Onus

He's locked in a cage, in a windowless room, where he has always been. But he dreams of something more, he dreams of better things, of light , and warmth, of a better life. Maybe there is more to his prison.

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1. Part One

It was dark. There was no window in the room. In the centre of the darkness stood a cage. His face was pressed against the cold bars. He sighed, breathed in the dust and coughed again. Had there been any light in the room, you would be able to see the crippled structure of his skeleton.

He had never left the cage, never ventured beyond the bars that cradled his existence. He was alone in the darkness except for a man who lived above him. They called him Solus. He had never seen the man, just sensed his presence and heard his heavy footsteps. Solus rarely fed him. It was surprising how he could survive off so little.

The one in the cage had nothing to live for, in his case it would be easier to die.

But he kept thinking, he kept believing, that maybe there was more than the cold bars that locked him to this tiny square. Maybe one day, the man would open the cage. Just let him go. Perhaps he’d wake up one day, and the cage was gone. Maybe he’d wake in the dark room, and he could run, run for eternity, into the blackness.

But of course, he could not run. He had not even walked any further than the small area that the cage allowed. Not in all his life had he known what it feels like to be running free. But still he hoped that there was something, something more.

He coughed again. The dust, disturbed by his movement, made him sneeze.

And he was tangled in a fit of coughing and spluttering. He coughed and caused the dust around him to rise and be consumed by his dirty lungs, and then his body reacted again and he coughed even more. He writhed and ached as his feeble muscles worked hard to keep the filthy dirt, dust, webs and insect carcasses out of his nose and mouth. The air in the room began to turn grey with all the sudden movement. He coughed louder ad rattled the cage as he believed he was to choke to his fierce death.

The racket he caused alerted Solus, who sat upstairs, that something was not quite right. The man hobbled to the basement door and nearly tripped down the uneven stairs.

He was still. In the cage, hunched in one corner, his body tangled and twisted. The man opened the cage door, and reached out to him. He coughed again, spluttering and weeping.

Solus had left the door open so grizzled light filled the darkness.

But he still saw nothing. He started screaming, crying for a chance.

Solus reached out and grabbed his jaw shut.

He writhed at the man’s touch and clawed at the strong grip. His lungs ached and he needed air. He needed something he knew nothing of.

The man dragged the wrangled skeleton out of the cage, up the uneven stairs and out the back door of the decrepit town house.

There was a small garden, overgrown with the limbs of plants clambering up the fence to see the sunlight, where children had once played on a rusty swing set and dissolving trampoline. Solus despised the outer world and enjoyed the comfort of inside his rotting house. The elderly man hadn’t been in the garden at all since the children stopped playing there.

He took a startled breath as he realised he was not in the cage. Where was he? He could breathe and started to take quick breaths to clear his lungs. He knew that he wasn’t in the cage, but why could he still not see?

Surely there was something to see outside of the room, his cage was no longer his boundary and the foundations of what he believed in crumbled away. He was startled by a light breeze; he turned his head and clawed at the man’s powering grasp.

But Solus would not let go. The man felt him gingerly inhale and then swiftly exhale and he’d never been happier. To know that he would have died without his help made Solus feel proud of himself.

He whined and scratched at the man’s hands, he wanted to explore to the extent of the barrier of this world. He could smell so many things, and hear sounds he could not describe. He wanted to be out in this new world and run wild. Let me go, he thought. The sounds and smells became overwhelming when the wind blew in the right direction. He could smell food and sizzling meat. He could hear voices far off, and the man sighed as he flicked his head this way and that, to catch a sent or sound.

Solus pondered whether he should remove the dark cloth that had been tied around his face causing him to be blind to the bitter world he lived in. The man shrugged away the idea, he knew that he couldn’t.

He was blindfolded and had been since he had been in possession of Solus. He had been so young and didn’t know, because he couldn’t remember what had come before. He couldn’t remember light and trees or his mother or what he looked like. He didn’t even know the colour of the sky.

Solus turned back into the house and down the uneven steps. Solus put him in the cage and shut the door. He dragged the cage across the dusty floor and hauled it up the stairs. He heaved the cage into the study, which he didn’t use anymore, and pushed it up against the wall. He didn’t want him to choke on dust again, and the study was a lot less dusty than the cellar.

