“Whether you’re beaten or pampered, fed the best foods or starved, kept in filth or kept clean, a cage is still a cage.”
— Anne Bishop, Written in Red
The creature is curled up in the corner of the box when the old man opens the lid. The sudden light makes the creature squint and hiss through its jagged teeth.
“None of that,” the old man says, waggling a finger pocked with wrinkles and scars.
He swiftly dips his hand into the box and in a well-practiced motion, snags the creature by the scruff of its feathery neck. It squawks and twists in his grip but cannot reach around to bite or scratch. Its sharp claws contract and release frantically in its large, soft paws.
“No, none of that,” the old man says again, this time with a chuckle.
He turns away from the empty box and holds up the creature. “The last one!” he crows, his voice echoing.
The creature stops wiggling. The huge room is bright and bare of anything except . . . rows and rows of cages. Cages that stretch as high as the ceiling and as far as the eye can see. Enormous cages . . . but cages nonetheless.
Each one is filled with a creature. Creatures of all sizes and colors . . . and all the same type.
The creature stares at its brothers and sisters. Its breath comes in quick but quiet pants.
The old man brings the creature closer to his face, and the creature is still in shock because it doesn’t try to attack.
“Yes . . . you’re the last one I need for my collection,” the old man mutters. “Blue and purple feathering . . . Emerald irises . . . ” He continues to mutter under his breath, his eyes gleaming as they rove over the creature’s body.
The creature matches the others in species, but it is unique. One of a kind in both coloring and certain alleged heritage. The breeder claims that is a lucky cross-breed from some magical being, but the official consensus is merely a bizarre mutation. It’s taken the old man years to find this particular specimen and months more to acquire it.
But it’s his now. Finally, his collection is complete.
He takes the creature over to the place of honor, a cage in the center of the room, alone on a pedestal. Unlike the others, the creature can see from all sides. It can see all of its brethren, trapped in their own cages.
The old man secures the cage lock, and the creature seems to glare at him. The old man laughs.
“You’ll be happy soon enough. They are.” He waves a hand at the surrounding creatures, all of whom have crept to the fronts of their cages to see the new prisoner. Some flinch at his moving arm.
He begins to hobble away, a feeling of exhilaration still bubbling in his ancient veins. The chase is over, the deed is done. He doesn’t have the health to begin another chase like he did for these creatures, but perhaps an assistant . . . yes, send others, start over with something new . . . maybe something genuinely magical, not that so-called half-breed . . .
Something clicks behind him, and he turns around.
The creature, the new one, is sitting on top of the cage. It stares at him.
The old man frowns. “How did . . . ?”
He hurries over, and the creature submits to his hand and lets itself be returned to the inside of the cage.
The old man double checks the lock this time.
Again, he turns around, and before he takes more than a few steps, again, there is a click.
He looks, and the creature is back on top of the cage.
The old man growls and makes a wide swipe for it. But it does not submit this time. The old man’s hand goes through thin air, and he stumbles, knocking into the cage on the pedestal. It wobbles dangerously, and the old man quickly rightens it.
He searches for the creature, all along the floor and down the long passage of cages.
There is another click.
The old man looks up.
On the top row of cages, perched near the ceiling, is the creature. It grins down with its wide, wide mouth full of those sharp, sharp teeth.
That’s when the old man realizes that the cage the creature is nearest to is open.
All the cages are open.
Every creature stares down at him, long claws gleaming in the light and back feathers raised in preparation.
Then . . . they leap.
Bleh. Had a bit of writing block this week, hence this delayed post. I STILL DID IT, THOUGH! (where is my sticker)
This prompt was inspired by one found in this book: 400 Story Seeds to Crush Writer’s Block.