The Hopeful Wanderer – Footprints in the Sand

Along a stretch of grayscale sand, swept smooth and clean by the wind, a set of unusual footprints appeared. No one made them. None that I could see, anyway, which was troubling to begin with. But more worrying was how the footprints raised instead of imprinted, moonlight glinting along the outlined relief. As if someone walked upside down beneath a thin layer of the ground.

Walked in my direction. Sedate, even steps. Yet the tranquility of the pace unnerved me. Not quite stalking, but unhurried in the manner of a confident hunter.

Very little nearby could afford me shelter. Just empty desert and scattered boulders. I made for the nearest of these. The footprints turned to follow, steps widening, as of running.

At that, I sprinted away. Yet a glance behind revealed the footprints widened even further apart, stretching more than any person could stretch their legs. Gaining on me.

Just as I caught the boulder’s rough surface, one of the footprints raised beneath the sole of my foot.

Pain seared up my leg as the print fused through the bottom of my shoe to my skin. I screamed as my foot sank into the sand. Keeping my grip on the boulder, I lifted myself and my free foot from the ground, hauling on my trapped foot. The sand pulled back, growing hotter…

…until at last my foot came away with a sickening rip of skin.

I flopped upon my stomach across the boulder, dripping blood. Gasping. The footprints walked around to face me. Staring them down with all the bravery I could muster, I hoped they couldn’t appear on stone.

The mysterious footprints remained there, unmoving, for the rest of the night. Just as dawn touched the desert, pinking the gray sand, every footprint within view vanished.

Including mine.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Accepting Assistance

The hollow, wet thump of fruit smacking concrete still echoed around the fruit stall. Oranges, mangoes, lemons, kiwis all scattered. Rolling underneath the stand upon which stood more neat mounds of fruit. Most still neat, anyway. The rest of the pretty piles lay in ruins.

I peered over the short wall separating the beleaguered fruit stall and the one where I stood haggling for jerky. A woman sat on the floor, legs folded beneath her in an air of collapse.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

The woman stared down the corridor between myriad other stalls. Pointing a shaking hand, she whispered, “He took an entire crate…”

I glanced in the direction of her pointed finger. So did the woman trying to charge me too much for jerky. In the distance, a scruffy man barreled away, gait awkward beneath the weight of a wooden crate of pineapples.

The fruit seller balled her fists up. “I needed to sell that for medicine, you… you-!”

“Hey, listen,” said the jerky seller, peering over the wall at my side. “Why don’t I buy one and a half crates of fruit and you just give me one? I’ll throw in a box of jerky for the other half.”

The fruit seller blinked up at us. “But that’s way more than what your jerky’s worth. You’ll lose out.”

I slit my eyes in the direction of the jerky seller. “I knew you were overcharging me.”

She flapped a hand at me. “Don’t worry about it. Think of it as repayment for watching my kid when I had to bring him to work that one week.”

“I don’t know…”

“You should take the offer,” I said. “Then I’ll buy the jerky from you at a reasonable price.”

Grinning, I ducked a swipe from the jerky seller.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Detoured from Death

A sedate river of shaggy, horned beasts lumbered across the huge plain in my path. Snorting and lowing, their numbers stretched from the horizon on my right to as far as I could see on the left. Pressed together horns to tails, alternating between eating and walking. A cool wind blew them before it, sending them wherever they could find warmth.

I stood upon the single rise in this flat land, watching them pass below, noting how frost clung to brown curls. My own breath blew out white as I took a seat, resigned to waiting. No way could I pass through that herd in safety. At once, cold began seeping from the frozen ground into my bones.

Once I had built the weakest fire from withered prairie grass, I hunched over to shield the tiny flame from the ever-present wind, warming my chilled hands. When the ground shook beneath me, I looked up, surprised to find close by a young bison regarding me. Warm breath huffed into my face.

“The sun falls,” lowed the creature. “You will freeze to death soon.”

When I unclenched my teeth to speak, my jaw hurt from trying not to let them chatter. “I’m just waiting for you all to pass and I’ll be moving again.”

Turning its shaggy head to regard the passing herd, which showed no sign of abating, the bison said, “We will not pass soon enough. We’re not going the same way, but you can ride along with me for warmth.

I, too, gazed out at the herd, silhouetted black against the fading sunset, pondering the decision. Soon, though, I nodded and clambered up onto the beast’s back, snuggling into its thick woolly fur as it lumbered onward. Better detoured than dead.

A special thank-you to La Verna Joy for your support on Patreon! You are the best. Not only the best, but the very first Patreon supporter of this blog. Thank you so much, again and again.


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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 – Not Alone

Sneaking. Steps soft in slippery snow, I crept through a city filled to the brim with night. Too dark to see even my hands stretched ahead of me. Feeling my way forward with zero light.

Light attracted the things that hunted here. Growls and snarls in the distance. Nearby. My breaths quickened at the fear of stumbling against one unseen.

I almost got to my goal unnoticed.

But I stumbled straight into a parked car. My body thumping against the metal echoed up the skyscrapers. A call to feast. I bounced off the car, slamming onto the snowy asphalt.

A snap of teeth and hot breath against my face woke me. I rolled away, scrambling to my feet. Hot bodies surrounded me. Panic drove me forward between them as they leapt. Just missing. I stretched my legs, flying blind down the street.

I might have run until I collapsed had I not crashed my shoulder into a lamppost. The only one, at the city center. I sobbed with relief: I’d made it. Furious howls sounded in my wake, the thumps of huge paws shook the ground. My palms running over the lamppost base snagged on a hard switch.

The lamppost lit up with an electric buzz. Cold, white light cast a large circle around me, illuminating the night hounds. Mere ragged shadows, suggestions of huge dogs with no eyes. They curled up like smoke, vanishing with mournful cries. Burnt cinders scented the air.

I braced my hands on my knees, gasping for breath. Other people stumbled out of the night into the ring of lamplight. They huddled together at the base of the lamppost, chilled but safe in the harsh glow.

Only a small number had braved the night to get here, though; the rest remained lost in the shadows.

You are never alone in the dark; even your monsters accompany you unseen.

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