The strange little man sat down beside me and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He promised to right any one wrong; to fix anything; to solve any problem; and at a price I could bring to him on the morrow. But there was, of course, a catch. I had exactly one day to decide what I wanted done, and what would be done could not be undone.
The price I offered could be no more or less than exactly what I thought the problem was worth. But there was a catch there too: I had to show my offered payment when I named the task.
To this day I have no idea why I believed him, but I did. That was yesterday, and today I know the truth.
But I didn’t know the truth then, so I went home to consider my desires.
I knew I couldn’t possibly ask for a demonstration, because it was a one shot deal. I mean I could, but If I asked for a something simple as proof of his ability I would have used up my only chance at something bigger.
On the other hand I couldn’t ask for the moon because I clearly had to offer a price commensurate to the task and I had little of my own.
If I asked to be Empress of all the lands, Queen of this valley, or even just a moderately comfortable shopkeeper, I would have to offer a price many times greater than my entire worth, and my children’s worth, and their children’s worth for generations to come.
My train of thought took a sudden turn, at the subject of children. It generally thought that children require a father, and legitimate children require that father to be a husband. But the village had only one man of marriageable age, and he was deeply in love with my best friend, Gretchen. And I hated her for it while also loving her as a sister.
I decided on a task. I would ask that George love me, marry me, and father our children.
My mind made up about a goal, I still had to imagine a price. I spent half the night stewing over what love and future children were really worth to me. And then reconsidering my decision. Then deciding all over again.
The next day, I brought my only valuable possession along as I sought out the strange little man. At the appointed hour, and not a minute sooner, I found him.
“Have you decided on a task?” he asked.
“I have. I want to have George,” for that was his name, “as husband to me and father to my children. But he loves another, and this cannot come to be.”
“All things are possible, when the stars align and the rituals play out without a hitch,” he said.
“And what do you offer as a price?” he asked.
“All I have is this ring. It was my mother’s, and before her my grandmother’s. It has been in my family from mother to daughter since time out of mind.”
He turned away and considered for what seemed a very long time. Then turned back.
“Before you answer my final question, know this. The third answer binds us together in this rite. To break off after will forfeit the price and will put you at great risk.”
I simply nodded.
“So be it. An idea was formed. An action was taken. A price was offered. A task was named. These things were all done of your own free will. Now you affirm your desire that I complete the task at your price. Is that so?” he asked.
My voice steady, I looked him in the eye, and said “yes, it is so.”
“So be it. The task will be done. But not entirely without you.”
He reached into his bag and drew out a small, funny looking doll, made of grass or reeds bound with thread. He also brought out a small case, and from that a lancet which he quickly passed through a flame and then before I could protest he caught my hand and jabbed my finger. A drop of blood formed which he applied to the doll laying in his palm.
The drop sat on the doll like a bead of dew for a long while. Then it abruptly vanished as the doll stood up on his hand. It stared at me for a long time, nodded once, and dropped, lifeless, back into his hand.
He returned the doll and case to his bag.
“It is done. The price you offered was acceptable. But keep the ring, as you may need it in the future.”
With that he vanished.
Wondering what had really happened, I sat there in the village square for hours. I considered what I’d said, and what I had offered. What had he meant that the price was accepted when he didn’t claim the ring?
What price had I really paid? And what had I really purchased?
As the sun settled at day’s end I realized that George was beside me, and had been there for some time. “You seemed lost in your thoughts, and I didn’t want to disturb them,” he said.
“Mm. Hmm.” I said, not really sure how to respond.
“Come, Gretchen, we need get you home before dark,” he said.
“Okay” I said, but something didn’t seem right. “Wait, aren’t I Sally?”
“Who’s Sally?” he asked.
I suddenly realized what price I paid for his love.
Over the next few months as we planned the wedding and then the years after as we raised our children, everyone persisted in calling me Gretchen. No one had ever heard of Sally. The land I’d grown up on was just undeveloped moors. I eventually stopped asking as I realized that even George was starting to wonder if I wasn’t going mad.
But I knew the truth. I had set a task and offered a price and had paid it. I had sacrificed my past and my best friend. If that wasn’t true, then it was too late and I was already mad.