The Hopeful Wanderer – Visible at Sunset

An apparition. As the second sun fell behind a rocky horizon, the conical tail of a long-falling star appeared against the backdrop of deep blue night. Blazing with light, it outshone surrounding clutches of stars. Pointing down toward the disappearing sun like an arrow shot into the heavens, as if someone had taken issue with their sole source for life.

“Disaster…” The whispered word repeated over and over, taken up like a chant among several voices around me. We sat upon the spine of the world, one of many such spiny mountain ranges, and the word seemed to fall away down into the deep, rocky trenches, vanishing into the night.

Still gazing up at the wonder above, I asked, “Disaster for what?”

Eyes and teeth flashed in the dark as faces turned toward me. I had not started this mountain trek with this group, but we’d had the same destination in mind, so I had joined them somewhere between flat ground and here. A thoughtful hum rose from their ranks as they considered my question.

“The oceans may continue to rise,” one of them postulated.

“Bigger earthquakes,” said another.

“Restlessness of spirits.”

“Species extinction.”

“You know,” the last said, “disaster. The apparition is an ominous portent.”

“You forgot acid rain and deforestation,” I said. “All those things happened last year. And the year before. Our planet is dying. But this-” I waved my hand toward the distant comet, “has nothing to do with that.” My hand dropped back into my lap, heavy with the futility of it all. “The only ominous portents are us.”

The apparition, the mere comet, wandered along its journey around the suns. At such a great distance, cold and heedless of our tragedies. No wisdom to impart as it passed.


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The Hopeful Wanderer – To Be Known

Cradled in the palms of a young man was a nest of interwoven brown twigs, the bowl filled to the brim with tiny eggs the color of spring. Buttery yellow, pastel pink, hazy purple, soft white. All speckled with little red dots, minuscule dribbles of blood. The clack as they jostled against each other promised thick, hard shells, filled with gooey, spicy delight. My stomach twisted at the memory of overindulgence.

We stood together in a faded barn loft, where the boy had just pulled the nest down from among the rafters. Straw so old it had gone to white littered the wood floor and fine dust wandered away through the open loft doors. The eggs almost glowed with color by comparison with our drab surroundings.

As if in offering, the boy held the nest out to me. “Take these.”

Though desire arced through me, I raised my hands as if to ward him off. “Why do you want me to have them?”

“They’re my secrets,” he said. “I need you to hold onto them. Don’t you want to know?”

My mouth watered with the heady scent of sugar wafting up from the eggs. I swallowed. “If I take these,” I warned, “I will devour them.”

As his eyes widened, he hugged the bundle of eggs a little closer to his chest. “Why would you do that?”

I slipped my hands into my pockets, resisting temptation. “Don’t be so willing to give your secrets out,” I growled. “No one can protect them like you.”

The boy’s head bowed. “I’d still risk it,” he whispered. “To be known.”

“You know yourself,” I replied. Though he flinched, I pressed on. “Secrets are dangerous and therefore delicious. Be careful who you feed.”


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The Hopeful Wanderer – Opening the Box

In the very last car of a subway train, I heard a squeak, as of skin sliding against glass. I glanced around the empty car from my seat somewhere in the middle, where I waited for takeoff. The noise came again, from the back door. Getting up to investigate, I wondered if someone was trying to sneak a ride.

But when I peered through the back door window, I found, somehow, another car attached to the back of mine. I had not noted this car when I boarded. Knew I had chosen the car very farthest back for a little peace.

In spite of my certainty, I could not deny this mysterious extra car. I opened my door and stepped into the service space between doors. A pair of hands were pressed against the other car’s window from inside. Another squeak sounded as the palms flattened further, as if desperately trying to push the door open.

No lights illuminated the inside of the car. I could not see the owner of the hands, which themselves were long and slender.

Above the door’s pull handle was a lock knob twisted shut. She was locked in there. In the dark. Who knew what she needed to escape? I reached for the knob.

A faint whisper in my ear. “Don’t unlock it.”

The lock snicked open beneath my fingers. The hands within pushed and pushed, shoving me aside. I stepped back to let her out, shuffling in the tight space.

But when the door swung wide, there was no one on the other side. Nothing but inky darkness. A cool breath of air brushed my cheek in passing and the semi-open door behind me creaked. Shocked, I pushed the mysterious car’s door shut, wondering what I had just released into the world.


