THE LOST WANDERER
“The rain fell heavy on his head, bleeding into his eyes. It had been pouring like that for days, wearing him down. The rain wanted to make him one of their own. To wash him away piece by piece until he belonged to them. His horse, Shilee, heaved hot, steamy air from beneath his saddle. The man paused at the crossroads in front of him. He had to press on. He had to keep looking, keep believing. Everything depended on this. Everything.”
Roland paused for effect, watching the faces of the two children in front of him. He had turned down all the lights in the living room, illuminated now only by the dramatic firelight. His grandson, Shogun, sat on the edge of his seat, eyes wide. Roland nodded and continued.
“From underneath his soaked jacket, he pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. He studied the lines on the page as he had a hundred times before. A placefrom a dream roughly outlined in the early morning light. His fingers had shook with adrenaline, frantic to capture every detail, great and small. When the sun finally rose, he was gone. Shilee packed and his compass in his pocket, chasing the storm in the distance. His empty house could die without him. All would be right if he found this place, he knew it to be so.”
Roland paused again to catch his breath, his fist still hovering in the air. He looked down at Shogun’s littlefriend, Madigan. She watched him darkly from beneath her halo of brown hair, her mouth poised with a question.
“Thunder rumbled in the distance then a flash of lightning!” Roland continued before Madigan could interrupt him. “The storm was growing impatient. Suddenly, the man’s pocket grew very hot. He drew out his compass. It glowed and burned in his palm. The hands of the compass circled wildly, pausing, then spinning around again. Finally, it chose a direction and with a kick of his heels, he urged Shilee forward. They ran like the lightning that scorched the ground around them, electric and quick. He held the shining compass out in front of him like a torch, charging on faster and faster!”
Madigan glanced over her father, Jacob. He was watching from the side, looking amused at the old man’s theatrics. The living room was warm. Too warm, almost suffocating to her. The entire floor plan of the house seemed to be centered around the woodburning stove that blazed from the heart of the room. There was a table with chairs, an orange couch, and wood chips strewn around the room for no apparent reason. Madigan crinkled her nose at the axes, saws, and ropes that were displayed across the walls. The only thing that kept the house from looking like a typical woodsman’s house was the large rug that covered the polished oak floors. It looked as though a million different hands had taken years to finish it, but its rich mauve color andperfect stitches were worth the effort. The windows of the house were foggy with the collision of warm, inside air and cold, outside air.
“I’m confused. Where is he going?” Madigan whispered to Shogun.
Shogun wiped the sweat from beneath his mop of blond hair. His grandfather had stopped for a brief moment to take a quick puff of his wooden pipe, wiping away the sweat from beneath his own thick layers of gray hair.
“He doesn’t know!” Shogun whispered back sharply. “Shh!”
“Without warning,” Roland’s voice suddenly boomed across the room. “A dark form rose from the ground ahead of him. Starting as a pool of black, it rose into the hunched form of a cloaked body. It reached into the sky with a crooked hand and turned in the man’s direction. Shilee bucked and sent the man flying to the ground as the dark figure cackled away.”
Shogun glanced up at his father, Paddie, as he entered the livingroom. He had been in the kitchen, avoiding the story he had heard a dozen times before. His face was long and quiet in the faint light, his shaggy black hair hanging into his eyes as he leaned against the wall. Shogun turned back to his grandfather. He had heard this story a dozen times, too.
“Give me your compass, the creature shrieked,” Roland continued, raising his arms. “It was now that the man saw what this thing was – a grotesque, twisted shadow woven from thedarkest magic. The creature raised its arms and the cloak began to flap in the stormy wind like giant, dark wings.”
Madigan stirred in her seat. She looked down at her hands, tightly clenched in her lap. She recoiled as Roland suddenly turned around with his sword drawn.
“The man ran towards the evil demon, cutting it down with his sword. He had to protect the compass at all cost. It was his only way back to his family. The creature screamed and tumbled through the air, the sword still lodged in its cold heart.” Roland turned serious. “He could have run but the man would not leave his sword. The sword of his father and his father before him. He stepped closer and placed his hand on the hilt of the weapon, carefully drawing it out of the creature.”
Shogun inhaled deeply.
“With a long, ragged gasp the creature breathed again!” Roland roared, his shadow rising twice his height in the firelight. “It screamed at himand struck the man, sending him rolling across the ground, breaking the precious compass. The creature shot into the air and hovered over the man, its long mouth open in a shriek. Then it disappeared from sight.”
The room was electric with tension. Roland had begun to settle down, reaching for his rocking chair and pulling it near the fire. He puffed long, thoughtful breaths, enjoying the rapture of his audience.
“The compass was broken forever. The man cried. Deeptears like none other,” Roland finally whispered with his eyes closed, rocking back and forth rhythmically. “His compass laid by his side, the hand fallen limp. No prayer could fix it. No trick or tool. But he still had his map, he told himself. And he still had his dream.”
Shogun felt his eyes begin to moisten. He wiped them quickly, thankful to be disguised in the darkness. Every time, this point in the story transported him back to that rainy plain. He imagined the helplessness of the man, the broken compass in his clenched fist. He imagined himself there, as the man, the sword dripping with rain. Roland continued to rock back and forth and puff on his pipe, making a sort of rhythmic melody of creaks and breaths.
“So the man tucked the map back in his pocket and started walking,” Roland sighed, opening his eyes. “And he became known as a lost wanderer, searching for the secret to bring his family back. Everything depended on this.Everything.”
