I have taken a break from Dishonour for just a short while. In the meantime I’ll be writing and posting poetry, tales and what ever else comes to mind. As well, I’ve joined The Inferno, a group of amazing literary folks. The Price was submitted to the first Challenge, Curiousity Killed The Cat. Enjoy !
I don’t know what was worse. The cold and damp night air; the biting mosquitoes; or the fact that I had been lost in these damned woods for nearly three hours! Stick to the main trail they said. Ya, right! A guy steps off the trail to relieve himself amongst all the glory of Mother Nature, and next thing you know, you seem to be going deeper in rather than coming out. I was beginning to think that nature itself was conspiring against my safe return to my campsite! It wasn’t getting easier as it grew darker, but at least with the full moon rising, I could still see enough to avoid the most obvious hazards.
The forest seemed to be transforming itself from its normal daylight wonder world into something foreign and strange. The noises, the shadows, the creaking of dead tree limbs, all heightened my instinct to listen and look harder than I had ever done before. Perhaps that was a mistake. The human imagination being what it is, I thought it might be best to just ignore most of what I see and hear and continue on my quest of getting out of this godforsaken place!
I was starting to creep myself out. This is not a good thing. I was getting tired. But, in spite of my fatigue, I was determined that I wasn’t going sit up beside some tree in damp leaves to shiver and wait for the sun to rise. No way! I continued on. Stumbling here, cursing there, and the ceaseless swatting at those carnivorous bloodsucking beasts of the woods they call mosquitoes. As I stumbled over some mammoth dead stump of a tree, the sound of running water arose from ahead. I proceeded toward it with renewed inspiration. The brush thickened as I clawed my way through; thrashing like a bear in a raspberry thicket, till at last it opened unto a clearing. My immediate thoughts were those of salvation and jubilation. I could always follow the water; right?
What lay before me was a magical place. Lush ferns languished amongst thick velveteen grasses like giant sails rising out of an emerald lake. The water of the creek danced and splashed over ancient rocks; worn smooth with time. Droplets exploding in mid air like diamonds shattering in the moonlight. The fresh smells were intoxicating and delicious. And all was bathed in the silvery light of the full summer moon hanging low in a star filled sky.
I have no idea how long I stood there, stunned, in silent wonder.
“ You must pay a price!”
I swung around to see who had just said that! A strange, small voice. I saw no one there, so I called out, “ I’m sorry. What did you say?”
I waited for a response which didn’t seem to be coming.
“ Is anyone there?”
“ You must pay me a price!”
Again that voice. It seemed to come from no where in particular, but more like being carried on the warm summer breezes.
“ Who and where are you? Come out so I can see you.” Again I waited,,,,
“ I shall. But first, you must agree to pay me a price!”
I have never been the most patient of men, and this little game with my unknown protagonist was starting to unnerve me.
“ Fine! Name a price, and come out where I may see you!”
I had no intention of being blackmailed by anyone for information on how to get out of this wood, but my curiosity had gotten the better of me.
“ Then you agree to pay me a price?”
I thought to myself, I just might throttle this person when they show themselves, and so I answered.
“ Yes, yes. Whatever. Now, show yourself!”
A loud laugh filled the air. An evil laugh filled with wild abandon. I watched as a small shadow approached slowly until at last he emerged from the dark undergrowth and into the full light. I stumbled back, my legs growing cold and numb as I looked into the face of the voice that had taunted me. His eyes were tiny slits. His nose was long and pointed decidedly upwards. His sneer contorted his troll like face, and sparse whiskers covered his pointy chin. All of three feet high, his legs bowed like a horseshoe.
He wrung his hands and giggled and jiggled as he stared down at me on the ground; frozen in fear. His face grew serious as he licked his greasy lips and proceeded to address me.
“ All you see, belongs to me.
From that rock way down there, all the way to that tree.
You have entered my home, unasked I might add,
and now a price you shall pay, for behaviour so bad.”
My heart was beating wildly in my chest as I struggled to suck in air. My mind was afire with fear and dread. A price, yes, but what? I had nothing of true value on me. And what was with this rhyming thing of his?
“ You mentioned a price, but still you haven’t said what that price you want is. What did you have in mind?”
His eyes widened, and that sneer returned to his gnarled face. He hopped from foot to foot, in a distorted little dance.
“ Your desire to leave my happy abode, this wondrous place I own,
comes with a price, which you must pay, to this bargain, you are bound.
A price you say? A price it is, and when you have failed,
I will have your soul, mine to keep, chained, tethered and bailed.
I shall give you a verse, slowly at first, one that you must complete.
And when you fail, to complete the tale, you’re soul is mine to keep!”
This was madness! My mind was reeling! I couldn’t think, let alone complete one of his nonsensical rhymes.
“ If I do this, what’s to stop you from saying that I wasn’t right? For all I know, you could be making this all up as you go along! How can I win? You are trying to trick me!”
He went motionless and glared at me. The blood drained from my face as I saw the full horror of my last remark reflected in his evil stare.
“ Trick you? Trick you, you say? We have made a deal!
A bargains’ a bargain, a pact is a pact, the agreement signed and sealed!”
His demeanour left no doubt as to his seriousness; and so, in quiet resolution, I agreed. He drew close to me as though he would whisper. His breath was foul and repugnant and I grimaced as he slowly began…
“Every man is free to choose,
To gamble, win or lose,
To think with his heart,
To hurt with his words,
The choices are his to use.
To spurn the love,
And embrace the hate that steadily grows inside,
To build the walls,
Never heeding the calls,
Till all the beauty has died.
I have such beauty,
I have no walls for as far as the eye can see,
Finish my rhyme,
In verse so sublime,
He drew back from me, allowing me reprieve from the foul stench that exuded from his body and breath. I couldn’t think. The verses kept going around and around in my head, in endless repetition. My only thoughts were that of escape. I had no idea what this tiny troll of a man would want! That’s when I finally understood. I slowly repeated the verse in my mind, trying to grasp its meaning. If I finished his rhyme, what would be my reward? Freedom! Yes! That was it!
“ Before I give you my answer, may I ask you something?”
He stared at me with a quizzical look upon his wizened features, suddenly grown soft.
“ I think you may have already answered your own question, but yes.”
I don’t know if it was the moon playing tricks on the old man, but he seemed to be transforming before my eyes. Wisdom shone thru his misshapen features as he awaited my question.
“ This was all for my benefit, wasn’t it?”
He cocked one eye and leaned back against a stone.
“ Finish the rhyme!”
And in an instant, I knew.
“ And the traveller shall go free.”
He let out a loud laugh as he fell back on his rotund arse. Then he drew his knees up to his chest and looked me in the eye.
“ I followed you thru the woods. In spite of all the beauty that surrounded you, you saw nothing but the ugliness. You were so absorbed in your own self pity at being lost, you lost track of where you were lost. Being lost in the beauty of nature has immeasurable rewards. But, you refused to see that. And now, I have shown you the way and given you a choice. It is yours to use. You may stay here the night and watch the sun rise over the water, or you can carry on. Use your choice wisely.”
And with that, he rose and wandered back off from where he came. I laid back and stared up at the stars and swore; never again to lose sight of the beauty that surrounds us all.