“Is anyone there?” she calls, careful to be exactly loud enough to catch the attention of every would-be accosting presence in the place.
Thick sweat suddenly collects at her hairline, and as she reaches up to touch herself like a good little narcissist, she follows her shoeless feet into a winding hall, dotted with more candles.
Books squeeze from alcoves here and there, but the center of the room is the vibrant concern.
It is round, a circular atrium, for its walls are high and its ceiling is endless, painted with black marks and remains of painted birds. And in the center of the center, in a slight indentation, there sits a gilded cage, highboy and perched on a barley curled rod-stand. The rod sticks from the floor below, and there is a body-wide hole around the cage into which anybody might fall, given enough incentive.
What is down there is dark, and that is all she can see.
But inside the cage, oh!
There is a blue bird, full of feathers and fire. There are ashes in the cage, beneath its long cherry red feet. Long feathers, blue fire, gray eyes slid shut against everything. The bird is sleeping.
“You’re...” Clara begins, reaching out with a half-closed hand toward the cage.
Then her foot brushes something hard and cold. She looks down, reading quickly as the old plaque tumbles into the darkness of the cage’s pit.