I had always warned you of this rule as a child: to never go to the night market for any reason. Especially on a new moon. I made sure to tell you of the dangers that lurked in that place on the outskirts of town, and what it could do to a person. That anyone or anything summoning you there was setting a trap, hoping for your misfortune. But this time, it seemed you were eager to take advantage of my absence. I’m no longer here to keep watch over you, and you became too bold, too stubborn, and too inquisitive. You became one of the sceptics, wandering and lurking into dangerous territories, meddling with things that weren’t to be disturbed. Your curiosity strung you along, pulling you at its every beck and call, tempting you to go on another ‘adventure,’ take another ‘risk’. This, however, would be no adventure.
You set about getting dressed and packed your necessities, not bothering to look out the window. The night was approaching, faster than usual. Maybe this had been your first warning. Or maybe, the night was after you too. With it, it brought a strange heaviness hanging in the air and swallowed the streets with its presence. But you still pressed on, none the wiser, and brushed off your sickly feelings as needless nerves. How foolish indeed.
And off you went to the train platforms, your senses still damped as ever. You should’ve paid attention to the wind picking up its gust, huffing, then roaring in tongues as it pleaded with you to go back home. Distant lightning forewarned you, with rolls of thunder baying their omens. You should have paid attention to the sharp creaks and groans of decades-worn metal as it echoed through the still, biting air (at least your jumper was on!). You should have noticed when the remaining passengers hurried off the train on the third stop, leaving no one behind except you. But you only noticed when the lights began to flicker and fail as the train neared your destination when the wind rocked and swayed you left and right, that you noticed anything amiss at all. But now… now you’re too late.
And here you are, walking through the iron gates of the marketplace, surrounded only by fog and cold concrete walkways. You hear your footsteps echo as you tread on the narrow path ahead of you, barely contained by the walls beyond. The street lights! Flickering and failing, just like in the train! And much, much dimmer than they should be. You take a quick look around to get your bearings. The sellers have already set up their stalls, and prepared their creations of charms, relics, and whatnot… but where are the customers? Don’t ‘rationalise’ this, it isn’t an off night, and you know that; it’s a new moon. There are no customers, only the sellers remain. Unseen. Their figures are mere shadows moving in the dark, just as their deeds. You still don’t get it… but you still don’t pay attention. Items have already caught your eye, and your feet move towards the shop ahead of you at their own will. A burst of lightning flickers behind you then thunder crackles again. You move closer.
The first shop. No seller. Just a sign.
Everything has a price. Not all prices are paid with money.
There, you see the items on display: one, a bronze ring, seven generations old. It catches you off guard momentarily, excitement and trepidation welling up within you. You know precious metals when you see them. Beside it, an old, supposedly mystic mirror. You glance at the sign again.
What are you willing to pay for these?
You can’t help but examine each item in your hands. First, the ring. With eagerness, you put it on. Another token of your adventures and achievements – but it doesn’t seem right on you. You set on gifting it to your fiancé of three years, Gee. She always loved old jewellery, and it would be something special for both of you. Next, the mirror. A quick glance can’t hurt, you think. You look at your reflection in the dim light beside the stall… only to find something different about it. When was the last time you looked this pale? Since when did your face look so gaunt? You feel a heaviness sink into your stomach. It’s surely just bad lighting. That’s what you tell yourself. You put your hesitation aside and take the items with you, continuing through the walkway, but the heaviness lingers and festers. You’ve noticed that other feeling, haven’t you? Eyes watching you; gazes piercing through your back at once. You turn your head to your sides, back and forth again, but miss the shadows darting from the corners of your eyes, The sellers. You are being watched. I wouldn’t suggest going anywhere else. But of course, you still want and crave. Just one more, you coax yourself. What will it take to dissuade you?
So where to now, do you say? The worn-down stall approaching your right, with rags blowing in the wind? What about the bookstall you’re walking past? Or maybe the store is far up ahead. Pocket watches. That seems to pique your interest. Your feet carry you forwards until you arrive. The same signs, rusty and worn, adorn the face of it.
Everything has a price.
You glance down at the display to see a pocket watch with strange, ancient engravements, frozen in time. You’re also a fan of antiques. The gazing eyes at your back intensify, and a sickness gnaws away at you, harder to shake off. But you soon make your decision.
The clouded sky bursts again with lightning, flicking your surroundings with searing white light. But that’s all you need to notice the stone walls – now towering over you at twice the height it was before. Another strike of lightning and something else is out of place – the stalls. They all lean in closer to each other than before, narrowing the footpath. A crackling, then booming of thunder pierces your ears as it roars, chorusing with invisible whispers. Just as you strain your ears to hear them, you catch the figures approaching from their stalls. Tall, cloaked silhouettes in the dark with outstretched, skeletal hands, closing in on you.
And at last, you run.
You sprint and wheeze, knocking down shelves lined on the sides of the footpath, tripping and stumbling over crates, crashing into tree branches where there had been none, but you keep running and running, refusing to look back. The very path you walked on begins to stretch before you, growing longer and twisting and turning at every corner. Your body aches, begging for relief. But you keep running, running and running. Until you finally reach the gates and run into the night. The rain finally pours from the skies, pitiful of your fate.
I did tell you to listen to me too many times, to not take my words as fables, or let your curiosity rule over your instincts. Above all else, I told you this to prevent you from making the same mistakes I did, years ago, that led to my own demise. But you always did as you pleased. You’re supposed to be safe and secure here, in your own home and in your own body. But you won’t be… not after that night, and certainly not while you are still bound to those objects. In that new mirror, you look in, fragments of you chip away, and your eyes change and fade colour. Each day and week, you lose pieces of yourself. The youthful, curious fire that once reigned in your mind and spirit has all but vanished, and you’ve given up on the rest of the passions you once held dear to you.
That isn’t all that changes. With that ring, your fortunes turn for the worse. Your prized possessions, some of which you’ve had since childhood, are either lost or stolen, never again to be recovered. The people you’ve held close to you for years leave your side, one after the other. Jules, your best friend you’ve treasured since you learned to speak, perishes at the hands of a drunk driver. And Gee mysteriously vanishes without a trace, after promising to come home early from a holiday. Each day you spend without them becomes more agonizing than the last, and soon enough, your health declines. Nightmares plague your mind, and with every blink, you see the walls of the night market towering over you, just like they did before. You hear the creaks and groans of the wooden stalls in the howling wind. You hear the whispers and shrieks of the distorted figures reaching for you – the sellers – as you keep running, desperate to escape their clutches. They speak of horrible things and taunt you endlessly, promising more anguish to come. In fits of frustration and rage in your waking hours, you throw and tear things apart, earning scratches and aching limbs each time.
I bet you’ve noticed that pocket watch as well. It doesn’t tell time. It’s counting. Counting days, weeks, and months. it’s counting your misfortunes; it mocks each moment you spend in torment and regret. If you’ve been paying enough attention, you’ll realise one more thing:
It counts every new moon.
It’s no coincidence. It’s a calling. Your calling, your chance for an escape, and freedom from your misery. The rules are simple. All you need to do is go back to the market on a new moon, taking three items of sentimental value to you, in exchange for the ones you’ve taken. Items you cannot bear to lose. And sell them.
That is your bargain.
So, I ask… are you willing to pay your price?