A Kindness Repaid

Steven Bergom

The old man drank deeply of the crisp morning air, exhaling only when he felt like he was about to burst. The early morning sun made shafts of light through trees just touched by fall's palette. He knew that he would have to enjoy his walks while they lasted because he would soon be snow-bound in his little cabin at the edge of the woods. Resetting his down jacket he smiled and stepped confidently through the trees.

The mountains were quiet except for the rustle of underbrush and the occasional bird twilling their happiness. The sweet scent of life permeated the air so unlike the modern world down below where smog and car exhaust choked off life and created prisons of smoke and mirrors. When he was younger it had been the old man's intent that when he became old and gray he would move as far away from the hustle of city life and enjoy the world before it passed him by. So, years later with a gold watch in his pocket and a hefty savings account, he bought a small plot of land in the northern woods, built a one-room log cabin and called it home. Here there were no phones, no computers and no cars. He had replaced the magic of the modern world for the magic of real life, and he wouldn't give it up for anything.

At the opposite side of a small brook, the old man paused to listen to a curious sound. For a while the shifting wind hid the noise but soon he hung his head in sadness. Often campers would come up to these woods with their dogs and, sometimes accidentally, lose their pets. It was rare that such an animal would survive long, usually being quickly killed off by hunger, disease, inexperience or the other creatures that survived alone in the woods. Those that did survive turned cruel and bitter, falling on long-hidden pack instincts to survive. Walking more he could distantly see the mutts as they argued over a small animal. At first he was going ignore them and leave them to their savagery, but when the creature was batted down after trying to fly to safety, he moved purposefully to save the still-living bird.

With his jacket wrapping one hand and his walking staff whirling the old man roared and beat the dogs off of their quarry. The dogs frightened quickly and, sporting several new bruises, loped off under the man's watchful eye. Satisfied that they were gone, he turned back to see if the bird was within saving. At first the leaves concealed the creature but a rustle off to one side caught his attention and made him stop and stare.

On the ground six feet in front of him was a tiny winged human no larger than a girl's dress-up doll. Her battered and bruised body moved hard as she tried to escape this new threat but could not move far. She could not fly and what remained of her clothes hampered her movement.

Slowly the old man knelt down and moved toward the fairy, making soothing sounds so that she would not mistake his intent. He held out a trembling hand to the equally trembling little woman. He was still as she slowly placed her own hand on his huge thumb until, exhausted, she collapsed.

Moving quickly he made a bed out of his jacket and gently placed her in it. Cradling the package in his arm he set off for his cabin.

He had often taken care of small creatures in his years in the mountains and was quite familiar with the mending of the bones of birds, raccoons, squirrels and the occasional wolf. However, those were animals that he could recognize, or look up in a book if he was unfamiliar with their treatment. This, however, was something that had probably never happened to anyone and he didn't think that there were any definitive guides to treating small fairy-like beings.

Entering the cabin he set his bundle on the table while he collected what he thought he might need. A desk lamp and a jewelers loop that he usually used to examine interesting rocks joined the soap, wash cloth and first aid kit. Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he sat at the table and began to work.

Gently he removed the remnants of the fairy's clothing, careful not to disturb the unconscious form. Next he bathed her with the wash cloth switching to a Q-tip for between her gossamer wings. She whimpered slightly when he went over her left leg and right arm and so he decided that they might be broken. He again used a Q-tip to deftly apply an antibiotic ointment to her many cuts and scrapes. With carefully sanded strips of wood he splinted her leg and tied her arm across her chest.

Stretching from the tension he laid her back on his jacket and left to rummage in a cabinet. He came back shortly with a bit of cotton batting and an old flannel shirt, which he fashioned into a make-shift mattress and sheets for the fairy. Setting her on her new bed the old man sighed, hoping that he had done a good thing and saw about cooking supper.

The little fairy was woken by the sound of metal banging off metal and was momentarily frightened. Her arm and leg were bound but she felt clean and warm. She still hurt, but her wounds did not sting as much as when they were first inflicted and the padding that she was laying on eased any aches she may have retained. She tried taking a deep breath but whimpered as her back and chest muscles stretched farther than they wanted.

The old man turned to see what made the sound and noticed that the fairy was awake. He turned back to the stove and soon stepped up to the fairy's bed with a glass of water and a well-boiled eye dropper. He dipped the dropper in the glass and then held it out to her. At her suspicious gaze of the glistening droplet he smiled and lifted the dropper over his own tongue, squeezing out several drops. He swallowed to show her that it was all right and again offered her the dropper. Cautiously she took a sip but soon finished off the dropper and part of a second one before her own thirst was quenched.

