Hello, fans of tiny fantasy! I’m sorry for the lack of flash fiction, but inspiration is a fickle patron. For those of you who don’t follow my main blog, I wanted to let you know that I’ve started a new Tumblr-based writing project called “The One Called Wander”.
This is a serial story based around microinstallments of 200-300 words each. The speed of updates will depend on reader interest, as monetary donations, follows, and high-note posts add to a “Story Bank”. The faster it fills up, the more often I’ll post.
I’ve collected the first six updates into a single post here.
I am the one called Wander, and mine is the lonely road. On it, I meet no other travelers. My road is my own and no one else’s. Others travel it with me, or they travel it not at all.
My road leads to many places, possibly every place. It never forks. It never branches. Sometimes it doubles back around, but the only direction it offers me is forward. My road knows every season but no weather. My road goes ever on.
I am the one called Wander, and I have been walking for a very long time.
Sometimes the road widens ahead of me. It never branches, but it does widen. No matter how many times this happens, my heart always quickens its beat… or I assume it must do, wherever it’s gone off to.
I never know when or where the road will widen. I rarely even know how long it’s been since the last time. There are things to see along the way, but not much to do.
When the road widens, it means I have arrived. Not at my destination, for I have none, but at the next place… the next stop along the way to the stop after it. Some of them are literally nothing but wide spots on the road. Many are places in their own right, places big enough and real enough that I lose sight of my road for a while until I come to the other end of it and the road narrows again.
There’s always something to do in these places, something to learn or someone to meet or some problem to solve before I can move on.
And I always must move on. I must always return to the road. When I’m on the road, I can’t help but hope to reach the next wide spot soon. When I’m off it, I can’t wait to be back. My recollection… dim with time… is that this meant to be a punishment or curse of some kind. Parts of it can be hard to bear, but on the whole I don’t mind.
Who doesn’t like to travel? Who doesn’t like to feel useful? I am never satisfied but frequently happy.
I am the one called Wander, and ahead of me the road widens into an open square in a village of some sort. The sky is blue above my head and the moon, visible as a pale fingernail low on the horizon, is one I’m sure I’ve seen before.
When you spend your days walking a road between worlds, you learn to look for moons. The same moon doesn’t always mean the same world, but a different moon almost always means a different one.
You wouldn’t know this moon, my treasured correspondent, but you might well take it for your own at a glance, particularly when it’s washed out against the morning sky and so far from full. If you saw its face bright and round against the black, I think the differences would be more striking. It is not your moon, but it is a moon after the same model.
Ahead, there is a sound of children playing… no, not playing but singing. I can’t yet make out the words, but something about it sets my hair on end. It is not exactly mournful, but peculiarly lacking in joy. I don’t know yet why my road is bringing me here, but I know this visit will be no pleasant idyll.
The children break off their song and scatter as I come into sight of them. Afraid of strangers? Maybe, or maybe just generally fearful.
There is a well ahead of me. Next to it is a trough for horses or similar, though there are none at it now and to judge from the condition of the grounds, there haven’t been any for some time. At least not since the last hard rain, and while the grass is green the ground is reasonably hard and dry.
There aren’t many people about, either, though there are more signs of them than horses. The well itself shows sign of frequent and recent use. Most of the shops that front onto the square are closed, literally… they’re of the style where the window folds outward to form a counter, with living quarters above.
I see movement, furtive and quick, behind the curtains of a few of the upstairs windows that aren’t shuttered.
Suiting name to deed, I wander over to one of the open shops, which appears to be a bakery. I tip my hat back away from my face. It is my fashion to wear it with the brim pulled low, but this is a town that knows fear. My job, from the front to the back, must be to dispel that fear.
“Bread smells wonderful,” I say. “I’ll give you this for a loaf.”
What I pull out of my pocket is a coin. If the baker’s never seen it before, she is in the same boat with me, but it’s probably a fair price. It usually is, so long as I don’t push things too far.
The baker takes a prudent moment to examine my offering, but accepts it without comment.
The bread tastes nearly as good as it smells, which is an accomplishment. Bread is like coffee: best when fresh, but never as good as it smells. This bread is warm and rich and coarse, though not gritty, and leavened slightly with garlic, garlands of which hang from hooks among the other baking supplies.
“You like it, then?” she asks. “Not everybody cares for the garlic… it’s just something new I’ve been trying. My mother always said garlic was healthsome..”
“It’s fabulous,” I say. “Your mother was obviously very wise.”
“Yes,” the baker says. “Where’d you come from, then?”
“Up the road,” I tell her.
“Where are you heading?”
“Further down it, eventually,” I say.
“We don’t get many travelers on foot,” she says.
“Do you get any on horses?”
“Not through town,” she says. “Not any more. They give us a wide berth… word gets around.”
“What word is that?”
“Haven’t you heard?”
“Oh… well, you know, I don’t really pay attention to local gossip.”
“Then why are you so curious now?”
“Because sometimes it’s not just gossip.”
The baker leans down over the counter and crooks a finger for me to lean in, as well.
“Is this a terrible secret?” I ask.
“It’s terrible, but everyone knows,” she says quietly. “Still, some things are just too ridiculous to say out loud in the full light of the morning sun. Some things make me feel silly just thinking about them, much less repeating them.”
“Something’s happening in this town, and I don’t think it’s silly at all,” I say.
“You’re right,” the baker says. Even so, her voice drops into a whisper. “Horses… won’t drink our water.”
“Oh, well, you know the saying,” I say.
“What saying is that?” the baker asks.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make ‘em drink.”
“You can’t even lead them to ours,” she says. “They won’t go near the well, and they’ll bolt if you try to bring water from it to them.”
“That can’t be good for business,” I say.
“It isn’t,” she says. “We’re a market town. Everyone here still needs bread, but we can’t survive long just doing business with each other. People still travel through, sometimes, but they don’t stop if they don’t have to. They can water their horses at the crossing.”
Since it seems unnecessary for her to say which crossing, I don’t ask. It’s not likely to be relevant, and there’s no sense rubbing her nose in the fact that I haven’t come by the usual road.
“What’s your name?” I ask instead.
“Bel, the Baker’s Daughter.”
She’s alone in the shop. The same fine dusting of flour that has settled over everything else clings to her brown skin.
“The Baker’s Daughter?” I say. An eyebrow might arch itself as I say this, or possibly it’s only my vain imagination that it does so. One the day when we meet in person, dear reader, you shall have to tell me if my command of my facial expressions is as great as I would believe it to be. “Why not Bel the Baker?”
“Well, my father’s been in the grave seven years now, but I was Bel the Baker’s Daughter for twice that length of time before,” she says. “You know how it goes. And my father was a good man, if I have to be a daughter I’m glad to be his. Anyway, who would you be, then?”
“They call me Wander,” I say.
“Who does?” she says.
“Everyone I introduce myself to.”