The Hopeful Wanderer 43 – Lost to Hidden

A ruined city glimpsed between thick clouds, spires and skyscrapers towering above the earth, breaking through the eternal fog enveloping its forgotten world. Sunlight poking through the windows illuminated dangling innards — wires and ventilation ducts. Cold and empty and beckoning explorers and wanderers alike.

I stood somewhere within the fog layer but still outside the fabled city, uncertain of my direction. My hand shielded my eyes as I tipped my head back, gazing up at those tower tops. Sunlight had broken through again, glittering off broken window shards and limning the fog in gold. Last time the towers hove into view, I had walked straight toward them. Yet now, they reappeared… to my left.

Soon they vanished again. Altering my course and beginning my trek anew, I reflected on how folks referred to this as ‘the lost city,’ implying it never meant to get that way but had become obscured all the same. Still, the lost hoped for discovery; it stood to reason someone should have found the city by now.

As I slid down a ridge, shale nipping at my bare palms, the towers materialized once more. Two now stood to my right and… I glanced about for the third. There, back the way I had come.

Understanding dawned. I stood grumbling under my breath, condensed fog dripping cold from the ends of my hair. This was why no one had found the lost city: it wasn’t lost, but hidden. The city itself was toying with me. A minuscule flock of unfamiliar red birds took flight from the distant towers, their cries reverberating through the low clouds sounding just like laughter.

Fog rolled up over the skyscrapers once more, swallowing them for good. Though I searched and searched for another glimpse, they did not show themselves to me again.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 42 – Dreams of Home

While ducking under the bone-bare branches of a snowy wood, I came face to face with a pale barn owl. It perched on an aspen branch at the exact height to be eye level with me when I stepped around the tree’s trunk. I found myself close enough to count the small feathers on its face and to become quite familiar with the wicked curve of its beak. I took a swift step backward out of striking range.

“Excuse me,” the owl hooted. The muffling effect of the snow grabbed at the low sound. “I have no dreams of my own and I cannot sleep without them. Would you lend me one of yours?”

I glanced around at the dim afternoon light filtering through the gray clouds above. Nothing else moved out there in the cold. Regarding the owl once more, I thought this nocturnal creature must have been awake a very long time now. “You may keep the dream,” I said. “I will have little need for it back.”

“Very good,” said the owl. “Might I request a dream of home?”

So often was the case that those I met already knew I wandered, I felt a faint surprise. “I am a Wanderer,” I explained. “I have no dreams of home.”

“I know what you are.” The owl blinked canny black eyes. “Not everyone has a home,” it continued, “but all feel a yearning for someplace.”

I stilled, thinking. The owl shuffled its feathery wings, patient. Waiting.

At last, I said, “When I dream of that place, I dream of the night sky.” I wondered if I should give such a thing away after all.

The insomniac owl cocked its head. “That will do nicely,” it said. “But once I’ve slept, I believe I will return it to you.”

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The Hopeful Wanderer 41 – Wreckage Recollected

Every wrecked window of the fallen airplane contained a different story. The story that interested me existed at the front of the plane. Or it would have, if the crash hadn’t shorn the cockpit windows clean off when it plowed the plane’s nose into the ground.

I stood on the spine of a once-white, narrow-body airliner. Fire had gutted the insides black sometime before the crash and the elements had scoured the company logo from the outside sometime after. If I squinted, the hulk appeared as some great beached marine creature with too many eyes or mouths, crouched here on the shore. The tide could not budge it and the locals had no use for this particular spit of black sand, so here it remained.

Damp from a chill, clinging fog soaked my shirtfront as I stretched lengthwise on the forward end, head and arms hanging over the ragged edge of ripped metal, leaving the cockpit open to the skies. Dangling upside down like this shifted my perspective — the roar of breakers became the death rattle of compromised engines; wind whistling through exposed wiring grew into the screams of doomed passengers.

I squeezed my eyes shut. I knew the real story ended in passengers, attendants, and pilots parachuting to safely. What I heard in my mind was what might have been. Because somehow the pilots had angled the plane to land successfully on this beach, everyone would have lived anyway.

The empty cavity of the cockpit looked meaningfully back at me.
Well… Everyone except the pilots, apparently.

I rolled over onto my back to ease the blood rushing to my head and patted the plane’s metallic hide with a hollow clank. This plane had no voice to speak to me, but I heard its story all the same.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 40 – Macabre Collaboration

From a nearby pond, I heard a very small argument. More of a berating, actually. A tiny voice pierced the peace of the meadow where I lay napping.

“You must fly!” it shrilled. “How else can we be together?”

With a groan, I sat upright, immediately spotting the speaker. A handsome blue and black butterfly perched upon the snout of one vibrant green frog, who had mostly submerged herself beneath the still pond surface. She gazed at the butterfly with sadness in her large golden eyes.

