For Desiree Lotz, fellow South-African. May you be free of all bars.
I want to be free. What does free mean? Well, that’s……
“An illusion, my dear.” The slippery voice rolled from the Shadows. “Have you not yet learned that lesson?”
The faerie gripped the bars of the prison and flared at her invisible tormentor. She did not answer; it was the only way he had left to express her free will and defy him. He may keep her body in a cage, but there was no cage that could contain her mind or her spirit.
“Ah, but that is where you would be wrong.” This time the being followed the voice out of the dark corner. His cruel pinched face was made harsher by the pleasure he got from seeing her imprisoned. Hands with pointed nails sprouted like barren branches from the folds of the black robe.
“You cannot keep me here forever,” the faerie said. “Even if you do not kill me, eventually my body will give out and then there will be no way for you to hold me.”
An ugly scowl darkened the wizard’s face. His skeletal hands flew up and lightning arced across the bare stone room. The bars were illuminated in yellow and green. Pain shot through her body. She could not pull her hands from the bars.
When the magic faded, she couldn’t breathe. Her heart thudded dully in her chest. She closed her eyes as the agony left her body, leaving a numb heaviness in her arms and legs. Her wings still burned. Her lungs remembered their function.
“Now,” the voice was brisk. “What is free?”
She took a deep breath.
“Free is the sun on your wings. Free is eating something sweet, watching the sun rise with a friend. Free is running as far as you can as fast as you can or laughing just because you want to. Free…ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-aaahhhhh!”
The pain and the scream echoed with the words of the wizard. “Free is an illusion.”
She shook her head. “I remember. I remember!”
“Free is a lie.”
“Free…is wishing…on…a falling…star…dancing…in the rain. Free is every…single…breath.”
“Free doesn’t exist.”
She crawled to the edge of the cage, slowly, her body obeying her wishes with sluggish stupidity. The wizard crouched in the middle of the room, his lips pulled back in a snarl. His black eyes were empty of everything but hate and a dark longing deeper than a bottomless well. If she looked hard enough, she could see the cold, dead embers of a fire that had gone out so long ago any memory of its light or warmth had been forgotten.
It frightened her. He was so empty. She felt sorry for him. Something had stolen his flame from him and now he was trying to do the same to her. But more than that she understood him. He saw the light not as something that would rekindle the fire but as something that would banish the dark thereby destroying the entirety of his lightless existence.
He was old and lonely and forgotten and he wanted her to forget so he wouldn’t be alone anymore. It was the reasoning of a mad man, but she understood.
In her eyes,the wizard saw the light of love and forgiveness flare, threatening his tiny sphere, and he howled.
The magic was red flame and black death, white eternity, and empty nothingness. She took it and used it, not against him, but to obliterate the cage, sending the bars and the lock into silver dust.
She was free, but there was still his cage, the empty stone room. The wizard had made it himself, for himself. She had kept her fire from being extinguished but now she needed to rekindle his. She knelt by his crumpled form.
“What is free?” she whispered.