THE CAGE • by Uriel Harper

We crouch across from each other, on our sides of the cage. It is only the two of us. My shirt, old and filthy, is torn just above my chest and is stained red from a healing wound. I left a scratch across his face, just barely missing his eyes, and I feel his skin caked beneath my crooked fingernails.

Except for the center light, the cage is completely dark. From where he hunches over I can see only the outline of his body. He is a mere shadow to me, pacing side to side just beyond the light. The stale air is overwhelmingly musty, and the ground sticks from our sweat, blood and other fluids. He is gasping. We are both exhausted but neither of us can rest, so I wait, rubbing my thumb against my bare finger where a ring had once been.

The cool iron bars relieve the burning, but only temporarily. He is shirtless, and the iron must feel better against his back. There are scratches there, deep scratches from when our aggression became passion. As I close my eyes reminiscing those moments, my hands rub my bare legs. I am becoming anxious again and dig my nails deep into my skin. My untamed hair must make me look like an animal. But in our core, that is what we are — what we revert to. The silence is broken by the rattling cage. The ground rumbles as he runs towards me.

Pulling myself up, I feel my heart pounding inside of its own cage, and as he approaches, I brace myself. His sweaty hands wrap around my neck sending a shiver down my spine, and I’m forced up against the cage. I can smell his breath as he pants, his saliva hitting my face. Though he is not choking me, my hands push out as a precaution as he throws me onto the ground. Once on top, he pins my arms down with his knees, using his hands to bring my face closer. I try to move, but can’t, as he presses his dry, cracked lips against mine.

I snap at him and manage to pierce through his bottom lip. He jumps off of me and stumbles backwards. As I get up, he tries to run but I am quicker and lunge onto his back. He falls face first onto the ground. We roll over several times but I gain the advantage and as he covers his face; I begin clawing at his chest, arms, hands and everywhere else I can reach. I am tearing at him, but he is able to grab my hair and twist me over onto my back. He presses his leg hard against my pelvis while holding down my arms. This time, I lean in and bite his thumb hard enough to break skin. He lets go of me and I tackle him. We are eye to eye, and I bite at his face. He pushes me off and scurries back past the light and into his corner. I watch his body disappear in the dark.

For the moment, I stand where I am just out of the light, victorious. It is adrenaline, not blood that is coursing through my veins. From the darkness he screams at me like a cornered animal. I can sense his frustration and feel his desperation. I scream back and run my tongue across my teeth, tasting blood.

I wait until the pounding in my ears returns to my chest; then I slowly make my way back to my corner, blindly reaching out behind me until I can grip the cool bars again. I’m shaking, a combination of fear and anger. After a few minutes, I’m able to relax, but then I hear him in his corner, sobbing.

“Cassandra…” he utters loud enough for me to hear.

For a brief moment, something glimmers in the dark.

“Cassandra, please!” he screams.

I’m unable to move. It is a familiar name. My name, but I’ve not heard it in so long that I’d nearly forgotten it. My anger gives, not my fear.

“I’m — here,” I respond. The words have formed themselves, coming from a place of comfort. A place buried but unforgotten.

“Cassandra, I’m sorry,” he says. He is no longer screaming, there is no need. I can hear his tired voice clearly. “I love you.”

“I hate you,” I say. These are words chosen carefully, yet they are empty and unsatisfying. It is quiet; I wait for a response but get none. Then, more carefully, I speak from that place of comfort. “I love you, too.”

A loud noise catches us off guard. The cage is lifting. Gradually, the center light expands until it reveals us both, nearly naked, and directly across from each other.

For the first time, I get a clear look at him. The scratch on his face stretches from his eyebrow to his chin. I know he sees the red on my neck from where his hands have rubbed the skin raw, because he cringes at the sight of me. Still, a smile creeps onto his face as he slowly approaches.

“Cassandra?” he says again. I don’t realize it at first, but I am walking towards him as well. We stop just a few feet away from each other in the center of an open room.

“Evan?” I whisper.

His hand rises gently and touches my cheek. I rest my face in his palm. He raises his other hand palm closed. I look at it. My fingers peel away his one by one until I see what he’s holding. After all these years, still shining.

“We lost hope. But we promised, remember?” he says, placing the ring on my finger.

“I remember.”

We look up at the ceiling watching as the cage deteriorates. As we look back at each other, our hands clasping together, he whispers into my ear,

“Never forget.”

I whisper back, “Never let go.”


Uriel Harper is a responsible adult by day, and a reckless spewer of words at night. He dwells in what enough people call reality and manages to survive the madness of every day bustle. He loves to read and write. On occasion, he humors his friends by going out. His dream is to live off of his words, his goal is to inspire with them.


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Rate this story:
 average 3.3 stars • 27 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Definitely intense writing. I wanted less fighting and more story about what got the couple in their situation. Also their simultaneous recognition of each other and what followed, and what followed that we don’t know about – the untold story – begs revealing. As it is, it seems like the classic bar-fight scene in a longer movie where the opponents run out of steam and come to their senses.

    ***

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I felt the voice was incongruent with the action described and despite all the gladiator imagery it was strangely static. I realized the MC was intended to be female before the reveal of the names but the voice didn’t convince me. It all struck me as a writing exercise that never came alive. Two stars.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    I found this piece a bit odd. Until I discovered the MC was female, I thought the action was a Greco-Roman cage fight.

