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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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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The Hopeful Wanderer 44 – Whispering Waters

When the waters rose and swept between the pillars of an innocuous shrine, it was said a voice could be heard by those standing beneath its graceful wooden arch. Intrigued by this rumor, I arrived there just as the rainy season petered off and stood where calm water met grass, toes bare, gazing outward at the flat expanse of shallows stretching to the horizon. Upon stepping onto the sandy path leading out to the shrine, buried beneath inches of clear rainwater, the splashing of my steps seemed insignificant against all that emptiness. 

Little rock gardens stretched away to my left and right, lit by afternoon sunlight beneath the ripples my motion created. The people here knew the depths of water would arrive every year to kill whatever grass they managed to encourage up from the earth, but they built beauty here all the same. Still, my heart thumped dully beneath my collarbone, hardly moved, my walk to the shrine a mechanical one. 

I arrived between the shrine’s old pillars too soon, before feeling could return to my chest. Deeper water rose and fell around my thighs now, threatening to push me over, and I rested a hand against smooth lacquered wood to keep myself upright. Once steadied and focused, I cocked my head, listening, for I had heard something… familiar.

Then I realized what maybe a few other visitors had understood before me. It was only my own voice, telling me what I needed to hear.

Shhhhhhhhhhhh… shhhhhhhhhh… it said.

Fingers trailing in water, palm rested against ancient tree, toes pressed into sand, and hair tousled by wind, I closed my eyes. And I listened to what I had to say.

A little, just a very little, the weight in my heart eased. For now, it was enough.

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