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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The Hopeful Wanderer – Sleepers One by One

One by one, a crowd drew close in the dreary, oncoming night around the lights from a single carousel, burning gold. No one, children or adults, rode the platform, but many stood about, watching as a world of sleepers spun around and around. Horses, tigers, dragons, and giant birds. Jeweled fur and feathers and scales glimmering against the dark.

I observed from somewhere in the middle of the crowd, ignorant of the motive behind this gathering. Drizzling rain dripped down my temples and my breath puffed in the cold. Words did not pass between those around me. Eavesdropping a useless effort.

One by one, the sleeping animals opened their eyes. As well, the gloom deepened, erasing the crowd, magnifying the bright majesty radiating from the carousel creatures. They stretched and shook, snorted and stamped, slowly crawled off the platform as it ground to a halt.

We held still, held our breaths, as the animals crept among us, through our ranks. A dragon the height of my hips slunk close by me. Close enough that I reached out to brush its scales with my fingertips. Light trailed off the dragon like cobwebs, glittering around my fingernails. Yet I had touched mere plastic, its scales smooth and painted.

One by one, the carousel bulbs above us burned out, snuffed like torches. Faster and faster, plunging us into darkness, until none remained. Animated artificial animals, radiating light that faded by the moment, slipped past the last of the crowd and out into the world.

Some energy or electricity or just the reviving quality of light had woken these sleepers. Yet they had not transformed into true animals. I wondered what machination could inject in them this half life, what endless ideal called them away.

One by one, the creatures vanished, swallowed by the seductive night.

Inspired by A World of Sleepers by Carbon Based Lifeforms.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Emergency Dive

A muted clanking sounded from the door. All of us in the room tensed, thinking the water pressure outside had at last overpowered the sealed door’s capacity to keep it out. But then the clanking came again, rhythmic, like knocking.

“They’re here,” I said. “Get ready.”

The group moved around behind me. I took several breaths then held, and pulled the door open.

A torrent of water gushed in, swinging the door wide and slamming me into everyone in a confused mass of tangled limbs and roaring water and cries of surprise. The room began to fill in no time. We floated upward with it toward the rapidly approaching ceiling.

Once above the door frame, the waters calmed. Then a person burst up from below the surface, wearing goggles and a tank on her back. She popped out her mouthpiece, spraying water. “How many?” she asked.

“Seven,” a woman next to me replied.

The diver handed out Y-shaped breathers. I affixed mine just as my hair brushed the ceiling and water closed over my head. The lights flickered out. By the beam of a flashlight attached to the diver’s harness, I saw her counting heads. Satisfied everyone had their breathers in, she made a ‘follow me’ motion.

We filed after her back down through the door and into the flooded shopping center. Racks of floating shirts tugged against their hangers, like curious cloth creatures. Other divers led more swimmers to our destination, a floor just above the flood waters.

When we climbed out onto dry carpet, I said, “What happened?”

“Levy broke out of nowhere,” our rescuer replied. She began collecting breathers.

“What do we do now?” a man asked.

The diver pointed out toward a balcony. “Wait for rescue.” Then she flipped back into the water and vanished below.

The Hopeful Wanderer 45 – Insecurity

Beneath a brightly lit city, a yawning tunnel ran away into darkness. As if to avoid attracting attention to the area, no light spilled across the wide concrete steps leading downward. Yet at regular intervals, the footsteps of one or two people passing below rang out, telling those walking along the railing above that a few more souls had breached the unknown.

Always before these journeyed on, a faint ding sounded at the decrepit security scanners lining the mouth of the passage. A green circle lit up on crackling screens, indicating this traveler carried no doubts. I felt no call to join this inexplicable pilgrimage, so I stood watching from atop the stairs.

Nearby, an ugly buzz sounded from the scanners and a red X appeared on the screen. Little sparks showered the person standing below and she ducked until they fizzled out. Once she uncovered her head, she just stood there. Unable to move forward, too desperate to turn back.

Unthinking, I held out my hand toward her. “I’ll take it for you.”

The girl turned toward me, face half cast in shadows. She was terribly young for one burdened with too much doubt to pass through. “I couldn’t find a place to drop it,” she explained. “But if you don’t mind…”

My outstretched hand remained steady. She handed me a live, squirming, slimy thing. Extreme anxiety hooked into my skin and I instantly doubted my decision.

But she smiled. As she passed through the scanners with an uplifting ding, she seemed to shine in the dimness before complete blackness swallowed her whole.

As soon as I could, I found a waste bin where I dropped the nasty doubt. It left a smear of grease across my palm that I could only hope would come out with a wash.

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