The Lion's Cage

The Lion's Cage

A Story by Prodigo

This story was translated into English after being found in an abandoned prison along el Rivera de Santa Maria. 


The prisoner said something to him but he did not answer. The guard was leaning back against the rail in a chair opposite the cell, and reading a book. The prisoner repeated, "That is my book?"


"No, Miguel. You are standing in my light; return to bed."


"The blankets, they smell and this light is always on. I cannot sleep."


"You have been here for many years, Miguel. You have not complained before. Why this night of the many before it?"


"I do not wish to tell you."


"You have told me many shameful things, Miguel. I could not think less of you than I do now. Tell me what keeps you stirring and standing in my light."


The prisoner pointed at the bulb in his cell and said, "This is not your light. It belongs to me."


"We share this light, Miguel. It is the only thing we share."


"That is false. We share the air in this place."



"Yes, but it matters not. When you breathe out there is only your lies and your stench."


Miguel breathed heavily with his hands squeezing the bars of his cell. He cast a shadow over his guard and said, "I would like to know what book that is you read now."


"This is why you cannot sleep?"




"Aie Dios mio, Miguel. Then for what purpose do you stand there?"


"I only want to know what book you read now. What kind of story is it?"


The guard sighed deeply in the prisoner's shadow and turned the book in his hands, rubbing the velvet red spine and said, "It is from America. They built a ship as big as Mexico but they struck a block of ice and it sank."


"You can read Ingles?"


"Of course I can." He replied in English


"What did you say just now?"


"I say nothing, Miguel."



"Well, that is a silly story."


"Why is it silly, Miguel?"


"Because something so small cannot stop something so grand."


"A lion would stop the hunt if he caught a thorn in his paw."


"You should not joke about the lions; they are a strange beast."


"As are you. Now return to bed, lion. There is a greater light coming soon and it will be truly difficult to sleep then."


The prisoner stared at his guard and without feeling his lips move, he said, "Would you like to hear a story?"


The guard looked up into the face of his prisoner and leaned forward seeming interested but he fell back and laughed, "Tell me a story Miguel, since you will not leave this light and you will not sleep."


"You do not like your book?"


"It matters not. You are standing in the light and I have lost interest."



"May I see it?"


The guard stood from his chair and set the book in the prisoner’s outstretched hand. "This is a book, lion; do not eat it. Now tell me a story. I do not wish to fall asleep in the presence of a lion."


The prisoner opened the book and smelled the pages delightedly. His eyes in the darkness glowed like a lion's eyes. He rubbed the spine as the guard had and felt the linen cover. He looked up from the book and said, "I have not seen a book this well made since the church in my village. I lived in that church and the padre did not allow me to touch his holy book."


"You lived in a church?"


"Yes. I did not know my father and my mother burned to death when I was very young. She carried the clothes of the blacksmith to the river to wash. She had much black powder on her face and hands and her dress. She burned very quickly on our doorstep when the candle beside the crucifix caught her sleeve. She did not scream nor did she move and her dress turned brown from the dust of the road and black from the fire. They gave me her dress to mend and to wash in the river. There, I met Maria. She taught me to scrub the dust from the cloth so my mother could wear the only dress she possessed at her funeral. She was buried behind the church. I grew very fond of Maria while I lived in this church."


The guard interrupted him, "You are not a religious man, Miguel. Why did they do this? There is no room for a lion in a church. You would eat the baby Jesus if you had hunger."



The prisoner pretended the guard had said nothing and continued to caress the book saying, "I loved Maria and she belonged to me and all of the village belonged to me and I belonged to her. I loved the bells and the dust in the trees and the river and the candles that were left at the foot of the church after Mass. AT the river, I decided I would marry her after her quinceañera."


"I have seen this Maria. Ella es guapa.” 


"There is no woman that equals her."


"And what of the quince?"



"It was beautiful; there in the village at night with the lights in the trees and the dancing and the food. She was wearing a very rich dress when I came to her and offered her to dance. I was quickly shooed away by her elders and I left the party with much shame. The fiesta continued and the people sang and laughed with the mariachis with much beer and wine. Away from the lights and the joy of la fiesta, I sat alone on the steps of the church. I was in tears when a stray dog limped from the shadow of the trees and he was brown and old and his fur was caked with mud. I crept across the road and held my hand to his nose. He was very friendly and he did not shrink away when I came close. I took a handful of his neck and walked with him through the village away from la fiesta. I saw the workshop of the blacksmith left open. I led this dog inside and rubbed the black powder on his back and on his belly. We turned back into the village in the darkness, still hearing the laughing and the singing. Where I sat before, there were candles beside the steps. I held his neck firmly for a moment and touched the flame to his back. The dog screamed and yelped, charging through la fiesta like a chariot of fire until he fell over the cliff by the river, and he was black from the fire and brown from the dust of the road."



The guard breathed heavy in the darkness as Miguel paused for a moment.

 "The village gathered inside the church for morning Mass. The smell of beer and wine and sweat forced the padre to open the doors to rid the church of the stench. The blacksmith spoke softly of a barrel of his black powder that had gone missing. Those beside him shrugged their shoulders and the service was dull and lifeless. I took Maria and led her outside the church and told her to wait in the shade of the pecan tree facing the church doors. I left and returned with chains dragging behind me and a thick lock I found hanging at the door of the blacksmith's workshop. I took the handles of the church doors and shut them quietly. I ran the chain through the handles and locked the ends together and tugged on the lock gently. I followed the line of black powder I had made to the end and touched a candle to it. The wind was dry and the flame charged up the walls to the roof and very quickly there was an inferno above the heads of the villagers. I stood there with Maria in the shade of the tree and held her as the wind carried the fire to the steeple, watching as it collapsed through the roof onto their heads. Above the crashing of the roof, you could hear no more screams nor beating on the church doors. Maria cried much and pounded on my chest. This was the biggest fire, man, I tell you this. I married Maria in her home alone, and we made love that same night. I gave her much to drink and we celebrated and it was warm and I did not feel her leave my side. I woke up alone, sick and smelling of smoke. I was arrested that morning and now I am here."


"This story you tell is true, Miguel?"


"I swear it. I love her, still."


"To what God do you swear?"


"All of them."


"You will love her tomorrow, then?"


"She will be there when I am freed."


"You will not see her. You will not see even the summer sun. The black bag is very thick."


"Then I am to die tomorrow?"




"You will be there when I am to die? I would like you to say a prayer for me. And Maria."


"Of course, little lion. Now go to sleep."


The prisoner held the book through the bars and the guard retrieved it. He watched him turn and face the barred window and fall into his bed and slip into the sheets. The guard found his place in his book and leaned into the light and continued reading.

© 2011 Prodigo

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Added on May 6, 2011
Last Updated on May 6, 2011



Victoria, TX

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A Story by Prodigo