Nearby, the battalion nicknamed Heartbreakers had discovered an entrance underground that had slipped by the rest of us searching the property. It was a small hole that looked like an air vent; a lithe man could slip in, which is exactly what we volunteered Pierre R. to do. (Our other Pierre—Pierre H.—worked part-time in a cubicle, and it was clear to us which Pierre was the better fit, so to speak.) We had one plan and one plan only: once Pierre reached the room where the vote tallies were held, he would send a bird that we had purchased at the market from an old woman who told us about its cunning and ability to fly away with great strength and resilience (hence, its reputation in local lore as a curse and a blessing for it to be seen during births, weddings, funerals, and Tax Day). We told Pierre to stuff the bird in his jacket pocket until it was needed. “Under any circumstances, do not eat it,” we begged. We waited for many hours and sang songs and told jokes about the government to pass time. Pierre emerged finally when we started breakfast and poured our first cups of coffee. He looked confused, more so than when we crossed the broken dam to reach here. We later found out that the problem was the night—very dark—and the bird was impeccably built by Nature for activities after the sun set. Little Pierre indeed may have released the bird from the window facing the river, but we never knew that, thanks to the moon slipping behind clouds and the whole sky closing like black curtains in front of which anything could have escaped.

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William Auten is the author of the novel Pepper’s Ghost (2016, Black Rose Writing), a 2017 Eric Hoffer Book Award finalist for contemporary fiction. Recent work has appeared in BULLCrab Orchard ReviewGravelPermafrost, and
Slush Pile Magazine.