With a sigh, I placed my head on my hand, propping it up while I stared at the instructor in front of me. His voice was monotonous, dry, and he seemed to drone on for ages. I’d always had a bit of an issue with paying attention during lectures anyway, but this man did nothing to keep my attention. My mind wandered, as it often did when things left me bored and uninterested. Sometimes it would just wander to what next class would be about. Other times, I would think about my chores for later in the day. It never wandered to anywhere particularly interesting, but wherever it went always seemed more interesting than the lectures at hand.
Except for today.
Today, as my mind started to wander, it seemed almost as if what I was seeing was blurring together and changing into a different world completely. Instead of going to thoughts of things that would concern me later that day, I went to a world of fog. Dark, deep, dense fog.
It was neither cold nor hot, but the air was heavy with the stuff. As the fog swirled around me slightly, I saw a faint light in the distance, almost beckoning me towards it and away from the darkness the fog held. It was towards that light that I wandered.
The journey out of the fog seemed to last ages. I would stumble, fall, and pick myself up. At one point, a fall scraped both my knees and palms, but as I had done before, I picked myself up and continued on. My urgency to get out of the fog wasn’t because it frightened me. In fact, there was no fear in this place at all. The fog that surrounded me provided a sense of security and comfort. I somehow knew that whatever was at that light was something I needed to get to, and that knowledge fueled my sense of urgency to get out of the fog. The lighter the fog got, though, the more difficult the terrain became, and the more frequently I stumbled along my path.
Almost without warning the fog broke, clearing my view to a forest thick with spring and new growth. Moss covered the ground beneath my now surprisingly bare feet. I curled my toes against it, enjoying the softness it provided and the coolness that came from it. Behind me, the fog I had just left seemed to have disappeared completely. Instead, I was surrounded by trees – ash, birch, and aspen – that were just starting to bud. Off in the distance, I heard a robin’s song as it went about its business. In front of me, I saw a large willow, and unlike the trees around it, this tree was fully green, as if winter had not stripped it bare of its clothing.
A narrow dirt path led up to the tree as tall grasses grew on either side of it. I headed towards the willow, curious about it and how green it had remained, and the closer I got, the shorter the grass became until was once again replaced by moss. The ground underneath the tree was home to a variety of blooming flowers. Some were tall, narrow, and purple; others looked like short, fat bushes covered in pinks and whites. Here and there, I could see lone yellows, oranges, and reds. I couldn’t begin to name them all, and some I didn’t even recognize.
This magical forest delighted me. With a small smile, I found a patch of bare ground underneath the willow and sat, breathing in the sweet air that surrounded me with sigh. How could it be that, at the start of winter, this area looked so much like it was in the height of spring, or even summer? The air still held the bite of early spring, but the ground told another story completely. It was so beautiful; I wanted to stay in this place forever.
After some time, soft humming caught my attention, and I sat up straight. “Who’s there?” I called. Who was in my magical place? The hum came again, sing-song but not identifiable. “Who’s there?” I called again, but only another hum answered me.
I looked around to the other side of the willow where I had sat down, but there was no one to be seen, only more flowers and draping branches.
The humming seemed to have disappeared, so I relaxed against the willow once more, only for the humming to return, more loudly than before, and a little less melodic. I jumped to my feet and moved away from the tree, looking more carefully for the source of the sound. There was no one.
Now irritated, I turned around to head back to the sanctuary the willow had provided. Instead, I was met with a sight that dismayed me. The tree and the sanctuary it had provided were gone. In front of me sat nothing but desolation. It looked as though a fire had ravaged the forest that had been behind me just moments before. I turned to go back into the forest that should have been behind me, only to find it too had been destroyed.
Slowly I turned around, trying to find any glimpse of green. Tree stumps stuck out from the ash-covered ground, charred black and leafless. Rocks stuck up here and there across the barren landscape, and as I took in the view, the smell of smoke started to sting my lungs and eyes.
A growl came from my left. Carefully, I turned and looked at the source. A large, black wolf with bright yellow eyes. It stood there, fur bristled and teeth bared, quietly growling as it stared back at me. Now I was frightened, terrified even.
Carefully, I took a step away from it, but it moved to match me, keeping the same distance between myself and where it stood. What had I done to anger this wolf so? I took another step, but it did as before, never letting the distance between us change. It growled again before snarling and snapping at me. Startled, I fell down, landing on my butt. I pushed myself up so that I was sitting, only to see the wolf charging towards me. One arm raised up to block my face instinctively and I screamed, leaning into the other hand as it propped me up off the ground.
Air blew past me, but the grasp of teeth or pain of claws didn’t come with it. Hesitantly, I opened my eyes and looked around. The nearby forest had returned, though the meadow and willow had not. Its stump remained nearby. The hand that had kept me propped up against the wolf’s attack pressed against moss once again, rather than the ash it had felt moments before, though the patch was small and surrounded by dirt.
Wide-eyed, I dropped my defending arm and turned, to see the same wolf standing calmly behind me. The ground beneath my supporting hand seemed to shift and I looked away from the wolf. Slowly, flower buds began to emerge from the moss in a circle, and inside that circle came a large, if shallow, silver bowl. I waved my free hand towards the bowl, thinking it would go through it, that the bowl was merely some sort of illusion. Instead, it created a soft ding as it hit the bowl.
Coming around now, the wolf sat down in front of me with the bowl between us, head tilted ever so slightly to the side. It was completely, totally calm and relaxed this time, but it looked like the same wolf from moments before. I nervously got to my knees, considering if I should try to run away from the creature. It stood again, nosing at the bowl between us slightly before backing up a step or two and sitting down again. Every instinct in my mind told me to run, to get away from this creature. Instead, I sat back on my heels and stared at the creature in front of me.
His eyes pierced into mine for a few moments before turning down towards the bowl. Mine followed. Slowly, the bowl began to fill with a crystal clear water and the buds that surrounded it opened into little white blossoms. My eyes returned to the wolf then, the confusion evident on my face. What was so important about this bowl of water?
“You have to decide,” the wolf said then, in the clearest, calmest voice possible. Shock must have overtaken the confusion. I heard a light chuckle from the wolf. “You have to decide, my dear one,” he said again, taking a few steps towards me and lowering his nose towards the bowl again.
I looked down again at the bowl. An image appeared in the water depicting the spring forest, and I looked back up to him as he spoke again. “Do you follow the path that will lead you to blessings? To happiness? Or will you follow the path that will lead you to destruction and sorrow?” he explained.
The scent of smoke began to fill the area again, and I looked back into the bowl, the image now showing the desolation of before. “Understand, if you choose to keep going down the path you’ve been heading, I will fight you every step of the way. You deserve better than that, child.”
My gaze finally raised up from the bowl to the speaking wolf. “Well, where am I supposed to be heading then?” I asked him, earning nothing more than another chuckle.
The wolf walked around from the other side of the bowl towards me, pressing his body up against mine and pushing me into the bowl. “You will know when you find it.” I started to scream as I fell into the water.
The bell rang then, startling me out of my daydream. The hour had finished. Our homework was written on the board. I quickly copied it down in my notebook and left the room, walking to next period.
I noticed my palm itching slightly as I got to my locker, so I scratched at it slightly. It felt strange, so I looked at it while pulling out books with my other hand. It seemed normal at first, but the itching was replaced with a heat. I noticed what could only be described as a burn mark appear: a paw print.
Photograph made available by Maria Teneva via Unsplash