What is the price of love?
No matter how hard they work, no matter how many lavish gifts they shower on the person, how many sweet compliments are murmured into ears, few ever really attain the object of their desires. Often they are just resigned to watching from afar as their love remains completely oblivious to their existence. Some people go their whole lives without ever being loved by another.
But there exists, known by few, a definite method to ensure true love.
As with everything valuable in this world, it comes with a price. A price that only the truly desperate or determined find themselves willing to pay. But as dangerous as the game is, it is truly effective and can ensure a long life filled with love.
You will need to go to a remote stretch of woods, as far away from civilization as you can. You need to be completely alone as you venture out, otherwise the ritual will not work. Once you have arrived, you will need to go as far as you can into the woods, just before midnight. They only come out at night, you see. That's the only way that you can see them.
Along with a source of light, you will also need some raw meat, preferably fresh to the point of being bloodied.
They're also very hungry, you see.
You will also need to bring a weapon- any kind of weapon will do- a kitchen knife, an ax, a hammer- anything you want, but it has to something that can be used as a lethal weapon. Believe me, you're going to need it.
As the clock strikes twelve, an unfamiliar noise will filter across the lonely stretch of shadowed woodlands at night, tinkling over the old creaking branches, sounding as clear as day- laughter. Human laughter. As you hesitantly walk through the trees, peering behind a branch to investigate the source of the clear and resonant sound, that is when you will see them.
They had many names, in many different languages, some so old that they have been lost to human tongues. No-one knows what they truly are. They simply flicker into existence into this world, and possibly many others, in many different forms.
They are the Fair Ones.
These creatures take the forms of impossibly beautiful men and women, who float deftly across the ground instead of walking, as if their bodies are carried by some invisible current of air. They live as one with nature as humans intended, lounging on rocks, basking beneath the swollen sphere of the moon, leaping on tree branches with the kind of agility humans can only dream of. But as beautiful as they are, if you are smart- you will start to notice something wrong about them. Like how pale they are, as milky-skinned as a fresh cadaver. Or that their bodies, through male and female in shape, are essentially sexless, without human genitalia. Or how the whites of their eyes are entirely black, the darkness only pierced by sharp yellow irises, like those of a wolf.
And then they will notice you.
They will flock to your side like moths to a candle- men and women alike. They will touch you reverently, embrace you, try to kiss you. They will treat you like you are the most beautiful creature that they have ever seen in their lives.
But as loved as you might feel through their tender ministrations, DO NOT give into them. Do not allow yourself to be led off by them.
And above all throughout your visit, make sure that your weapon is close at hand. Do not go anywhere with one of them without it, no matter how loving they might seem toward you.
If you resist their initial advances, you will find yourself drawn to one particular being. And in turn, they will be drawn to you, like magnets on a board. You will feel a deep affection towards this particular creature. You will notice that they do not fawn or swoon over you as easily as the others do. There is something warm, genuine about the affection they hold in their deep dark eyes when they smile towards you.
This being will resemble the one who you desire, in both shape and gender. They are a perfect replica of the person you've so long believed was the 'one'.
But if the others are insistent on attaining your affections and do not understand the meaning of the word of 'no', then scatter the raw meat that you have on the ground. Their facade will shatter the minute they smell blood and the group will pounce on the meat like a pack of ravenous beasts, ripping and tearing into the flesh.
You will notice their teeth as they gorge themselves- needle-like and black, stained pink at the edges from past meals. They almost seem disproportionately ugly when compared to their unearthly beauty. But you should leave with the one immediately, to an even more secluded area as the rest fight over scraps. You will probably forget that unnerving detail as you embrace them the way that you have always wanted to embrace the human you have so longed for, but always resigned to fantasy. Please treat yours tenderly as you do what you please to them- all they want is to love you.
Once you have finished with them and they curl up next to you, a smile of unbridled happiness across their face, you will have to perform the most difficult part of the ritual. Although they may have given you more love and affection than probably anyone else has ever shown you in their whole lives, you must remind yourself not to fall for their charms, that you cannot stay with them. If you do stay with them past dawn, then you will no longer be human.
