Asil and the Not-Date
The old wolf ran, leaping over drifts of snow, his dark brown coat indistinguishable from black in the night. In the summer his coloring meant he could easily run unseen in the Montana forests, but the snow made that an effort he didn’t bother with.
It was cold and the silence was deep in these woods, so different from the wilds of his youth. But Asil had been here for years now, and he ran most nights to excise the demons of memory and to calm the raging wolf who shared his skin. Even the cold that made the snow squeak under his paws was an ordinary and familiar thing, though he had been born to much warmer climes.
Someday soon, he was sure, these runs would not be enough. His wolf would break free and start a killing rampage that only the Marrok who ruled them all could stop.
He wished that he were certain the Marrok could stop him. They thought it vanity that he had come here for his death. He owned that vanity was one of his sins. But he knew, and the Marrok knew, how deadly he was. How old he was. Just because he was vain did not mean he was wrong.
Surrounded by mountain wilderness, his home allowed him privacy for the brutal change from wolf to human. When he stood once more in human skin, Asil wiped off the excess snow and moisture with the towel he left on the porch swing for that purpose.
Without his wolf’s fur, the night’s chill bit at his skin. Unlike someone wholly human, he could have stayed out all night without ill effects, but that didn’t mean it was comfortable. When he was dry, he folded the towel neatly and returned it to the swing, drew in a deep breath of the cold air, and waited.
But the usual weight of depression, of an apathy that hindered his control of his wolf, did not burden his soul as it had daily the past few centuries. His old enemy was not vanquished, he could feel its touch, but, for now, it only lingered on the edges of his mind.
Inside his house his computer sounded the reception of an email. It could be an advertisement for potting soil from his favorite gardening site or a note from his son, who ruled Asil’s old pack in Europe. Or it could be from Concerned Friends who had given him a peculiar gift for the Christian holiday season—the current reason that held his ennui at bay. To paraphrase Sir Arthur, there was a game afoot.
He opened the door and walked naked into his home. There might have been, had he cared to admit it, a spring in his step.
The email awaiting him was disappointing. He was the lucky recipient of a hundred-dollar Amazon gift card if he would participate in a survey by clicking the provided link. Asil deleted that email and another from a Nigerian businessman with bad grammar who would give him money, doubtless in return for his banking information. Asil rose from his computer desk and put on the clothing he’d taken off before his run.
Fully clothed, he went into the kitchen to brew himself some tea in hopes that the task would lend him some patience, which he should only need a little of. They had given themselves—and him—very little time: five dates from online dating sites chosen and set up by them, all to be completed in two weeks. He had finished two of them.
The first email from his Concerned Friends had read, in part:
You should know that all of these people think they have been talking to you and are looking for you to bring a little spice into their lives. We have carefully chosen people we think would be very hurt to find out they were unwitting participants in a game. Some of us believe that you would not hurt a stranger just to avoid a little discomfort. Others think that knowing that we have informed the whole pack (via email) and instigated a betting pool will be better incentive. Especially since no one, so far, has bet on you attending more than one date.
As blackmail, it was pretty effective. They (or possibly he or she, because Asil wasn’t convinced two or more people could keep themselves secret from him, and he had not been able to discover who was at the heart of this) knew what moved him. Most people wouldn’t have thought he would care that people’s feelings would be hurt.
Even so, he was pretty sure that no one but himself knew the biggest reason that he’d accepted.