There were bookshelves along one of the walls and a pair of dark curtains stopped prying eyes and unwanted sunlight into the room. Solus switched off the small lamp that was leaning against a cluttered desk, and closed the door as he left the room.  

The captive crawled forward and found that Solus had forgotten to lock the cage door, he slowly moved forward and it creaked as it swung open.

The study was dark. But not pitch black like the basement. Light crept into the room from beneath the heavy curtains. He couldn’t see this, however because the blindfold was still tied around his eyes. He didn’t know it was there, still.

He stumbled out of the cocoon. The small cage that had been everything to him only minutes ago. He left it. He had gone beyond the boundaries he had known for all of his life. He was as free as he’d ever be.

Solus walked in with a bowl of water.

The sound of a clunk of metal on wood and a scatter of water startled him.

Solus realised what he’d forgotten to do.

And a clock, hanging above the cage, ticked slightly slower than before.

His instincts told him to run. But to where? He couldn’t see a way out. He could only hear the man breathing rapidly. Then he heard the door shut. He sat down. Solus cautiously grabbed him and pushed him back into the cage, and then he locked the door.

After a while Solus came back with a new bowl of water, and put it in the cage hesitantly.

Solus sat down in a mouldy chair that had once been a home to moths. The man sighed and watched him drink, a trickle of water missing his mouth slightly. Solus scratched at his greying whiskers and he thought that he might cry. He was too alone to care what others thought. He hadn’t spoken for years. Solus was hidden away in his small decaying house, hiding his only companion in a cage. Solus didn’t like the one in the cage, Solus didn’t like anyone.

But he was so alone.

It was the eyes. The staring eyes had cursed him to a life of captivity. And because of them, they were both slowly dying. Imprisoned in his own reality, the boundaries were a twisted fantasy; a kingdom of starvation created by Solus. There was not a single mirror among the broken skeleton of the house. In the study was a mouldy oak desk; furnished with vacant photo frames, dusty shopping lists, blunt pencils and empty notebooks scattered upon it like fallen birds.

He licked his lips, and sat in the cage, listening to the man.

Solus, slumped in the chair, closed his eyes.

He wanted to get out of the cage. He wanted to know if there really was more out there. He got up and crawled around the perimeter of the cage, every time he came to a corner, which was often, he’d collide with the bars, hurting his head, and rattling the cage.

Solus opened his eyes and he watched as, time and time again, he crashed into the cage, every time forgetting where the barrier is, and hurting himself in the process. Solus started wondering whether he would be happier if he opened the cage door. Obviously he just wanted to be free, to be able to see where he was going.  

Where was he going? The pointless journey from one end of the cage to the other was humiliating and Solus would’ve laughed had it not been such a negative gesture of his own captivity.

A tear appeared on the man’s face and dropped off his chin onto his lap. It spread into his worn, tweed, trousers and left no evidence of its existence. A moth crawled out of its hiding place and fluttered around the room. It neared the cage and quickly changed direction, it flickered around the desk and finally landed atop a closed diary.

Solus had followed the creature with his gaze and saw that the diary’s content had been ripped from the cover, leaving an empty leather binding. It contained nothing but memories that Solus had hoped would fade.

More tears fell from Solus’ withered face, he let out a sudden sigh and he sank down in his favourite chair, his head rolling to the side.

The captive stopped and sat as close to the corner of the cage as he could. He sat facing Solus, he could smell the old man’s sweet decaying scent about the room. He could sense the moth as it crawled over the debris of the man’s past that smothered the desk.

He whined and pulled at the bars that imprisoned him. He wanted to get out. He would’ve screamed at the man to let him out had he not been scolded for making noise since birth. He scratched at the bars, and titled his head towards the sound of the man’s heavy breathing. He bit the bars and attacked the cage forcing his whole fragile body at it.

Solus didn’t react to him.

The material that shielded the captives’ eyes snagged on a spike that he had created by attacking the soft metal of the cage. A tear ripped through the blindfold and it fell off his right eye. He was stunned by the sudden sight and he now saw what his world existed of. He pulled at the fabric with his overgrown talons and swished around this way and that so he could see everything around him. He looked down at himself and moved around the cage in a new way. He was aware of everything in the room, he saw as the moth flitted about the room, disturbed by his abrupt outburst.

It was still dark in the room, but there was enough light to let him see, without overpowering him of his new found sense. His pupils dilated and a presence of joy filled the cage. Perhaps a smile was slightly visible on his greying face.

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