The Hopeful Wanderer 36 – Dying Flowers

Glass tubes glinted in the afternoon sunlight pouring in through the front window. Each tube contained a bright colored liquid, several flower varieties soaking up the colorful water. Only, their blossoms were the wrong color.

As I examined them, yet another bloom changed, a pink carnation darkening to brown. I turned to the florist hovering nearby. “You’ve got prisms.”

Outside, laughter and shouting rang in the streets, this town’s spring festival in full swing. Yet the florist’s booth outside sat empty, a closed sign on the shop door.

The florist cast a nervous glance around. “Prisms?” he said. “What does that mean?”

“They’re eating the dye colors, stripping out different hues.” From my bag, I withdrew a fire starter. “We have to burn the infected flowers and boil off the dye water.”

A sigh escaped the florist, sending a sweet floral scent wafting around. “All of them?”

Nearby, an orange flower faded to bronze. “Did you buy dye from the Iad region?” I asked.

He nodded, cringing a little. Iad dye was cheap, but it could only be used on cloth, not plants. He knew better.

“Just the flowers in the Iad dye, then.” I knelt before his wood stove and struck the starter over a bunch of blossoms I’d piled within. The sparks caught and bright snaps of color appeared in the air, popping and hissing. One stung my cheek and I jerked my face away.

We burned half the shop’s inventory. Colorful smoke billowing from the stovepipe floated over the town like a glowing cloud, beckoning festival goers to the shop. Eventually, the florist had to unlock the doors to let people in, while I continued feeding the fire.

He sold all the rest of his un-dyed flowers that day, but he did so wearing a sad smile.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 35 – Soul Glow

There was a star caught in a tree.

Branches hung over a neighborhood sidewalk and the first breath of fall had convinced some of the topmost leaves to begin drying out. It was in this cluster of yellow foliage that a golden spark twinkled.

I stood below on the cracked sidewalk, head craned back. “Did you get distracted?”

The little glow shivered. “I’m lost,” it whimpered. “The sky called me home, but I can’t find it.”

“Sometimes,” I said, “you have to fall before you float.” I held out my hands, cupped palms upturned.

After a moment of thought, there sounded a faint snap and a crinkled leaf began to float down, the star perched atop. I snagged the whole ensemble by the leaf stem, careful not to pinch the star. Warmth touched my fingertips. “How’d you get stuck there?”

“I followed mom and dad home from the hospital.” Its voice sounded small, like a child. “They didn’t let me inside, though.”

I glanced at the house fronting the sidewalk. Two-car garage. A bike on its side in the front yard.

“Ah,” I said. “So you know what happened, then.”

“Yeah…”

“And you know where to go now?”

“Up! But I got stuck.” The star changed to an embarrassed shade of pink.

I stepped off the curb into the street. Twilight had fallen, casting houses and trees in black shadows. Above, the stars began to appear, winking on one at a time.

I pointed a finger upward. “That way.”

But the star had already launched itself from my hand. It spiraled up and up, leaving a trail of golden dust in its wake. I watched it go for a long time, until a new star appeared to take its place in the night sky. Then it winked off, gone forever.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 34 – The Cost of Skepticism

“It collects starlight, you see,” my host explained. She sat across from me at her kitchen table, the two of us admiring a geometrically cut crystal orb dangling from the top of the big picture window overlooking her dining room. Weak afternoon sunlight filtered through the orb, scattering little rainbows across the table’s surface.

I cupped a fragmented rainbow in my palm. “Solar-powered, then,” I concluded, disappointed. The intriguing rumors surrounding this particular gem were just sensationalized after all.

“Yes and no.” My host was elderly and it showed most when she smiled, crinkling her face into a multitude of wrinkles. “Solar-powered objects charge with sunlight and activate at night.”

“Right, and the suns are stars, so what’s the difference here?” I tipped my hand forward and the rainbow dripped off my fingertips, splattering onto the table. The droplets then evaporated.

“It only charges at night under starlight,” said my host. Her smile changed to something more smug. “Then it glows when you take it into dark places during the day.”

My interest returned and I peered closer at the gem. “Where’d you get this?”

“Picked it up at the bottom of the Earthways mines, back when I worked for them.”

“Interesting.” My right eye itched. When I rubbed at it, a soft, sandy substance slithered around my fingertips.

We both stared as a swirl of twinkling dust danced through the air and then vanished into the orb. A noise like struck glass rang out and the gem flared bright.

I clapped my hand over my aching eye. “Ow!”

My other eye started to itch as my host guided me back from the window. “Maybe you should stay away from it.”

When I looked at her, I couldn’t quite remember her name. Nodding, I said, “I think you’re right.”

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The Hopeful Wanderer 33 – A Home Fallen

Tiny lights burned yellow and dim from within the needles of a fallen Yule tree. It lay in the snow where it had crashed, sprawled across the path ahead, branches sagging into the powder, crossed boards of the base sticking up like stiff toes. Several sets of footprints tracked where passersby had walked around or stepped over the tree.

When I paused next to it, falling snow took the opportunity to begin piling up on my bare head. My breath puffed frosty white in the streetlamp light. “Need a hand up?”

“Oh, if you don’t mind,” several tiny voices chorused at once. They jingled like the tongues of a hundred little bells. “Someone thought it funny to knock our tree down and we can’t lift it ourselves.”

