Eden's Cage

Submitted into Contest #60 in response to: Write a post-apocalyptic thriller.... view prompt

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Thriller

You have no idea what is coming for you once the sun sets. You—my savior, the man who found me taming beasts—can never understand. You—my salvation—are my shackles.

Watery ash streams down the walls of the domed aviary and pools in front of us, suffocating what little green survives in the Wastes. You mention how fortunate we are to be far from the coast. I force a chuckle at your joke that at least the hurricane did us some good. It did little good for the Burrowers. I wish I could drown their screams with those of our conures. I wish I could ignore your leer, but there it is in the reflection of the wall. There is no escape from your magnetic eyes. From our cursed mirror, I stare at the vast grey of the Wastes and the hollowness of your gaze. I turn away from the wall after my thoughts return to the role I must play. I must not waver when it begins. Luckily, you’re called to a meeting with the rest of Ownership, leaving me to my pretties.

Adrastus, the only toucan left on this side of the country, hops from a nearby branch. He tilts his head towards me, begging for scratches along his neck. My sweet pretty rubs his beak against my fingers. The sun reveals the hidden red and yellow amongst his oily feathers. Those waves of color capture my attention until his gentle bites become clamping. I hiss as I shake two of my fingers free. Adrastus turns on the sparkle in his beady eyes. He always had that power. My soon-to-be bruised fingers return to petting him until another pretty lands on my shoulder. Poor, little pretty doesn’t know her mistake.

“Adrastus, don’t be a beastie.” I reprimand him after he forces the lovebird off.

The lovebird is a stubborn sort. She nestles in the waves on top of my head and ignores a darting tongue. I distract my toucan with scratches. My free fingers brush against the lovebird’s head. Adrastus corrects my mistake.

She doesn’t have time to shriek. I don’t have time to understand why my fingers are bleeding. Seconds pass. That is all it takes. My poor, little pretty is trapped. She bangs against the lid of his beak. The serrated edges pierce her shoulders and underbelly. I scream. They move up to her neck and chest. Feet force their way forward. Hands reach out but only grab air. Jumping doesn’t help. Her shrieks choke me as he thrashes her around. I beg. Adrastus digs deeper. He drops her. I hold my poor, little pretty until the fluttering stops.

My hands shake when I check his food bowl. I have told Ownership—all nine members—to put Adrastus in another aviary. I follow the SOP and feed him multiple small meals a day. I even give him my fruit rations despite my condition. There are days, like today, when I wonder if his hunger will ever be satisfied. I shudder. Maybe he isn’t hungry when he hunts.

His empty, beady eyes follow me to the Nest door. Before I check on the survivors of his latest hunt, he calls out to me and flies into the lorikeet territory. The lorikeets are strong in number. They can wage against his tempest.

“A little over an hour and you’ll be safe,” I promise my pretties, all of my pretties.

***

The sweet perfume of exotic flowers embraces me in the Nest even though it seldom hides the formaldehyde. The glossy eyes of the victims I could not save—my failures—weave into my mind. Bile burns the back of my throat. I lie that the perfume-formaldehyde mixture makes my eyes water. This place is far from Eden, but at least it is not quenched by death.

Would I still be alive if I stayed in the Wastes?

Will we survive what is to come?

Strong arms wrap around my belly from behind. I sigh and melt into the warmth before the next words chill me.

“We need to do it soon.” The tone’s hardness doesn’t surprise me.

I swallow. “How soon?”

“You’ll show more in a couple of weeks.”

“Emidius may just assume it’s his.”

“And if he doesn’t? Ownership takes their claims seriously.”

We only have an hour.

“I planned to do it today.” That is admitted too easily for my liking.

“My father…he wants to banish me. Pomona, he thinks we spend too much time together. The rest are becoming suspicious as well.”

I already know this, but I say nothing. My hands touch my belly.

How many of us will survive the coup?

We can never be safe as long as he lives.” Fingers dig into my thumb. I hate being spoken to like a “Waste Rat.”

My hands loosen after my mouth is claimed. Sweet promises of a future with us and my pretties caress my mind but do little to ease my soul.

***

The hour comes too soon.

I message Ownership that Adrastus is injured from a lorikeet attack, knowing they will act swiftly to save their favorite pet. We knew who would be arrogant enough to question my expertise and come to the Nest in person.

We have thirty minutes.

Nails bite my palm until I draw blood. A warm hand stops me from digging any deeper, so I pick at my scabbed and bruised fingers. I lie that the baby is making me lurch. Sweet lies try to soothe me as warm hands rub my belly. Nails scrape against my bruises like those sweet lies. I shove the hands away. I pretend to focus on a wounded parakeet.