Tired from her exertions the fairy laid back on her bed and closed her eyes. The old man chuckled quietly and gently tucked the flannel sheet around her being extra careful with her fragile wings. He ate his stew quietly, washed the few dishes he had and took a book in front of a lightly crackling fire where he fell asleep in his favorite overstuffed chair.

The morning arrived chilly and the old man shivered as he pulled his blanket tighter to him. His old bones creaked as he stood up to add a few logs and stir up a fire that was almost dead to bring warmth to the room. He shook his head to dislodge the strange dream he had had about the previous day but the tiny figure on the table convinced him that it wasn't a fantasy. He fixed a small breakfast of cereal and fruit and sat again in his chair gazing upon the sleeping fairy, hoping that he had done right.

She was quite beautiful. In spite of the cuts and bruises on her face, she was an image of female perfection. Her unlined face held the blush of youth but reminded him of a mother gazing at her infant. She yawned and stretched her good arm and in that instant looked like nothing more than a child waking from a nap.

She fluttered her eyes open and looked around her momentarily disoriented. The old man came into view and she sat up, gratefully accepting his pinky in help. She looked up at him in thanks but started licking her lips at the apple that he was preparing to take a bite of. Understanding her he cut off a small piece of the fruit and handed it to her. While she was enjoying the appetizer he placed some cereal and a few more cuts of apple on a napkin in front of her. On a lid from a jug of apple juice he poured some water and placed it next to the rest of her food.

He was rather surprised when she finished all that he had laid out but reasoned that a creature as small as she should have a high metabolism, especially if she could fly with those wings. It was also apparent shortly thereafter that she had other needs as well. He retrieved a thimble and placed it next to her bed along with a length of bathroom tissue. At her significant stare the old man blushed and went to the kitchen where he cleaned his breakfast dishes.

When she was done he came back and found her back on her bed breathing hard from having to move around one-armed and one-legged. He moved her into a more comfortable position and again tucked her in for a nap.

Later in the afternoon the old man checked on his charge but his heart skipped when he saw her shivering beneath her blanket and with beads of sweat standing out on her forehead. Quickly he fashioned another blanket and laid it on her. Using small strips of cloth dipped in cool water he kept her fever down while sitting beside the table in vigilance.

In the afternoon of the next day the little fairy's fever broke. He continued to nurse her as best he could and she gained her strength back. Though fairies are fast healers, it still took time for her leg and flight muscles to heal to the point that she could fly again. Soon, however, she was riding his shoulder as he took his morning walks and the two fell into an odd companionship. It wasn't long after that the splint on her leg was removed and she was limping around the kitchen table.

She started to fly soon after, taking short circuits of the cabin at first, but lengthening them as time went on. Finally on a day when all of the leaves had departed their summer homes and the smell of snow began to tickle the nose, the fairy and the old man took their last walk together. In the deepest part of the woods the old man stopped. The fairy stood nervously on his shoulder before hopping into midair where she stopped momentarily in front of the old man's face and touched his cheek. Flying off, she stopped again to look back at him and, with a bow worthy of any court, he saluted her. She dipped once in acknowledgement before she flew away.

The old man straightened and wiped a knuckle at the corner of his eye. He needed to get back to his cabin. The weather was going to turn soon and snow and time wait for no man.

Winter came and went, as did spring and summer. The old man still took his hikes but his step was a little bit shorter and his back a little more bent. He continued to enjoy as much time as he could outdoors, but his joints seemed to ache more as fall soon became winter.

In the early spring he awoke late in the day. His arms ached and his breath came in wheezing gasps. The fire in the fireplace had long since died and the old man tried to huddle closer in his blankets. The sun set and he dropped into a fitful sleep.

The old man woke to a pressure on his chest. In the early light before dawn he struggled to make out the figure of a tiny winged female, perfect to the rosy blush on her cheeks. He smiled at the little lady he had so long ago nursed back to health. She smiled back and kneeled down.

They gazed at each other for a while but the old man could feel his eyes wanting to close. He sighed and watched through increasingly heavy eyes as the tiny fairy leaned forward and laid a kiss on his lips.

As the light of the new day inched over the mountain tops two fairies could be seen flying, the one unsteadily after the other, into the rising sun.

The woods were always a place to get away for a weekend or two and became popular with hikers and so it came as no surprise when a pair of college friends came upon an old rundown cabin snug in the mountain away from everything. It had not been occupied in several years and the car parked neatly beside it had rusted so that it would not start. Authorities were alerted but, when they could not find the owner or his will when they assumed him dead, the state sold the property and donated the proceeds to the forest service. A small family purchased the cabin to relax from the rigors of the city and to teach their young children the wonders of the outdoors. They planted new trees, treated injured animals and cleaned up litter that hikers carelessly forgot. When the two young children became lost one day, they told their parents how they were led out by two tiny flying people. Their parents scoffed, but the children knew that they were right, and that every kindness visited would be repaid.