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 – A Seven Vessel Mission

Seven boats lay keeled over on their sides in the shallows of a cloudy bay. Water swallowed the gray sky above until they became mirrored reflections, indistinguishable, and lapped against the exposed ribs of the boats like a kitten at a captured fish. Wood and metal creaked as the tide began to shift back out to sea.

I crouched on a nearby pier, watching these boats. The sunlight grew wan, wearing on toward evening.

When the tide had well turned, a low creak echoed around the cove. The sound somewhere between the call of whales and the scraping of metal upon stone. Each boat, large and small, shuddered, wood planks groaning as their skeletal frames shifted. Though they did not, could not float, the boats rose on their keels as field beasts rising from a nap, shaking themselves off.

Surprised the boats had, in fact, activated, I flicked a switch on a device cradled in my palm. Seven dots lit up on the radar screen. I’d heard about this curious phenomenon, which occurred on a regular if infrequent schedule, and I wanted to know where they would go.

Ripples grew into waves crashing against the rocks at the foot of the pier. The boats clustered into a formation sensible to some bygone programmers, ranging from the largest in the middle to the smallest at the ends, arranged in a crescent.

Then the boats floated away. No pilots. No captains. No motors or sails. They angled out to sea, ragged black outlines against the setting sun. The tracker screen showed the dots growing more distant, but their glow remained steady and a digital needle pointed in their direction.

Between one blink and the next, the boats slipped beyond the horizon.

And the dots and the arrow on my tracker winked out.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – A Desperate Apology

“This world is dying.”

A woman stood in the middle of the crumbling living room in an abandoned house. She looked like a specter, with the dim afternoon sunlight struggling in through the dusty windows at her back, with her flowy dark clothes and her flowy dark hair, with the small deer skulls perched on her head in a macabre wreath. But she sounded just like a woman, sad and maybe getting over a cold.

I stood outside a broken bay window, peering into the living room. “I know,” I replied. “Everyone knows that.”

A little flame sparked as she struck a match, setting it to a sprig of some green plant she held. The glow lit up her face, darkening the hollows of her eyes. “I just don’t know what else to do,” she said. Her hard gaze flicked to my face. “Don’t try to stop me.”

“From what?” I asked. But then she dropped the smoldering herbs.

Sparks leapt in all directions and caught on the dry wood flooring, little tongues of flame curling up around the woman’s bare toes. She stepped delicately over them and made for the door, leaving a small inferno behind.

I stared, mouth agape. The woman joined me outside and watched the living room burn with me.

My eyes watered with the sting of smoke. “Why would you do this?”

She shrugged. “As an offering, I guess.” Fire climbed to the rafters and smoke billowed upward, but it was a windless day and the flames seemed disinclined to leave, though it wouldn’t have mattered. People had abandoned this neighborhood long ago.

“As an apology, too,” the woman continued. “To this world, for my part in helping to kill it.”

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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 – Evidence of a Struggle

Along a well-maintained forest path, I found myself walking beside an old stone fence. Sunlight streaming through the leaves overhead caught among mossy fibers, turning them to filaments of fire, wreathing the green fence in a golden glow. Rocks piled on rocks made for a lumpy surface, but the thick cushion of moss looked so inviting, I had to stop for a sit.

I plopped down next to a thick spike of stone that reared up from among the rest of the rocks. As high as my head, coming to a point. I leaned back to regard this rock. Some of the moss near the top had rubbed off. In the bare patch, instead of the gray stone I expected, white glinted in the sun rays.

Standing with a scrape of my shoes on the fence, I wiped away the moss around the bare spot, green catching beneath my fingernails. More white revealed, less like any kind of rock. Smoother. More like…

Enamel.

Frowning, I took in the row of fence with knew eyes. The shape and structure of the piles. Realizing that beneath all that moss were enormous teeth.

Under my palm pressed against what must be an eye tooth of the largest kind, I sensed grooves carved into the surface. Scraping more moss away released a wet, green scent. A crude etching of a battle lay beneath, of small people battling a giant. On front of the tooth was an inscription.

“Dedicated to the brave fallen warriors who redeemed this land from a giant. May we flourish here in peace.”

I glanced around at the empty forest surrounding me. A narrow footpath and a mossy stone fence the single markers of humanity. I guessed they hadn’t needed the land from the giant so bad after all.

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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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The Hopeful Wanderer – A Dance at Dusk

In the depths of a cloudy blue twilight, I spotted a darker shape flailing within a grassy field. All around, long stalks reached toward the sky, silhouetted black against the encroaching twilight. Among them, the figure whirled and leapt, feet thumping against the dirt. Shoulders and hips swayed. Though I squinted, I could not make out limbs or face, these blurring with motion and the dark.

Leaving my path, I stole closer, twilight deepening to bluey-black. Even as I got close enough to taste on my tongue the kicked up dust cloud, the figure’s visage never resolved into more than a shadow.

A shadow dancing to greet the oncoming night.

As I stood nearby, watching these wild motions, the leaping shadow moved over a little, as if inviting me in. Blurred arms waved me closer. Blurred feet stepped in place.

The pull of silent rhythm tugged at my bones. Yet I considered the risk of accepting a strange invitation in such transitional half-light. Stars winked on in the darkest parts of the evening, watching.

I joined the dance.

My feet matched the shadow’s rhythm as I moved in. Spinning in a circle, my outstretched palms smacked grass fronds. The scent of broken stalks rose sharp and green. My head tilted back, laughing mouth open wide enough to swallow the night stars above.

A light tug on my hand. The shadowy person’s face crinkled in a smile, it’s other arm motioning me to follow. Somehow, I knew this meant forever. I wanted to go on dancing, too.

“Wait,” I said, slowing my feet with difficulty. “I can’t go yet. I’m still looking for something.”

Indistinct shoulders gave a shrug. With the last vanishing scrap of light, the figure disappeared.

Cradled by a night unspoiled with light, I kept on dancing alone.

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