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The Hopeful Wanderer – A Dusty Day

Thick dust whirled upward in a swirling column, thinning out and widening in breadth the higher the wind whipped into the sky. A dust devil. Close enough to my position in the middle of sandy scrub land that the dusty air rendered the sun above hazy. Close enough for the wind whistling through desert plants and scattering gravel every direction to take on the rattle of millions of skittering little feet.

Close enough.

Heat beat down on the top of my head. My bag lay somewhere to my left, to avoid getting mucky. I stood in the path of the column of dust, which rose and fell, rose and fell. I panted from my run to get there, eyeing the erratic motion of the thick base. Three times my width.

Here was good.

The dust devil bore down on me with a roar. I screwed my eyes shut and opened my palms at my side. Leaned into the wind slapping at me from all directions, twisting my hair. Felt dust and sand and gravel scour at my cheeks and palms. Wished the wind would lift me from my feet and carry me away.

But my feet remained bound to earth. In a blink, the dust devil passed, leaving me gasping in its wake. Hair and face and skin caked in dirt.

Turning, I watched the dust devil recede, losing momentum and structure. I licked my lips and spat, brown sludge mixing with the sand between my shoes. The thirsty ground wicked the moisture right up.

In the distance, the dust devil abruptly fell apart, collapsing and drifting away in the hot wind as if it had never existed.

Little granules of dirt ground between my teeth when I grinned. What fun.

In the distance, another dust devil rose.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Secondhand Furniture

“When you said you needed help in your shop, I thought it would be a little more… finished.”

Afternoon light squirmed in through the front door of a very run down rental space, cascading through floating dust motes kicked up by my vigorous pushing of a broom. The floating dust would render my efforts useless later when they settled back to the floor, but I felt satisfied with my little pile of dirt and old leaves, with the clean white tiles left behind.

Nearby, my host knelt, carefully uprooting a sapling from where it had grown through a gap in the floor. Its branches strained toward the sunlight, growing just a little in shadow. A large pot waited ready for it.

“I been doing all this work myself,” said the shopkeeper. “Not a lot of folks willing to help out just for a couple nights in a bed.” She shot me a curious look over the tops of her glasses.

Before I could reply, a sneeze shook me to my toes. The shopkeeper, now also my host, offered me a handkerchief to blow my nose. “Sometimes,” I said with a sniffle, “it takes work to satisfy curiosity.” Said curiosity being at a cloud of dust billowing from a tiny shop tucked between two department stores in a city (usually) devoid of things like dust. “Why here, though? Seems more trouble than it’s worth.”

My host straightened up from repotting the sapling. She looked around at the boarded up windows, furniture so used as to no longer be secondhand, and weeds pushing up from beneath the floor. “I like rescuing things,” she said. “Besides, I’ve wanted to run a shop forever. Figure it’s time to put down roots.”

I gave her a smile to show I understood, not understanding at all.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Jealous Grass

A person was laying in the grass, and she had been for quite some time. Flat on her back. A bouquet of big white and yellow daisies clutched in her hands lay across her chest. When she continued not to move from her grassy bed, I walked over to investigate.

Blue eyes widened when I came into her view. The woman, more of a girl, did not move at my approach, which concerned me most. My next concern being the large white daisy stuck in her mouth, slender petals folded inward between her lips.

“Looks like a ritual,” I murmured. To her, I said, “Was this on purpose?”

An emphatic head shake.

When I tried to pull her up by the arm, her back stuck to the grass. A quick peek beneath her showed grass woven into the fibers of her shirt. Sitting back on my heels, I plucked the flower from her mouth.

Gagging, the girl spat more petals into the air. One stuck to her cheek. “It’s the flowers,” she wheezed. “You have to run!”

A grass petal slithered across the toe of my shoe. I shook it off.

“What started this?” I demanded.

A tear slid from the girl’s eye as grass wove lovingly into her hair. “I picked this bouquet,” she whispered.

“Throw them away!”

“I can’t let go!”

I snatched the bouquet from the girl’s hand, stems slipping from her unresistant fingers with ease, and tossed it as far as I could, loose petals raining down in the bouquet’s wake.

Grabbing her hand, I hauled the girl upright. Grass petals fell from her hair past her shocked expression. “I couldn’t… get out,” she whispered.

“You can now,” I replied. In the distance, the bouquet had begun sinking below a layer of jealous grass. “Let’s go.”

