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Caged by Steve Loiaconi

Caged | Steve Loiaconi

ED: A 20-something struggling actor and hopeless romantic. 

MARY: Ed’s ex-girlfriend and current roommate. It’s awkward. 

ROY: A 30-year-old cryptozoologist who is either very good or very bad at his job and it’s not entirely clear which. 

KAPPA: A Spokes-creature for a fast food chain. Heard, but never seen on stage. 

SET: A cramped New York apartment divided into three sections: a bedroom, a living room, and a fire escape. The bedroom has a closet door and a woman’s bed covered with stuffed animals. The living room has a couch, the front door, a coat rack, a doorway to an unseen kitchen, and a window leading to the fire escape covered by a security grate. 

A cage rattles in the darkness. Lights come up on the bedroom.

ED sits on the bed wearing a military uniform and holding an automatic rifle, staring pensively at the closet where more rattling and scratching can be heard. The door between the bedroom and the living room is open.

ED picks up a stuffed bear dressed like a soldier, looking at it for a moment and then tosses it back on the bed.

A screech comes from inside the closet and he tightens his grip on the rifle, raising it toward the closet door.

Lights come up on the living room as MARY enters. Spooked, ED swings toward the bedroom door, gun in hand, as MARY approaches.

MARY

I’m home. Oh! You’re in here…with a gun. Is this—Am I going to—Are you—

ED

Sorry, sorry, it’s not—I didn’t mean to—it’s not even real. I’m just edgy. There’s—never mind. Nothing. Edginess is all.

MARY

Okay. Good, because for a second there I thought you’d gone totally off the reservation and I was like, I knew he was—Wait. Why are you on my bed?

ED

Do I need a reason?

MARY

Yes. What’s going on? Why are you looking at the closet like—

She is interrupted by clattering and snorting from the closet. 

MARY

What was that?

ED

Nothing. (A loud crash..) Okay. Maybe something.

MARY

Open the closet door.

ED

If I do, you’re going to scream like a girl.

MARY

If you don’t, I’m going to whomp your ass like a girl. Let me into my closet. (Another sudden crash from the closet.) You’ve got like an eight-foot python in there or something, don’t you? I swear these frat boy pranks aren’t nearly as charming as they were when we were dating.

ED

Fine. All yours. Remember, I warned you.

ED whistles as he walks to the living room. Behind him, MARY cautiously opens the closet door, screams, slams it shut and runs after him, closing the bedroom door behind her. Lights down on the bedroom.

MARY

What the hell was that?

ED

Some manner of web-footed turtle-monkey.

MARY

It’s—But it—What the—Where—It’s—

ED

Plushy? Yeah. Kind of.

MARY

What is it doing in my closet?

ED

I don’t know. It was sleeping but I think it woke up just before you came in.

MARY

I mean, why is it in my closet?

ED

Well, I certainly wasn’t going to put it in mine. It’s cute, though, isn’t it?

MARY

It looks like the kind of thing you don’t feed after midnight. Why are you dressed like a GI Joe?

ED

I had a job today.

MARY

Oh, no. You’re stripping again.

ED

No! This is—I was supposed to be in a commercial.

MARY

Supposed to be?

ED

I got fired.

MARY

What did you do this time?

ED

So Ultra Burger has this new line of breakfast sandwiches coming out. The All-American Ultra Mega Muffin.

MARY

All-American?

ED

It’s a blueberry muffin with an egg white and a slab of rare steak. It’s…not pleasant, but that’s beside the point. I was cast as a soldier in the ad. The basic idea was: a French guy walks into the restaurant, asks for sausage, egg, and cheese on a croissant and the manager kicks him out. British guy walks in, asks for it on an English muffin, gets thrown out the drive-thru window. Then I come in, in my army uniform, and demand my breakfast on an American muffin. The manager salutes me and hands me this thing. “The real American breakfast sandwich!” Cue the national anthem, star-wipe to a flag waving in the wind, etcetera. Then they would shoot a close-up of me taking a bite of the muffin, swallowing and smiling. I kind of spit it out on the first take. And, you know, the next fifteen takes after that. So eventually the director got pissed off and sent me home.

