler

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From Pexels

The room was a disaster of notes pinned to cork boards, diagrams on white boards, stacks of notebooks, piles of crumpled paper, pens scattered everywhere. Every time I walked into the home of the Scribbler, I wondered if she would have begun plotting on the ceiling itself. A glance upward confirmed things hadn’t quite progressed that far. Yet.

At the sound of my entrance, the owner of this isolated house poked her head out of another room. Short brown hair stuck up every which way and a brilliant smile lit her face. “You came back.” She would be awake in the middle of the night.

I set my satchel down next to my favorite spot, a gray, sagging armchair. I had to relocate a leaning bunch of books from the cushion to an over-encumbered table, its surface more dirty dishes than wood. “I always do,” I said, dropping into the seat, closing my eyes.

“Someday you won’t, I think.” Soon, the warm scent of coffee reached me. When I looked, she was holding out a mug bearing the phrase don’t piss off the writer and nothing more, while with her other hand, she rummaged through precarious piles. Spiral notebooks slithered away from her touch like living, shrinking things.

Even accepting the mug weighed on me. Time for me to release the burdens of my recent experiences. Well past, really.

With a triumphant noise, she yanked out a much-abused flip notebook — the same one she had been using to record my wanderings last time — and took a seat on a squishy ottoman. Poising her pen, she turned her full attention to me. “Let’s pick up where we left off,” said the Scribbler. “Now tell me, how did you manage to get an ancient deity to sing to you?”


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