Prompt: A young man wanders the Earth on an epic quest to make himself ‘normal’, but when he finds the cure he realizes that loving himself was all he ever needed.
When I was younger I thought a lot about the story with the lion who had a thorn in his paw. If you’ll recall, he needed a mouse to pull it out. At least, that’s the way I heard the story. Maybe I’ve wandered so far that it’s different now. Things like that are changing, but I’ll get to that in a bit. I was going somewhere with this story, the same way I’m always going somewhere.
Anyway, I always imagined the lion as sad not because of the pain but because of his inability to walk. He couldn’t patrol his kingdom; he couldn’t stroll to the watering hole. He couldn’t even follow the females when they looked at him flirtatiously. It was one little thorn, but it was as bad as an iron cage all around him.
I thought about him so much one night, when I was fourteen, that it turned into a dream. I met the lion. He was fresh from being saved by the mouse, who now rode on his shoulder and whispered in his ear. He was walking, even though his paw bled. I asked him if he was in pain.
“Of course,” he answered in a velvety voice. He wasn’t looking at me or the mouse, but at the sinking sun on the horizon, which, thanks to my dream, was a strange green color. “This is good blood to lose. It’s progress. Experience. It’s not what I want to hold onto.”
“What do you want to hold?” I asked in return, but he didn’t have a chance to answer. He fell behind as I kept walking. I tried to slow down, turn around, but I couldn’t. My legs just kept going and going. This scared me enough to pull me out of the dream. I grabbed for me pillow. The pillowcase had a big goofy tongue-out dog face on it. I wasn’t allowed to have a pet, so I used to hug that face. I tried to, but my hands grabbed at nothing but night air.
I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and examined my surroundings. I wasn’t in bed. I wasn’t in my room. I wasn’t in my house. I walked, barefoot, in red striped pajamas, down the side of an unfamiliar road. Crickets and fireflies were all about. I looked down at my toes and saw all manner of grit stuck between them and under the nails. My middle toe and… ring toe? Anyway, they held a cigarette butt like a… well, like a cigarette butt.
I was an innocent soul; that was the closest I’d ever come to tobacco until I walked straight into a field of it. Once again, I couldn’t make myself turn around. My feet didn’t respond at all. It was like the opposite of paralysis. My legs were too active, too determined. I shouted for help, but it was the middle of the night and in the middle of a field.
That was the beginning of my wandering. My name is Dabe. At least, it is right now. I think it was Dave when I started, but I’m in a new place where people always mispronounce it. To everyone who might hear this, I was a true wanderer. I never even knew what the word meant until it happened to me. I wandered day and night, asleep and awake, endlessly.
I moved through counties and states. I walked over rivers and eventually an entire ocean. For a while I wondered why my parents never looked for me. Good Old Dabe wasn’t the most obedient kid, I ran away a lot, ditched school, but there was never any venom in it. Everyone just called me a ‘free spirit’.
People definitely saw me, and they certainly thought I was strange. They asked me where I was going, but I wasn’t full of answers like the lion, or even whispers like the mouse. All I could do was shrug. Sometimes they got mad at me for trespassing. I did a lot of that on my straight line to nowhere-in-particular.
The worst was the first time I approached a barbed wire fence. It was like having a terminal illness, except compacted down to a five minute experience. I saw it on the horizon like a diagnosis. People told me not to go near it, but I couldn’t stop. That was the useless health advice everybody tries to give a sick person. There were a few snipped pieces on the ground that were painful to step on. Those were the symptoms.
I had to do all my crying in just those few minutes. I begged for help, but nobody could keep a hold of me. It was like trying to stop a rising roller coaster cart with a roll of paper towels. I begged for help, for mercy. Not from god, but the lion. Nobody answered. A scream was the last thing out of me before my body hit the wires. I pushed against them. They broke. I went straight through. There was no pain, but I was so close to thinking I was dead.
Each time something tried to interrupt my wandering I had that fear. The bar was raised each time though, as nothing hurt me. I trespassed on a secret government project. They tried to throw me in prison, but couldn’t get me off my path. They built a prison cell in front of me, but I walked through the other side. The brick and metal stretched just as the wire had. There was something inside me, keeping them from affecting me, and I wondered if it was a thorn.
The wandering wasn’t just place to place. Without ever knowing it, I stepped between versions of the world, like walking the edges of pages as they were flipped through. That’s why my parents never came for me. Two days after I’d wandered away I was already on the next page. It was a place where they didn’t even exist. A place where all the Daves were called ‘Dabe’.
I wandered through worlds where wars never happened and where they happened too much. I strolled by a movie theater and saw titles that, in my world, were eighty years old. I walked alongside people with leashes, the creatures on the other end varying wildly: dogs, cats, monitor lizards, raccoons, pink fair-haired pigs, and even geese.
For a while I was happy, as I thought myself immortal. I’d wandered for six years. I was in fine shape. The traversal of the pages changed me as well. I never ate, just moved to worlds where I wasn’t hungry. I never changed clothes, because they changed on their own. My pajamas slowly transformed into jogging gear, a suit and tie, and even a dress a few times. Luckily that was in a world where that sort of thing was quite normal.
Still, something dark caught up with me. I felt pain because I never had a home. I shed tears that I had to leave behind in worlds I would never see again, like rain exiting the water cycle permanently. Maybe I imagined it, but my feet started to hurt. If there was a thorn inside me, causing this wandering, it was no wonder I was in such a state. My soul was bleeding, each step was pushing it further in, and I had no mouse to take care of me.
I spent a year contemplating suicide. There were many possibilities, two attempts, and no successes. I was doomed to be a wanderer.
I should’ve known better. That story with the lion and the thorn? There’s a version of it everywhere. There’s always a mouse. I found mine in a clearing in the middle of a rain forest in a mostly-wandered world where the plants all had deep purple leaves. There were twenty people, all sitting in a circle. They rested their bare feet, callused to gray, in bubbling pools of water. They looked at me with defeated tired eyes.
“Another wanderer?” one asked with a wan voice. I nodded. “One of us has to go then.” They all groaned. A few sobbed. “Give us your flame then. We’ll give you your turn to rest.” He held out his hand even as he cast his wild bearded face down.
“My flame?” I realized I wasn’t walking. All that energy moved from my legs into my left hand. I held it up and saw a yellow flame burning in my palm, but not hurting me. “What is this?”
“The flame,” a haggard woman said. “Like the Olympics. It never goes out and you always pass it on. It’s your baton. We’re the other wanderers. Hand it over so we can do our miserable shifts.” This was it. The flame was my thorn. Perhaps it found me because I always ran away, never felt at home. When I saw it the pain was gone, evaporated in an instant. I understood. All that pain, it was good blood to lose.
I could tell the lion what I wanted to hold onto. It was the flame. I could do their shifts, let them rest. Be the one to keep the dust off the books by keeping the pages flipping. I told them they could rest as I put the flame back in the pocket of the jacket I’d never actually donned. That put it back in my legs, and I was wandering again.
This time they applauded me when I ran away.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by foxwriter during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!