“Tell me about the cage,” Hoegbotton said suddenly, surprising himself. “The cage up there”—he pointed—“is it for sale, too?”
The boy stiffened, stared at the floor. Outside, his father, brother, and two sisters were being burned as a precaution, the bodies too mutilated to have withstood a viewing anyway..
A reflexive sadness ran through Hoegbotton, even as he noted the delicacy of the silver engravings on the legs of a nearby chair and the authentic maker’s mark stitched onto the cushioned seat.
He smiled at the boy, whose gaze remained directed at the floor. “Don’t you know you’re safe now?” The words sounded ludicrous.
The woman turned to look at Hoegbotton. Her eyes were black as an abyss; they did not blink and reflected nothing. He felt for a moment balanced precariously between the son’s alarm and the mother’s regard.
“The cage was always open,” the woman said, her voice gravelly, something stuck in her throat. “We had a bird. We always let it fly around. It was a pretty bird. It flew high through the rooms. It— No one could find the bird. After.” The terrible pressure of the word after appeared to be too much for her and she fell back into her silence.
“We’ve never had a cage,” the boy said, the dark green suitcase swaying. “We’ve never had a bird. They left it here. They left it.”
A kind of rapturous chill ran through Hoegbotton. The sleepy gaze of a pig embryo floating in a jar caught his eye. Opportunity or disaster? The value of an artifact they had left behind might be considerable. The risks, however, might be more than considerable. This was the third time in the last nine months that he had been called to a house visited by the gray caps. Each of the previous times, he had escaped unharmed. In fact, he had come to believe that late arrivals like himself, who took precautions and knew their history, were impervious to any side effects.
Rated R for sexuality and disturbing imagery.