The shadows swirled around her like water escaping down a drain. They screeched at her, taunting her very existence. Baelia sat cross-legged and hunched over on the floor of her cage, her face scrunched so hard to close her eyes that it hurt. She covered her ears with her hands, but no use; the shadows screeched louder, a cacophony of unrelenting anguish for the poor Grey Faerie. Tears began streaking her face as she threw her head back, her screams joining the jeers of the shadows. She was trapped…
Except she wasn’t. Awaking with a start, she found herself lying not in a frigid, iron cage on an isolated snowy mountaintop, but rather a warm, soft bed. She was in her home – a small, plain cottage in a wooded glade outside of Faerieland – and it took her a few moments to recognize that it was all a dream. She was not captive in an abusive jail, but rather covered in heavy blankets and sheets. She was not garbed in tattered rags and freezing from the icy mountain air, but instead dressed in a set of soft, grey pajamas. She was not a hostage. In fact, the only real element of her dream were her tears, which were now streaming down her face in frustration.
It had been ages since she was freed from her cage, yet she occasionally found herself returning there in a reoccurring nightmare. She felt flawed, silly even, that those terrible experiences were far behind her, yet she still lived fixated on the past. Baelia didn’t want to remember those countless days as a hostage, despite the constant reminders she carried with her. Her wings remained clipped, a frail, fragile reminder of her vanished powers. Yet since her freedom, she has tried astonishingly hard to move on and create a new, simpler life for herself. She may no longer be a faerie since her powers had diminished, but she could still be happy. Even moving into this house – a small studio-sized dwelling sparsely decorated with minimalistic furniture – was an attempt to move forward. Breaking free from her past was a surefire way to guarantee a better future.
Truly, some days were better than others. There are moments when she could appreciate her freedom, like those tranquil, solitary times that she’d spend sitting in a rickety wicker chair on her front porch with a cozy cup of tea cradled in her hands. Her cottage was alone, surrounded only by solid trees, emerald grass, and the vast open skies. In these moments, as the breeze softly rustled the leaves and danced across her face, she felt tranquil and serene. She felt free.
Yet her trauma was severe, and fully escaping it felt impossible, even when she tried to retreat to her greatest comforts. Sometimes a wind’s chill would shiver her spine, reminding her of her cage’s bitter icy bars. A creeping shadow cast by the setting sun would occasionally fill her with dread, as if it were a presence terrifying her once more. And now – alarmingly more often these days – she found herself dreaming once more of that cage, returning alive back behind those bars. In these moments, those same crushing, devastated feelings would return to her, and she’d find her sleep interrupted by sensations of desperation and hopelessness.
Baelia was at a loss of what to do. She needed sleep, a luxury she had come to appreciate since her release. Sleep was almost forbidden in her cage, as the taunts she endured were too thunderous to drift away. It fact, the first thing she did after being liberated was fall into a deep slumber that seemed to last ages. She awoke from this sleep feeling strangely refreshed, a sensation she had almost forgotten what it was like to feel. Each evening since then, sleep had been almost like an intense craving that she longed for, and she deeply enjoyed her slumber. But now, as she sinks deeper into her nightmares, she felt lost, scared, and alone. Why was she returning to her darkest traumas, and why did it have to interrupt her sleep?
Baelia threw her blankets back, got out of bed, and began pacing her cottage. What was she to do? Slip into her slumber, only to awaken suddenly from fear and anxiety? Skip sleep entirely until she collapsed from exhaustion, too worn and weary to even dream? Or perhaps keep herself up as long as she could, sleeping only for brief intervals before the nightmares could take hold? Of the three options, the last seemed the least harmful. Baelia wasn’t fully convinced, but what choice did she have? She shivered slightly, pulling her pajamas tighter over her body as she remembered the rigid, barren feel of the icy iron bars against her back. She couldn’t go back there even in her dreams. She had to do what it took to stay out of her cage, even at the cost of her own restfulness.
The day had passed uneventfully, as if her rude awakening had not occurred. However, when the last of the sunlight descended behind the treetops, Baelia recognized that she would not slumber unless absolutely necessary. To keep herself rebellious towards her natural inclination for slumber, Baelia fixed herself cup after cup of coffee, downing the liquid when drowsiness began to accompany her. Her body felt jittery, active, shaking even, but anything – even these uncomfortable sensations – were better than experiencing that nightmarish cage once more. However, her body had limits, and even copious amounts of coffee could not restrict her body’s instinctual scream for sleep. Her energy was waning, and Baelia wondered what to do.
As she wearily rubbed her eyes, Baelia gazed out of a window to see faint streaks of orange piercing a pale grey sky. It was daybreak, and she had survived the night. Baelia sat on her couch, wrapping herself in a blanket and debating arduously about whether she had earned a brief nap to recharge. After all, she had been awake for what very well had been 24 hours, and her last slumber was admittedly lackluster. Maybe a few minutes would be enough to give her the energy to last a few more hours. After all, she felt so warm and comfortable with her blanket wrapped around her shoulders, and the couch felt so soft and inviting…
…but suddenly, she felt cold. Too cold, as if the chill were seeping into her veins. She opened her eyes to find herself sitting cramped on the floor of her cage, the frigid mountain air taunting
her skin with frost. She shivered, drawing her body into a tight ball to conserve warmth, but it was no use. Her pajamas and her blanket were gone, replaced with a tattered patchwork grey dress that offered no protection from the cold.
