The Cage in the Woods
I have taken to following my neighbor into the woods every night. Every night, I slip from underneath my husband's arm, grab a coat, and wait for the neighbor man to light his back porch and tread a trail into the woods. His flashlight flickers a pale yellow light. The batteries rattle in their plastic housing, and sometimes he knocks the flashlight on the heel of his hand until it comes to its senses. I follow just close enough to see the light. I avoid dead branches. I travel hush-hush. I am a breeze behind him, nothing more than a leaf overturned. I creep hunched and quiet until we come to the cage. It's the size of a living room, chicken wire wound around crooked metal stakes. The gate is padlocked, and after the neighbor man wedges his flashlight in the crook a tree, he pulls a key from his coat pocket and lets himself in. Surely not, I thought the first night. But he relocked the padlock, repocketed the key, and proceeded to shriek into the night. This is where I have followed him for two weeks, and he is always howling and carrying on in the cage. Somebody help! he screams. Somebody let me out of here! I lie prone behind a bush and watch through a gap in the foliage as he presses his hands to the chicken wire and rattles away. Ooooooh! he moans. He cries and heaves and gasps in the cage he lets himself into. Surely he's joking, I think. I am not afraid to say I like his screams. Sometimes his face catches the dim light of the flashlight and I can see the panic smoldering inside him. I'll starve! he says. Don't let them eat me! he says, and I feel a pleasure surging through me. Every night is like this until he has tired himself out and falls asleep. In the morning before he wakes, the sun just rising, I make my way back as quietly as I came. One night, the flashlight flickered out. One night, I was belly down on the forest floor, watching the neighbor man plead for help, and the light clicked off. Hello? the man said. I knew it was only a matter of time until he found the lock and let himself out, so I crept through the woods and felt for the cage. I could hear him feeling for the lock, searching through his pockets for the key. There was a moment before I found the lock when we brushed fingers through the wire and he stopped searching and shook. Is someone there? he said. When I found the lock I knelt before it and wrapped my hands around it like a prayer. I did not breathe. When he found the lock, he found my hands, warm and clinched. My hands, a clam to a pearl. When he found my hands he begged for mercy. He ran his fingers over my knuckles and said, Please help me; my light went out. I'm so sorry, I said, but I need you to feel this.
Joe Lucido lives in Tuscaloosa, where he teaches in the Alabama Prison
Arts + Education Project and serves as prose editor for Black Warrior Review.
He has work in or coming from Booth, SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart and others.