Cage

Photo by Luke Southern on Unsplash

Cage

By

M.A.B

           A cold gust of wind blew across the dilapidated amusement park. A creaking sound was heard as someone opened the rusty park entrance. A swarthy man dressed in a heavy coat entered the grounds, closing the gate behind him. His spine was curved forward, and he walked with a limp. From his coat pockets, he retrieved a small folded paper, read it once, and then crumpled and threw it on the ground. He knew where he had to go, but would it be there?

           With a sense of urgency, he navigated his way through the park. He passed through a broken down concession stand, past numerous booths, and an old carousel with two missing steel horses. He took a left, another left, and a right past the numerous empty animal cages. He soldiered on, walking past a wooden fenced area that might have been a petting zoo, and finally came upon an irregularly-shaped building. “Here we go,” the man murmured under his breath.   

           As he entered the wooden funhouse, the soles of his boots crunched on discarded glass littered around the floor. He shone his flashlight in the room and immediately saw the walls were covered in mirrors. Grotesque reflections stared back at him, monstrous and desperate. He could see the flecks of white peppering his windswept hair, on his face, the age lines were burrowed deep into his skin. The mirror he was looking into had stretched his reflection tall and thin, making him look menacing with his dark overcoat. As he passed more mirrors, he spotted at a glint of light. He directed his flashlight towards the end of the room and saw what looked to be a cage. Feeling a sharp throbbing pain in his nape, he carefully approached. The figure at the end of the room was lit with dim, silver moonlight seeping through the damaged roof of the building. It was surrounded by metal bars similar to the cages he saw in the empty zoo. It was lying on the floor, looking up at the ceiling, both hands reached upwards as it rattled the thick chains encircling its wrists.

           “Finally, I found you,” the man gasped, kneeling to the floor as he clutched at his chest. The figure, a woman, looked around. She raised her body from the floor and stood up. The black dress she wore fell to her knees, revealing pale, thin limbs. Her feet were grimy and her toenails cracked, yellowed, and overgrown. She shuffled towards the man from behind the bars, rattling the chains as she advanced. As she stood face to face with the unknown man, she brushed the stringy black hair away from her face and fixed him with a pair of bright red eyes.

           “I am pestilence,” the phrase bubbled from deep in her throat. The woman caressed her emaciated figure with her hands, her sharp fingernails tearing at her clothes. “I am genocide,” she breathed. Her fingers ran up to her hollow cheeks. Drops of blood dripped as she scratched at her face. “I am misfortune,” she cried.

           “Urgh…” the man cried out as he felt a searing pain shoot through his shoulder down to his arm. He gripped the metal bars tightly, willing for the numbness to go away.

           “I am Death,” the woman whispered. “Why have you come to me?”

           The man stood, gasping for air, unable to tear his eyes away from her hypnotic stare. All of a sudden, he reached through the bars of her prison and brought the woman’s face hard across the cold metal. He screamed in anger as he smashed her pale face again and again against her cage. “Because you’ve been gone,” the man bit out as he dragged her face across the metal bars, “everyone lives on, and on! All eternity! But our bodies decay, our bodies rot… my father is nothing but skeleton, skin, and brains! Some unnatural force keeps him breathing,” he released the woman and fell to his knees, burying his face in his hands. “And my brother, my poor brother,” he moaned.   

           “Stupid man!” the pitiful figure cried out in pain. “I am here against my will, against the laws of nature! A man like you imprisoned me! Caged me! For years…” She rolled on her back and looked up at the night sky. “I’ve been chained here for many years, I ran out of ways to count the days…” Her voice trailed away. After a few minutes, the woman sat back up and faced the man. Her nose was bent and actively bleeding, and her left cheek was swollen, but her eyes remained unflinchingly red and unblinking. “So where is he who started this mess?”

           “Do you mean Mr. Elias?” the man inquired. He felt sick. It had to be now or never.

           “Jacob Elias,” she spat out. “He summoned me, bound me to this world, and then imprisoned me. He deciphered the ancient scrolls of knowledge sealed away in the Himalayas and retrieved the clay urns filled with soil from Eden kept in the ocean grottoes. He did all this,” she sneered menacingly, “for the sake of mankind.”

           “What a load of…” the man hung his head, looking at the dirty tiled floor. “And all this time, you just stayed here and did nothing?” The man shot at her in an accusatory voice.

           Death raised her hands and banged her chains against the bars, clanging loudly into the night. “I cannot help humanity! Not in this form! Not in these chains! Only Jacob Elias has the key, only Jacob Elias can recite the ritual to cast away my flesh! Only Jacob Elias…” Death bit out in anger. “When he chained me to this floor, he told me, a world without Death, is a world of peace, a world without power,” she smiled, revealing sharp white teeth. “I wonder how the decades of peace have treated him?”

           “Mr. Elias,” the man hesitated. “He went missing right after the news that no one could die spread across the globe. Ninety-two years ago. They say he tried to sell you to the highest bidder at the black market. Politicians and mafia bosses bid well to be the master of Death. He must’ve angered one or the other.”

           “But… you are here, traveled to me, found me, and you know of him,” she stated. There was something akin to hope in her blood eyes. The man frowned in silence. The two sat across each other, separated by the cold metal bars.

           “Unchain me,” Death suddenly hissed urgently, “I can right this imbalance.” Her red eyes seemed to be pulsating, keeping in time to an unknown rhythm. The man stared back into them, massaging his nape as he did.

           “I don’t have the key to your chains,” the man admitted. “Nor do I know the ritual words. Mr. Elias would not speak his secrets, even as his limbs were removed, even as his body was put in the cement drum and thrown to the bottom of the ocean.”

           “Then why are you here?” the woman demanded. The man met her gaze with his own. He squared his shoulders and exhaled deeply.

           “I want to die,” he told Death. “I want to be free of this hell.”

           Death looked the man up and down. “Is life never-ending too boring for a man such as you?” In anger, the man reached once more through the bars and squeezed painfully at her shoulders.

           “Don’t test me! Even I know this is messed up! Our advancements in medicine and technology could not catch up. The scientists are now old and invalid; they’re alive but too weak to look into their microscopes. The younger populations live like animals: immoral and senseless. There are still wars and conflicts, but since no one can die, they come up with new ways to torture their enemies. Hell,” he brought his face close to hers, “in just this hour, I’ve had two successive heart attacks. My entire body hurts, and I’ve lost sight in my right eye. My medications don’t work anymore, both my kidneys have shut down, and I have to spend days attached to a machine just to filter out my body wastes! I’d rather end my life now than live forever stuck to a bed!” He let Death go and pressed his hand over his chest, trying to calm the palpitations.

            “If I kill you, what about your father?” she asked blandly. “And your brother? The rest of the human population? You would only be freeing yourself.”

           “I don’t care.” The man said with hard resolve. 

“I know you can kill me. It was the one concrete thing Mr. Elias mentioned in his journals. It took me years to even find this dump of a prison from his notes.” He took a small knife from within his coat pocket and handed it to her.

           She held out her chained hand in between the bars and took the knife. “I have no use for this,” she chuckled as she threw the knife to the floor. She raised both her hands and reached for his neck. “Any last words?”

           “Do it!” He growled. Death clamped her hands around the man’s neck and squeezed hard. Her fingers tore into his dark skin, drawing blood, her grip now vise-like. The man started to involuntarily reach for his neck but instead held on to the metal bars. He choked and spluttered, eyes bulging wide in fear.

           “Selfish human.”

           When it was over, the woman sat back on the floor, clanging her chains idly. She looked up at the ceiling and thought, there will be others.

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