“Well?” the butterfly demanded.

The frog remained silent.

“She is not shaped for flying,” I called out. “Anyone can see her talents lie elsewhere.”

“Don’t be preposterous!” the butterfly said. “We’re so alike already, of course my love shall fly.”

I rested my arms on my knees. “Why does it matter?”

“The flowers here have wilted with the summer suns,” he said. His long antennae wriggled in agitation. “I must migrate or die.”

Of the frog, I asked, “What do you think?”

The frog sank lower into the water. “I cannot fly,” she croaked. “Or leave this pond. But I have a solution.” With that, she dove underwater, leaving the butterfly flapping and sputtering.

Soon she resurfaced with a struggling minnow in her mouth. This she spat onto the pebbly shore. We all watched as the small fish flopped around until it suffocated to death.

“Butterflies can consume flesh,” the frog explained, pleased with herself.

“So they can,” the butterfly said. “Well done, my love!” He swooped in to plant a kiss on the frog’s nose before landing on the fish, where he fell to eating.

The frog placidly snapped another butterfly from the air with her long tongue. It went down with a faint scream while I re-positioned and went back to sleep.


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The Hopeful Wanderer 39 – The Hardest of Hearts

A thump sounded beside me as an object landed in the springy moss along the dirt path where I walked. Following its trajectory, I figured it had come from a house crowding this side of the walkway; a lacy curtain stirred in a high open window, but no light filtered from within. There was no one in sight.

In the moss at my feet, a pale, stone heart reflected the moonlight. Someone had thrown it from the window above, cast it aside as worthless. Studying the heart, I disagreed. Though dings and dents marred its smooth surface, this heart had never broken, not even with this most recent fall. A brass key and padlock hung from the top by a strip of white ribbon, the key elegantly wrought, the padlock plain.

I crouched down, my outstretched fingers hovering just over the heart. I pitied its fate, thrown away like this.

The moment dragged out. But then I curled my empty hand closed and straightened. Stepping around the heart, I continued on my way, footsteps whispering in the moss. The heart had never broken, I realized, because the owner had never unlocked it for anyone.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 38 – Howler Alarms

Clusters of bells hung in every archway of an old stone city. At the center of each was the original bell and along both sides of its dark, weathered chain, smaller bells clung like uneven bunches of brass fruit.

I stood below one such cluster, listening to their small clappers shivering in the breeze. Bright purple ribbons festooned the cross chain, pops of color on this gray afternoon.

“What are you for?” I asked. People passing by in the narrow cobbled street looked at me oddly, but did not interrupt my conversation.

Atop the largest bell, the etched face of a god gazed down at me, but gave no reply.

I tried again. “Directive?”

The main bell pivoted on its shackle, sending up a cacophony of ringing from its neighbors. The street emptied of exactly everyone.

Beneath the continued shrill noise, a low moan rose. Hands snagged my upper arm, dragging me into a doorway as a hideous rush of wind tore up the street, blasting the skin from the back of my outflung hand. I gasped, snatching it against the safety of my chest. Hot, sticky blood ran down my wrist.

My rescuer bundled me inside and someone else slammed the door behind us. We all gasped for breath as two women with identical brown faces looked me over, one tutting about my bleeding hand, the other critical.

“The bells warn of the howlers,” said my rescuer. “Didn’t you read the notice at the gate?”

My mouth worked. I, in fact, had not. I inclined my head to her. “Thank you for saving me.”

They sent me on my way with a bandage around my skinned hand. Outside, I threw a glare toward the unforthcoming bells; it seemed I should have asked a person after all.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 37 – Resting Gods

One of the rare times that I tripped, I happened to do so over the heads of a pair of gods, which I had mistaken for a pile of stones. Though they were sunk to their shoulders into the ground, they smiled contentedly at me. One had moss growing on its round cheeks and the other an orange lily blossom resting upon its rocky curls.

This I had knocked askew on my trip to the ground. I reached up to straighten it. “How did you two get stuck like this?”

“We sat down here and we just didn’t feel like getting back up,” said the mossy one. “I mean, look at this place.”

Trying not to think about how stone eyes could see, I took in the glade around us. Moss grew everywhere in a thick verdant carpet, clinging to the roots of stumps and the trunks of trees. A clear stream meandered by, babbling over stones in showers of spray, enticing heavy white blossoms up out of the rich, black earth. Blue and orange butterflies flitted lazily from shade to sun and back, wings flashing in the light. Vines grew up and around and over everything.

Taking a seat next to the gods, I worked off my shoes. Moss tickled my toes and cooled my aching heels; a large fern frond draped around my shoulders in welcome. This was a place for resting.

Knowing I could not stay, I released a wistful sigh.

“Do you see?” the blossom god asked.

