“Yes, I am the one you’ve been seeking,” she said with a wispy mutter. Her voice sounds warm and welcoming, yet somehow frightening. Still, I find familiarity in the strangeness of her shrill and penetrating tone.
I squint to connect a face to the voice, but my vision is a blur. The room spins like an out-of-control merry-go-round. My hands grip the chair I sit in so to brace myself from falling. I don’t remember drinking anything alcoholic; this is like the worst hangover I’ve ever experienced. After some minutes go by and the twirling thrill ride stops, my blurred vision shifts to double vision until I regain my eyesight. I lift my clammy hands from the arms of the chair and rub my eyes to focus them on the person whom spoke in that ominous voice.
She wears a dull, gray, hooded cloak which casts a shadow over her face. Her eyes, dark and gray, with a crooked nose glowing from the dim light of the crackling fire in the hearth aside a worn and wooden chair, where she hunkers. The warmth of the flames and the smell of burning oak comfort me, but the stranger in front of me doesn’t. Flames dazzle and dance within the hearth as if they are full of hope and anticipation of something. The strange lady reminds me of an old witch out of a fairy tale; always the epitome of evil and sorts.
She peers at me waiting for a response, but I don’t understand why. “You look as if you’re puzzled, my dear. I have what you’ve been seeking,” she continues, “the one thing you truly desire.”
“I don’t understand,” I snip, but, deep inside my heart I know what she’s talking about. I inspect and scan the small cottage, finding myself at a stare out the window behind the decrepit woman. It’s near dusk and there’s a gentle snowfall outside; it’s beautiful. In the past, falling snow has always had a way of calming me. I often dreamt of a mountain cottage, a peaceful place where I could lay my burdens to rest. There I would gain a seclusion a bustling city couldn’t offer. My home in the truest sense of the word. This seems like home but for some strange reason, I’m somehow misplaced.
The wind whistles and howls as trees whip back and forth in the distance. I turn to the woman as she cackles; the foul stench of tooth decay fills my nostrils as I turn my head to the side, trying to escape the rotten odor. She caught me stealing a peek out the window and finds it amusing.
“You don’t have a clue where you are, have you?” She questions.
“No,” I quiver. I’m very confused and I remember nothing. I ponder her question for a moment as I’m not even sure I recall who I even am, yet. I can‘t recall a single memory from my life. It’s as if I’m in a library searching through the pages of empty books. My cheeks rise as I fake a semi-confident grin. I shouldn’t let on how lost I am, but, I think she may already know.
“Well, let’s get to it, shall we? You, my dear, are not happy with your appearance. You are not the rugged man you appear to be. I have a remedy for that. But once you accept my offer, there can be no turning back,” she conveys with a whistling cackle.
Flashes of memories flood and collect in my scattered brain. I recall a city with streets full of happiness. A short-lived glee perhaps once upon a time in my life long before darkness and despair. Glimpses of flashing emerald lights vanish as fireflies into a night sky underneath a blanket of clouds. Those dark purple sinister clouds know about me, watch me, wait for me. I’m not sure what it all means but I feel broken, maybe even beaten somehow.
This woman is right, there is something different about me. There’s a dark secret I’ve only told a few people and I’m certain she wasn’t one. I surmise I’d only need a few fingers to count the true friends in my life- if there even were any.
“How do you know this? Who are you? Where am I?” I wail in a single breath. She glares and scowls at me; her ghastly face, terrifying. I tremble.
“My dear, does it matter where you are or how you came to be in my service? Your dreams can come true if you but trust me.” She’s brash to the point of arrogance.
“How am I to trust someone I’ve never even met? And what are your intentions here? To use my desires against me?” My heart races just thinking about this gracious yet mysterious offer. A lump forms in my throat, and my mouth is sticky and dry. I am both eager and worried this proposal and the stranger’s sincerity are false. Trust, I sense is something which has not been a great part of my life for some time.
“My intention is to fix you to the standards in which you deserve, my dear. My intention is to make you what you’ve always wanted to be—but that would mean forever, so I caution you.”
“Yes,” she croons, “all that and so much more. Your wildest dreams shall come true, but again I caution as this is something that comes at a great cost.”
