There is a mountain. At the top of that mountain lives a powerful spirit. It is said this spirit will grant one favor to those that ask. It is also said that this spirit asks for something in exchange. Something of equal value to the favor being asked. There are those that come down from the mountain able to heal the sick with a touch of their hand, but can no longer remember what joy feels like. Such are bargains with spirits.
I remember this story as I climb the mountain, hands growing cold, blood freezing in my veins. I desperately need what the spirit can give me, but what will the price be? What will I lose? Who will I be, given what I’ve always wanted, but losing something just as precious? All I can do is climb, if the price is too great I can go back down, at least having tried.
The air is thin, my breathing is labored. I take a rest, drinking from my insulated water skin. It’s cold, but needed. I look up the mountain, the peak is within reach, I just need to get there, and pray the spirit is not a cruel one.
And so I climb. I clamber up the last ridge. I look around and there the spirit is, their shifting form a glowing red, where they move the ice turns to water. I get on my knees and lower my head to the ground. “Oh great spirit! I come before you with a request!”
I feel their gaze upon me. “What Favor Do You Seek Mortal? Fear Not The Asking, I Am Not Cruel. Ask, And Then A Price Will Be Offered.”
I risk looking up, the spirit is floating there, I feel their warmth on my face. I get a sense of calm from them, like a parent’s love almost. I sit back on my legs, still kneeling in respect, but no longer in fear. “Great spirit. I would ask that I be able to shift from my current form to that of a woman and back again.”
They shift oddly. “Surely A Mortal Could Grant This Boon? Why Come To Me, The One That Asks A High Price.”
I look down again. “Forgive me, but you are wrong great spirit. Mortals can only offer for me to be a man, a woman, both or neither. I ask that I may shift as the mood suits me, that I may always be whom I feel I am inside. My mind is like the ocean, it shifts and flows, it never settles on one or the other. Please, state your price great spirit that I may know if it is worth it.”
They turn into a solid red cube. “Very Well Mortal. I Can Give You What You Seek. The Price Is Your Name. You Will Never Again Be Able To Have A Name You Can Call Yourself Beyond ‘I’. Take Your Time To Think On This. You Have One Week To Decide. My Peak Has All You Need To Survive For That Time. I Leave You To Contemplate. Simply Ask For Me And I Will Return.”
With that they shift and vanish, the cold returning to the mountain. As promised there is a hut, inside there is a fire, not a normal fire, this one’s flames are blue, but it is warm and there is food and comfort to be had.
But what of the bargain? To be able to be whom I’ve always wanted, but at the cost of losing the ability to be anyone. To never take a name again, to have my identity always be valid, but to remain nameless for the rest of my life. I don’t know if I can do that. Give up who I am so I can be what I am. Such are bargains with spirits.
Days pass, I have come to a decision, though it pains me to my core. I step out of the hut and get on my knees. “Great Spirit! I have come to a decision!”
They form before me, a ball of many tendrils. “What Is Your Answer Mortal? Do You Accept The Trade?”
I bow my head. “I do not. I can’t give up something so core to myself. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? Why Should You Be Sorry?” They shift again and take the form of a woman, they, she takes my head in her hand. “Few Are The Mortals That Can Pass That Test. They Are Consumed By Their Desires. I Will Grant You What You Ask, The Price Is That You Will Not Be Able To Tell Anyone What You Paid. Only That It Was Worth It. A Fair Trade Yes?” She smiles at me and I nod, tears falling down my face.
I feel heat drive into me through her hand. I look up and the spirit has taken on the form of a man. He smiles at me as I stand up, feeling my new form. “There, Now You Are Like A Spirit. Able To Be Man Or Woman At Your Choosing. It Is A Simple Gift, Do Not Feel Selfish For Not Asking For Something Else. Any Who Make This Journey Are Worthy Of Their Favor.”
With that they vanish again. I instinctively know it’s my time to leave. I set out, a spring in my step. I giggle at the feel of the weight on my chest and the lack impediment on my legs. I’m a woman. For now. I can switch whenever I like, but for now I want to revel in the newness of myself. I’m a changed woman after all.