I set my bag down into the snow next to me. When I began lifting the tree by its rough trunk, faint little shrieks of surprise tinkled from the branches. The string lights flickered. But once I had the tree upright, they shone bright again, casting a halo of lights that reflected off the snow like golden stars.

“Did no one else offer to help?” I asked the lights. The tree kept trying to fall again when I released it. Upon inspection, I found one of the base boards had snapped.

“We didn’t ask,” the lights replied.

I looped some string from my pack around the tree trunk and the nearby handrail. “That,” I grunted as I tied it off, “should not have mattered.” Now when I straightened, the Yule tree remained upright, proud as the others that lined this footpath.

“Who are you?” the lights chimed. “That we may thank you.”

“No idea,” I replied. I hefted my bag, preparing to move on. “But it doesn’t matter. You’re welcome all the same.”

Happy New Year. Be kind in 2019.

The Hopeful Wanderer 32 – Moon Mother Mourning

She carried the moon with her – a rounded orb of lunar rock, lit by the invisible reflection of a missing sun, somehow an echo of the real thing hanging in the night sky. She cradled it in her palms like an offering and whispered, “Where is my sun?” 

So many had heard her question and gone mad seeking the answer. ‘In the sky’ would not do, nor would any variation. Though she witnessed the sun, and its distant twin cousins, every day, she asked still. 

Flicking her gaze to me, she said, “Where is my sun?” Her question burned like the drag behind my belly button pulling me toward her; I had moved too far into her range. Pain weighted her calm eyes, dense as the devastating iron that collapses the hearts of stars.

The very marrow of my bones grew heavy, the next step forward like escaping the grasp of an event horizon. When I reached her, however, I placed my hand atop the tiny moon, soft, powdery dust clinging to my palm. My eyes met hers as I pushed the orb lower. “Your son was at the space station,” I said, “when the life support failed.” 

No tears reached those cold eyes, but her voice quivered. “Where is my son?” 

“He died at the space station,” I repeat. “You know this. You cannot keep using his gift from his moon landing to drive people mad like this.” 

At last, she dropped her hands, the orb clutched at her side. It dimmed and flickered out, releasing its painful weight on my body. I inhaled deeply, expanding crushed lungs. 

“My son, my sun,” she murmured, “strangled in the sky that he loved so much.” She brushed her thumb across the gift from her astronaut, her head hung in silent grief.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 31 – A Migrating Forest

Worry had just begun to gnaw at me when I felt the thin silver chain wrapped around my fingers twitch. In what I thought looked like an ancient river bed, I paused, swinging the pendulum hanging from my hand back and forth. Slowly, slowly. At the bottom end of the chain hung a smooth orb of iolite, tinged a dusky purple. It spun a little, but remained vertical. Not a good sign. Maybe I had imagined it.

There had been so many directions to choose from, so full of possibility, and only one the right choice. I chewed my lip, looking around myself again. It was the way big, smooth rocks poked out of the dirt here, as if worn away by constant water flow. But it wasn’t like underground rivers had to follow their old routes exactly. This one could have looped miles away, leaving me here, with vulnerable friends counting on my help.

The pendulum chain twitched again. I paused, squinting at the dangling orb in the failing light. It spun and spun as I swung it around myself. But then, when I had walked several hundred feet to my left, the chain at last leapt away from the ground, hanging at an angle almost horizontal.

I grinned. This was it.

I ran almost a mile back the way I had come and clambered over a huge limestone deposit. At the top, I shouted down to the forest of tall, spindly trees below. “Northwest!”

As one, the trees shook to life, digging roots through leaf loam and dry dirt as they shifted northwest, edging around the limestone that had blocked their path along their river.

The tree passing me ran a cluster of twigs through my hair. “Well done, Wanderer,” it whispered with rustling leaves. “Thank you.”

hr-vane-kosturanov-draw

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The Hopeful Wanderer 30 – Fifteen Minutes

Fifteen minutes of hope. That was all it took to drive me into standing in line for a week, winding step by step through the bottom of a valley alongside hundreds of other travelers from the world over, all sharing that same hope with me. No one maintained the line, yet in it we stood, hemmed in by long-standing tradition set down by years of previous hopefuls. Old stalls set up along the line sold food and supplies at intervals. I told tales of my wanderings to those around me and heard more in turn. Line mates became friends became family, until they reached the end of the line and departed, never to return.

For the destination of this line was a single sandglass set upon a stone pedestal, containing fifteen minutes’ worth of black sand within. From where I stood, I could see it at last, glinting in the setting sunlight. A woman took her place on a worn stump set before the pedestal, hands clenched as she stared into the upper glass bulb. Then she smiled, laughing as her eyes filled with tears, spirited away to the past. From here, only the mirage of images danced inside the glass, disclosing none of her secrets to onlookers. Fifteen minutes of perfect, detailed memory. But only once, never again.

Variations of the same repeated with the next several in line. When I reached the sandglass myself, night had fallen and tiny stars winked overhead. Anything, I thought as I took my seat. I hoped for any of my memories from before I began to wander. Anything at all.

But when I flipped the sandglass and stared into the orb, precious sand running to the bottom, no images materialized. Nothing, not a single recollection, up until the last grain fell through.

hr-line

I’m always tired, so please consider buying me a coffee to keep me awake while I write the next story. To read more free original short fiction, hit that follow button, subscribe through email, or throw a like on the Word Nerd Scribbles Facebook page.