At a great cost, she says? What does that mean? Her statement prompts me to search my rumpled-grey sweatpants for a wallet, cash, or something which would identify me. My pockets are empty, and I can’t believe I brought nothing. Did I plan on being here? How did I get here? I’m wearing a casual white t-shirt, sweatpants, and no shoes or socks. I wouldn’t even wear this to bed, let alone to this freezing cabin in the middle of nowhere! She laughs again and looks at me as if I’m crazy. Am I crazy?
“I am not speaking about money, you fool. Do you think your money means anything here, in the dead of winter? You’ve seen outside the window. What did you think? As if I would find use of your worthless currency in a place such as this!”
“At what cost, then? What is this great cost?”
“The ones that do not possess a real love for you will reveal themselves. Revelations such as these can be devastating. However, some things are worth taking that risk for. You would gain the happiness you have desired your entire life. No one can predict your future, not I and nor you. This is the cost I speak of, my dear. You’re already in great peril, I require a decision now before it’s too late. What will it be?”
“I’ll say I’m in great peril. I’m lost, and you seem to know quite a bit about me. Anyway, I don’t know if I’m ready to take this risk you speak of. I just don’t know…” Applying pressure has a reverse effect on me; I don’t respond well to it.
“If not now, then when? Is the happiness you seek not worth anything? You have fought your entire life and have finally arrived here. Would you turn back now? Would you climb most of the way up a mountain and not venture a few more yards to reap the benefits of reaching the top?” The old woman barks.
She struggles and shakes as she reaches for a wooden table next to her and grabs a tiny, blue-tinted shot glass filled with clear liquid. She steadies her hand and offers me the mysterious elixir, expecting I will drink it.
I hesitate as I stare at the shot glass. If this liquid has what I want most, how can I ignore it? Against my better judgment, I seize the drink and hold it close staring at it as my hand and body shake with fear, yet excitement.
“You drink that, and you will become the opposite of what you are now. The change will be painful, yet permanent.” She pauses… “Do you understand?” Her face is as still as stone.
“What exactly is it?” I inquire.
“It is a special drink meant for you. Only you. Resisting the drink will only make you fall further away from your authentic truth. In a place such as this the further you fall the worse it will get. You must trust me.”
“I’ve always wanted this,” I say as I continue to stare into the glass.
“Yes, I am aware.”
“I mean, I’m not happy inside,” I say, as I’m trying to convince myself and not just this old woman, whom has played to my innermost desires and dreams. This can’t be real. Doubt washes over my face and a tear forms in the corner of my eye. She can sense this, I’m sure. I realize I don’t just look like Mark, I am him in the flesh. It doesn’t feel right, it never has, and never will.
“You are not a man, as your rugged exterior suggests, my dear. You fancy pretty things, don’t you?”
“You fancy long flowing hair and garments made from lace and silk. You desire to shrink so you can fit into tight clothing! All of this so you can show off a voluptuous curvy body. Correct?”
“YES,” I wail, “YES, YES, YES!” A surge of warmth washes over my entire body and I am delirious with excitement. If this is a hoax, I wonder what happens if I drink it. But, if it isn’t a hoax, it could fulfil my wildest dreams! Nobody has ever offered me such a choice. I raise the glass to my lips, hold it there and close my eyes.
“Drink it!” She bellows. “It is what you want, isn’t it, to be a gorgeous, sensual woman?”
“I don’t know!” I press the edge of the glass firmer against my bottom lip continuing, “It shouldn’t be this easy. I’ve always been who I was. No labels, no struggles, no desires. I’ve just been me. But, I don’t look like me. I want to look like me for me, not for others.”
“The rest is up to you, my dear. The first steps are only yours to take.”
With eyes open, I stare into the glass once again, and throw down the potion like a shot of Vodka. It tastes as though it’s infused with a mixture of sweet fruits and berries. My heart thumps like a drum in my chest. I stumble in my seat almost fainting as my head rolls back. My eyelids are heavier than granite and my body aches as if I’ve just run a marathon. I fall off the chair to my knees as stabbing pains throb over every inch of my skin. I cry out for help as my voice cracks, and I stop. There’s little vibration in my vocal chords, and the pitch of my voice is now higher and softer; more feminine.
“What did you do?” I cry out.
“Only what you’ve desired,” she replies as she rubs her hands and chuckles with delight.