The Hopeful Wanderer – A Dogged Decree

At the top of a snowy mountain in the earliest morning, when rays of sunlight bloodied peaks and bruised purple clouds low on the jagged horizon, the noise of claws scratching on ice brought my gaze up from my boots. My nose burned with the cold and my hands ached where I nestled them inside my coat. I had no idea where I was going and now something approached when I wanted to be alone. A certain vulnerability gripped me.

When I looked back, a dog was crossing my path at an angle to just pass me on its way elsewhere. For all that it looked like a regular dog – clean, black and white, fluffy fur, forehead smooth and very pat-worthy – its eyes glowed white as the rising sun. It trotted light across the surface of snow that I plunged into as deep as my calves.

I paused, losing momentum as my feet sank a little farther into the freezing slush. Wondering whether I should address what might be a passing god, I said, “What do you know?”

As it moved up beside me, the dog snapped at my heels. I threw myself sideways, keeling over in the snow. Moisture soaked me from hip to shoulder. Flakes puffed upward, suspended on the still air.

With a snarl in its voice, the dog growled, “Grieving for the unknown means no end to sadness.” Looking back not at all to view its handiwork with me.

Half-trapped in snow, I watched until the god-dog vanished over the ridge, considering its words. Should the strange message have meant something to me, or to the dog? By the time it had gone, I still didn’t understand. So before moving on, I took the moment to lay back and make a snow angel.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – A Dance at Dusk

In the depths of a cloudy blue twilight, I spotted a darker shape flailing within a grassy field. All around, long stalks reached toward the sky, silhouetted black against the encroaching twilight. Among them, the figure whirled and leapt, feet thumping against the dirt. Shoulders and hips swayed. Though I squinted, I could not make out limbs or face, these blurring with motion and the dark.

Leaving my path, I stole closer, twilight deepening to bluey-black. Even as I got close enough to taste on my tongue the kicked up dust cloud, the figure’s visage never resolved into more than a shadow.

A shadow dancing to greet the oncoming night.

As I stood nearby, watching these wild motions, the leaping shadow moved over a little, as if inviting me in. Blurred arms waved me closer. Blurred feet stepped in place.

The pull of silent rhythm tugged at my bones. Yet I considered the risk of accepting a strange invitation in such transitional half-light. Stars winked on in the darkest parts of the evening, watching.

I joined the dance.

My feet matched the shadow’s rhythm as I moved in. Spinning in a circle, my outstretched palms smacked grass fronds. The scent of broken stalks rose sharp and green. My head tilted back, laughing mouth open wide enough to swallow the night stars above.

A light tug on my hand. The shadowy person’s face crinkled in a smile, it’s other arm motioning me to follow. Somehow, I knew this meant forever. I wanted to go on dancing, too.

“Wait,” I said, slowing my feet with difficulty. “I can’t go yet. I’m still looking for something.”

Indistinct shoulders gave a shrug. With the last vanishing scrap of light, the figure disappeared.

Cradled by a night unspoiled with light, I kept on dancing alone.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Mirror Mimic

Over a still lake, pale pink fog rolled, muffling the surrounding forest noises to silence. I knelt on the pebbled shore of a small peninsula, cleaning myself in the water. Splashes echoed into the distance. Goosebumps raised on my chilled skin.

Once I finished, the surface became mirror smooth. Reflecting the fog back on itself until every direction appeared soft and billowing as a dream. My own reflection grew crisp. Somewhat at odds with the surrounding blur.

But something seemed… wrong. I’d have thought my reflection had just moved on its own.

I concentrated, not blinking. Not breathing.

Though mine rested at my side, my hand in the reflection reached toward me. Fingertips broke the surface from below, water streaming off the outstretched palm. Plaintiff. Desperate.

I took the hand in my own, fingers gripping clammy fingers. Only now I had my own for comparison, I noted the much greener cast of the other one.

