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 – Ancient Advice

I stood at the foot of a giant, neck craned back to gaze up. Up past the treetops, up past the hilltop, up to the amethyst evening sky. Three vast arms stretched away from the top of the wind turbine, stars outlining the shapes of wide fan blades. These remained still in the evening quiet, no wind to spin them.

“Wanderer.” The arms creaked above. “What has brought you here?”

I could not imagine such a giant capable of hearing me so far down here, but I cleared my throat anyway. “I’ve been on this world a long time. I want to know what to expect if my life goes on longer.”

As evening fell into night, a red light appeared at the tower’s peak. Flicking on and off, a warning signal. To me the light appeared like an eye, blinking in thought.

“Few have lived as long as you, Wanderer,” the turbine intoned. “Yet I have stood here for time forgotten, long since all my sisters fell.”

The scent of pine needles rose. I knew from my trek up here that several turbines lay crashed to the forest floor, in varying states of decay. I’d been forced to walk all the way around one of them, bloody with rust and lichen. Eyeing the base of this turbine, I wondered how much longer it would last. The rust didn’t look too bad yet.

“You won’t notice too much after awhile,” the turbine finished.

Glancing back up, I said, “Really?”

“Nah. The older you get, the faster time moves, until it all becomes a blur.” The blinking red eye seemed to slow in reflection. “Though at that speed, whirling around and around the year, the changing of seasons looks really pretty.”

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Making Change

Sweet, floral perfume hung on the stale air of a forgotten warehouse. Wafting among corroded pipes, which wove their way along a high ceiling and around long, dusty windows. Drifting through the trash and dead leaves scattered across a concrete floor. Reflecting off once-white walls and old, broken furniture.

I was following a trail of flowers.

Each blossom sprang from the concrete as if grown from dirt – fresh, colorful, trembling with life. The trail meandered this way and that, seeming to follow the least messy path through the warehouse. Once, it stopped at the windows, leaving a large cluster of plants there. A circle rubbed clean of muck showed where hands had wiped away the dirt for a clear view outside.

I did not bother looking out myself. This city, I knew, only decayed.

At the farthest end of the warehouse, a curious thing hung from above. A bower of flowers, twisted around themselves and ballooning upward to the ceiling, where strong roots dug into cracks in the plaster. This bower reached almost to the floor, where a gaunt woman stood weaving more blooms in among the rest. A carpet of blossoms festooned the floor around her. The trail ended here.

Candlelight illuminated my approach, evidencing my following of her, yet she did not stop her work. The plants around the hem of her dress seemed to grow without pause.

When I had come close, I asked, “Who are you?”

She drew another cluster of flowers from the floor to the bower in her hands. “Nobody,” she replied.

Groaning sounded from above and I tipped my gaze upward. The roots along the ceiling spread even farther. “And what are you doing here?”

A small, bitter smile. “Nothing. Just trying to make a small change.”

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The Hopeful Wanderer 51 – Take Nothing

As I made to step off the sidewalk of a sunny city, a car with dark windows pulled to a stop right in front of me. I scurried back up onto the walk, frowning at having my way forward blocked. But as I made to step around the intruding car, I peered within and paused, realizing the windows were not just dark. The inside was brimming with plants. Green tendrils pressed against the passenger side window. I could not see the driver.

The window slid down. Some tendrils popped free and I jerked back to avoid the leafy onslaught. From within the verdant depths, a voice said, “A little help?”

“What’s wrong with your side?” I asked the wall of leaves.

“It’s jammed,” he replied. “Pull me out!”

I popped the handle and, keeping a firm grip on the jamb, I shoved my entire arm into the thicket. Cool leaves and twigs tickled me, then my fingers brushed against warm skin. We clasped at the wrist and, bracing my feet on the sidewalk, I hauled a man out. Vines wrapped around his torso and clung to his ankles, but they tore free as he slithered from the car and lay sprawled on the sidewalk.

With a raised eyebrow, I regarded one tendril inching its way out the door. “Looks like you brought the forest back with you.”

“You know how they say,” the man panted, “leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories?”

“Yeah?”

He climbed to his feet and brought his face close to mine. “They weren’t kidding.” Making a ‘forget it’ gesture at the shrubby car, he stumbled away.

