The Hopeful Wanderer – Getting Collected

When I went to ride the elevator back downstairs, I found a pair of legs sticking out of the doors of the only working car. They had not been there when I first came up, looking clean but uncomfortable against the grimy concrete floor. Unmoving. Out of place.

The elevator dinged and the doors started shutting. They bounced off the sides of the woman lying half in and half out of the car, then slid back open with the realization that someone blocked their path. She made a little ‘oof’ noise, but otherwise didn’t move.

I stopped next to her legs, looking down at her. “Not a great place for a nap,” I observed.

She just blinked at the wall in response.

Once again the elevator dinged and the doors began to slide. I slipped between them, pressing them open with my back. Then I leaned there, wondering if she was having a fit.

“Just let them close,” the woman mumbled.

At least she was coherent. I scrunched my face in skepticism. “I don’t think I will,” I replied. “It’ll just hurt you more.”

Her shoulders hitched with a heavy exhalation. “Whatever.”

We stood that way a long time, the doors bumping my back every now and then. One or two other people showed up to use the elevator, but I shooed them in the direction of the stairs. They cast quizzical looks at me over their shoulders.

Sometime later, the woman got up on hands and knees and crawled into the elevator car. I stepped inside with her. The doors closed behind me with a relieved sigh.

She flopped down on the tiles and looked up at me. “I think I can make it home now.”

I nodded, hand hovering over the buttons panel. “What floor?”

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The Hopeful Wanderer 51 – Take Nothing

As I made to step off the sidewalk of a sunny city, a car with dark windows pulled to a stop right in front of me. I scurried back up onto the walk, frowning at having my way forward blocked. But as I made to step around the intruding car, I peered within and paused, realizing the windows were not just dark. The inside was brimming with plants. Green tendrils pressed against the passenger side window. I could not see the driver.

The window slid down. Some tendrils popped free and I jerked back to avoid the leafy onslaught. From within the verdant depths, a voice said, “A little help?”

“What’s wrong with your side?” I asked the wall of leaves.

“It’s jammed,” he replied. “Pull me out!”

I popped the handle and, keeping a firm grip on the jamb, I shoved my entire arm into the thicket. Cool leaves and twigs tickled me, then my fingers brushed against warm skin. We clasped at the wrist and, bracing my feet on the sidewalk, I hauled a man out. Vines wrapped around his torso and clung to his ankles, but they tore free as he slithered from the car and lay sprawled on the sidewalk.

With a raised eyebrow, I regarded one tendril inching its way out the door. “Looks like you brought the forest back with you.”

“You know how they say,” the man panted, “leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories?”

“Yeah?”

He climbed to his feet and brought his face close to mine. “They weren’t kidding.” Making a ‘forget it’ gesture at the shrubby car, he stumbled away.

Squinting at the escaping tendril, I poked it back up into the car. Then I shut the door on the forest within and went to call a tow truck.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 50 – A Summer Offering

In a wide-open field of long summer grass stood a lonesome table, covered in gray cloth and bearing a shallow wicker basket. A single shady tree overhung the table, inviting in the over-bright afternoon sunlight. Sweat beaded on the back of my neck and grass crunched beneath my feet as I approached. Behind me lay nothing; ahead, even more of the same. A gentle breeze carried to me the sweet scent of warm fruit.

At the table, I paused beneath the shade, allowing the sweat to dry from my hair. A clear vase of field flowers sat next to the wicker basket and inside the basket were a couple of muffins, cupped in brown wax paper and stuck in the middle with a bunch of raspberries still hanging from their stems. From my bag, I withdrew another of these and set it down next to the first two. No chairs were nearby and I remained standing, eyeing the tall elm tree.

Dark green leaves above rustled despite a lack of breeze. Wood groaned as one of the boughs stretched down, reaching with twiggy fingers and picking up the muffin I had offered. Branch and muffin retracted into the canopy and several crumbs fell to the grass to the sounds of munching.

“Thank you,” the elm tree whispered. “You may enter.”

Just past the table, the view of the empty field and open sky rippled. I put out a hand and slipped through the illusory sheen into a field of raspberry bushes. Their sweet scent hung on the air. Behind me, the table and the tree still stood, appearing faded, as if over-exposed to the sun. Ahead, blue mountains shimmered beyond the field. I set off toward these down a green, grassy lane, avoiding touching a single fruit along the way.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 48 – Sea Glass Below

The ocean’s surface receded above as I dove downward, out of reach all too soon. Pink rays of dancing sunlight lanced into the water around me, but these, too, fell behind. As my dive lost momentum, I blew out bubbles, sinking deeper into the sea. Every direction was an empty, darkening gradient of blue.

Now darkness encroached. I wished for daylight and longed for air, my lungs burning and my vision blurring. The weighty rock I held to drag me down wasn’t dragging fast enough and if I didn’t reach the bottom, I wouldn’t make it back to the top.

Below, a violet glow pierced the inky depths. Schools of fish swam between me and the light; these darted away as I passed among them. Spiny urchins and tiny starfish shrank back as my hand closed around a glassy orb. I dropped the stone. Turned myself around and pushed off from the bottom with all my strength.

