On an island in a lake in a forest outside of town, there stands a stone that speaks only the truth. It won’t come right out and admit so, of course; you must coax it into doing so. For that, you’ll need cigarettes.
Put the cigarettes in your pocket and set out. Leave town, fighting your way through thickets to the lake. The lake is calm, clear as ice, every pebble rendered perfectly even through the shift in refracting mediums. The water chills, but not unpleasantly. You will get wet to the knees before you reach the island.
The island: not an island so much as a flattened tooth of dirt really, barren but for the stone. In the center of the stone is a hole. Here you feed in the cigarettes, pushing them in with your fingertips one by one until they vanish, swallowed up. They must be Marlboros, those cigarettes. Not Camels, not Lucky Strike. The bare dirt is littered with empty cartons of those who came before. Feed the entire carton, and then, at last, the stone will speak.
What do you want to hear? it asks.
Whatever you want to tell me, you reply.
So it tells you how your best friend slept with your wife, how your boss passed you over for a raise you should have earned. It speaks of smeared acts of pettiness and spiteful betrayals. It speaks in the enduring voice of all stones, and the words avalanche into your soul. And the worst truth of all, it says, you know everything I’m telling you. You knew it all before you set foot on this island, before you crossed the forest, before you went to drugstore and bought that packet, which thank you for very much, they are delicious. But really (and you know this), you didn’t need to buy them at all in the first place.
When at last the stone falls silent, give your thanks. It’s only polite. It won’t respond–it’s already said everything it needs to, and besides, those cigarettes will only get you so much.
Now it’s time to leave this place. Cross the lake. Exit the forest. Go back into town, and home. Do it all dry-eyed, and with a face and heart as hard as–well, you already know.