Johnny America


Bo­lo and Snag


Illustration of a rodent in a maze.

Bo­lo has been moved in­to a spe­cial cage dur­ing the night. It is much small­er than his usu­al one. And that’s not all: he’s alone. At first it feels good not to have to share, com­pete, or snug­gle. But Bolo’s re­lief doesn’t last long. He feels ill-at-ease. He crouch­es in the cor­ner of the cage, lone­ly and afraid.

The light is too bright and there is noth­ing to do. Then the man re­turns. The cage has a han­dle on the top that Bo­lo hadn’t no­ticed be­fore. The man takes the han­dle and lifts the cage. Bolo’s stom­ach falls and he lurch­es from side to side. He strug­gles to get his claws around the wires but it’s no use. He is dis­ori­ent­ed and slight­ly nau­seous. The light dims. A door opens and shuts and then he’s daz­zled again. He hears the man’s foot­steps be­low, his breath­ing above.

The cage is set down on the floor and Bo­lo feels a lit­tle bet­ter. At least he is sta­ble. The man goes away, whistling. Bo­lo tries to whis­tle too but all he can man­age is a high squeak. The room is all white. One wall is cov­ered with emp­ty met­al shelves. Be­side his cage looms a steel table.

The door swings open and the man re­turns, still whistling. He opens Bolo’s cage and then his hands— warm and soft — reach in. Bo­lo doesn’t re­sist. In fact, he is so lone­some that he would glad­ly curl up in these big hands.

Bo­lo is lift­ed, not over-gen­tly, above the top of the ta­ble. There is a large ob­long box on it with lit­tle rooms in­side. The man drops him at one end then just looks down at him. He is wear­ing a beau­ti­ful coat — even whiter than the walls — and eye­glass­es that re­flect the over­head lights.

Clear­ly some­thing is ex­pect­ed of me, Bo­lo thinks. What is it he wants me to do?

The eye­glass­es glint and watch. The man’s breath is steady.

Then Bolo’s nose catch­es the scent of meat with blood in it and at once he be­gins to sali­vate. He has missed the morn­ing meal with the oth­ers. The en­tic­ing aro­ma is com­ing from some­where at the far end of the box. But how is he to get at it with all these walls?

Then he no­tices that there are on­ly three walls be­fore him and he dash­es through the open­ing to the next room. There are on­ly two walls this time and the scent is stronger. He is mak­ing progress. The man must be pleased.

If there were oth­ers in here, he would smell them, but there is on­ly the won­der­ful smell meat meant just for him. He con­cen­trates on that. The man breathes a lit­tle more quick­ly. He is still look­ing down but not at Bo­lo. He stud­ies the thing on his wrist. The man must know where the food is be­cause he can see down in­to all the rooms. Yet he does noth­ing to help.

Bo­lo scur­ries from emp­ty room to emp­ty room, fol­low­ing his nose. There are many false starts. It is ex­as­per­at­ed to be baf­fled. His jaws are drip­ping. His stom­ach is throb­bing. At each wall he feels he is trapped; but, by back­track­ing, he al­ways finds a way forward.

At last he reach­es the food, a lit­tle bo­lus of raw ground beef. Bo­lo gob­bles up every bit. How glo­ri­ous to have it all to himself!

As soon as Bo­lo to fin­ish­es off the meat, the man picks him up again and drops him back in­to the cage on the floor, the one with the han­dle. Then once again Bo­lo is lift­ed in­to the air and los­es his foot­ing. The man takes him through two doors in­to a new room with an­oth­er steel ta­ble. There is a cage on it. This cage is large and emp­ty ex­cept for a lit­tle cup of wa­ter. The man drops Bo­lo in­to it, clos­es the lid, then lifts it and sets it on a high shelf. Bo­lo feels a lit­tle fright­en­ing to be so far off the ground. Al­so, he is still alone. How­ev­er, when he looks around the room, he sees that the shelves are stacked with more cages and sev­er­al of them hold oth­ers of his kind. Most are asleep but even their warm, mousy scent is com­fort­ing. The near­est of the cages is just a few feet away. Its oc­cu­pant jerks awake, looks at Bo­lo but says noth­ing. He has un­usu­al­ly big dark eyes. Bo­lo would like it if they could touch noses.