MARY

I’m sorry. But what does that have to do with the thing in my closet? What is that?

ED

You know how their mascot used to be that penguin in the top hat before it killed all those people?

MARY

(solemn pause) Rest in peace.

ED

Anyway, I’m sulking off after I got canned and I hear this rustling in one of the dressing rooms. There’s nobody else around, so I peek in. There’s this small cage in the center of the room holding this brightly colored turtle shell. The color made it seem almost animated, you know? As I get close, this monkey-like head suddenly pops out and snarls at me. This pudgy, cartoonish animal waddles forward in the cage, big old cartoonish eyes watering. I realized this thing is their new mascot. They were keeping it in a cage to sell burgers. So I did the only thing I could do.

MARY

You stole it?

ED

If we must put a name on it, yes.

MARY

What the hell were you thinking, Ed?

ED

I couldn’t just leave it there.

MARY

Yes. Yes, of course you could have.

ED

They were keeping it in a cage.

MARY

So are you.

ED

Only temporarily. I was, I don’t know, going to set it free at some sort of magic wildlife sanctuary somewhere. Or sell it, maybe. Look, it’s not like it was real well thought-out plan.

MARY

Very far from it.

ED

It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

MARY

You’re paying to replace whatever it eats, shreds or soils in there, you know that, right? (A loud clanging and shrieking rings out from the bedroom.) What was that?

ED

There’s no way that was a good sound.

They creep back toward the bedroom silently. When they open the door and turn on the lights, the closet door is open and stuffed animals are scattered across the bed and the floor. When they hear shuffling and scratching, they quickly close the bedroom door again and the lights go down. In the living room, as crashing and thumping come from the bedroom, MARY takes out her phone.

ED

Who are you calling?

MARY

Animal control.

ED

That’s not an animal. It’s a…I don’t know what the fuck, but don’t worry. Put the phone down. I already called Roy, he’s on his way over and I’m sure he’ll have a whole file on the damn thing and like eighteen weapons that can kill it.

MARY

You called Roy? God, why?

ED

Because there’s something freaky-ass strange in this neighborhood right now and the Ghostbusters aren’t real. He’s a cryptozoologist. This is what he does. You need to calm down.

MARY

Calm down? You locked a fast food spokes-puppet in my bedroom.

ED

Emphasis on ‘locked.’ We’re totally safe. (They both look back at the door for a moment, waiting.) I kind of thought it was going to burst through the door there. But see? Fine. 

The doorbell buzzes and a muffled knocking comes from behind the front door. ED runs to the front door and MARY follows. ROY steps into the room and removes a fedora from his head. He drops a duffle bag to the floor. He unzips his leather jacket, weathered, torn, and stained with specks of black and red that were once either fresh dirt, blood, or paint.

ROY

Eddie-boy, you’re looking good. Mary, you’ve put on some weight.

ED

So how have you been?

ROY

Good, man. Good. I’m like this close— (Roy holds his thumb and index finger about an inch apart. He thinks for a second, then widens the distance to about six inches.) Okay, more like this close to tracking down the papal chronovisor. Oh yeah, the pope’s got himself a time machine. More like a time camera, I guess. It was invented in the mid-1950s by Father Pellegrino Ernetti, Werner von Braun, and a team of—

MARY

Is any of this story going to be even remotely believable?

ROY

Not to you, no.

MARY

Can we move on to catching the scary cartoon monster in my bedroom then?

ROY

If you wanted to get me alone in your bedroom, all you ever had to do was ask, honey.

MARY

Is he drunk?

ROY

Please! (Roy takes off his jacket and rolls up the sleeves of a white dress shirt.) Like I do any of this shit sober. Wait, did she say cartoon monster?

ED

Scary cartoon monster.

ROY

It’s just going to be one of those nights, isn’t it? 

ED

What do we do now?

Thumping, squawking, and crashing resumes from the bedroom.

ROY

We fight. Mayhaps we die gloriously. Let’s see how it goes.

MARY

Before you two charge in there and Butch and Sundance up my room, can I remind you that we’re all accessories to kidnapping that thing at this point? Maybe we should just call the police and give up before we violate any more laws?

ED

Come on. I don’t think there are any laws for situations like this.

