The Price

The peddler said I could have it for nothing, but he was wrong.  There was a price.  Everything had a price, and the price for this was too high.  I didn’t see it at the time though.  I thought I was getting a deal.  I was sure he was the one being cheated.

It was hot the day I first saw the peddler.  I was lounger under a shade tree being careful not to make any movements that weren’t necessary from fear of causing another bead of sweat to appear on my forehead.  At first, all I saw was a cart lumbering down the dirt road, but as it came closer I could see the small man behind it.  His shoulders were stooped and his gait slow.  His grey hair hung to his shoulders and swung in his face.

He stopped in front of me and asked if I wanted to take a look at his merchandise.  It was a dreadfully dull day, so I thought I’d humor him. I never bought anything from those peddlers that came though—what they sold wasn’t worth my money—but I was in need of entertainment and looking through a peddler’s wares was better than watching the sweat drip off my nose.

His cart was filled with and odd mix of this and that: clay pots, tin cups, bead necklaces, tin whistles, soaps, candles, buttons, and a few bottles of foul smelling perfume.  As I expected, there was nothing that I was interested in.  I started to turn away, but he told me he had one other thing—something more valuable than anything else in his cart.

He pulled from his pocket a smudged green handkerchief with a small shape inside.  He reverently unwrapped it, and I saw a sparkling, clear stone about the size of a thumbprint.  I expected him to try to convince me that it was some expensive gem, but what he claimed was even more far-fetched.  He told me it had the power to transform my day.  It could change any feelings, outward or inward.   All I had to do was slip it on my tongue and it would make me feel what I wanted.  If I was gloomy, it would make me cheerful.  If I was hot, it would make me feel cooler.  It I was restless, it would calm me.

I didn’t believe him of course, but when I told him I wasn’t interested he held it out to me and insisted I take it.  I told him the price for such an item must be too high for me, trying to put him off.  He wouldn’t hear of my refusal and told me I wouldn’t have to pay anything.  He only wanted to bring happiness to people, and happiness should not have a price.

I took the clear stone.  How could I refuse a gift?   As his cart meandered down the road, I looked at the stone in my hand.  The sun glinted off its clear surface, making it look clean and bright.  It was pretty, but it couldn’t hold any kind of power.  It seemed foolish to stick it in my mouth and think of what I wanted it to do as if it could read minds and grant wishes.

But then, it seemed foolish not to try.  What if it could do what the peddler claimed and I never experienced it because I was too skeptical?  Trying wouldn’t hurt.

After looking to make sure no one was around, I laid the stone on my tongue.  It was hard and lumpy in my mouth.  I thought about how hot it was and wished my temperature was cooler.  Nothing happened, and I was about to spit the silly stone out, when something strange began to happen.

The stone was changing in my mouth.  Its hard surface became soft and slippery until it felt like butter melting on my tongue.  As it changed, I changed.  No longer was sweat dripping off my face.  My skin felt cool and dry.  The sun was still burning in the sky, but I was immune to its heat. I wasn’t even standing in the shade of the tree.  The stone melted until there was nothing left. The cooling affects lasted only a few minutes.  I was amazed.  The peddler was right.

I waited by the tree all the next day until the peddler came back through.  I asked if he had anymore of the stones like the one he gave me, and he pulled more from his pocket.  I offered him payment, but he wouldn’t take it, saying that I could pay another time.  I thought myself fortunate to be spared paying for such a great find.  I took all he had.  Soon, I was in a lovely cocoon of coolness.

I found more uses for the clear stones.  They could stop the pain of a paper cut.  They soothed my mood after a bad day.  They made my empty stomach feel full in between meals. There was one problem with the stones: they didn’t last long enough.  As soon as I had the feeling I desired, it vaporized.  Perhaps the peddler knew of a way to make them last longer.

The next time the peddler came through, I was waiting for him by the tree.   When I told him of my complaint, he held out a stone much like the first ones he’d given me, only this stone wasn’t completely clear.  It had just a touch of grey.  He told me that this stone held more power than the clear and would last longer.  Again, he wouldn’t take payment, and again I took all he had.

The green leaves of summer turned red and yellow, and the autumn leaves fell, leaving bare branches.  The empty branches filled with green again.  As time went, I never missed an opportunity to get more stones.   The more I used them, the more I wanted them—needed them.  Each time the peddler came, the stones became darker and darker until they were midnight black.

I used the stones often.  They were comfort when the world was harsh.  They were peace when I was distressed.  They were friends when I was lonely. They were nourishment for my soul.

I soon found that I didn’t need anyone or anything except the stones.  Why bother harvesting food when the stones could satisfy hunger?  Why build a fire when the stones could keep me warm?  I didn’t need the company of people.  If I was feeling lonely, I would put a stone in my mouth and the feeling would vanish.   I thought I found the answer to all problems, until the day it happened.

My fingers turned black.  It was darkest at the tips and became lighter toward my palm, which was still skin color.  I tried washing and scrubbing, but my fingers remained the same.  I put a stone in my mouth and wished for my skin to return to normal.  It didn’t work.  The stones only worked on feelings, and didn’t change the shapes or colors of things, but I had grown so accustomed to having control that I thought the stones would do whatever I asked.

Days went by, and soon my whole hands and wrists were black.  I was beginning to lose feeling in them as well.  The skin that was blackened felt numb and my hands were clumsy. I was glad the peddler was coming through.  He would have a remedy.

I was never more relieved to see his stooped form coming down the road.  I held out my darkened hands for him to inspect.   He told me something I didn’t wish to hear; It was the stones that had turned my skin black.  Each one I had let melt in my mouth stayed in my body and contaminated me.  The blackness from the stones already filled my lungs, heart, kidneys, and the rest of my internal organs.  My insides were already black, and now that the black had consumed me on the inside, it spilled to the outside.

I was furious at the peddler.  Why did he give me such hideous stones?   I demanded that he cure me, but he told me there was no way to undo the damage that was done.  I could only stop the blackness from spreading if I stopped putting the stones in my mouth.  I stormed away from the peddler and his cart, determined to never use a stone again.

My determination wasn’t enough.  My mind and body was accustomed to the comfort the stones gave.  I could no longer function on my own.  The sun scalded and burned me.  I forgot what heat felt like, and without the protection of the stones, I felt as if I were wilting.  I could no longer control my own emotions.  I relied on the stones to alter my feelings, and without them I couldn’t keep a level head.  The littlest things caused me great emotion.  Dropping my fork made tears come to my eyes.  A bee whizzing by made me breakout in a cold sweat.  The dark caused me terror.  Losing a sock made me brake into a rage.

I returned to using the stones to break the madness.  Slowly, the rest of my skin turned midnight black.  I looked like the stones that controlled me.   The numbness I felt in my hands soon manifested itself in the rest of my body.   I could no longer feel heat or cold. I couldn’t feel the softness of a pillow.  I no longer felt hunger.  I wondered if I was even alive.  If I was, I wouldn’t be for long.

There is always a price to pay.  For the stones, I paid my life.

———————————————

Nothing can be obtained without giving something else up.  The price for fast-food is our health.  The price for a moment of bliss through drugs is addiction.  The price for constant connection to technology is missed moments.

Throughout our lives we must decide what is worth the price and what isn’t.  Many times we think we are getting something for nothing because we don’t take into account what we are trading for a certain action. Spending endless hours on social media sites, playing games on our phones, ipads, or xboxes may seem harmless, but we can get so caught up in our virtual realities that our real lives pass us by.

Let me know your thoughts on my story.  I’d love to know your interpretation!

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