The Hopeful Wanderer.015 – Warning Signs

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Blood on the dirt path ahead of me. So fresh it glistened bright red in the noonday sunlight, still puddling around bits of gravel. Just a moment ago, a hare had hopped down this turn, tall sunflower stalks obscuring it from my line of sight. Now it was gone. Now, the blood.

Sunflowers. Though the sun glared down from just overhead, every bloom lining the ditch to either side faced one direction. Faced me. Staring like brown pupils within unsettling yellow irises, unblinking. Tall stalks rubbed against enormous leaves, making a noise like bristly leather. No other sound broke the silence. My scalp prickled at the tension, at the sense of expectation.

I would not travel down this path. Despite the lack of breeze, a hissing rustle set up from the sunflowers as I turned away. Perhaps they should’ve waited to kill the hare, if they’d wanted to snare bigger prey like me. How could such a dangerous patch of plants be left alone out here?

Off to the side, I spied more red hidden within a clump of tall grass. A sign, though of a different kind than the blood. When I hauled the sign from the thick tangle of plants, I read on it warnings of danger ahead in four different languages. Do not pass. At least someone out there had tried. I side-eyed the sunflowers, noting the way younger stalks grew around a gap in the ground where the sign must have once stood. Suspicious.

Since the warnings couldn’t have saved the life of the poor hare, I silently thanked the unfortunate creature as I used a rock to hammer the sign back into the ground. Far enough away that the sunflowers could not cut it down again anytime soon.


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The Hopeful Wanderer.014 – A Ghostly Guardian

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A thick cloud came to rest over farmland and countryside, shading the afternoon in sepia tones and muffling the distant sounds of highway traffic. To avoid a wide, unnecessary loop of interstate, I was cutting across an open field, boots squishing in mud from overnight rainfall. Yellowing grass swished against my knees, soaking my pants legs to my ankles, and moisture beaded in my hair, dripping cold down my face. Everything smelled damp, full of possibility.

Watching where I stepped, I almost missed it. A gentle whuff of breath and warmth radiating at my side alerted me to the presence of another walking with me, pace sedate, bearing regal. Just visible in the fog was an enormous buck, brown coat fading into the the landscape. Its antlers grew shaped like tree branches, winter dull twigs rattling together as it turned its head toward me.

A guardian. Legends spoke of the wisdom of the ancient guardians, rarely seen, who imparted their knowledge to those they deemed worthy. Shocked, I stopped, and when it realized I no longer kept pace, it paused ahead.

I stared. It looked back at me. The thudding of my heart crashed in my ears.

“I have questions,” I whispered. My voice sounded like nothing at all. “Please.”

Those liquid black eyes bored into me. My breathing stalled altogether as I waited, hoped. A beat of time passed, but then slowly, silently, the guardian turned and walked away, vanishing into the white fog.

Alone now, I tipped my chin back, searching for meaning in the swirling mist above. Nothingness and emptiness. I let out a breath and quietly accepted rejection.

Of course we all had questions; that made none of us special. I hoped one day that someone would learn from this guardian what I could not.


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The Hopeful Wanderer.013 – Doughnut Offerings

In which the Wanderer shares sweets. #microfiction

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In a distant train station on a snowy afternoon, a fellow traveler passed me by. Shoulders hunched, hands in pockets, expression distant. For my part, the spring in my step threatened to launch me into the clouds — I had a paper sack of pastries in hand and a new destination ahead.

On the crowded platform, he sidestepped me, his foot landing square on a patch of ice. Hands flying from his pockets, feet sliding out from under him with a gritty scrape, he started to fall.

We both whooped in surprise. I snagged his upper arm, keeping him upright despite the slush. For a moment, we froze, him half-suspended in mid-air, me still as stone to prevent us both going down. Then he clambered up my shoulders, righting himself on shaking legs.

“Thank you,” he gasped.

I helped him over to a nearby bench, standing next to him while he caught his breath. An engine roared in the distance, fast approaching. As he steadied himself, I reached into my paper sack, withdrawing a fresh jelly doughnut. The warm scent of sugar and fried dough cut through that of sharp, cold air. I offered the confection to him wrapped in a napkin.

Eyeing the pastry, he waved a hand. “Oh, I couldn’t eat your doughnut!”

Before he could protest further, I tipped the bag to show him the chocolate doughnut nestled in the bottom. “Don’t worry, I saved the best for myself.”

My new friend accepted my offering. “One could argue I got the best,” he said, and took a huge bite.