Squinting at the escaping tendril, I poked it back up into the car. Then I shut the door on the forest within and went to call a tow truck.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 50 – A Summer Offering

In a wide-open field of long summer grass stood a lonesome table, covered in gray cloth and bearing a shallow wicker basket. A single shady tree overhung the table, inviting in the over-bright afternoon sunlight. Sweat beaded on the back of my neck and grass crunched beneath my feet as I approached. Behind me lay nothing; ahead, even more of the same. A gentle breeze carried to me the sweet scent of warm fruit.

At the table, I paused beneath the shade, allowing the sweat to dry from my hair. A clear vase of field flowers sat next to the wicker basket and inside the basket were a couple of muffins, cupped in brown wax paper and stuck in the middle with a bunch of raspberries still hanging from their stems. From my bag, I withdrew another of these and set it down next to the first two. No chairs were nearby and I remained standing, eyeing the tall elm tree.

Dark green leaves above rustled despite a lack of breeze. Wood groaned as one of the boughs stretched down, reaching with twiggy fingers and picking up the muffin I had offered. Branch and muffin retracted into the canopy and several crumbs fell to the grass to the sounds of munching.

“Thank you,” the elm tree whispered. “You may enter.”

Just past the table, the view of the empty field and open sky rippled. I put out a hand and slipped through the illusory sheen into a field of raspberry bushes. Their sweet scent hung on the air. Behind me, the table and the tree still stood, appearing faded, as if over-exposed to the sun. Ahead, blue mountains shimmered beyond the field. I set off toward these down a green, grassy lane, avoiding touching a single fruit along the way.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 47 – Name Calling

On a clear desert night, the crush of shifting sand from just outside my tent woke me. I lay on my bedroll in the dark, listening to the unmistakable sound of footsteps approaching. The gait of my visitor… lurched. Or hopped. When it stopped next to my tent, the shadow of a lengthy, humanoid shape limned against the distant, star strewn sky. Antlers protruded from between long, drooping ears.

It whuffed an animal breath.

My eyes found the tent zipper, expecting any second to see it begin to inch open. Against the canopy between me and the creature lay my bag. I could think of nothing within that would help me.

From the other side of that insubstantial nylon wall, a voice called with a high, thin quality that echoed away into the dunes. “Wanderer,” the creature crooned. Only the word it spoke did not sound like any word for wanderer.

Yet, somehow, that strange word meant me.

It was my name.

Instantly, though, whatever I had heard slid sideways in my mind. Gone, with only the lingering sense of rightness left behind.

I yanked the zipper down and snatched the tent flap open. As I ducked out, I glimpsed the flash of a glowing pair of wideset eyes. “What did you just sa-” I began.

But outside, no tall creature stood. The sands all around were empty but for a set of rabbit tracks leading away from my tent into the night. No second set showed the creature’s approach.

Hope sliced neatly from my chest. Along the graceful crest of a dune, the glint of starlight was a cruel, knowing grin.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 46 – The Memory Tree

They arrived as the full moon crested the horizon like an enormous gold coin. Silhouetted people in ones and twos materializing beneath the spreading limbs of the Memory Tree. Their outlines wavered and shimmered beneath the hazy moonbeams, solidifying as the night grew darker. I wasn’t the only person sitting beneath the boughs, so I wasn’t the only one with guests tonight. The living, strangers to me, sat or stood apart, awaiting the return of their own remembered loved ones, unconcerned with my presence.

All around me, my guests talked and laughed about times long gone. Some had already met each other through me, through previous events like this, but others introduced themselves for the first time. Eyes glinting and teeth flashing in the dark. I simply sat nearby and observed these friends long passed. They smiled or nodded at me, knowing their place here with us tonight meant they held a place in my heart.

The night grew longer and longer as the moon fled through the sky. The strangers nearby finished their visits and left, but we remained, for I could not visit the Memory Tree often. I opened drink after drink for us and grew dizzy as the twin suns began to pink the sky. With the oncoming morning, my guests wished me farewell and rained away into nothing.

Alone again, I lay on my back in the grass and the fading stars overhead spun and spun. I missed them all so much.

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