“I’m called Bo­lo,” he says in a friend­ly way.

“Snag,” growls the oth­er with­out interest.

“Have you been in that place — the one with all the lit­tle rooms and the meat?”

“We all have. I’ve been three times.”

“I just came back,” Bo­lo says not with­out pride.

“Good for you.” 

Bo­lo is ea­ger to keep up the con­ver­sa­tion. If Snag has been three times, he must be an ex­pert; he must know what’s up.

“What do you think?” he asks.

“About what?”

“Well, the man in the coat, for in­stance. He has nice hands. He gives us the food.”


“Well, I’ve been think­ing. Do you sup­pose it’s some kind of test? You know, to see if we’ll fig­ure out what he wants so he can give us the food?”

“Cor­rec­tion. He just watch­es us. What he wants is what­ev­er we do.”

Bo­lo is puz­zled by this re­mark. “You mean he doesn’t care what we do, if we get the food?”

“Not in the least. It’s on­ly my opin­ion, of course.”

“But that would be pointless.”

“It is point­less. Again, just my opinion.”

Snag’s su­pe­ri­or tone an­noys Bo­lo, though he him­self was ea­ger to as­cribe ex­per­tise to him. Snag is large than Bo­lo. Bo­lo reck­ons that he must be at least a week old­er than himself.

“But there has to be a point,” he in­sists. “It’s just that the man knows what it is and we don’t.”

“Be­cause he’s a man?”

Bo­lo is pleased to have scored a point. “Ex­act­ly,” he says.

Snag scoffs with dis­gust the way Bo­lo had once heard some­body do over a morsel of very old fish.

“Why do you think we go there? You know, in­to the box with all the rooms in it.”

“We’re al­ways there. Again, my opinion.”

“What do you mean? We’re not there now, obviously.”

Snag swivels his head look­ing around the room. “These cages. Our lives. It’s a conspiracy.”

“A con­spir­a­cy? But then there is a point. A con­spir­a­cy means there’s a… a struc­ture. You’ve got to ad­mit that.”

“Of course there’s a struc­ture, but it doesn’t have a point. It doesn’t mean anything.”

“It must.”


Bo­lo is at a loss.

“Have you con­sid­ered,” Snag says pompous­ly, “that he knows as lit­tle as we do?”

Bo­lo is shocked. “But that’s a ter­ri­ble idea,” he says.

“I agree. It is ter­ri­ble. But it’s re­al­is­tic. It’s prac­ti­cal. What does it mat­ter to him if we go right or left or just stand still? You think he cares if we get the food or starve? He just watch­es and looks at the thing on his wrist and writes some­thing down.”

“But he was hap­py when I got to the meat.”


“Yes, be­cause I made the right choic­es and won a re­ward. This must have been his in­ten­tion all along.”

“Then why not just give you the food in the first place?”

Bo­lo con­sid­ers. “Well, I had to earn it, didn’t I?”


“Earn the food. And it was good, too. Didn’t you like it?”

“I didn’t eat any — and not be­cause I couldn’t have found my way, if that’s what you’re think­ing. I just wouldn’t play his game.” 

“So… what? You just sat there?”

“No. I tried to jump out.”

“Jump out?”

“I failed. But at least I did what I want­ed, not what he wanted.”

“Well then, you ad­mit he did want you to earn the food. See?”

“No. He want­ed me to do what­ev­er I was go­ing to do — but with­in the lim­its he set which don’t in­clude jump­ing out. I re­fused to ac­cept those lim­its. What I want is to bite him. Bite him hard.”

Bo­lo is hor­ri­fied. “Bite him?”

Snag’s big eyes nar­row. “It re­al­ly is point­less, whether you ac­cept it or not.”

“What is?” 

“This life. Every­thing. The way I see it, there’s noth­ing left to us but to bite.”

“No, I can’t ac­cept that. It has to mean some­thing. It must mat­ter. We matter.”

“To our­selves, certainly.”

“Yes, of course. But to him too.”

We mat­ter to him? That’s a laugh,” mocks Snag, then with­draws to the far end of his cage, curls up, and with a hiss shuts his eyes. 

Though the room isn’t cold, Bo­lo be­gins to shiver.

Filed under Fiction on January 27th, 2023

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