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.”

Support each other in 2020.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – The Way of the Rabbit

From within the depths of a snowy hill, an enormous dark eye stared at me. Iris a deep brown, shot through with white snow. Pupil veined with tree branches. Snowflakes puffed away in the wind where a clump of snow had fallen from the opening eyelid. Unwavering focus pinning me down.

Rooted in place, I stood at the foot of the hill. Longing for the cover of trees and brush several paces behind me. My tracks leading from their protection fast vanished beneath thick flakes. Cold filled my nostrils as I took several panicked breaths.

Before stepping out of cover, I had not noticed the eye. My footfalls must have woken the hill itself. I waited for it to blink.

Instead, the eye’s gaze shifted. A primal part of me couldn’t turn away from the threat of its presence, but curiosity won. I followed the eye’s attention downhill, where a white bunny hopped along toward the treeline, appearing in and out of the curtain of snowfall. It paused long enough to scratch its long, floppy ear with a hind foot, heedless of the living hill upon which it rested.

Above me, the eye crinkled up with glee. Wood and stone groaned with the motion, more snow rolling downhill. A small snowball zoomed past me, sending the bunny into flight, away into the bushes. With the fluffy creature gone, the eye at last drooped closed. The rumble of the hill settling beneath my feet sounded almost like chuckling laughter.

After a few minutes in which the eye did not open again, I dared to take a creeping step. And another. Throat dry, I tiptoed away into the snowy afternoon myself, going the way of the rabbit.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – New Year, New Fear

Hollow baubles of every color hung upon ribbons dangling from the ornate ceiling above. Soft light glinted along smooth and glittery spheres. These hung at various heights, filling the massive old ballroom with color. Floor-to-ceiling mirrors ran around the walls, ornaments reflected forever.

From some ribbons dangled nothing. Beneath them lay shattered shards of baubles, plain silver inside. The remains of someone else’s gamble. These crunched beneath my shoes as I wandered the ballroom, looking for my own bet. What would my final selection contain? New year wish? Or new fear?

Somewhere on the other side of the room, a thin scream rose. Other people nearby, pondering their own choices, glanced in the direction of the sound. But the baubles huddled so thick together, we could not see. Perhaps someone close by would help, but we all knew the risk of tapping the wrong ornament. The screamer was on their own.

A few ornament remains held hints of what they had contained. Some puffs of golden dust. Others crushed spider carcasses, torn divorce documents, hospital tubes, foreclosure notices. I shuddered, hoping my fear wouldn’t somehow involve needles, but knowing it would.

After circling and circling the room, I at last noticed a bauble in the very center. Deep blue with a simple gold sunburst emblazoned across half the sphere. Resonant. I stared at it a long time, hand upraised. Wondering if I dared.

I could walk away. Yet, if I did, I would always wonder.

I tapped the bauble.

Cracks shot across the surface and the whole thing crumpled inward, wadding up like paper. I waited a moment for it to fall, but it hung condensed on the end of its ribbon. Looking like used chewing gum.

Ah. At last I got it. Not needles, it seemed, but meaninglessness.

Take chances in 2020.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Sleepers One by One

One by one, a crowd drew close in the dreary, oncoming night around the lights from a single carousel, burning gold. No one, children or adults, rode the platform, but many stood about, watching as a world of sleepers spun around and around. Horses, tigers, dragons, and giant birds. Jeweled fur and feathers and scales glimmering against the dark.

I observed from somewhere in the middle of the crowd, ignorant of the motive behind this gathering. Drizzling rain dripped down my temples and my breath puffed in the cold. Words did not pass between those around me. Eavesdropping a useless effort.

One by one, the sleeping animals opened their eyes. As well, the gloom deepened, erasing the crowd, magnifying the bright majesty radiating from the carousel creatures. They stretched and shook, snorted and stamped, slowly crawled off the platform as it ground to a halt.

We held still, held our breaths, as the animals crept among us, through our ranks. A dragon the height of my hips slunk close by me. Close enough that I reached out to brush its scales with my fingertips. Light trailed off the dragon like cobwebs, glittering around my fingernails. Yet I had touched mere plastic, its scales smooth and painted.

One by one, the carousel bulbs above us burned out, snuffed like torches. Faster and faster, plunging us into darkness, until none remained. Animated artificial animals, radiating light that faded by the moment, slipped past the last of the crowd and out into the world.

Some energy or electricity or just the reviving quality of light had woken these sleepers. Yet they had not transformed into true animals. I wondered what machination could inject in them this half life, what endless ideal called them away.

One by one, the creatures vanished, swallowed by the seductive night.

Inspired by A World of Sleepers by Carbon Based Lifeforms.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – A Turning of Seasons

By way of a leaf-strewn country path, I accompanied Fall home. At least, we had begun as companions traveling the same way. But now he sagged against me and I hauled him along as best I could. Golden days had turned sharp and brittle, crunchy leaves growing damp and moldy underfoot. Low gray clouds raced overhead.

“I waited too long,” he muttered, again and again. His glorious crown of golden leaves, sheaves of wheat, rosy apples, orange gourds, and brittle twigs lay somewhere far behind. Discarded when the weight grew too heavy. His cheeks sunken. His gaze hollow, distant.

We arrived at a house nestled on a rise between trees whose leaves only just clung to their branches. Frost glittered along window sills and bloomed in bursts over glass panes. At the foot of the stairs, Fall waved me off and straightened up, taking the stone stairs one labored step at a time.

A shuffle happened just within the doorway as he collapsed inside and a woman exited. She paused on the front step, breathing in a huge breath, the frost abandoning the house to cling to her lashes and her fingertips. The door swung shut with a blast of frigid air.

I wrapped my arms around myself at the sudden chill. When she caught sight of me, Winter smiled in a hungry way, revealing gleaming, sharp teeth.