My heart trembled. I couldn’t see the surface above. I only knew the direction by which way the last bit of air in my lungs wanted to go. Kicking mightily, I shot upward. The orb in my grasp blazed like an undersea star, lighting the way. When at last I made out the sunset tinged waves above, they were so far away. Too far.

And then, my head breaking through the surface, they weren’t. I choked and coughed and more waves slapped my face, but I was breathing air again.

Treading water, I held up the orb. Small chunks of indigo sea glass fused together with dark grout. Sealed within, stardust tinkled as it tumbled around, twinkling far across the waves. A beacon shining back toward land.

Or at least, as I set out following the direction of its blaze, I hoped so.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 47 – Name Calling

On a clear desert night, the crush of shifting sand from just outside my tent woke me. I lay on my bedroll in the dark, listening to the unmistakable sound of footsteps approaching. The gait of my visitor… lurched. Or hopped. When it stopped next to my tent, the shadow of a lengthy, humanoid shape limned against the distant, star strewn sky. Antlers protruded from between long, drooping ears.

It whuffed an animal breath.

My eyes found the tent zipper, expecting any second to see it begin to inch open. Against the canopy between me and the creature lay my bag. I could think of nothing within that would help me.

From the other side of that insubstantial nylon wall, a voice called with a high, thin quality that echoed away into the dunes. “Wanderer,” the creature crooned. Only the word it spoke did not sound like any word for wanderer.

Yet, somehow, that strange word meant me.

It was my name.

Instantly, though, whatever I had heard slid sideways in my mind. Gone, with only the lingering sense of rightness left behind.

I yanked the zipper down and snatched the tent flap open. As I ducked out, I glimpsed the flash of a glowing pair of wideset eyes. “What did you just sa-” I began.

But outside, no tall creature stood. The sands all around were empty but for a set of rabbit tracks leading away from my tent into the night. No second set showed the creature’s approach.

Hope sliced neatly from my chest. Along the graceful crest of a dune, the glint of starlight was a cruel, knowing grin.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 44 – Whispering Waters

When the waters rose and swept between the pillars of an innocuous shrine, it was said a voice could be heard by those standing beneath its graceful wooden arch. Intrigued by this rumor, I arrived there just as the rainy season petered off and stood where calm water met grass, toes bare, gazing outward at the flat expanse of shallows stretching to the horizon. Upon stepping onto the sandy path leading out to the shrine, buried beneath inches of clear rainwater, the splashing of my steps seemed insignificant against all that emptiness. 

Little rock gardens stretched away to my left and right, lit by afternoon sunlight beneath the ripples my motion created. The people here knew the depths of water would arrive every year to kill whatever grass they managed to encourage up from the earth, but they built beauty here all the same. Still, my heart thumped dully beneath my collarbone, hardly moved, my walk to the shrine a mechanical one. 

I arrived between the shrine’s old pillars too soon, before feeling could return to my chest. Deeper water rose and fell around my thighs now, threatening to push me over, and I rested a hand against smooth lacquered wood to keep myself upright. Once steadied and focused, I cocked my head, listening, for I had heard something… familiar.

Then I realized what maybe a few other visitors had understood before me. It was only my own voice, telling me what I needed to hear.

Shhhhhhhhhhhh… shhhhhhhhhh… it said.

Fingers trailing in water, palm rested against ancient tree, toes pressed into sand, and hair tousled by wind, I closed my eyes. And I listened to what I had to say.

A little, just a very little, the weight in my heart eased. For now, it was enough.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 43 – Lost to Hidden

A ruined city glimpsed between thick clouds, spires and skyscrapers towering above the earth, breaking through the eternal fog enveloping its forgotten world. Sunlight poking through the windows illuminated dangling innards — wires and ventilation ducts. Cold and empty and beckoning explorers and wanderers alike.

I stood somewhere within the fog layer but still outside the fabled city, uncertain of my direction. My hand shielded my eyes as I tipped my head back, gazing up at those tower tops. Sunlight had broken through again, glittering off broken window shards and limning the fog in gold. Last time the towers hove into view, I had walked straight toward them. Yet now, they reappeared… to my left.

Soon they vanished again. Altering my course and beginning my trek anew, I reflected on how folks referred to this as ‘the lost city,’ implying it never meant to get that way but had become obscured all the same. Still, the lost hoped for discovery; it stood to reason someone should have found the city by now.

As I slid down a ridge, shale nipping at my bare palms, the towers materialized once more. Two now stood to my right and… I glanced about for the third. There, back the way I had come.

Understanding dawned. I stood grumbling under my breath, condensed fog dripping cold from the ends of my hair. This was why no one had found the lost city: it wasn’t lost, but hidden. The city itself was toying with me. A minuscule flock of unfamiliar red birds took flight from the distant towers, their cries reverberating through the low clouds sounding just like laughter.

Fog rolled up over the skyscrapers once more, swallowing them for good. Though I searched and searched for another glimpse, they did not show themselves to me again.

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