Above the sibling orphans a variety of corvids and songbirds hung heads downward. They stared wildly from black pinpricks and pattered meagre essences into waiting containers of halved milk cartons or scavenged soda cans out their silent throats. The makeshift fibreboard cart was found in a garage, built to sell lemonade when lemons were more than pictures. The whole stall lit by the LED on the back of a resurrected smartphone.

“Got any living ones?” the customer spoke. He leant his face into the selection at head height, his a reek of wet earth and distant rot. His proximity kept the girl’s slingshot close to her fingertips. The boy shook his head

The customer browsed the selection indifferently until he came to a trio of starlings, their ruined faces indistinct. The man counted banknotes in fingers black with what the children assumed to be newspaper ink. More than the meat was worth. The girl in her reluctance cut the birds down with a blunt pen knife and made to pluck them and he waved her off with his filthy digits.

“Had a few that didn’t die straight away, but I finished ‘em off,” the boy spoke. “Can’t stand to see ‘em that way.”

“If it happens again,” the customer said, his eyes coals to the dark, “keep them breathing, bring them back.” He picked up the birds by the strings around their rigid feet. “My patron will give you double.” He squeezed his payment firm into the child’s palm.

Officers came asking after him later, for defining features, whether he gave them anything other than currency. But city children have no idea what human metacarpals look like when cleaned of flesh. The boy pulled the necklace from his pocket after the police had gone.

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