This writing project explores the idea of captivity in many forms helping young authors think about different ways characters might not be free to do as they like.

Introduction to this Stone Soup Writing Activity

In this story by Nicholaus Curby, the eagle, locked in its cage, is obviously a captive. The eagle is a captive the same way a person in prison is a captive. Most people, when they think of captivity, think first of this type of imprisonment—the kind where locked doors keep you in. But in life, and in Nicholaus’ story, being captive has more meanings than simply that of being locked in a small space.

Sam, the man who owns the service station, is a captive of his selfishness. He can only think of himself and can’t think of the eagle and what is best for it.

Will, who works for Sam, tries to see life from the eagle’s point of view and comes to the conclusion that the eagle should be freed. But Will is himself not really free to do what he thinks best for the eagle. You could think of him as captive of his position as a boy and employee.

As a writer you will find that if you can show the ways your characters are held captive by their emotions, or by their role in life as parent, teacher, child, etc., your characters will come alive and seem more like real people.

Project 1: Captive of an Emotion

Sam seems like a nice man so you’d think he would feel in his heart that the eagle, once so strong, should be allowed to fly again. But during the first part of Nicholaus’ story Sam doesn’t seem able to spend any time thinking about what life might be like for the eagle in the cage. Why not? In my opinion the reason is this: Sam’s selfishness. Sam’s “likes” the eagle and that is why he keeps it. This selfish attitude makes Sam captive, keeping him from his better, more generous self. Using your own life and that of your family and friends as references, create a character or characters who are captives of their emotions and feelings. Create a character or characters who, because of how they feel—selfish, tired, lonely, happy, angry, can only see life from one perspective and thus can’t act exactly as we might wish they would.

Project 2: Captive of a Social Situation

Sometimes we are prevented from doing what we want to do by doors that are locked—like in prison. But most often we are kept captive by less obvious means than locked doors.

Create a character like Will. Will could easily have let the eagle go. All he had to do was open the cage. No one used physical force to keep him away from it. But Will wasn’t really free to do as he liked. As a boy, and as an employee of Sam’s, Will wasn’t free to let the eagle go.

As you create your character, try to keep clear in your mind the limits imposed on your character by his or her position.

The Captive

By Nicholaus Curby, 12, Vallejo, California
Illustrated By Justine Minnis, 11, Santa Cruz, California
First published in the November/December 1985 issue of Stone Soup

Will Turner scrambled down the mountain trail from his house to the valley. He couldn’t be late for his first real job!

Although early morning mist half hid the valley, he could see the big sign that marked his destination:


Then Will saw something move outside the building. It looks like an animal inside a cage, Will thought, as he started to run. But investigating had to wait. Sam Dickson was standing at the station door.

“Hello. I’m glad you’re here!” Will’s new employer tapped the walking cast on his left leg. “This broken ankle makes working hard. I can use your help.”

The Captive Fuel Station

The morning was busy. Pumping gas, wiping windshields, fetching soda pop, Will forgot the movement he had seen in the fog until eleven o’clock. Then he ran around the building. In a cage, a large eagle ruffled his bronze feathers and cocked his head as Will approached.

Mr. Dickson hobbled up. “Isn’t he a beauty? Found him hurt, but he’s well now.”

“First one I’ve ever seen,” Will said.

“How’d you like to take over feeding him?”

“Yes sir! But keeping an eagle, isn’t it against the law? Why don’t you let him go?”

“Let him go!” Mr. Dickson echoed. “Why, I saved his life, besides, I like him.”

Later, Will carried out a tray of meat scraps. He slid it into the cage. “Here, old fellow.”

The eagle’s strong beak tore the meat scraps, and soon the tray was empty. Will stared uncomfortably as the bird pushed fiercely against the cage. “If you were free,” Will declared, “you could find your own dinner.”

Will loved his new job. Only one thing bothered him—the eagle. Somehow it seemed wrong for such a splendid creature to be trapped.

“I’ve been reading about wild birds,” Will said one afternoon when Mr. Dickson was resting his leg. “Did you know eagles keep the same nest year after year?” He glanced at his employer. “Bet your eagle’s thinking about his home right now.”

