The Battery Cage
Read the story, first published by: Ash and Bones Magazine
My name is Loretta. I belong to the Onion Head. I call him the Onion Head because his appearance is that of a fresh picked onion hanging upside down—his round, yellow head the bulbous onion and its hollow green stem his wrinkled coveralls. His pantlegs chafe and swish as he makes his rounds at the same monotonous pace with his hands in his pockets—no doubt fingering coins. When he arrives at camp, we skitter and cackle. It’s the only light we’ll see all day. By we, I mean my sisters, and by camp, I mean our windowless prison that runs by remote control. We share a room. Or rather, a cell—eleven of us counting me. We’re allotted space that’s standing room only; about the size of the Onion Head’s shoe. My sisters are: Lulu, Lynnette, Lori, Leola, Lizzie, Lacy, Laura, Lenore, Louise and Louisa (twins), but to the Onion Head we’re collectively; cell seventeen. Our names begin with the same letter so that we have a sense of who lives where. The M’s, Mary and Missy, live in the cells to our right and the K’s, Kelly and Kendra, to our left. Our methods of communication are quite complex. When one of us cries out, Vicky for instance, we know that she’s ten cells down. Since we can’t see her it provides us with a sense of space, a sense of peace. Ten houses down, so to speak.
Yesterday the twins Louise and Louisa had a terrible spat over nothing. They brought no harm to each other, thank God, since the Onion Head surgically removed a good portion of our mouths. We’re not fighters by nature, but anxiety screams for release when emotions are this pent up. Lock yourself in a bathroom with thirty-two Onion Heads elbow to elbow and you’ll see what I mean. After months and years, you pray to a spot on the floor.
At night we pass stories from cell to cell, fantasizing, as if someday we might escape. Prisoners running through waves of grass—we raise families, splash in puddles and blink in the sun. The intellectuals among us scoff, saying such dreams are pointless, chalking the nonsense up to instinct. Especially old Sage, seven cells down.
I stay up most of the night talking to Sage when I feel sad.
“Someday, the Onion Heads will see,” she said.
“Before I’m old?” I asked.
“No. Each layer of the onion represents a phase of enlightenment. Each time they peel a layer they discover a deeper truth.”
“How long? Before they see what, they’ve done?”
“I’m afraid that’s an age-old question. They’re only on the second or third layer. There’s a long way to go.”
“In our lifetime?”
“It’s not our life to live. You should know that by now.”
“It’s so unfair.”
“Don’t complain,” said Sage. “After all, you’ve got a lot to be thankful for. Born male, you would’ve been thrown in the blender and ground alive.”
Review by FictionFeed:
the author prioritizes story and world-building: the battery cages in this factory farm are a neighborhood, the “onion head” who rules over them is a sort of deity (not the benevolent kind)–there is a sort of mythology in place, a culture and geography and conflict. It gives the reader something to invest in, beyond the horrors.
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