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Field Guardians

In a remote field of faded stubble, buried deep in the woods, I had almost crossed to the other side when two young women stepped out in front of me. I pulled up short, but they just stood there next to each other. Both wore a lacy white sun dress and no shoes. They seemed identical, except one had a tattoo on the top of her thigh, peeking from beneath the hem of her dress.

Each held a large section of tree bark in front of their faces.

In the silence, a cricket chirped nearby. When I tried to walk around, they shuffled to remain in my path. Dust rose from crackling stubble, drifting aside on a faint breeze.

I swallowed down the taste of earth. “May I pass?”

The one lacking tattoos motioned with an open hand. “Our field lies uncultivated. Won’t you contribute some seeds for the planting?”

I had no seeds with me, but I had eaten from a wild strawberry bush back the way I’d come. Trekking back beyond the field, I plucked a strabwerry and brought it back. Squeezing it to a red pulp, I picked out the seeds and placed them into the free hand of the tattooed one.

“And some water to help them grow?” said the first.

Uncapping my water bottle, I splashed some over the seeds. They floated in the water cupped in the woman’s hand.

“And a place to plant them?”

Crouching, I dug into the dirt at the woman’s feet, scooping out a fist sized hollow. The tattooed one knelt and poured the water and seeds inside. I closed up the hole with dirt scraped back over and a little green sprig sprang up.

The two women stepped apart and I nodded to each as I passed between them.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – A Pink Path for Pilgrimage

While rambling through a remote area of woodland, I happened upon a river of pink flowers flowing along the forest floor. Meandering back and forth across my path from my left to my right. I suspected the flowers must have sprung up from the moisture in an old river bed, yet my heart fluttered at the wondrous picture they created of a lovely pink path.

A sweet scent rose from the blossoms, along with several rustlings. Upon closer look, I realized small creatures traveled down the flower path, hidden beneath the thick cluster of plants. I crouched down closer, noting how all the little animals moved in the same direction, toward my right.

Leaning forward, I parted the pink flowers over one such spot of rustling. Among the stalks crouched a white rabbit with one black-rimmed eye, staring up at me. Little nose quivering. “Shh…” the creature whispered. “If you ask questions, the magic disappears.”

Biting my tongue on all the things I had started to ask, I nodded. “I could follow,” I suggested.

The rabbit’s ears waggled in thought. “Our destination is no place for you,” it pronounced. “Don’t follow.” Then it hopped away, vanishing behind a screen of leaves.

Letting the blooms fall back into place, I pursed my lips and sat back. Wondering whether I dared satisfy my curiosity at the ruin of this woodland pilgrimage. With care, I stepped one foot down into the river of blooms, pink enveloping my leg up to my knee. Two creatures diverted around my foot. The warmth of greenery gathered in my mouth.

For a moment, I wobbled on one foot, deciding. But a quick hop landed me on the other side. The flowers where I had stood sprang back upright, as if to pretend I had never tread there.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Last Goodbye

Not often did I pass through a region twice. But between wandering and also traveling the world, the unusual had to happen someday. In a land I had not visited in a long while, I stopped by a mail chain. A wall of lost letters posted for the receiver to perhaps one day find. I sometimes pulled the oldest, most abandoned looking letters for a little light reading. The ones with spattered rain stains and browning edges. The ones no one wanted.

But on this spring afternoon, the oldest letter I plucked happened to be addressed to me. I frowned as I opened it out in the sunlight, the breeze tugging at the letter’s crumbling edges. It read:

“Wanderer,

We’ve never met, but my grandfather talks about you a lot. He loves the stories you told him and he says he’s ready to tell you his now. Please come to…”

I skipped the last because another letter had been tucked behind the first, from the same writer. This dated a month after the first.

“Grandfather passed away, Wanderer. He said it’s alright that you didn’t show up, but he has the last laugh because you never did get those stories from him you wanted…”

Both of the letters were dated two years ago. A plague had wracked this country back then and I would never have made it, even if the letters had found me.

Blinking back a little mist in my eyes, I crushed the fragile letters between my palms. Upon the opening of my hand, the particles whisked away on the wind, disappearing into the bright sky.

Knowing just where to go, I turned my feet down a nearby dirt path. I was sorry I hadn’t made it in time, but I would go say one last goodbye.

A special thank-you to Jessica Moranty for your support on PatreonYou are the best. Friend to all creators. Thank you so much, again and again.

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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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Photo by Tadeusz Lakota on Unsplash