He got it in his head, so. It was a fever. No amount of lickings could discourage him. The old man whupped him so bad the last time he like to have died. As it was, he got laid up for almost a week before he got back to it.
I reckon he did find it, though. Them stones was all took apart, piled neat by a hole as big as a breadbox, square as you please. Of course we never did see him around here again. Whatever he found in that hiding hole was all he ever wanted.
“My nona used to trap songbirds,” she said. “In Torino. She told me that they used to string nets along the trees. In the morning they would bring ladders and pluck them out by the dozens.”
“That’s cruel,” said the boy.
“They were starving,” she said. “You know how that feels.”
The boy knew. “Can we catch them too?”
“Nobody can eat them now,” she said. “The birds are why everybody got sick.”
“The birds?” It seemed unlikely.
She went to the window. “The flu came from birds. They gave it to the pigs, who gave it to us.”
Ernando heard something scuttling in the ankle-deep water. A rat, maybe. Ships were famous for rats. It was pitch black down in the hold, the air close and fetid.
Boarding this ship had not been planned. He’d seen the freighter and decided right there, rowed the stolen skiff out to the mooring and shimmed hand-over-hand up the the anchor chain to squeeze through the hawse hole high above the waterline. In utter darkness he’d slid down the chain to the unventilated cable tier deep inside the hull.
It was probably day by now. He wondered if he’d made a mistake.