ROY

Oh, there are. They’re secret, though.

MARY

Fine. Just do…whatever it is you do.

ROY

Alright, you two wait here. I’m going to do some recon. If I’m not back in ten minutes, set this place on fire and run.

MARY

I am not burning down my apartment.

ROY enters the bedroom, where lights remain down. ED and MARY sit on the couch.

ED

Want to see what’s on TV?

MARY

All of this is your fault.

ED

I didn’t expect this to happen. Not all of it, anyway.

MARY

What did you expect? Sometimes I wonder how I dated you for almost three years.

A beat of silence then a loud crash from the bedroom.

ROY

(off stage) It’s okay! I’m fine!

ROY limps back into the living room. They both stare at him. 

ROY

Well, that could have gone better.

ED

What do we do now?

ROY

You got any pie?

MARY

You two do whatever the hell you want. I’m going to go out on the fire escape, light a cigarette and pretend this isn’t my life. Excuse me.

MARY walks over to the security gate covering the window leading out to the fire escape and tries to unlock it. ED and ROY watch as she struggles to pry it open.

ED

Need any help?

MARY steps back and kicks the metal bars. ED unlocks the grate and pulls the bars along their rusty, screeching track. He raises the window for MARY. She takes his hand to maintain her balance while she steps out. Her eyes briefly meet his. 

ROY

That chick is totally bitch-hiking on my chi, dawg. This ain’t nothing but a thing. Think of it like you just got a big-ass, colorful, misshapen mouse up in here and I’m one of those guys who catches mice real good.

ED

You couldn’t have just said that to her?

ROY

Bitch is a bitch, man. Here’s how we’re playing this—it’s gonna take maybe five, ten minutes tops to wrangle that thing into its cage. When she ain’t looking, you lock up that window. Then you and me go out, get drunk and get some ladies. Know what I’m saying?

ED looks back to the window as ROY stumbles into the kitchen to rummage through drawers for weapons. MARY blows smoke into the night air. ROY steps out of the kitchen holding an ice cream spade. ED scratches his head. 

ED

What the hell is that? An ice cream scoop?

ROY

It’s an ice cream spade.

He tosses it up in the air, catches it, then spins it around in his hand like a baton, eventually fumbling and dropping it.

ED

Dude, there’s like twelve knives in that kitchen.

ROY

Eh, I’ll be good with this. (ROY picks the spade up, practices swinging it vertically and horizontally before tucking the handle into the waist of his pants.) I once stared down the ghost soldiers of Gettysburg armed with nothing but a spork and a can of bug spray.

ED

Nobody believes you when you say things like that, you know.

ROY

Yeah, well, half the time I’m making them up anyway.

ED pauses to look at MARY again. Behind him, ROY clears his throat. 

ROY

Remind me why you’re still living with an ex-girlfriend with a thoroughly unpleasant personality and, I have to say, rather small boobs.

ED

Never sign a two-year lease with a no-subletting clause.

ROY

It’s been almost six months, man. It’s well past time to crawl out of the wreckage.

ED

I don’t have anyplace better to be.

ROY

I’m just saying, I love you like I would my brother if he wasn’t a three-time convicted felon and a crack addict who lost my car in a back-alley dice game, but if I were her, I’d be totally wigged out by pretty much everything you’ve done since she shipwrecked your ass.

ED

You’re a good friend, you know that?

ROY

I’m just saying. You don’t seriously still have a plan to win her back, do you? Because I’m picturing you Wile-E.-Coyote-ing over some blueprints and maps in a room wallpapered with her picture and that’s some restraining order shit right there.

ED

It’s not a plan. It’s just, you know, wishful thinking.

ROY

You walk the line between creepy and sweet more deftly than any other man I’ve ever known. But sometimes you cross it, is what I’m getting at.

ED begins to follow ROY, but he keeps peering over his shoulder. They hear shrieking inside the room again. As ROY reaches for the doorknob, ED stops him.

ED

Can you handle this one solo? She looks cold.

ROY

So you gotta go get your chivalry on? Shit. When you finally snap and kill her, I just want you and me to be clear that I’m not helping you get rid of the body, so don’t come asking for a shovel.

