Estimated reading time — 7 minutes

They say that when an animal is caged, the animal will go through several stages of acceptance. Firstly, they will explore their new environment, experiencing the dimensions of their space. After realising they are now trapped, the animal, let’s say a chimpanzee, will begin to scream. This is the second stage, where the animal screams and shouts for freedom, now knowing they are trapped. After some time, the animal falls silent, now entering the third stage. It can take weeks to arrive at the third stage of acceptance, but the animal usually becomes docile and easy to manage. Knowing the cage is now their home, where they live, and where they will die.

My name is prisoner 24751. I… don’t remember my actual name. I’ve spent years residing in a prison facility. I don’t remember what had happened either to end up in a place like this. My… memories are fuzzy. The only thing I recall is living day to day. From waking up to the stone cold ceilings above my head to laying my face down on the rough bunk bed in my cell. I know that I’ve been on the fifth floor of the building. Barely anybody is imprisoned here now. When I arrived, met with shouts and calls from other inmates, I was a young man. Now, old and tired. I spend my days here. My only solace is the occasional passing of a prison guard, bringing food to my cell. I think his name was Alan, or maybe Roger. A rather large man, and the only other person I have ever seen on this floor. At one point there were several inmates down here. Now I feel that I’m the only one left, forgotten and abandoned to the dregs of the world. No windows exist on this floor. No clocks or call outs. Just the tinkling of fluorescent bulbs over head that shine, spaced out every few feet from each other to light the hallways. Each cell has its own light source, built into the ceiling of the cell to avoid prisoners reaching up and doing… something to end their misery.

The only way I measure time now is between meals. Two times a day. Or is it three times a day? It’s hard to be sure without any other method. I just have to assume it’s twice a day.

A loud tapping echoed from beside the door, causing me to rise from my bed. A slim guard tapped a nightstick on one of the metal bars, before sliding a metal tray across the floor. He looked down at me as I bent down to pick up the tray. Different foods had been blending together into a greasy slop that sat on the tray. The guard continued looking over at me, waiting. I looked at the man. He seemed rather young, clean shaven and well groomed, but his clothes hung loosely around his body, far too big for his skinny frame.
I gave him a weak smile. “No Utensils? You must be new here.”
My attempt at small talk was ignored, the guard responding by giving a thousand yard stare, waiting for the tray. With a sigh I used my fingers to begin eating the mess before me. The slick wet squelches as I picked up the food between my fingers did nothing to improve my appetite but I had to eat. Slurping and sucking the food from my fingers, I continued. I began to cough hard part way through eating, something tickling the back of my throat. Coughing harder, something fell from my mouth back onto the tray into the slop of food. I squinted, to focus my eyes against the flickering lights to look at my tray and dropped it in disgust. As I stared at the food, It thrummed, pulsing. As though it had a heart beat, The food was swarming with maggots. I began to wretch into the nearby basin that served as a toilet. Trying to remove the contents of food I had just eaten. An echoing laugh sounded from behind me, coarse and cruel. A deep hollow laugh that made my bones shiver.
I turned to see the guard had gone, including the tray of insects that I had dropped to the floor. I crawled back to my cot, lying there clutching my stomach. The thought of those bugs still sitting inside my guts made me feel queasy but I couldn’t expel anything else.
I must have.. fallen asleep. A sound above had awoken me, the tinkling of the light bulb as it flickered overhead. It hadn’t done this before. But it began to flicker rapidly, making the sound of somebody lightly tapping on glass. I stared at the light, the constant flickering something new in my drab setting. A loud pop and the light went out. A few seconds passed and I heard several more pops in the distance. I rushed to the front of my cell, pressing against the bars to look down the hallway to see the lights go out one by one. As the last one in the distance blinked on and off, that’s when I saw it.
A skinny frame with clothes too large to wear. The guard from before? But… something was different. Maybe it was the angle I looked from but I couldn’t quite make out his face or much of anything else. The uniform was gone however, replaced by something… else.
The final light went out. With a loud bang, I was left in darkness. The only sound was my ragged breathing as I panted.
A loud boom and the floor began to tremble underneath. I ran to my bed, hugging my legs close to my body as I closed my eyes tight.
“This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening.” I muttered to myself as I waited for the shaking to stop.
Another loud boom. Closer this time. And then a deep, gravelly voice echoed beside me.
“Are you sure that it isn’t real?” The voice rumbled.
I turned my head towards the voice, refusing to open my eyes for fear of what I may see in the inky darkness that my eyes would soon adjust too.
“Stop it!” I screamed at the voice.
Silence. I slowly opened my eyes, but nothing was around me. I slowly got up from my bed, back to the floor and inch by inch, moved to the cell door. Surely somebody had realised that the lights were out. That something was wrong.
After what felt like hours, I moved back to the bed and closed my eyes. I just need to sleep. And everything will be fine after. This is just a bad dream I’m sure.

