“See,” They said, smiling, “it is a prize for you. But, you must show effort to win it.”
She was not afraid. She felt brilliant and weightless. With her eyes on the glimmering bauble, she made a great leap upwards, arms extended, fingers stretched wide, as if she were going to take flight.
Just as her fingertips grazed its shiny surface, They yanked it from her reach. The Brass Ring sung at the strike of her finger tips; a beautiful note so alluring that she was captivated at once. But she fell, sprawling to the ground, empty handed, awkward, and confused. A terrible ache of disappointment flared in her heart.
They stood over her and smiled. They said, “better luck next time.”
As she picked herself up from the ground, she vowed to make the Brass Ring her own.
Sometime later, They invited her to try for the Ring again. They dangled it from its gossamer strand, and it swayed in the sunlight like a dancing flame. Fixedly, she watched it; tracking its movement, timing her effort. She readied herself to pounce, muscles bunching and tense. Suddenly, she sprang into the sky, hands open wide and determined. Yet again, the Ring sang out at her touch, filling her with desire. Yet again, They pulled at the thread, and kept the prize from her grasp.
This time, however, she landed on her feet. She saw the game afoot. “What good is it to seek the prize you are not ready to give?” she asked boldly as the desperate ache boiled beneath her skin.
“You still have much to prove.” They said back. “We will decide when you have earned it.” This time, They did not smile.
That night, she was visited by Self Doubt. He squeezed her heart in his fist, bruising it and scarring it like a peach, and he whispered in her sleepless dreams, “You’ll never be ready. You’ll never be good enough.”
At sunrise, she was greeted by Angst, who introduced her to his fellow, Fear. Every day, they followed her and mocked her wherever she went. They plucked at her hair and pulled at her clothes. They tripped her and pushed her and called her names. And every night, Self Doubt recounted her failures in her ear.
In time, she grew dull and indifferent.
Long after, when They saw that she had become only a wraith of what she had once been, They offered her again the Ring.
“Go on,” They said. “Take it.”
They dangled the Brass Ring just above her head, like a crown – closer than They had ever dared let it hang previously.
Wearily, she looked up at it. It hovered motionlessly, mere inches from her head, as still as the sun at the horizon.
Considering it closely for the first time, her eyes drifted over the spots of patina and corrosion that had eaten their way through its luster; and she could barely make out her reflection through the layer of grime and dust that covered its once shining surface.
No one had cared for it as she would have.
“We have decided you have earned it.” They said, nodding and showing their teeth.
Slowly, she reached up with one finger, and she tapped its edge. The Ring sang, and the mournful note echoed in her heart. Desire awoke in her soul like a Phoenix. Fire anew spilled into every fiber of her body as the sound reverberated through it.
With a long last look at her Brass Ring, she sighed and then turned away.
“You may keep your Brass Ring, sirs," she said, "for I have decided to hunt for Gold.”