The man was held to the wall by iron. It bit into three of his limbs; in some places to the bone. His head was clamped back, forcing him to stare upward. He shivered in spasms, his flesh exposed to the cold air and the bites of the insects and rats that made small meals of his blood.
His left leg hung without restraints, free but limp. On the floor, a few inches to the side, the man knew there was a rough metal lever. He could not move his head to look at it, nor would he have seen it even if he could, for he was deep within the earth and no light reached him. He knew the lever was there, however, and occasionally he moved his leg to feel the sharp corner of the flat, square pedal made for his foot to press. If he were to press it, a large, powerful spring would be released, propelling an axe that would swifty decapitate him. He occasionally thought about pressing it.
Sometimes he talked to himself.
"You have made this decision. You will live with it, and be happy," he said, even as he dragged the emaciated flesh of his left calf across the edge of the lever, "It was the right decision. I will be happy."
The man continued to repeat this mantra to himself until he heard a small scraping sound on the ceiling, and he desperately opened his mouth to catch the sickeningly sweet liquid that poured from a pipe protruding from the ceiling above him. For a brief moment he could forget about where he was, about the lever, and about everything except the meal.
As the fluid drizzled down his throat, he was able to convince himself he was happy.
"Yes, this was the right decision," he said to himself.
This sensation was fleeting, however. The sweet taste swiftly changed to a dense bitterness, and the man soon vomited straight up like a fountain. His throat burned with the acid of the bile. He coughed and sputtered and thought of the lever.
He also thought of her.
Just call her name. The thought burned in his brain.
Call out to her.
"No," he said aloud, coughing, "I cannot face her."
"No!" he croaked, as loud as he could.
She trusted you.
His chest heaved, and he moaned quietly.
She was happy.
"I know," he whispered, his eyes burning with tears.
She thought you were wonderful.
"I know," he sobbed, his leg flailing clumsily near the lever on the floor.
The scraping sound in the ceiling returned. The man reflexively opened his mouth and greedily swallowed the liquid that followed. His agony subsided for a short time, and he forgot everything once again.
This cycle continued for a time, the passage of which was lost on the man.
The man did not notice the light until it was very bright. The clamp holding his head prevented him from moving to look at its source.
"Is someone there?!" he called out.
"It's me," came a small voice.
The man's lungs froze and his heart seized.
"Go away," he said, shaking, "I am perfectly happy here without you."
"No," she said, the voice sounding closer.
Presently the man heard a rapid flapping noise and his eyes widened as the light grew brighter. The fairy fluttered into his vision.
She was, at that moment, six inches from head to foot. Light radiated from a set of butterfly-like wings on her back, illuminating everything around her. She wore a small pink dress made of an incredibly thin, translucent material, which fluttered in the wind from her wings. A miniscule rolling backpack dangled from her grip.
She did not look pleased.
"I don't have time for this," the fairy said, landing on the clamp that held his head in place, "It is time for you to leave this place."
The man simply stared, wide-eyed at her in silence. She seemed to grow impatient, and scratched her bare feet on his long chin stubble.
"You've kept yourself here long enough," she said after a time, "If you'll come with me, we will try it again."
The man worked past his sense of surprise and a seething, wretched pride swelled within him.
"Are you saying I'm wrong?" he asked.
The fairy set her bag down and continued to rub her feet across his lower chin.
"You hurt me," she said.
"I had to," he said indignantly.
"No, you didn't," she said, "You didn't have to. We had each other. You could have handled it."
After a short period of silence between the two, a scratching sound came from the ceiling above him. The flow of liquid began again, and the fairy flew a few inches to the side to avoid it.
"So," she said, looking up at the pipe, "that's how she's doing it?"
The man said nothing and opened his mouth wide.
"No, we can't have this," the fairy said, pulling a tiny umbrella from her bag, opening it, and holding it over the man's face. This caused the liquid to run off to the side, away from his mouth.
The man shouted at her. He cried and begged for her to stop, to allow him to drink again. The fairy simply fluttered in place, yawning slightly. Soon the flow of liquid stopped.
"There we go," she said, shaking off her umbrella and sitting back down on his head restraints, "much better."
