Rachel Bargabos | Contributing Illustrator

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on this reporter’s quest to find the One True Picolas Cage. At last reporting, our trio — the en-pickled Nic Cage, Linda the Liberian prostitute, and myself — were in an abandoned barn, hiding from the police while waiting for Nic Cage’s nutritionist, Nikki Kayj.

“Ah, Nikki, you’re looking lovely this evening,” said Pic at 4:00 a.m., when his bedraggled nutritionist completed the three-hour journey from her warm and cozy bed to our random barn in the middle of Nevada.

“Nic, you’re…” — she paused, her unflinching expression showing that the several years she has spent working for Nic Cage have trained her to expect the unexpected — “…sodium intake appears to be up,” she said, changing tack when she found herself unsure of how to make small talk with a six-foot-tall pickle.

“I suppose you’ve noticed my condition then,” Pic replied, as if anyone could fail to notice his “condition.” “That’s why I’ve called you here.”

Still too groggy to deal with him quite yet, Ms. Kayj turned to Linda and me for an explanation. After we recounted Pic’s story and how we had gotten involved, she nodded — half in understanding and half in resignation — and turned to Pic.

“Mr. Cage, I answered without question all of the odd, pickle-related questions you’ve been sending me for the past several months, but now that I see the extent of your situation I should really tell you that I do not have a medical degree and I’m frankly alarmed that you were able to get all those carrier pigeons to — ”

“Nicolette, please,” Pic implored. He didn’t know if Nikki was short for Nicolette but he thought it conveyed the sincerity he was aiming for.

“All of that scientific nonsense was just a pretext to get you here,” Pic said, his voice tender and pure.

“You see, in all those months I spent in that cage, I got to thinking,” he went on, shifting his gaze until he was staring into the middle distance. “I thought, ‘This is just like that famous role I played where I was transformed into an ugly green monster and only true love’s kiss could break the curse.”

“We’ve been over this before, Mr. Cage,” Ms. Kayj interjected, “even if that made any sense at all, you weren’t either of the frogs in ‘Princess in the Frog’ nor were you Fiona from ‘Shrek.’”

“None of that matters anymore, Nikki!” Pic said, brushing aside factual evidence with the ease of a con-man or the President of the United States. “All that matters is that we’re together now!”

With that, he closed his eyes and puckered his lips, and though his vegetal body was incapable of voluntary movement you could tell he was trying to lean toward Nikki.

Nikki rolled her eyes. “You’d be surprised how often he tries to pull this stunt,” she mumbled to Linda and me. “Mr. Cage, I find myself obligated to remind you of Chapter 5, Section 0, Paragraph 9 of my contract: ‘Neither party to this agreement shall pursue, initiate, or otherwise discuss a potential romantic relationship with the other party.’”

“Oh Nikki, always playing hard-to-get,” Pic said, to another eye roll from Nikki. “Well, as long as you’re here, what can you tell me about pickles? Why would someone do this?”

“Well, I have no idea why anyone would do this in particular,” she said, wondering for the thousandth time with whom Nic Cage consorts on a daily basis, “but pickling in general has been used for millennia to preserve foods from — ”

“Wait,” Pic said, “‘preserve?’ As in, ‘keep alive?’”

“No, actually, not at all like that,” she replied. “More like, ‘preserve’ as in ‘prevent bacteria from — ’”

“It heals all illness too?!” Pic’s already tenuous grip on the situation seemed to be slipping. “Pardon me for a moment, I’ll be right back.”

Though Pic did not move, he shut his eyes tightly and contorted his face in concentration, as if he were trying to contact someone telepathically. But whatever he was doing, he wasn’t responding to any stimuli from the barn. With Linda out foraging for something to eat, this gave me a chance to talk to Nikki alone.

“So, um, Nikki…” I wasn’t sure where to start. “Is all of this…?”

“Is it all some drug-induced night terror or final season of Lost–esque sideways universe?” She had had this conversation before. “I’m afraid not, kid. What’s your name?”

“Eric,” I said, having forgotten that Pic Cage still hadn’t asked me that question.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Stephanie,” she said. “Yes, I know, he calls me Nikki Kayj, and he probably hasn’t even asked you your name. He believes in Sherlock Holmes’ theory that you only have finite memory so he doesn’t memorize names. He either makes names up or, for people he sees frequently, gives them some form of his own name.”

This was the first time I had heard a sensible thought in several days, and as rationality returned to me the absolute insanity of our current predicament hit me like a sack of bricks. All of my questions came pouring out faster than I knew I could ask them.

“How is this man real? Does he find himself in elaborate police chases often? Do you think he’s inside the pickle or has he actually become a pickle? How much does he pay you? What are the chances I’ll make it home alive? Why does he think he’s been in every movie?”

I had more questions but I had to pause to catch my breath.

