The first few seconds were always the best. Before consciousness fully returned and he remembered where he was. The Caged Man couldn’t say how many times he’d awoken to see the cold black bars, water bottle and bucket. It had to be over five hundred. When he’d first arrived, he had kept a careful count. Then one morning he realised that he’d forgotten the number. It was probably better that way. Time was relative and it was heavy enough without needing to remind himself of how long he’d already been there. Sometimes it got to him, the boredom. On those days he would bang his head against the bars and scream at the dim room beyond until he felt faint and collapsed like a marionette with its strings cut.
The only thing he had to look forward to was food, which was served on a tray with plastic cutlery by God three times a day, albeit not at regular intervals. The Caged Man wondered if God prepared His own meals at the same time, but he’d never asked. The notion that the Caged Man would be in his cage, chewing carefully, while God was up there eating His own dinner fascinated him. He didn’t want to ruin it by finding out otherwise.
His legs and back often ached and he was never comfortable sitting on the ground, which was covered in dirt and faded stains. He couldn’t stand up properly in the cage. He was slightly too tall. For that he had to wait until God came down the stairs with the cuffs that bit into the skin on his wrists and ankles. The steps made a rasping noise that followed the Caged Man into his dreams at night. God would pass the cuffs through the bars and the Caged Man would have to bind himself and wait patiently for God to open the door to the cage and lead him out into the centre of the room. Then he could stretch his legs and look around without his vision being obscured by metal.
The centre of the room was where the Horse stood. It never moved or woke up. The Horse had four splayed wooden legs that gave it stability and a long body covered in old leather that was soft to the touch when the Caged Man bent his body over it. The aroma of the material was a comfort.
Afterwards, God would lead him back to his cage, lock him inside again, and use a key to remove the cuffs that the Caged Man had to hold up to the bars. On one occasion, near the beginning, the Caged Man had tried to grab God after the handcuffs fell to the floor, but God had rocked back out of reach without even trying.
It had been a hungry and painful week for the Caged Man after that.
Eventually he’d made his peace with God and promised not to anger Him again. The routine had resumed and the Caged Man hadn’t tried anything since. He conserved his energy as much as possible. The Caged Man knew that his arrangement with God wouldn’t last forever. One day he’d leave his cage and wouldn’t have to return.
One day he would be saved.