He never got their names, and afterward Jeff couldn’t remember their faces. Young, he was pretty sure, and pleasant looking in a bland kind of way. Heavy set. Hair a kind of indeterminate color halfway between brown and black. Some kind of an accent he couldn’t place that disappeared the more he cocked an ear for it. Not locals, anyway.

“There’s someone gonna be comin’ along behind us,” one of them said.

“Looking for us,” the other added.

“You want something to disappear you?” He bound off his last stitch and handed the sleeve to the apprentice to sew into the sweater. The spell plucked at the edges of his concentration, looking for loose threads to unravel; a commission for one of the Pilot’s stringers, to encourage loose talking. “I can do that, no problem.”

“No, no, not at all.”

“We want him to find us.”

“He needs to see us everywhere, actually.”

“That’s what he paid for.”

He scratched the back of his neck with a bone needle. “You mind unpacking that a little?”

“We want everything to lead to us. Every sign, every newspaper ad.”

“Every half-heard conversation.”

“Every alleyway. Every change in the weather.”

“Huh.” He chewed on it for a while. They didn’t move, didn’t fidget with the swatches, just watched him with the patience of a pair of rocks. “I’m… not sure I can guarantee that.”

“You’re saying no?”

“You won’t even try?”

He held up his hands. “Now, I’m not saying that. It’s just… unprecedented, as all. That’s a big order, there, and I’m willing to try, but it’ll be pricey, and like I said, I don’t know I can speak for the results.”


At twenty-four he is an apprentice no longer, and it may be months at a time before Jeff sees the old witch again. The bell over his door rings and he looks up from his patternwork, mind tangled still with cabling and intent. “May I… help you?”

She has knit a new face, but the eyes are still the same, nut-brown and unsentimental. “Certainly, boy, or I wouldn’t be here. Unravel yourself and come with me.”

He flips the sign upon the door and spins the little hands to two, and then to four upon reflection. She leads him deeper into the city, through bus routes and train lines, into barred windows and iron fences, over and under where others have gone before. “What are you about, old woman?” He can feel their intent knotted into hers. “What are we learning today?”

She glisters at his impatience. “No lessons; you have learned all I am willing to teach. No. Today we work. The apprentices today are boiling, dyeing, spinning, skeining; you and yours are weaving the city tight; and we– all of us–” she grins, new face sliding rough over old bone– “are doing all the real work. Now be silent, and use your motherwit, if you can. I am done explaining.”


She dumped a pile of brightly colored paper packets on the counter in front of Jeff. “Kool-Aid?” he said.

“Kool-Aid. Today we are going to learn dyeing.” She pulled a bunch of raw yarn out of the cabinet. “Get the kettle set up, please.”

Jeff had gotten strong with his stubbornness, forearms ridged with muscle from hauling water, even the short distance from the sink to the fireplace. He’d come to enjoy the slow process for itself. Maybe she approved of that, maybe she didn’t: she didn’t say anything either way. “Why Kool-Aid?”

“Kool-Aid is safe. You can’t burn yourself with it, and it’s hard to ruin the yarn.” She nudged the packets toward him. “Put these in before you fill the kettle. Kool-Aid, yarn, water.”

At sixteen he knew patience. It wasn’t until the fire was snapping brightly against the kettle that he asked, not rebellious, just curious, “Why are we dying the yarn? I mean, why aren’t we buying it dyed?”

“It’s important to know where things come from before you really begin to work with them. Oh, I could teach you spells without it, yes,” the witch waved his question away. “And no doubt you could work wonders that way. But you would always be limited to what I had shown you or what someone else had shown you. We will make our own dye, eventually, and then you will know as much as I can teach you, but for today we will keep ourselves to Kool-Aid.”

Casting On

Jeff was learning.

“Casting is most important, since all the work rests on the first row you do. If it’s crooked, the whole thing will be crooked, and unpredictable.”

“Sure,” said Jeff sullenly. He did everything sullenly these days. Fifteen has hit him hard and made him gangly and sore as a rotten tooth.

The witch flicked him in the forehead with a hard finger. Jeff hissed and dropped a stitch. “Pay attention, lad,” she said. “This is important. There’s no flash here, but without the beginnings there’s no magic, no spell.”

“There’s no flash anywhere,” he said. “Just yarn.”

“That’s the way it works. The work isn’t glamorous or easy, did you think it would be? But there’s power. Now. Unravel, begin again.”

Jeff pulled his yarn off, unlooped it to kinkiness. “First loop,” he muttered, “over finger, over needle, pull through, over finger.”

“Gently now. Too tight and you’ll slant off sideways.”

“Can’t I just practice on something normal? Just a… a scarf or something? A sock?”

She stared at him, her nut-eyes expressionless and dry. “There’s nothing normal. When you make something there’s part of you bound up in it, that passes between you and the work. All you’re really doing is becoming aware of that process.”


His parents had sold Jeff to a witch. “I’m going to teach you magic, boy,” said the witch. “Wouldn’t you like that?”

Jeff stared at her. He was frightened of witches, even pleasant-voiced lady witches that smelled like ginger cookies. She laughed and squeezed his shoulder as his parents drove slowly down the long gravel driveway.

He cried to himself in his room that night, pressing the pillow against his face so the witch couldn’t hear him. The house was very big and very empty.

“The first thing you have to learn is the wool,” said the witch the next day. They were sitting in her kitchen, among the rows of copper kettles and wooden spoons. It was a gray day outside, gray and cold and autumnal. “Fill this kettle with water, first. Make sure it’s cold, mind.” She lifted an enormous wide-mouthed kettle from below the counter and handed it to him. It weighed almost as much as he did. It was all he could do to lift it.

“I can’t carry this,” he protested. “Not when it’s full!”

The witch looked stern. “‘Can’t’ is a word I will not abide. If it is too heavy to carry full, then you must carry it empty and fill it. Or ask for help, boy. Always ask for help.”

He glared into the kettle. “Where does it go?”

“Put it into the fireplace,” she said. “Hang it over the ashes.”

He grunted and groaned and got it hung on the ashy hook in the fireplace. Soot covered his shoes. The witch tsked, but stayed perched on her stool. Jeff took a pot from the counter and filled it at the sink. Into the kettle went the water. It was barely a puddle at the bottom. He went back to the sink.

And again. And again. And again…

And the witch sat at the counter, toying with a bundle of undyed wool, and watched him with her acorn eyes, and said nothing, and nothing, and nothing…