ED

I’m going to go out there.

ROY

Where she is. Stalker!

ED heads to the fire escape where MARY is staring up at the sky. Without looking back at him, she moves a little to her left to make room for him next to her. He joins her and stares upward. 

ED

Ever look up at the sky and wonder if some exploding star somewhere light years away has already ended everything and we just don’t know it yet? Like a thousand years from now, some guy will wake up in the middle of the night and there’ll be this huge flash of star fire and then nothing. That’ll be it and it already happened.

MARY

No. Never thought about it.

ED

It’s that in-between kind of cold, like you never have the right jacket for it.

MARY

What?

ED

The weather. Not quite winter, not quite spring. In limbo. You never feel quite right, you know what I mean?

MARY

Not so much. Do you mind rubbing my shoulders a little? They’re really sore for some reason.

He stares at her for a beat, but she just turns her back to him and looks over her shoulder smiling. He moves closer and runs his hands over her shoulders. 

ED

Doesn’t it feel like this whole crisis has brought us closer together again?

MARY

Only in the very literal sense that it’s forced us onto a fire escape together.

ED

That’s what I’m saying. Same wavelength, you and me.

She suddenly moves away. 

MARY

Were you just trying to kiss me?

ED

No.

MARY

Because it felt like… never mind.

ED

I really wasn’t.

She bends over and looks into the apartment. Suddenly they hear a crash and a scream. 

ROY

(Off stage) It’s alright! I’m okay!

MARY takes a cigarette from her pocket and puts it in her mouth. She feels around in her pockets for a lighter. ED pulls one from his and lights the cigarette for her. 

ED

I thought you’d stopped smoking.

MARY

Some nights, it’s easy. Other nights are like this.

ED

I know what you mean.

MARY

We can’t get back together, you know.

ED

What—When did I even suggest—

MARY

You were going to. You were building to it.

ED

I was so not—I didn’t even say anything.

MARY

Is that what all of this was about?

ED

Yes, you’ve uncovered my diabolical scheme. I kidnapped Curious George in there so I could seduce you into taking me back. Curses! Foiled again! And I’d have gotten away with it if not for you pesky kids and your dog…Is that really what you think?

MARY

Honestly? No, but, well, yes, maybe. I think you might do that. You got kind of unhinged after—

ED

You dumped me.

MARY

I was going to say, after we broke up.

ED

But you meant, after you dumped me.

MARY

For the love of—it was six months ago! How is this still a thing?

ED

You brought it up.

A series of crashes and thuds inside their apartment.

MARY

What the hell is he doing in there?

ED

Do you really want to know?

A prolonged high-pitched meowing.

MARY

That sounded like a cat. We don’t have a cat.

ED

Again, I ask, do you really want to know?

A loud boom from the bedroom, followed by what sounds like a roar. MARY yelps and reaches for ED’s hand. With another explosion and a crash inside, she grips it tighter. The living room fills with smoke.

ROY

(Off stage) It’s alright! Totally under control in here! Nothing’s burning!

MARY lets go of ED’s hand. 

ED

See? What was that?

MARY

What was what?

ED

With the hand-holding. You were just holding my hand. You got scared and you grabbed my hand.

MARY

Why does this matter?

ED

You remember when you asked me to move in, you were all like, no, this won’t be weird at all, and I was like, no, really, it’s gonna be weird? This right here, this is how it’s weird.

MARY

My hand grazed yours. It’s not like I jumped your bones in the shower.

He looks over her body. She clears her throat.

MARY

Stop thinking about me jumping your bones in the shower.

ED

How did we end up here?

MARY

You stole a rabid corporate mascot. The rest was inevitable.

ED

I’m talking more big picture. Us and all.

MARY

That’s complicated.

ED

We had a really good thing.

MARY

Maybe we did. But then we didn’t.

ED

My friends think this is really strange. Us. Being together and yet, you know, not. And I’m saying, my friends—you’ve met Roy, so imagine where their threshold for strange has got to be.

MARY

Mine do too. But they never really liked you much anyway.

ED

I assumed that didn’t bother you.

MARY

It didn’t. I just wanted them to see the side of you I saw.

ED

Which you don’t see anymore.

