The Cave by Jacquelyn Vick

Water slid down the stalactite, filling a pool where the rough cave floor sloped. Footsteps echoed the drip. The prisoner closed his eyes, pressing further into the jagged wall surrounding him. The footsteps silenced, and a metallic tapping caught the rhythm. The prisoner sighed and glared. A thin light above his bars illuminated the man in long, ash colored robes. The man rapped his knuckles against the prison bars. The prisoner counted, reaching one hundred before snapping to his feet. He surged across the cell, and clasped the man’s wrist. “Must. You?”

The man met the prisoner’s glare, exhaled, blinked, and rapped his knuckle against the bar.

“Argh,” the prisoner released the captured hand, and threw his own into the air. “Why must you vex me? Put my food down. Be gone.”

The man rolled his shoulders, walking away to the rhythm of the dripping water.

The prisoner sat beside the bars and whistled. The footsteps returned. The prisoner flung a rock across the cell. “I will get out of here.” The man behind him hummed. The prisoner spun around, staying seated. He stared up at the robed man. “I will. I don’t know how yet. Your day will end.”

“You may attempt, but your heroics will never achieve your desire.” The man placed a silver platter on the ground outside the bars. His long, lanky body un-spiraled as he stood to his full height. “You see these bars. I tap them to ensure there are no weaknesses. Every day we do the same song and dance. Every day I relearn the same information. You are highly irritable, and the bars will never break.”

Once again, the prisoner snapped to his feet. He slammed his hands against the bars. “They will. They must.”

The robed man hummed. He looked down at the meal near his feet. “I pray you find some enjoyment in the nourishment provided.” He turned away as he finished his daily mantra.

The prisoner snarled at the food. “What if I die?”

The robed man stopped. “They would leave your corpse to decay. Even in death there is no escape.”

The prisoner returned to his seat on the rough cave floor. Stretching through the bars, he lifted the lid off his food. A potato, a piece of dry meat, and a small serving of vegetables. Every day the same meal. Only one a day. Keeping him alive, but keeping him weak. The lid clattered onto the platter when the prisoner finished his meal. He stayed beside the bars until the robed man returned and checked the bars with the platter. The prisoner jerked back from the sharp sound and snatched the platter. “They aren’t weak.”

“Yes, but maybe a tool would do them differently.”

“I have no tools.”

“No, I do not believe your desire alone will grant you freedom.”

The prisoner waited until the robed man stepped into the darkness. He wrapped his hands around the bars. Squeezing the firm metal rods he screamed into the cave’s void. As he released his rage, the bars shook. Dust rained down atop him. Blinking the dust away, the prisoner tried to twist the bars. They were as the robed man had determined. Strong, sturdy, unmoving.

He slammed his hands against the rods, and walked across the cell. Dim light from the light streaming above the bars danced with shadows around the cell. In a corner, a long list of carved tallies hid beneath the shadows. The prisoner counted them and scratched in a new one. His hope of escape impressed him more every day he counted the marks. To follow his daily routine, the man raced from the back of his cell towards the bars slamming his shoulder into the metal. The bars held steady, but dust fell from the cave ceiling.

Many marks were scratched to the tally list until a bar fell loose as the robed man came to check them. The prisoner and the robed man shared a look of surprise. The robed man stepped back, waving his arm forward for the prisoner to step across the threshold. He squinted, unable to see in the darkness filling the rest of the cave. He pressed his hand against the rough wall and followed the curvature. At one point he found a small hole. Too tiny for a man to climb through, but the right size and shape for a platter with a lid. The cave wall continued to a dibit with a collection of rocks, unmovable. The prisoner continued to feel around in the darkness until he reached the bars.

The robed man clutched his shoulder. “As I have said, you will never escape. I will never escape.”