The mysterious hand yanked hard. I fell forward, up to my elbows in water. Rocks scraped at my knees.

Another yank. I scrabbled against the loose stones for purchase. Happened to catch on a big enough boulder to stop myself flying into the drink. Bracing my foot against the rock, I hauled backward on my trapped arm.

With a mighty yell, I flopped my assailant halfway up onto shore. Green limbs flailed and web-toed feet flopped. These attached to a person with all the amenities of a frog. Golden eyes. Wide mouth. Wormy tongue.

The frog-person released me with a hiss. Turning, it hopped back into the lake, breaking the surface again enough to stare daggers at me.

I wiped a sheen of slime from my assaulted arm and flicked it into the water after the creature, who just responded with a long, sulking croak.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Toxic Remedy

With sickness dragging at my bones, my throat, and the pit of my stomach, I shambled through a flower market nestled in the heart of an unfamiliar region. As I was new to the area, I didn’t know where to find the plant I needed. That plus the language barrier meant this market was my last hope.

Hand on aching stomach, I peered into every stall with swollen eyes. None had the right herb. At least, I hoped I hadn’t just missed it because my eyes hurt so much.

But on the edge of the market, I came across a man selling dried flowers. They hung on a slim metal wrack, upside down in bunches of several kinds. Each bundle tied with a neat tag explaining their contents in that unfamiliar language. But it didn’t matter, because I spotted the very remedy I sought.

Pointing to the bunch I wanted, the seller and I exchanged money for dry, rustling flowers. The moment I had them, I popped a blue, star-shaped blossom into my mouth.

The seller gifted me a surprised look.

Powder puffed across my tongue, tasting like the sky and rainwater. I sighed with relief.

Miming eating and then throwing up, the seller said a strange word that I guessed meant ‘poisonous.’

“Oh, is it?” I asked, crunching down on another flower. “Huh.”

Recognizing my language, he said, “Make trouble?”

I shook my head, feeling so much better already. At least I could see him now without a blurry film over my eyes. “Not at all.”

Smiling tightly at me, the seller made a ‘stay there’ motion and walked off toward a nearby herbalist. I took the opportunity to slip away before someone decided to pump my stomach.

Besides, the flower had made me drowsy. I needed a nap.

A special thank-you to Jenette Baker for your support on Patreon! You are the best. Friend to all creators. Thank you so much, again and again.


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The Hopeful Wanderer – Keeping Away from Windows

Shattered glass clung to the window frame from sill to ceiling, heavy, pale curtains flapping to either side in a fresh breeze. Large sections of broken pane lay scattered among shards ground to dust, strewn across the floor. The window smiled a ragged, toothy smile, as if to say, “Watch this.”

Another massive ball of ice crashed through the window, thunking into the wooden floor and rolling to join the first that had shattered the window to begin with. They looked like huge hail. The two dirty ice chunks huddled among the glass shards with smug satisfaction.

From my place on the bed, finger holding my place in my book, I stared open-mouthed at the destructive intruders. My host would not be happy about this.

As one, the ice chunks rolled on their own to reveal a pair of dark spots, one dead center of each. Together, they appeared like eyes. Pointed at me.

I set my book down.

From the stairs outside my door came the sound of running feet. In a moment, my host crashed through the bedroom door, holding a hairdryer, of all things. The icy eyes shifted in his direction.

My host threw the hairdryer cord to me. “Find an outlet!”

Shoving the bed aside, I plugged the hairdryer into the outlet behind it. As the hairdryer came to life with a faint roar, my host flicked the switch to high heat, pointing the business end at the ice balls. As he advanced, the frozen eyeballs rolled away. The scent of rain rose as ice melted to water, mixing with dust on the floor. Gaining enough rolling speed, they bounce over the windowsill and away into the cloudy afternoon.

Flicking off the hairdryer, my host surveyed the damage to the window and groaned. “Not again.”

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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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