The Hopeful Wanderer – The Toll

Old boards creaked beneath my boots as I meandered across a rotting footbridge. In the entrenchment it crossed lay the mere memory of running water in the layer of mud at the bottom. Leaf loam littered the ground beneath wide-spaced trees. I had my gaze upward, regarding the rustling branches above, when a hand grasped my ankle and yanked.

Pain shot through my hip as I slammed into the damp wood. My full length slithered over the edge, beneath the handrail that I couldn’t reach, despite my outstretched hands. Flung forward, the muddy creek bottom rose up to meet me. I landed with a squelch, muck packing into my nose and mouth and eyes as I flew backward.

I vanished beneath the dark overhang.

At my first attempt to sit up, I smacked my head against the spongy underside of the bridge. Feeling around revealed brittle twigs, damp leaves, goopy ground. A bumpy hand holding my ankle.

I sucked in a sharp breath.

At the same time, a voice full of gravel said, “You must pay the price to cross.”

My eyes adjusting to the darkness revealed the outline of a hulking figure. Hair sticking out everywhere. Knobby ears. Stooped posture. Lengthy arms.

My voice shook. “With what?”

A creaking, as of stretching skin. Rancid meat smell wafted over me. “One skill. The ability to forage.”

My jaw clenched. I carried little food with me, surviving on edible plants. So if I gave up this skill now, I could starve.

The grip on my ankle tightened. “That, or I eat you.”

When later I scrambled from beneath the bridge, I found every plant looked the same. While the bridge troll safely chowed down on berries, I would have to pick up a foraging guidebook to relearn all over again.

Thanks for reading!

If you like what I write here at Word Nerd Scribbles, you can leave a one-time tip for the price of a $3 coffee ko-fi.com/sgbaker.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – A Punctuated Demand

Question marks surrounded me. Big, pale, spray painted on every trunk as far as I could see. Glowing in the gloom beneath the spreading branches of enormous pines. All facing me, like the disapproving gaze of a fussy uncle.

Just a moment ago, the forest had appeared as any other cluster of trees. Embarrassment overtook me as I realized I had just stepped uninvited into someone’s home. No direction looked like a safe retreat, so I huddled in on myself. A single crow squawked overhead.

Nothing happened. Except, every time I blinked, the question-marked trees jumped closer. Soon, they crowded around me, no space between their trunks, bark creaking against bark. Looming over me. Punctuation marks demanding answers. Yet I had none, for I knew not the question.

“Um,” I said at last. “I sense you don’t want me here. How can I leave?”

The base of every single trunk bowed sideways. Each curved in the same direction. Each question mark now flipped upside down.

By my feet, a carpet of yellowed pine needles rustled. A matted layer of them rose up into the shape of a mouth. Pine cones lined the lips like nubby teeth.

Smug as inexorable, tunneling roots, a voice drawled, “How indeed?”

At that, the forest swallowed me up in one gulp.

Sometime later, it spat me out again. I clawed my way past twisting roots and through a smelly layer of rotten loam. When my fingers broke free, I dug myself out, spitting up pine needles and dead leaves.

Once upright, I pawed muck from my eyes. A quick turn revealed the forest had dumped me at its edge, on the side from which I had entered. As I coughed up the last granules of dirt, I determined to take the long way back around.

Thanks for reading!

If you like what I write here at Word Nerd Scribbles, you can leave a one-time tip for the price of a $3 coffee ko-fi.com/sgbaker.

At $1 a month, you can also join my creative journey @ patreon.com/sgbaker.

To read more free original short fiction every Thursday, follow the blog, like the Word Nerd Scribbles Facebook page, or subscribe to my monthly newsletter!

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Word Nerd Scribbles Joins #Spooktober 2019

Fall began a week ago, but now. Now. Finally and at last. Today. October has arrived. The season of spooks, monsters, and creeps. It’s here! The best time of the year.

With the arrival of October begins #Spooktober, a time of Halloween-flavored media in movies, fiction, art, gifs, and more. Whether you prefer gory horror or light-hearted creepiness, #Spooktober has it all.

Word Nerd Scribbles will be joining in on #Spooktober 2019 with four spooky, creepy, and scary Hopeful Wanderer tales. Departing somewhat from the usual serene mood of the Wanderer’s adventures, because everyone experiences frightening things. Tune in each week to find out what goes wrong when the Wanderer makes mistakes.

Since October has five Thursdays this year, and the last one falls on Halloween (!), Word Nerd Scribbles will continue last year’s trend of presenting a Halloween Special. An original spooky short-story all on its own. Be on the lookout!

For my part, I don’t get enough time to watch all the scary movies, read all the creepy books, or attend all the spooky parties I want in October. So this year, I’ve picked Annihilation to watch, starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Oscar Isaac. I haven’t seen it before, but some of you said it’s really good!

What are your October plans this year? Throwing a party? Making a costume? Let me know in the comments! For now and the rest of the month, my fellow spooks:

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