    • S Conroy

      Yes, and I thought there was some suppressed homosexual tension in there, too.

  • S Conroy

    Heady stuff and some nifty writing. Felt slightly let down by the ending.

  • Steven Hicks

    I think that the author does a good job of grounding us in the setting of this “story”. After the first paragraph I can be there in the cage with the MC. It is also easy to see the basic conflict here. The issues I have are an underdeveloped MC, making it nearly impossible for me to care about her, and an underdeveloped plot that didn’t give me enough to really make sense of all of the action. It read as a scene from something longer that had information we were not privy too.

  • From the beginning, I thought someone (or something) was controlling this incarceration off stage. Who expanded the center light? How did the cage deteriorate? Why is there a cage in the first place? Jeff’s “bar fight” is tempting, but I am thinking more along the lines of a kickboxing event. I have to assume a lot to make connections to a love story. All that said, I enjoyed the talented writing.

  • Rose Gardener

    Th cage fight was brutal which made the kiss disturbing. Was the cage representative of being trapped in domestic violence, or a non-violent relationship gone sour presented in analogy form? More insight into the relationship difficulties and why things deteriorated to this level before they reached out to each other again would help readers work out what the cage represented, who or what removed it, and why the characters acted as they did.

    • Uriel Harper

      That was the intention. The cage is to serve as a metaphor for two people whose lives are entwined in a deteriorating relationship. The fighting and passion serve as metaphors for the tumultuous cycle of love. And the reconciliation at the end, the coming together of two lovers to begin from scratch and attempt to fix what was broken is meant to be represented by the destruction of the cage. Evoking new meaning and a renewed hope, the objective was to capture this in one fast-paced, rigorous, (which is what a disfunctional relationship can feel like aka whirlwind ) scene. Thank you all for your input, I appreciate the constructive feedback and I will strive to make my writing excellent! Thank you all very much!

      • Dan The Man

        Uriel, I think it is a pity you felt the need to explain your story. I felt the sensuous nature of the writing, and raw passion was excellent. The length of the fight was neccessary to build the tension required to show the relationship. I like your style of writing and really enjoyed the story. But your explaining forces a deep meaningful plot into the sausage machine of the commercial market, that makes everything sound like systemised romance stories. I think there’s nowt wrong in everyone coming up with a different interpretation of a story, as long as it doesn’t confuse. More please.

        • Uriel Harper

          I agree with your opinion about everyone having a right to interpret a story’s meaning. I think that is the beauty of art! Thank you for your comment; I definitely see your point, and it is well noted moving forward 🙂

      • Rose Gardener

        Thank you for your reply Uriel. As Dan says below, we shouldn’t have to explain everything explicitly and I agree – else why use an analogy at all? I was perhaps looking for a character specific experience to demonstrate the premise and as author you chose to keep it more general and open to a little interpretation. Nothing wrong with that; I simply shared my preference for knowing an individual character’s motivation. 🙂 But you succeeded in your objective as stated here. And I agree with Dan again – keep the stories coming!

        • Uriel Harper

          Thanks, Rose! And thanks for reading 🙂 I will keep trying to get better!

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        Uriel: As a reader I got what this story was meant to convey. But it felt to me almost like something a pastor in a pre-marriage counseling program would come up with in order to appeal to a young modern congregation.

        You created a vivid world but I felt the cage metaphor went on too long. I thought perhaps it was intended to represent a moment of angry, hurtful intimacy that finally resolved in a reaffirmation of the love and commitment these two people had for each other. Just seemed to need some refining to make it less a parable and more truthful to the protagonists as real people.

        • Uriel Harper

          Thanks, Sarah! I see your point and I appreciate your input. I will definitely use the experience here to better my writing! I hope to read and publish more here as this group of readers and writers seem very dedicated to good literature!

  • Jeffrey Yorio

    I figure its allegorical but I just can’t seem to grasp it. I really liked the ending but was trying too hard to figure the rest of the story out. It’s well written and very descriptive, yet all I could see was them as slaves forced to fight against each other.

  • Whenever I finish a story and my first comment (usually to myself) is, “Wow,” I can’t let it go without a comment or two.

    This is definitely one of the more passionate and raw stories I’ve read on EDF, and I can’t express how much I appreciate that. There is serious talent here in my opinion, and although it was a metaphoric scene, the passion and emotion was clearly real. And I VERY much enjoyed it.

    My only critique was that the main metaphor (the cage), as good a metaphor as it is, seemed to blend into that gray area where it is difficult to tell a metaphor from reality. When I read the story, I tool it all literally, ignoring the possibility that it may be a big metaphor. And even though the story is still effective (at least for me) while taking it literally, I think it works better as a metaphor. The line is sometimes hard to discern, and this confusion may turn off some readers.

    I found this piece to be well-written and very engaging, and it definitely made me think. 4 stars from me. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to reading more from Uriel.

    • Uriel Harper

      Appreciate the comment, Scott! I do see where the metaphor can get a bit confusing but I’m glad you were able to get it and enjoy it. Thanks so much for reading!