This is all a dream,, she told herself. All she needed to do was wake up and she would return to the comfort and safety of her cottage. She just had to…
"Oh, worthless little faerie," a screeching voice called out. Baelia gazed up to see a shadow, weaving itself across the bars of her cage with a sneer on its face. "They’ve clipped your wings feather by feather."
"No…" Baelia exhaled wearily. "I can’t…"
"Can’t what?" another shadow jeered, joining the first in covering the cage. "Can’t stand to see how pathetic you’ve become?"
"There’s no escape," a third shadow taunted.
"There’s no way out," joined a fourth.
And soon, Baelia’s icy cage was surrounded by swarming shadows, their words interlacing menacingly. Their vicious taunts increased, both in frequency and volume, and soon, their overlapping chatter became unbearable to hear. Baelia shut her eyes and covered her ears, hoping to drown out her oppressors, but to no use. Their cries slipped through her fingers, making her head throb with the weight of their insults.
"Useless Faerie –"
"…magic all worn out..."
"No…" Baelia exclaimed softly.
"…can’t escape. You can’t free yourself..."
"No one’s come to help."
"No," she said again, louder this time. She opened her eyes and looked at her wardens while keeping her ears covered. She saw the shadows swirling around her cage, their pitch-dark faces contorted into menacing sneers. Their eyes betrayed their glee at seeing her suffer, and they longed to see her break.
"…no way out of the cage."
"You’ll be here forever."
"No!" she screamed, slamming her hands down on the solid cage floor. The shadows stopped, suspended ethereally in midair, their mouths agape in surprise. She glared at the shadows and reveled in their shock.
"This isn’t real," she said. "None of this is. I left. I escaped."
"You never escaped," a shadow sneered, gliding effortlessly through the gap of the bars to come face-to-face with Baelia. Their faces were inches from each other, with the shadow so close that Baelia could see the bars through the shadow’s transparent body.
"No matter where you go, you’ll be here," the shadow continued. "You’ll never leave."
"I will leave. I did leave," Baelia replied coldly. "And I’m going to do it again." The shadow laughed manically.
"How?" The shadow taunted. "Little useless faerie, no magic to her name…" The shadows began to laugh and taunt once more, only to be interrupted by Baelia’s scream. However, her scream this time was not one of anguish, but of rebellion. She would be held captive no longer. Glaring at the shadow, she rose to her feet.
"So much of my life was wasted stuck in this cage," she said, strolling slowly to the bars of her cage. She reached out and grasped the subzero metal, the icy sting burning her hands.
"I’m done," she said, gazing at the shadows floating menacingly, before snapping the cage bar in her grasp. It crumbled like a dried leaf in the autumn, the shattered fragments clanging as they hit the cage floor. The shadows’ gasps were drowned by the fierce, frigid winds, which were being stronger as Baelia destroyed bar after bar of her cage. Her calm, purposeful breaks soon became enraged and destructive, as anger flooded her brain with aggression. Soon, she was punching, kicking, attacking the cage, which dented and buckled under the assault. The cage creaked and clattered before finally crumbling, its dented bars collapsing from the attack.
Baelia was breathing heavily, the icy air filling her lungs. She knew this cage wasn’t the real one that had held her captive for so long; the cage in reality was likely still present on that isolated snow top mountain, likely buried under piles of snowfall. But symbolically, her nightmare had ended. The cage rest in ruins at her feet, and the shadows that had taunted her from the recesses of her memory were silenced. She looked at their dumbfounded faces, and willed the wind to sweep them away. Almost as if listening to her command, the harsh winds encapsulated the shadow, whisking them away screaming from the top of the mountain. Baelia watched as their smoky forms disappeared across the horizon, their presence no longer discernable to her eyesight.
The winds died out, and the sensation of cold began to creep out of Baelia’s body. In fact, all of Baelia’s senses began to fall away. The sting of the icy air in her lungs, the bright, almost blinding barren white reflection of the snow, the shivers she felt in her tattered old dress – all of it began to fade. Soon, her body felt no sensations, her vision met with nothingness as the scene disappeared before her eyes. With nothing left to gaze, Baelia slowly closed her eyes, and felt a sensation as if her body was falling, floating downwards as she returned to her reality.
She awoke on her couch where she had collapsed out of exhaustion, with an empty cup of coffee still gripped loosely in her hands. She groggily sat up, wondering what time it was. Sunlight flooded her cottage, and the sky outside appeared clear and brilliant. She guessed it was the afternoon, as she appeared to have slept since collapsing in the creeping morning hours.
Baelia stood and stretched, before shuffling into her kitchen. Rinsing one of her coffee mugs, she then made herself a warm glass of tea, which she cradled in her cupped hands. The heat felt soothing against hands that had just (imagined) feeling frosty air. Baelia then exited her cottage, and sat herself down in that favorite rickety wicker chair on her porch. She sat and felt the warmth of the sun, the gentle caress of the wind across her face. She listened to the rustling of the leaves in the trees, and watched the blades of grass bend and sway with the wind. Baelia leaned back in her chair, closing her eyes and smiling. Finally, perhaps forever, the nightmare was over. Now, she believed, she could finally move on.