“Oh, yeah, the movie thing,” Stephanie said with a chuckle. “Has he told you about the internet?”

“Yeah, he just found out about it like six months ago and he thinks everything on there is true?” I answered.

“Not only that,” Stephanie said, “but his favorite thing to do is search for himself on it. Wasn’t long before he found those gifs where people Photoshop his face onto famous movie characters. Before you know it he thinks he’s been in all these famous movies.”

Finally, logic was starting to regain a hold on my life. Then Pic, who I had honestly forgotten was next to us this whole time, opened his eyes.

“Good news!” he said, in a tone of genuine enthusiasm that I had learned to associate with an imminent hare-brained scheme.

“I’ve been in contact with the Illuminati. Now that I’m immortal, I need somewhere to enjoy everlasting life. So I traded Martha Stewart two of my castles for one of her pyramids and a helicopter ride to Egypt. I’ll be in the air within the hour.”

“Nic, hold on,” Stephanie said. “I really don’t think this pickle makes you immor— ”

“There’s no time for that, Nikki!” he said, ending the brief Era of Stephanie/Nikki Being Allowed to Complete Her Sentences. “I have some important things I need to say before I go.”

“Linda,” he started, turning to the Liberian prostitute just as she returned from her foraging trip. “I want you to know that you have always been my one true love. I have loved you since I was in the womb, and I will spend the rest of eternity thinking of you from my opulent pyramid.”

“Nic, you are currently married and just half an hour ago you were trying to make out with that nutritionist,” she said with a stern face. But she couldn’t stay mad at him and she broke out into a smile. “But you know you’ll always be my Lord of War.”

Turning to Stephanie, Pic said, “Dear Nicolette, my newfound immortality means I need no longer concern myself with nutrition. It is with sadness in my heart that I must dismiss you from my service.”

Though she had dreamed of such freedom for longer than she had been employed by Nic Cage, she never thought it would actually happen, and the suddenness of her termination took her aback. Unable to imagine going back to a normal life, she started brainstorming other crazy celebrities she could work for. Gary Busey? Shia LaBeouf? Kanye? She continued to brainstorm but she doubted anyone would ever live up to The Nicolas Cage. She hung her head in wordless sorrow.

Finally, Pic addressed me.

“Worthy friend,” he began. “You have served me faithfully for as long as I can remember.” He paused as a tear ran down his face, while I wondered whether or not a pickle had the capacity to remember more than a few days in the past.

“It’s time for me to move on to a better place, but I fear that society isn’t ready for a Cageless world yet. My legacy is not yet complete. Someone must finish the story I started.”

He looked me firmly in the eye with a brief but piercing lucidity that heretofore I had never seen.

“You must become Nicolas Cage, Eric.”

I nearly vomited. I would have been floored just by the fact that he called me by my real name (despite still never asking what it was!), but that was dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of what he was suggesting. Speechless, I could do nothing but listen as he continued.

“Here is the key to my mansion in Las Vegas. The fob has a button that will dispatch a helicopter to bring you there. On the third floor there’s a safe behind a false bookcase. Enter the code ‘032596.’ Inside will be a signed check for $5,090,000 and a phone number for a Dr. Nikolai Cagovich. He’s a plastic surgeon I’ve retained to turn anyone into me at a moment’s notice. The check should be enough to cover the costs. After that, you’re on your own. I trust your instinct. Be Nic Cage.”

I was overwhelmed with emotion at the thought of this, but, seeing he was expecting a response, I tried to calm myself down with a joke. “I guess this’ll be just like the time John Travolta took your identity in ‘Face/Off,’” I said with a wry grin.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he responded, as the glint of clarity from earlier faded. “But it does remind me of the time I switched bodies with my teenage daughter and learned the difficulties of watching a mother get remarried.”

How he could have forgotten a movie he was actually in and yet at the same time thought he was in “Freaky Friday” vexes me to this day, but before I could say anything, the rhythmic whirr of helicopter blades alerted us to the arrival of Pic’s ride to Egypt.

We had said all that could be said, so Stephanie and I watched in silence as Martha Stewart’s men loaded Pic onto, of all things, a military-style, dual-blade Chinook helicopter. They were even kind enough to bring him a King Tut–esque burial mask to wear. Though to this day I can’t explain how, as they closed the final door I saw a single tear run down the face of the mask. I knew it was a tear of happiness.

The sun was beginning to rise as we watched the helicopter disappear beyond the eastern horizon, and, as its rays began to illuminate the Nevadan landscape before us, one could almost believe that the whole thing had been a dream.

But the set of keys in my hand told me otherwise.

The past few months had been the greatest adventure of my life, but a new adventure was dawning. I was about to take on a new identity, never looking back on any life I had lived beforehand.

It’ll be just like the time I broke my parole, shed the identity of Jean Valjean, and became a provincial mayor in 19th century France.



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