The man continued to sob. Tears flowed and his nose ran. The fairy removed an enormous handkerchief from her backpack and mopped this up.
"Now," she said, "Will you listen?"
The man simply squinted at her with stinging eyes.
"I want to try again," she said, "You can leave here anytime you want to, you know?"
"No, I can't," he said, "I'm stuck."
The fairy sighed and tapped the head clamp with her heel, "This isn't held in place by anything but your own will."
"I cannot leave, I've made a choice," the man said.
"So committed," the fairy said, "So commited to someone who cares nothing for you."
The man said nothing and closed his eyes.
"You were committed to me once," she said, in a softer tone, "What happened to that?"
"I had to make a choice," he said without opening his eyes.
"You chose wrongly," she said simply, "Come with me and we'll give it another try."
Pride rose within the man, burning in his chest. He shouted venom at her.
"I AM STAYING HERE!"
The fairy stiffened slightly. The man could not tell if she was crying. The scratching sound came from the ceiling again, and she again readied her umbrella.
"Stop! STOP!" the man shouted at her, "STOP DOING THAT!"
The fairy merely hovered in place, staring down at him flatly, only moving back once the flow from the pipe had stopped. Again she shook off her umbrella and sat down.
"Now," she began, "let's try again..."
This continued for hours.
Slowly the man's pride shriveled into remorse.
"I'm sorry," he sobbed, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I want to leave, I want to leave."
"You can leave," the fairy said, fluttering up into the air, "Just push, it will give way."
"I can't," the man said, his voice cracking, "I can't, I'm stuck. I can't do it."
The fairy sighed heavily.
"Then I shall leave without you," she said, and flitted out of his vision.
"Wait!" he called out. The light was getting dimmer.
"Wait!" he shouted, straining at his bonds. His free leg kicked the wall wildly; it began to crumble. One by one the iron bars holding him in place popped free. He burst forth from the wall and looked around the tiny room. The fairy's light was disappearing down the hall through the narrow stone doorway.
The places where the iron had bit into his flesh were forgotten. He ran, calling the fairy's name frantically. She was very fast, and he soon lost sight of her light completely. Still, he ran down the long, dark corridor. Doors to dim grey rooms flew by on either side of him, and a pinprick of light appeared ahead of him. He continued to run, the path turning upward and becoming steep. He ran as a dog climbing stairs; upward and outward. The light ahead of him grew; he could smell grass, trees, and the spring breeze.
All at once the light became blinding and he burst forth into the free world.
The man looked around in dead silence. A few birds nearby twittered softly, crickets chirped and a startled rabbit bounded into nearby bushes. The man began to laugh and fell to the ground.
The man let out an incoherent shout of joy and rolled in the grass, kicking his legs wildly.
He looked at himself. His wounds were healed, his skin soft and clean as though he had bathed. He laughed in near hysterics, but abruptly stopped and stood up.
"Hello?!" he called out, looking around.
After a quick search of the area revealed nothing, he looked back at the doorway in the rock he had come from. Somehow it seemed to have shrunk down, to a size from which he couldn't possibly have fit through. He knelt down and peered in the now tiny hole. Presently the fairy, in her smallest form, walked out.
"Hello," she said, smiling slightly.
The man slowly extended his hand down to ground level, offering it to her. the fairy accepted and sat down upon it. The man lifted her up and attempted to turn and walk away, when the fairy was nearly yanked from his hand by the tightening of a long, thin, silvery chain clasped around her leg. It trailed back through the tiny doorway of the rock.
"What is this?" he asked, running the chain between his thumb and forefinger.
The fairy looked at it sadly, then back up at him.
"I'm stuck," she said softly.
The man stiffened slightly, then slowly sat down and gently cradled the fairy in his hands. She yawned deeply and curled up into a ball, hugging her legs.
"I'm so sleepy," she said.
The man gently knelt forward and kissed her on the side of her tiny face. She closed her eyes and smiled.
"I'll be here until you get unstuck," he whispered, "then we'll leave together."
The fairy shifted slightly and whispered back before dozing off.
"Thank you, Anh."
The man quietly began to cry.
"No," he said, "I can't even begin to thank you."