Licking the sweet, sticky glaze from my chilled fingertips, I hustled off toward my approaching train, cautious of the slush. Over my shoulder, I tossed him a grin and a wink. “One could argue,” I agreed.


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The Hopeful Wanderer.012 – Artificial Illumination

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Between one town and the next, I spied in the distance twin lanterns casting steady, white light into the night, throwing tree limbs and grass blades into sharp, black relief. One lamp hung above the other, appearing like the eyes in a face cocked sideways. Perhaps in curiosity, perhaps madness. No matter how close my steps drew me to them, I never quite reached the house I thought the beacons must illuminate. No turnoff marked the way to them. Eventually, I passed by, expecting to plunge back into utter darkness.

Yet the path ahead of me remained bright, like the cast of an LED flashlight. My own shadow wandered before me, lengthy and alone. Even the furthest reaches of light should have faded by now.

Two sounds reached me at once: water gurgling against rocks, and a strange, electric hum. I dared not look back, knowing I would see those lamps, one cockeyed above the other, following behind, homing in on me like spotlights. Heat radiated against the back of my neck where they stared. That humming grew louder and louder until it buzzed in my ears and down to my bones.

I broke into a run. With little chance of stumbling on that daylight-bright path, I stretched my legs as far as they would go. Satchel thumping against my back. Metal jangling behind, the hot scent of burning filament in my nose. Closer, closer.

The path dipped and then I was splashing into cool water up to my knees. Mossy rocks rolled beneath my feet and I fell headlong into the shallow river. When I resurfaced, however, gasping and bruised, the lanterns had vanished, replaced with natural moonlight and the hum with the throaty croak of nearby frogs.


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The Hopeful Wanderer.011 – Unrooted

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An ornate greenhouse existed not only far from civilization, but smack in the middle of an already existing forest. Enormous, though in height rather than breadth. Craning my head back to gaze upward at its towering, clear walls, I wondered what must grow within.

So I went inside.

Warmth blanketed my face like an unpleasant breath, filling my lungs with dew. The warring scents of growth and rot assailed me. Lush green plants grew in clay pots set upon plastic bench tops, rows and rows lined up neat from the door to the back wall. Some small enough to fit in my palm, others taller than me. None of them explained the reason for such a tall building.

But there, in the center. Looking like a shaggy Christmas tree, an enormous Douglas fir rose toward the glass ceiling, roots knotting deep into the dirt. I saw no one else, so I approached the fir. The only sound was the crunch of gravel beneath my shoes.

When I stopped before the  fir, a deep, timber creak rumbled over me, shaking leaves and rattling pots. “Are you a plant?” the tree asked me.

“Not at all,” I replied. “I’m the opposite.”

“A wanderer, then,” the fir sighed. “You have arrived at last.”

My eyebrows rose. “Where is here?”

“Your last stop,” said the fir. “All in my greenhouse once wandered, but they took root here, and now they’re safe.”

With new eyes, I took in the plants around. So many wanderers. All trapped in pots, unable to even touch true earth. A shudder rushed through me. “I’m not staying.”

All the way to the exit, roots followed me, breaking the earth threateningly behind my feet. Fir needles rustled in hissing laughter at my back. “When you weary of wandering, you will return.”


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The Hopeful Wanderer.008 – Glimmering Glitter

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Photo by 3Motional Studio from Pexels

Within a drab buffet restaurant where the aging came to dine, I met a glimmering hostess. Pink glitter twinkled across her skin from head to foot; climbing her cheeks, creeping down her neck bellow the collar of her sensible black blouse, and reappearing from beneath her sleeves to adorn her arms. Microscopic flakes flashed beneath the fluorescent overhead lights, winking at me like tiny secrets as she returned my change to me.

Such a fabulous display of unconventional self-love sparked marvel in me. Moved, I said to her, “Your glitter is wonderful.”

As if just noticing me, she responded only with a polite smile. Because she didn’t need me to tell her so–she already knew.


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The Hopeful Wanderer.007 – The Longest Day

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Photo by Marcos Miranda on Pexels

On this, the longest day of the year, as the sun reached and reached and reached for the horizon, the empty roads and secret paths called me forth to wander. Toward whimsical places, toward unforgettable faces, their whispers urged me. “Follow… follow…”

With yearning tugging at my heart, I left without hesitation. Since that day, my toes have traveled trails trod by many, by few, and by none as I explore the unknown and rediscover the abandoned. To reach and reach and reach my hand for the horizon has become my lot, my curse, my gift. I wander ever onward, ever homeward, ever hopeward.

I feel no pressure to return.


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