Thena stood sadly, staring at the hard and heavy metal bars that lay in front of her face. Trembling, she reached out and fingered a bar, tears pouring down her face. How smooth it was, how beautiful, with its ebony color and brilliant shine. These bars were all she had ever known, and all she will ever be. Within these bars, her life lay, shattered in pieces, broken, withered…dead. Faded, like old denim jeans after years and years of use. Thena took a deep staggering breath and closed her eyes, not wanting to feel the smooth journey of her tears as they make their way eagerly down her cheek.
"Dinner," a voice said. Thena opened her eyes and glanced at the tray of food held for her.
"I'm not hungry," she said. The body holding the food sighed in exasperation.
"You've been saying that for the past two weeks! When are you going to eat? When will you stop acting like a fool?" the voice asked, but not wanting an answer. Thena glared at it. This voice—this creature—did not care. It did not understand.
"I will eat when I feel that the food has not been consumed in vain," she replied.
"You idiot!" the creature said, "You damn idiot! You think you are doing yourself a favor, you think you're being wise, but you are nothing but an idiot! Take this food, Thena! Eat! Eat for me, your brother." The creature held out the food through the bars.
"Then die." The creature turned around and left, taking away another shard of her life. It stopped and looked back.
"Don't think that by not eating, I will feel sorry for you. You will always be in that cage, Thena. Always. I suggest you make the best of it." Thena felt a great ball of fire rising in her throat.
"You bastard!" she screamed. She tugged violently at the bars that imprisoned her within.
"You can't keep me locked up here forever! You can't!" The creature laughed, its shoulders bobbing up and down, making Thena sick with disgust.
"I remember, Thena, when we were little. Mom taught us, remember? We used to play and try and try, but she still taught us. Can't. It didn't exist. It still doesn't exist. Deny it all you want, Thena, but Mom was right. She's always right. 'There's no can't!' she said. 'Don't ever say can't!' she would say. But we wouldn't listen, would we? And then, we would meet Mr. Whip. 'Here comes Mr. Whip!' Mom would say. And then, you would watch me cry, Thena. Don't you remember, Thena?"
Thena felt the icy sting of fresh tears burning down her cheeks like acid. Acid. Burning. Destroying. The creature grinned maniacally, insanely.
"You don't remember? I remember, don't worry. I would cry, and you would just watch. Just watch. Nothing more. When I was done, you would laugh. 'James got beat!' you would say. 'James got beat, Papa!' you said. And I would stare at you, while you danced around and played with your doll. What was her name? Betty Ann. Well, Thena, you see now? I've learned. I have learned. There's no can't anymore. Why don't you learn, too?" The creature dropped the platter of food, reached out into its coat and pulled out a whip. Frightened, Thena backed away. The creature came closer and unlocked the door to the cage. Thena felt her leg slam into her bed, her comfortable, queen-sized bed, as she cried for mercy. For pity. But the creature did not understand.
It did not speak English.
One. Two. Three. One two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen…Thena lost count of the rain of bright, burning fire.
The creature's smile, its evil smile, as it crept closer and continued to give Thena its ultimate present. Sixteen seventeen eighteen nineteen…
Lost, Thena fell into a black hole.
Thena awoke to a strange, cool draft rustling the very skin that was now blue and red. She opened her eyes to various shades of gray that eventually transformed into colors, and then, shapes. She groaned as she got up and her eyes rested on the door.
The door was open.
And the creature was lying beside her, face covered in crimson evil that was steadily dripping its red pieces on the floor. It was dead. After all that, it was dead.
Thena drew in a deep breath and eyed the door.
She was free. After six years of imprisonment, she was finally free. She would finally see the sparkling blue sky, as vast and endless as Time itself. She would finally be able to rejoice her liberty among the birds, singing from the trees about their own sorrow and misery. She would be able to embrace the rain as it falls from the sky and dance her Dance of the Free. She would twirl in happiness in the tall grasses of her lost youth. Her eyes would search for a forgotten love and be clear.
She would pick up the shattered pieces of glass and glue them back together.
Thena smiled and stood up, shaking. She took one step towards the door.
A rush of exhilaration caught hold of her and it clung on, refusing to let go, wanting to become a part of her. Another step.
Thena could taste the sweet smell of the fresh pine in her mouth, and she licked her lips eagerly. She felt the calming air of freedom swirl around her and engulf her in one tiny bubble. No. Not bubble. Not another cage. Engulf her in a song. A song carried in lasting evergreen, not dying with the different echoes of the forest. Thena could hear the serene song of the animals, living in an unknown freedom. Another step.
Thena reached out her hand and felt the soft leaves, wet with early morning dew, but still like silk. Smooth silk. Smooth. Like the bars. The bars…the bars. The BARS! Why was that so important now? Another step.
Thena opened her mouth to the soft sprinkle, to the sparkling water dangling like a teardrop in the sky, but tasted bitter wine instead. It choked down her throat smoothly. Smoothly. The bars…the bars…the bars.
Pain rang through her head and Thena's vision became nothing but brilliant sparkles and dancing light. A faraway voice laughs in spite and sarcasm. Thena felt her knees give away and she sank down to the floor. Of course. The bars. They were there. Still there.
"Sleepwalking again, Thena?"
Heart crushed, head swollen, and spirit killed, Thena realized in vain what the creature—her brother—had known all along:
No amount of dreams and imagination, no amount of wishes and hopes, can change the truth of reality.
No matter how far she drowns in her own imagination and reverie, Thena realized, she will always be in a cage. No matter how far into her mind she wanders, a cage will always be a cage.
A conjured fantasy cannot change reality.