As she descended the steps, I backed away to let her pass. She headed back the way I had come, a blanket of frost spreading over the ground at her feet. In her absence, on the window sills of the house, pink blossoms began to bloom, readying for the emergence of spring.

Pulling my coat from my pack with shivering hands, I decided not to accompany Winter home when the time came.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Tread Not Here

As I trekked down a back alley, the memory of rained dripped from the sky in the wake of a thunderstorm, plopping into big puddles filling up numerous potholes. I splashed through these, heedless of the water soaking my socks, as I had no way to avoid the many of them.

Yet I pulled up short as a pair of shoes walked out in front of me. Patterned with flames and lacking a wearer. They stopped in the puddle just before me. When the water calmed, the reflection of a boy wearing a yellow jacket appeared, feet matching the soles of the empty shoes.

His voice came through watery, as if he spoke through a mouthful of liquid. “Watch out for this puddle,” he said. “It’ll take you.”

Peering down at his murky shape, I said, “Did it take you?”

The boy’s reflection nodded. I couldn’t make out his shadowy expression. “I watch over it now. So no one falls in, like me.”

Frowning, I glanced around. Not much foot traffic through this back way, but a warning should be set up here. “You can’t get back?”

A shrug. “Haven’t figured out how. But…” he glanced off into some unseen distance. “I have time. I’m not aging here.”

I wondered if he would ever get the chance to age, but I kept that to myself. “What do you need?”

“Well…” He turned his chin into his shoulder in thought. “If I didn’t have to guard this puddle, I could search for another one to bring me back.”

I straightened. “Say no more.”

A local sign shop received a peculiar commission from me. An A-frame sign to be set out next to a specific puddle on rainy days and to read:

This puddle will take you away. Tread not here.

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Natural Growth – A Halloween Special

I had the rain to thank for my recent growth. Days and days of cool moisture, seeping through the roof and the walls. Water stains spreading outward the way I spread my fuzzy gray-green tendrils along the ceiling corner I called home.

Not ready to send my spores spiraling throughout the house. My children to seek new homes in bathrooms, in closets, in the attic where raindrops echoed. Not yet. But soon.

I was born in the load of damp laundry left in the washing machine. Left for so long that I and my siblings dried out into dusty spores, ready to explode into the air the second the lid opened. The old man coughed his usual, rattling cough when he shook out his forgotten pants, shook us loose, breathed in my siblings. Restarted the wash when he smelled the must. Forgot his laundry again.

I myself drifted to my corner of the ceiling. One little spore latched onto crumbling plaster, farthest from the windows. Farthest from sunlight. Closest to a single leaky shingle.

Growing.

After the rain stopped, I grew flaky. Dusty. My spores drifted downward in twos and threes, gentle and graceful. Below, the old man sat at a peeling dining table, coffee mug within reach. A handful of my children landed in his drink. He took a sip. Sighed.

Soon after, the old man died. No one found him for a long time, and when they took him away, his body carried a few of us as passengers. Expatriates to a new country. Colonists.

No longer oppressed with cleaning solutions — not that we were much to begin with — we spread. Grew. Overtook every damp corner and dark crevice. Made the leaky house our own. I remained near the ceiling, bloated, oversized. Satisfied with my place and position.

Until two women entered the house.

One looked a little like the old man, just younger. Scraggly hair. Short. Clean. To the other woman, she pointed out my siblings, my children, their homes. Me.

The second woman wore a white jumpsuit that covered her from head to toe. Blue latex gloves on her hands. An industrial mask dangling around her neck. To the first woman she said, “It’ll be several days before anyone can come in here. I’ll let you know when I’m done.”

The scraggly-haired woman dismissed, jumpsuit woman donned her mask, large filter disc on the front, straps gripping her head. She hefted a heavy, blue plastic jug from the floor. In her other hand, she wielded a long metal rod at the end of a rubber hose attached to the jug. A squeeze of the trigger and harsh chemicals sprayed across my family clustered beneath the ancient dishwasher. Their screams curled my edges.

The monster murdered most of my family living in the kitchen and dining room before she reached me.

As she stretched the rod to reach me, the dark nozzle tip filled up my vision. I shrank back, quivering. This was it, only… I stretched as well, peeling myself from the ceiling and the walls in one swift motion. Leaping downward, I wrapped my fuzzy, misshapen tendrils around the nozzle, squirming past the end just as the spray released.

A muffled noise of surprise sounded behind the mask. The rod swing and shook beneath me as I scrambled down its length, bringing myself within jumping distance of her face. She dropped the rod just as I launched myself.

A scream to match those of my family tore from the woman. I had my feathery tendrils dug into her filter, but this held me at bay. She wrapped both hands around me, rubbery latex scraping at my mass, as I snagged the edge of her mask. Pushing against the soft skin of her cheek, I wriggled behind her defenses. Her fingertips clawed away a chunk of me just as I vanished from sight.

More muffled screaming. Rolling around on the dining room carpet. The woman tore off her mask, gasping for air, but by then I had already crawled into her mouth. Down her throat. She got up onto hands and knees, hacking and coughing, clutching her neck where I writhed around inside. Getting comfortable.

With a long, unraveling rip, the carpet beneath her split open. My family living beneath stretched for the woman above. She slumped over, gasping. Unresistant. Spongy clumps of mold hooked into her jumpsuit, dragging her down. Beneath the carpet. Into the damp wooden floor. Below even that to the rotting foundation.

The disturbed carpet flopped back into place. Beside the inexplicable gash lay the dropped chemical container. No other trace of the woman remained.

Now no one enters the house. Abandoned to the vagaries of nature, it belongs to us and we flourish here. I nestle in the throat of a corpse, pleased with my new location in this deep, damp darkness. Ready to grow.

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