Get 'Weird Winds' a collection of 8 intriguing short stories for FREE! Get 'Weird Winds' for FREE!

Cletus, the Wonderin’ Wizard

Greetings my Fellowship of Readers!

This special Fall promotion comes courtesy of a strange encounter a few days ago. As many know, I live in the South, and I’m always amazed by the interesting people I meet. Two days ago that person was Cletus.

Out for an evening stroll, I noticed a lone figure ambling toward me. Now at first I just took him for an old-timer, dressed as he was in worn overalls and a wide brimmed hat. A thick grey beard hung from his wrinkled face. Near the corners of his mouth, the beard was streaked brown, remnants of the color it held in his youth. Or so I believed.

Then I noticed the large dried up leaves clutched in his gnarled left hand. Having worked several tobacco farms as a teenager, I recognized the brown, cured leaves as that addictive, misused plant. And I knew there was indeed something strange about this stranger.

About to pass on his left, I was stopped when he side-stepped blocking my way. So I looked at him and smiled; maybe he had something to say. But instead he just stood there, staring past me.

“Howdy,” I said to break the silence.

Raising the clump of dry leaves to his mouth, he took a huge bite. He chewed, squinted, turned his face skyward for a moment, and began to bob his head, as if following some melody that only he could hear. He chewed some more, bobbed side-to-side a few times, then spat a heavy stream of brown juice right past my ear.

I dodged instinctively, but soon realized I wasn’t the target. Slowly I turned in the direction he’d spat. Then I heard it, an angry buzzing near my feet. I looked down. On the ground a hornet writhed, drenched in a slime of tobacco juice. I turned back to the old-timer.

“Wow, thanks! You took that thing down with one shot.”

“I was wonderin’,” he finally said, fixing my eyes with a bloodshot gaze. “Didj’ever meet a feller named Cletus?”

Now I’ve heard several southern names and nicknames, even gone by a few myself. (Don’t ask.) I’ve heard of Jimbob, Nugene, Eudell, Tex, Cephus, Rimshot, Lugnut, and everybody knows a Bubba. But I had to shake my head for this one. “No sir. Can’t say as I have.”

He stopped mid-chew and stuck out a hand. “Well now you have.” Without even turning his head, he spat to one side. “Name’s Cletus, the Wonderin’ Wizard.” He pronounced it slowly, Won-der-in, as if making sure even a fellow southerner would hear it right.

But I wasn’t sure I had. “Uh… John Stacy,” I said, accepting the handshake and the fact that he’d just said Wizard. “But don’t you mean Wand-er-ing Wizard?”

His eyes shone, as something like lightning flashed behind their glassy, bloodshot whites. “I reckon a feller knows his own name!” He seemed to grow taller as the autumn sky darkened.

I’ll admit, for a second there I was worried. Two things I can’t do, hit a female or disrespect an elder – thanks to my raising. But here I was faced with the dilemma of defending myself against a crazy old man who may or may not be a Wizard. And I didn’t want to get spat on either.

I rushed to apologize. “Sir, I didn’t mean to offend. I thought maybe… we’ll you know, mostly you hear about Wandering Wizards. That’s all. I’m truly sorry.”

He waved a hand dismissively. “Ah you just been watchin’ too many movies is all.” He took a fresh nip from his tobacco. “Anyways I was …” He paused for effect. “…Wonderin’,” he chewed again and finally said. “Wonderin’ if you like to read. Or know of folks that does.”

I smiled. “Mr. Cletus, I love to read! Matter of fact, I write a bit too. And yes sir, I know plenty of folks who like to read. Plenty!”

He nodded and smiled. His teeth were stained and crooked. All five of them. “Well here’s an opportunity for you and your fellowship of readers.” He raised the clump of leaves.

I thought he was going to take another bite but instead he waved the tobacco in the air, up and down, sideways and in looping circles. And I noticed everywhere the leaves moved a trail of ethereal flame trailed behind and remained. But the tobacco itself was not on fire. Not even a hint of smoke.

When he stopped, the flaming trail remained suspended in the air.

“Won’t last forever,” Cletus finally said. “So you best write that down.” He turned as if to leave, toward the direction he’d come.

“What is it?” I wondered aloud. Then thought to myself, He really is a Wizard.

Cletus looked over his shoulder at me and gestured back with the fistful of leaves. “That yonder is a link into wonder.” He laughed. “Been waitin’ to say that. Never gets old.” Then he spat again and grew serious. “It’ll lead you to Art of the Arcane, sorcery and science aplenty, where you’re bound to find a tale or two what might strike yer fancy. Browse around as you please, and choose a few, a dozen. It’s up to you hoss.” He tipped his hat, and started walking again. Then, as he ambled away, his form began to fade before my eyes. “But, like I said…” His voice trailed off as he disappeared. “It won’t last forever.”

“Cletus!” I ran up to where his footprints stopped. Bare feet! Why hadn’t I noticed that before? The long-toed prints ended abruptly, right where he’d faded. I looked around, but I was alone. Except for the glowing message that still hung in the evening air. I walked over to examine it.

I fetched a notepad and pen from my jacket pocket and copied the cryptic symbols. I ran home and posted them here. As soon as I did, they set ablaze right there on the screen, as if some sort of magic was sparked by the sheer arrangement of those symbols. (Go ahead and click on them, they won’t burn your cursor – or finger if you’re using a phone or touchscreen.)

And that’s basically the end of a story that I can hardly believe myself. But crazy as the story sounds, I felt compelled to send the message to you, just like Cletus wanted. Because even though this tale is at an end, there are several on the other side of those blazing words that are just waiting to begin.  Still, I’m curious about old Cletus, wonderin’ if I’ll ever see him again.

Now excuse me while I check this link out for myself. What kind of tales will it lead to?

One can’t help but wonder.