The room was quiet besides the squeaking of the rocking chair and Roland’s steady pipe. Shogun stared at his feet, outstretched in front of him. Madigan looked over at her father. He had been listening very intently, all amusement gone from his face. She walked over to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. His neck smelled like salt. Maybe it was sweat or maybe it was from the sea. Maybe he had absorbed so much of the ocean that now his pores began to purge itthrough his skin. Jacob looked down at her, a small smile pulling at his lips.
“Quite a tale, Roland,” he began to laugh, running his fingers through his dark hair. “What a way to end an evening.”
“That it is,” Roland agreed with a nod, removing his pipe long enough to respond. “Good for you fisherfolk to hear tales like that. Gets your blood pumping like it should.” He replaced his pipe and took a long drag, finally replacing his sword now that the show was over.
“I’m sure they have tales of their own,” Paddie added, crossing his arms over his chest. “They don’t need ours.”
“I still don’t understand where he was going and why it was going to bring back his dead family,” Madigan whispered to herself. Her family did have tales of their own, but they made more sense than that one.
“He doesn’t know, that’s why it’s a good story! Just leave it!” Shogun shouted as he stood up.“You don’t have to understand everything!”
Madigan scoffed. The house seemed to shake from the sudden outburst, catching Roland just as he was taking an exceptionally far lean back in his rocking chair. He tumbled unceremoniously to the floor, although the pipe managed to stay locked between his teeth.
“Damn dammit, Shogun!” Roland bellowed as he struggled to his feet.
Shogun was in his bedroom with the door latched shut in an instant. Paddieshrugged and returned to the kitchen. Jacob looked around at the chaos in the woodsmen’s house and smiled to himself, but Madigan caught it. She had to be quick, but she caught it. He had frozen the situation in his mind and realized he was no part of this and this was no part of him. Madigan slipped her hand into Jacob’s palm because it was still small enough to do that. She was twelve and Shogun was eleven. She was still small enough to do that.
“We’ll be heading home, now,” Jacob announced, winking at Madigan. “As always, thank you for the hospitality. And please, try not to kill the boy.”
Paddie resurfaced from the kitchen. “Good night, then,” he murmured in a low, calm tone. He had a chipped white mug in his hand, steam rising like spirits from its depths. His lips were dry and cracking until he wet them with his brown tongue. His eyes were heavy as he closed them, savoring the hot drink. Madigan crinkled her nose.
Thetwo fisherfolk were already out the door by the time Roland responded with a gruff wave of his hand. He had given up on getting Shogun to open his door and was returning to his overturned rocking chair. That damn dammit boy. If he hadn’t been the last in the Saban line, he might’ve shown him what a real beating felt like. Maybe. Roland settled down in his chair and took a long inhale from his pipe. That was he sure of.
His friends laughed at him for knowing afisherman. Of course, they all knew fisherfolk in some way, but none of his friends actually knew them. And this would have been the same for him, if not for the day Shogun went lost. He and Paddie had searched everywhere, on the verge of giving up. But when night had almost fallen, a young fisherfolk girl showed up at their door in her wet jeans and purple shirt. She had just pulled a headstrong yet inexperienced Shogun from a riptide. The girl was Charlotte Madigan or Madigan as everyone calls her. A girl strong enough to bear the name of her ancestors, he supposed.
There was silence in the house until Paddie screeched a chair across the floor and came to sit by the stove. He stared at the flames performing within the confines of the stove, his hands hovering in front of the radiating heat.
“What is your fascination with that story?” Paddie asked his father, examining his hands in the firelight. The light did not go near his face, onlylicking at the edges, testing the perimeters.
“Swords, fighting, demons, adventure. It is an old story, Shogun has loved it since a boy,” Roland listed off curtly to his son. “And you. What is your distaste for it?”
Paddie’s face was blank and guarded. “Dead family, brought back again?” He sat back, his arms resting on his legs. His hands and fingers were caked with dirt and sawdust.
“Hmm,” Roland murmured through his pipe. “Isee.”
“No more of it,” Paddie said, standing up from his chair. He brushed off his pants and drops of sawdust fell through the air like rain. His heavy boots stomped down the hallway and his bedroom door shut.
“That damn dammit woman,” Roland sighed heavily, extinguishing his pipe. “Still a thorn in my side, even from the grave.” He turned off the lights and lumbered to bed.
Shogun was listening at his door. He heard when his father went to bed, those heavy boots were unmistakable. His grandfather had more of a shuffle as his shoes scuffed across the wood floors, summoning electricity that the house loved. Shogun was prepared to feign sleep at any moment but Roland passed his grandson’s room without pause. He had never been beaten, but once he had come close and close was close enough for Shogun. Once he heard his grandfather’s bedroom door shut, Shogun slowly climbed onto his bed, being careful not to draw any attention tohis room by triggering creaky boards.
He crept across the mattress, avoiding any loud springs, and peered out his window. First, his eyes emerged, then his nose rose to smell the dust on his windowsill, and finally his chin to rest his face against the cool glass. Shrunken Hollow Road was preparing for sleep. The trees were gathering themselves, their leaves and branches breathing the last sigh of evening. Shogun rested his head on his arm, listening. Watching. Once they were done,he laid down and tucked his arms behind his pillow, allowing his mind to wander back to that rainy plain. The man was still walking into the horizon, his sword in one hand, the broken compass in the other. He walked until Shogun fell asleep and forever after.