I don’t know how long it’s been since the lights have been out. I haven’t eaten. Every now and again I hear tapping in the distance.
I step over to the door to look out from my cell. My eyes have adjusted to the darkness and I can see shapes in the distance. Shambling movements.
“Hey!” I shout out. “Can you help me!”
The figure turns towards me and begins to move with an odd quickness. Dragging its body across the floor. An odd broken figure. I stumbled back and fell over as it appeared at my cell, dark tendrils clasping around the iron bars as it began to bang against the metal.
“G-get away” I stammered, screaming at the thing outside my cell. I blinked, the shape gone from the door. A shiver round down my back as I looked at the metal bars. Slightly bent inwards towards me.
I crawled to the wall away from the door, tears welling up in my eyes.
“How long do you think?” That deep, dark voice murmured beside my head again.
I covered my eyes with my hands.
“Just leave me alone” I moaned. My heart is thumping hard in my chest.
“How long do you think you will last?” It asked again.
I hugged myself, tears welling up in my eyes.
“How long do you think you’ll survive down here in the dark?” It asked once more.
I sobbed. The tears running down my face as I lay against the cold stone wall.

Weeks have passed. It may just be days though. I… can’t tell any more. The only constant has been the tapping sound in the distance growing louder and louder. My only constant. I think I’ve been forgotten down here in this cage. A trapped rat just waiting for death. But the voices. The voices are still here with me. They haven’t stopped. They haven’t forgotten me. They whisper to me. Tell me to close my eyes and sleep. But I’m too scared to sleep now. I worry if I sleep I won’t hear the tapping any more. Nor the voices. If I lose those, I lose myself. I need to stay awake, I need to continue. They say to go to the bed though, to fall asleep and forget everything. My head hurts. My eyes hurt. I’m too weak to move any more. The darkness is comforting. The light scares me. I see it in the distance now. The shape, the figure. The creatures outside my cell. I’m safe in here though, safe from those things. Their eyes I can see. They look at me hungrily, their broken bodies waiting for me to fall asleep so they can come inside. But I won’t sleep. I won’t let them get to me. They shriek and snap their teeth at me as they wait. Staring at me and waiting.
Something moves under my bed. I reach out and grab it, angrily tearing it away, the thing squirms in my hands but I grip it tightly until it stops and I smile. Finally some food. I bite down, black ichor seeping from its body into my mouth giving sustenance. Some food at last. Maybe I can live a little longer. Maybe I can wait this out. I tear at the thing from under the bed, pulling and ripping its flesh as I chew it vigorously. Another one, it stares at me with dark eyes but I wrestle it down and begin biting at its neck, ripping and tearing with my teeth until it stops moving. A black stained smile spreads across my face. I won’t die in this forgotten cage. I’m going to survive.

“Alan. What happened here?” A well dressed man asks a prison guard.
“Hard to say” Alan responded, looking over at the body in the cell. The building went on lock down and this floor was inaccessible for a couple weeks. We didn’t even realise there were still inmates down here.
The prison warden looked into the cell and gagged slightly, stepping back out. The smell was unbearable.
“Wasn’t this your floor?” He asked Alan.
The guard nodded. “Yes sir. But everyone had been moved. This floor was to be closed down. We weren’t using it any more for prisoners.”
Alan looked in at the cell, at the body that lay slumped against the wall. The legs were mangled and torn, chunks of flesh ripped down to the bone and a bloodied smile lay on the prisoner’s face.
He must have been desperate, down here for so long. It’s not surprising he went crazy being there in the dark for so long.
Alan looked over at the warden, a grim smile on his face. “What should we do with prisoner 24751?”
“Throw it in the furnace with everything else in the cell. And get somebody to look at the plumbing.”
“The plumbing? Sir?” Alan asked, confused.
“You don’t hear that tapping noise? It’s likely to drive someone to madness.”

They say that when an animal is caged, after the third stage of acceptance. Another stage can appear. Madness. Being trapped for so long, they quickly grow wild and angry, seeing things that aren’t there and doing strange things, losing their mind in such a small confined space. That is the fourth and final stage of being a caged animal. As all that awaits them afterwards… is death.

Credit: J. Morton

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