You must take the weapon that you have hidden with you and drive it into the Fair One. Despite their unusual appearance, they feel pain just as humans-perhaps even more than humans can. They will scream, cry and even bleed- a dark, bubbling brown blood that hisses through the broken skin.
You can do it whatever way you like- beat them to death, strangle them, drown them, even burn them alive- but you have to spill their blood in some way.
Once you have made sure that they're completely dead, you must rub whatever blood has been spilled onto the exposed skin of your body, until it has been rubbed away into your pores. The mood of the woods will change, becoming darker and more ominous.
Though you may, you should feel no guilt in what you have done by killing one. They would have easily done the same to your once they had exhausted your affections, or when you were too old and feeble to be any amusement to them anymore- turning on you and tearing into you. You were less their mate and more their meat.
In some ways beyond appearance, the Fair Ones are very much like humans. They find their source of fun and take whatever they can, draining it into a withered husk. And when they find themselves done with it, they leave to prowl for their next source.
You should feel no pity.
After all, this makes it easier for you.
The gentle laughter will crack into desperate sobbing and then, raucous shrieking- the kind of sound that can shake someone to their very bones, give them nightmares for years. It is a sound of unadulterated rage and misery, the kind that only a pack can make when they realize that one of their own had been irrevocably and irretrievably lost forever.
When the deed is done, you must get out of there as quickly as you possibly can, before they can catch you. You feel them running behind you as your heart throbs furiously in your head, snapping their jaws and staining your back with frothy droplets of saliva. But whatever you do, you must keep running and never look back at them, not even for an instant. The sight of their shrunken pupils and dislocated jaws can drive someone to gibbering madness, allowing them the perfect opportunity to tear you apart. Your sacrifice has driven them to animal fury.
You must get away as far as you possibly can, before the sun rises. The Fair Ones fear the sunlight, hiding away in the shadows and the darkness, shying away from it. Only at dawn can you know that you are truly safe from them.
In the days that follow, you may experience nightmares. Nightmares of dozens of pale hands, all reaching for you at once, of the rotting corpse of your inhuman lover, their face still fixed in an accusatory scream towards you.
But you forget the nightmares when the one who you have longed after takes a sudden interest in you. You talk more frequently over time, and realize that you have a lot in common. Soon after, you find yourselves on dates, trips out, going to bars, coffee shops, restaurants- it's the kind of life you only previously fantasized about with them. You might find yourself getting along so well that you might even get engaged, married. You may even decide to start a family with them.
Your life will be perfectly, unbelievably happy from then on. Everything you ever wanted in life, everything that you ever loved- just seems to fall into your lap. You will almost forget the horror of that fateful night, the unearthly beauty and the fury of the Fair Ones.
But they will never forget you.
You might see a pale shape dart from the corner of your eye. Or hear whispering from behind, only to turn and see that it's just you. Or when you're in your backyard, you swear that you see shadowy figures half-crouched, hiding behind the branches of the trees.
For you are forever marked to them- your hands stained with the blood of one of their own. They will never forget or forgive what you have done, but they know that they cannot take their revenge in daylight, or when you are with other people.
So they watch.
They will watch you for the rest of your life from afar, with dark unforgiving glares and wordless threats as they hide away in the cover of the trees. You will see their pale faces peek out from behind walls and outside windows, where they might stand under for hours until the sun rises. But to your loved ones and the rest of the world, they are as invisible as they once were to you, before you went into those woods. As perturbing as it may be, it's probably best not to talk about it with them; you don't want to seem crazy, do you?
Just always remember to stay in the light, and always where people are. If you allow yourself to be alone in the dark, even for a second, then it will allow them the perfect opportunity to exact punishment on you for your secret crime.
And believe me, you do not want to know what they'll do to you if they ever catch you.
But if you're more morbid than most would be, just think of the many hundreds of people who vanished into the woods over the years without a single trace, and you'll get a general idea.
There is one thing you will never forget, what they will never allow you to. Each night, as you settle into bed with murmured endearments to your significant other next to you, pulling the covers over your body as you attempt to settle in for sleep, an unfamiliar noise might drift in from outside, beyond your bedroom window on nights when the moon is especially full. It is a strange, high-pitched, tinkling sound, one that almost sounds like laughter.
So, I ask you now; are you still willing to pay the price for love?