The Wolf dreamed, and in his dream he fell in love. The girl was young and wore a coat of rich red, and when he tasted her he knew he was hers forever.
When dawn broke, the Wolf left his den in the Dirkwood and loped across the plains to the city. That’s where the humans lived, among others, and the girl in the red coat was definitely a human. Wolves are practical, level-headed creatures, but every now and then one might come down with an awful obsession, and indeed this one had.
It was a long run, and the sun was drifting to bed in the West when the Wolf arrived at the city. The lights in the great Knight Market were twinkling alight, as the shops that did not sell their wares in daylight opened for business. The Wolf paused and stared at the signs; he was a smart Wolf, but had never been taught to read, and the signs were a mystery to him. Wolves do not give up easily, though, and he determined to go into every shop until he found someone who knew the girl in his dream, or had used them all up.
The first shop was an alchemist’s, its walls lined with shelves and the shelves lined with bottles in every color and smell of the rainbow. The alchemist was an old man, stooped, gnarled, and with a long white beard stained in many patches by his work.
“Good evening, Sir Wolf,” said the alchemist, whose customers were often not human.
“Good evening,” said the Wolf, “I must find a girl, can you help me?”
“You want a love potion, eh?” The old man stroked his stained beard thoughtfully. “Could do, could do. I don’t have one on hand for wolves, it’d be a special order.”
The Wolf shook his huge shaggy head. “Love I have, but the girl herself is missing. I dreamed a dream that must come true, of a young human girl with hair of midnight and a coat of scarlet. How can I find her?”
“A dream, eh?” The alchemist clicked his tongue in disapproval. “I’m afraid I don’t deal in dreams of sleep. I have not seen such a girl either. Perhaps you should see the fortune-teller at the end of the lane?”
The Wolf nodded his thanks and padded out. At the end of the lane was a small shop bedecked with curtains and lace, with tarocchi cards laid out in the window. Within, at the single small table, sat a robed woman with her eyes closed, swaying back and forth.
“Good evening,” said the Wolf, and he would have said more but was cut off.
“Hush! The Spirits speak. They speak of a new visitor, a handsome stranger looking for love. Is this true?”
The Wolf was forced to admit that it was. “I must find–”
Again she cut him off. “You seek a girl! Your lover-to-be! I see… hair like a raven’s wing… cloaked in the color of blood…”
“Yes! That is her, where may I find her?”
“First give me a piece of silv–” but the woman did not finish speaking; instead, she opened her eyes, saw for the first time that her client was not a handsome swain but a huge Wolf of the Dirkwood, and screamed and screamed!
“Please stop that! I mean you no harm.”
And still she screamed.
“Did the Spirits not tell you that you would meet a Wolf this night?”
And yet on she screamed.
“Very well. Good evening to you.”
The Wolf worked his way down the lane. Some received him courteously, some with great discourtesy indeed, but none could help. As the Eastward sky began to brighten, he arrived at the last shop, smaller than most, unlit, and set some ways away from the others. Inside was dim, and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust.
The shop was strange; though its apparent wares of threads and bolts of fabric were present, they seemed ancient, and all was covered with cobwebs. Thinking the place abandoned, he was about to leave when a strange smell caught his nose and he realized he was not alone. Behind the counter, shrouded in a thick grey cloak, stood a figure. It seemed to be watching him, but he could not see its face in the shadows.
“Welcome,” the figure said, in a strange, fluting voice.
“Are these your wares?” asked the Wolf, his manners momentarily forgotten.
“They were once. They could be again, if need be. I am a Weaver. What do you seek?”
“I dreamed a dream that must come true, of a young human girl with hair of midnight and a coat of scarlet. Can you help me find her?”
“Ahh, dreams. Dreams can be woven, and unwoven. Let us see.”
The weaver laid out some threads, and with extraordinary speed and no other artifice wove them into a mandala, a square of many intertwined colors. When it was nearly done, the Weaver said, “I must have some of your hair: one from your head, one from your heart, and one from your tail. Only in this way can we know what must come next.”
The Wolf was surprised by this, but agreed. The Weaver approached him and with silent swiftness plucked the three hairs, seemingly all at once. Then it returned to the mandala, and wove the hairs within.
The Weaver stared at the finished mandala for a few moments, then showed it to the Wolf, to whom the patterns and swirls meant nothing.
“My dear Wolf, luck in love is not your lot. There is such a girl, but she is not to be found in the Lands Above.”
“But the Lands Above are all that is! If she exists, but she is nowhere in the world, where can she be?”
The Weaver chuckled, a very old sound. “No, Sir Wolf. The Lands Above are not all that is. There are Lands Below as well.”
“Can you get me there, to her?” He did not care what horrors this other Land may be beset with, as long as he could find his love.
“Space can be woven and unwoven. Time too, for those with the skill, and I am the last of the great Weavers. It can be done, but the price will be very high.”
“Hang the price! If you can do it, let it be done!”
“Terms first, Sir Wolf! I do not take payment in gold or goods, and this journey will take far far more from you than I would charge. You will lose your life.”
“What nonsense is this? You would see me dead?”
“Not dead, no. Not at all. But your life would not be your own.”
The Weaver lowered its hood, and the Wolf beheld an enormous slender spider, the last of the great Weavers.
“You would no longer be the Wolf of the Dirkwood. You would no longer remember that there had been such a place, or such a Wolf. Tell me, is your love worth the price?”
Every now and then a wolf might come down with an awful obsession. “Yes. For her… all that I am and more, which I would give her anyway.”
The Weaver flexed its fangs, the tips of which glittered wetly in the dawning light. “Very well, then. Farewell, Sir Wolf; may your choice prove wise.” It darted forward and bit the Wolf upon his great neck. The Wolf staggered, then fell forward into a darkness deeper than any he had ever known.
For Carmen’s 12th birthday, her parents had made a promise that they were already regretting as they stood in the doorway of the animal shelter. Carmen was beside herself with excitement, going from cage to cage, cat to dog to cat to dog to snake. Her parents were visibly relieved when she passed the snake by.
“Any of them? For me? Really?” Carmen said.
“Yes, as long as you promise to take good care of them. This will be your responsibility.” said her mother.
Carmen went back to the cages, asking the amused lady behind the counter all sorts of things about all the animals. Finally, she reached one big cage and stopped dead. “Where did he come from?”
The lady came over to look. Inside the cage was a tiny puppy with grey and brown fur, staring solemnly up at Carmen. The puppy trotted to the cage door and stood on his hind legs, reaching for Carmen with one paw.
“We’re not sure, to be honest. One of the vets found him in the snow a few days ago. He’s got no collar or chip, but he seems healthy.”
“What kind of dog is he?”
“Probably part German Shepherd. It’s hard to tell, especially with strays.”
The little dog opened its jaws and barked once, a tiny ‘yip’, and Carmen’s heart melted. “I want him!”
The lady smiled and opened the cage door. As soon as she did so, the puppy ran straight into Carmen’s arms, squirming happily as he was picked up.
“Mom! Dad! Look at my puppy!”
Carmen ran to her parents to show off the dog. They were bent over the front counter filling out adoption paperwork. The puppy didn’t care about them, and just went about his business of licking her face all over.
The girl was young and wore a coat of rich red, and when he tasted her he knew he was hers forever.