My lungs filled with fresh air, but my bones felt weightier. I understood how one might become stone from tarrying here too long.

“Yes,” I said, “I believe I do.”

With that, I closed my eyes and fell asleep with a couple of stone gods for company.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 36 – Dying Flowers

Glass tubes glinted in the afternoon sunlight pouring in through the front window. Each tube contained a bright colored liquid, several flower varieties soaking up the colorful water. Only, their blossoms were the wrong color.

As I examined them, yet another bloom changed, a pink carnation darkening to brown. I turned to the florist hovering nearby. “You’ve got prisms.”

Outside, laughter and shouting rang in the streets, this town’s spring festival in full swing. Yet the florist’s booth outside sat empty, a closed sign on the shop door.

The florist cast a nervous glance around. “Prisms?” he said. “What does that mean?”

“They’re eating the dye colors, stripping out different hues.” From my bag, I withdrew a fire starter. “We have to burn the infected flowers and boil off the dye water.”

A sigh escaped the florist, sending a sweet floral scent wafting around. “All of them?”

Nearby, an orange flower faded to bronze. “Did you buy dye from the Iad region?” I asked.

He nodded, cringing a little. Iad dye was cheap, but it could only be used on cloth, not plants. He knew better.

“Just the flowers in the Iad dye, then.” I knelt before his wood stove and struck the starter over a bunch of blossoms I’d piled within. The sparks caught and bright snaps of color appeared in the air, popping and hissing. One stung my cheek and I jerked my face away.

We burned half the shop’s inventory. Colorful smoke billowing from the stovepipe floated over the town like a glowing cloud, beckoning festival goers to the shop. Eventually, the florist had to unlock the doors to let people in, while I continued feeding the fire.

He sold all the rest of his un-dyed flowers that day, but he did so wearing a sad smile.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 35 – Soul Glow

There was a star caught in a tree.

Branches hung over a neighborhood sidewalk and the first breath of fall had convinced some of the topmost leaves to begin drying out. It was in this cluster of yellow foliage that a golden spark twinkled.

I stood below on the cracked sidewalk, head craned back. “Did you get distracted?”

The little glow shivered. “I’m lost,” it whimpered. “The sky called me home, but I can’t find it.”

“Sometimes,” I said, “you have to fall before you float.” I held out my hands, cupped palms upturned.

After a moment of thought, there sounded a faint snap and a crinkled leaf began to float down, the star perched atop. I snagged the whole ensemble by the leaf stem, careful not to pinch the star. Warmth touched my fingertips. “How’d you get stuck there?”

“I followed mom and dad home from the hospital.” Its voice sounded small, like a child. “They didn’t let me inside, though.”

I glanced at the house fronting the sidewalk. Two-car garage. A bike on its side in the front yard.

“Ah,” I said. “So you know what happened, then.”

“Yeah…”

“And you know where to go now?”

“Up! But I got stuck.” The star changed to an embarrassed shade of pink.

I stepped off the curb into the street. Twilight had fallen, casting houses and trees in black shadows. Above, the stars began to appear, winking on one at a time.

I pointed a finger upward. “That way.”

But the star had already launched itself from my hand. It spiraled up and up, leaving a trail of golden dust in its wake. I watched it go for a long time, until a new star appeared to take its place in the night sky. Then it winked off, gone forever.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 34 – The Cost of Skepticism

“It collects starlight, you see,” my host explained. She sat across from me at her kitchen table, the two of us admiring a geometrically cut crystal orb dangling from the top of the big picture window overlooking her dining room. Weak afternoon sunlight filtered through the orb, scattering little rainbows across the table’s surface.

I cupped a fragmented rainbow in my palm. “Solar-powered, then,” I concluded, disappointed. The intriguing rumors surrounding this particular gem were just sensationalized after all.

“Yes and no.” My host was elderly and it showed most when she smiled, crinkling her face into a multitude of wrinkles. “Solar-powered objects charge with sunlight and activate at night.”

“Right, and the suns are stars, so what’s the difference here?” I tipped my hand forward and the rainbow dripped off my fingertips, splattering onto the table. The droplets then evaporated.

“It only charges at night under starlight,” said my host. Her smile changed to something more smug. “Then it glows when you take it into dark places during the day.”

My interest returned and I peered closer at the gem. “Where’d you get this?”

“Picked it up at the bottom of the Earthways mines, back when I worked for them.”

“Interesting.” My right eye itched. When I rubbed at it, a soft, sandy substance slithered around my fingertips.

We both stared as a swirl of twinkling dust danced through the air and then vanished into the orb. A noise like struck glass rang out and the gem flared bright.

I clapped my hand over my aching eye. “Ow!”

My other eye started to itch as my host guided me back from the window. “Maybe you should stay away from it.”

When I looked at her, I couldn’t quite remember her name. Nodding, I said, “I think you’re right.”

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