We have twenty minutes.

I try to match my heartbeat to the parakeet’s soft chirps. The little pretty is missing feathers along his neck. I can’t tell if the parakeet is Clement or Diomed. Anyone else would tell me it doesn’t matter. I wrote in my report that Adrastus wrung ten parakeets’ necks. Ownership continues to do nothing.

The others will learn to fly away from him. If not…then they were not smart enough.

Ownership thinks I am nothing but a parakeet.

I know why I am here. I know why I had to be the one to write the message. I don’t know why I let those hands take mine. I don’t know why I kissed those warm hands.

Cold surrounds me.

We have fifteen minutes.

There are footsteps outside.

I grab the rod from a broken perch and go to the side of the door. We share a look before I reach for the switch. I don’t know what will finish the job—scissors, a knife, a boxcutter—and I didn’t ask. We nod at each other.

We have ten minutes.

We bathe in darkness. Minutes pass. I take a breath before my lungs become still. Even in the dark, I close my eyes. The knob clicks. I don’t have to be the one to do it. I just need to do my part. The door creaks. Footsteps approach me. I wait for another set to come closer. Lungs burst. There’s the other set. Steel meets flesh. A cry of pain fills the room.  Someone slams against the sink. You shout my name. I turn on the lights.

 I stare at the red.

Emidius has your weapon. You stop the stained scissors from striking your carotid. He pushes the scissors closer to your neck. The tip grazes skin. You grab the hand near your throat and punch his face with it. Red flows from his nose. I scream. Pieces from the ceiling almost strike me down.

“It has begun,” I whisper.

You look to me in shock. Maybe it was from the betrayal. No, it’s from the scissors plunging past your breast. You shove Emidius away. He lunges forward. Behind you is the dish-rack. You reach for a knife. I close my eyes.

Another piece of ceiling crashes near me. My eyes are forced open. I duck under a table with the parakeet’s cage. Making my heartbeat match with his chirps will not work this time. His rapid shrieks and mine reach a crescendo.

There’s too much red. A beam knocks them both to the floor. This is my chance.

“Pomona, you Waste Rat!” Red hits my face. “I was going to start anew with you.”

I don’t know if Emidius sees himself as Adam and me Eve. No, he probably sees himself as God.

“And you, Lucas, you think they will keep you in Ownership?” More red runs down his throat. “They think it is finished. It is what saved us from the Wastes. Without Ownership, there are only beasts.”  

I grip the rod tighter. “Ownership failed to tame me.”

Emidius laughs until my rod strikes his head.

You scream.

I strike him again.

The parakeet bangs against his bars.

I strike him again.

You try to push off the beam.

I strike him over and over.

We’ve run out of time.

You reach for a wood shard. My feet carry my weary self to you. The shard rips through my shoe and into my sole. I raise the rod at your head.

You cry. “Why?”

I tilt my head. “This was never our Eden. Was it, Lucas?”

“Please, Mona.” Those warm hands touch me. Your eyes plead, but I can’t be pulled by them, not anymore.

“I love—”

My eyes are open.

***

I limp out of the Nest, feeling heavy even though I am free from my shackles. Coldness creeps into my bones. Trembling arms fail to keep me warm and are barely able to unlock the parakeet’s cage. There’s a shriek in the distance. A single, oily feather flutters in front of me. When I hold the feather, it feels sticky. Tears stream down my face as ash flurries through the cracks of the dome.

“Goodbye, my sweet pretty.” 

September 25, 2020 01:06

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3 comments

Lani Lane
23:56 Sep 29, 2020

Hi Iris! Holy cow! I see in your bio that you're a new writer--if this is your first submission, I can't wait for the rest. I LOVE a good second-person-voice story! You had me hooked right away with "You—my salvation—are my shackles." Really nice juxtaposition (? not sure what word I'm looking for) there, with salvation and shackles being so opposite yet connected in this sentence. Also really love: "My hands loosen after my mouth is claimed. Sweet promises of a future with us and my pretties caress my mind but do little to ease my sou...

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Iris Cordova
02:04 Sep 30, 2020

Hello, Leilani! Thank you for such a sweet comment.(: I'm thrilled you liked it. It is my first submission to any contest and the first time l wrote in this genre, so l was more than a tad nervous. Thanks for catching that mistake. I'll fix that later. Glad you took the time to read and comment. I'll gladly return the favor soon.

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Lani Lane
13:19 Sep 30, 2020

Of course! I'm so looking forward to your future stories! :)

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