MARY

No, I don’t. I’m sorry. I was just trying to live my life.

ED

You were my life.

MARY

Oh my God. Do you ever listen to the way you talk about us? It’s like you start channeling a bad teen soap opera.

ED

Come now. That’s just a low blow. 

MARY

I just look at you and I wonder when you’re going to move on. I want to know that you’re happy.

ED

But not happy with you?

MARY

Yes. Not with me.

ED

Sorry to disappoint you there. I’m starring in fast food commercials and direct-to-DVD erotic thrillers and I’m alone, except that I live with my ex-girlfriend who, oh yeah, doesn’t have any interest in me at all anymore. You want to see me happy? Seriously? Have you seen how bad of an actor I am?

MARY

And cue the weepy emo ballad, poignant montage and fade to black. Tonight’s episode featured music by—

ED

I’m going inside now, evil living puppet monkey or not.

MARY

There’s something we need to talk about.

ED

Is it about how you’re secretly still madly in love with me? Whatever it is, just say it.

MARY

I’m leaving.

He waits for her to say something more, but when she doesn’t, he shrugs. 

ED

Alright. Well, fine. I’ll see you later tonight, then, I guess.

MARY

No, I mean… I’m moving. A senior field producing job opened up in the Chicago bureau. I was going to tell you when I got home but, well, that happened. It pays well enough to cover my half of the rent here for the next few months. Consider this thirty days’ notice or whatever.

ROY

I think I got it!

MARY climbs into the apartment. ED thinks for a moment, then follows. ROY meets them in the living room, holding a cage with a sheet over it. 

ROY

It’s back in the cage.

ED

I can see that. You’re bleeding.

ROY

In a few places, yeah. Bugger’s got claws. You wouldn’t know it to look at it.

KAPPA

Ultra-size your combo for only forty-nine cents.

ED

It talks?

ROY

Unfortunately. Mostly just bits and pieces of fast food menus.

KAPPA

Try our new fish pancakes!

ROY

Are those what they sound like?

ED

Pancakes with bits of fish in them? Yep.

ROY

Can’t say that sounds entirely pleasant. 

ED

So what the hell is it?

ROY

I’m fairly certain what we’re dealing with here is a kappa. Never actually seen one before. It’s a river imp that lures small children back to its underwater lair and sucks out their life force. See, in Shinto folklore, the kappa—

MARY

How much of this am I going to care about?

ROY

Not much, likely. Honestly, the details get a bit disgusting.

MARY

Let’s just skip that part then.

ROY

Sorry about the mess in there. I swear almost all of those stains will come out. Don’t worry. I have insurance for these situations.

ED

What are you going to do with it now?

ROY

Take it down to the playground in the morning, let it out and see if it starts chasing little kids. Science, baby. Catch the magic!

KAPPA

Ask me about our new dessert salads!

ROY pulls the ice cream spade from his belt and slams the top of the cage. 

ED

Was that really necessary?

MARY

It’s a mythical river imp, Ed. I’m sure it can’t feel pain.

ROY

Oh, no, it can. I just like doing that.

MARY

Leave my apartment.

ROY shrugs, picks up the cage, and salutes ED.

ROY

My work here is done. Expect my bill before the next full moon. 

ROY walks out the door.

ED

Well, I have to be honest. That went better than I expected. Though mythological Japanese river imp would not have been my first guess.

MARY

I’m going to get some sleep. We can clean this mess up tomorrow. 

MARY heads into her darkened bedroom. ED sits alone on the couch. After a moment, he walks over to the window and closes the grate. MARY returns wearing pajamas. 

MARY

Uh, my bed is sort of ripped in half in there. Do you mind if I—

ED

Take mine. I’ll just, you know, out here on the couch.

ED drops to the couch. He struggles to kick off his shoes. 

MARY

Ed.

ED

Yeah?

MARY

Are you going to be okay?

ED adjusts his position on the couch to face away from her. MARY turns down the living room light and returns to her room, leaving him alone in the dark. 

About the Author:

Steve Loiaconi is a journalist in Washington, DC and a graduate of George Mason University’s MFA program. His fiction has previously been published in GRIFFEL and True Chili.