“Nonsense,” Sam Dickson said sharply. “That bird has a good home right here.”

“I guess so,” Will murmured, afraid to say any more.

When Will arrived early the next morning, heavy clouds were gathering overhead. He knew they signaled a big storm. “Maybe you should go tomorrow to go for supplies,” he said to Mr. Dickson who was writing a list.

“Nope, I always go on Tuesdays. Don’t worry, son. I’ll be fine.” Sam Dickson climbed awkwardly into his red pickup truck.

“Remember to buy ketchup,” Will called as the truck pulled away. Before it disappeared, thunder sounded, and a downpour began.

Only one customer appeared all morning. “Roads are bad,” the driver declared. “Hope the rain stops before we have a mudslide.”

By noon Will was worried. Mr. Dickson should have been back by this time.

“I’ll call the town,” he said. He picked up the telephone; it was dead. “The lines are down! I’d better look for him.”

Pulling on his slicker, Will walked along the deserted rain-washed road. He wondered where the cars were. He started to run, turned a bend in the road . . . then he saw it—a great pile of rocks, upside-down trees, twisted roots holding chunks of earth. ”

The Captive Street

A mudslide, the road is blocked! What if Mr. Dickson was coming back and . . .”

Slipping and struggling, Will climbed on a huge rock and began to shout. “Mr. Dickson!” His eyes searched the jumble of mud, rocks, and branches. He shouted again, “Mr. Dickson, Mr. . . .”

Wait! Was that a patch of red? The truck? Will pushed his way through the broken trees until he was certain.

Moments later, hands and face scratched, he reached the truck. It lay on its side, pinned down on its side by a giant tree, and the exposed door was smashed in. Will could hear Mr. Dickson pounding and yelling.

“I’m trapped,” Mr. Dickson cried, “get me out, Will.” Will tugged at the buckled door.

“It won’t budge,” he shouted. “I’ll get help.”

It was a long trip to town, but Will ran all the way. When he stumbled into the sheriff’s office, he was so breathless he couldn’t speak.

“Trapped!” exclaimed Sheriff Jones when Will finally made himself understood. He grabbed a first-aid kit and a crowbar. “Let’s go, kid!”

Bouncing along in the sheriff’s jeep, Will pointed the way to the red truck. The two jumped out, yelling as they scrambled through the trees and branches.

“We’re here, Mr. Dickson!”

“Hang on, Sam!”

They wedged the crowbar between the truck body and the buckled door. They took a firm hold on the handle. “Pull, Will! Hard!” The door didn’t move. “Harder.”

With a loud crunching noise the door broke open. Will and the sheriff half-dragged the frightened man from the truck. Then the three drove along the roads to the service station.

The Captive Birdcage

The captive eagle.

Will helped Mr. Dickson into the station and started toward the kitchen. “You need some hot soup.”

“Wait, Will. Open the cash register. You deserve a reward.”

Will hesitated. “I don’t want money, but there is something . . .”

Mr. Dickson stared at Will. “The eagle?”

Will nodded.

“You want to turn him loose, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

Sam Dickson half smiled. “I do too. I know how it feels to be trapped. Go ahead, open the cage.”

Outside the rain had stopped. Will unlatched the cage door and swung it open. The eagle gazed solemnly at the man and the boy. Then he stepped out onto the platform.

Suddenly he sprang! Strong wings spread wide, then beat more and more powerfully to lift him to freedom. The eagle, no longer captive, soared into the afternoon sky.

William Rubel, Editor
About the Author

In 1973, I was twenty years old, teaching children's art classes at my college, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and came up with the idea that the best way to encourage children to write was to introduce them to the best writing by their peers. Stone Soup grew out of that idea. Along with co-editor Gerry Mandel, I have continued to edit and publish Stone Soup for all these years. I am also a culinary historian. I write about traditional foodways. My book, "The Magic of Fire," is about hearth cooking. My book, "Bread, a global history," speaks for itself. I am currently writing a 130,000-word bread history for a University Press. I publish articles on gardening and traditional foodways at Mother Earth News. I also publish on wild mushrooms and other food-related subjects.

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