“’Ello, Mystic Critters, Phenomenal Phoenixes department. This is Kirk speaking.” I crooked the talkie in my neck and brushed an explosion of crimson feathers off my appointment book.
Why’d the birds have to make such a bloomin’ feathery fuss during reincarnation?
“Yes, miss,” I spoke into the talkie. “Crispy’s been a-flutter since her adoption announcement. Yes, miss, brightest yellow-tail we’ve got, perfect for your gardens. See you soon!”
I clicked off the talkie and shut the book. Behind me, the aviary had grown unnaturally quiet. Scores of black orbish eyes peeped between the bars of their spacious cages—all looking at me.
When Mystic Critters hired me, they’d warned me that phoenixes are sentient. They’d failed to add that they are shameless eavesdroppers and malicious gossips. Whenever the birds chittered away in their own high-pitched language, “Kirk” had become a reoccurring topic of discussion—for better or worse.
“Kirk!” crooned a bushy fluff-feather. The bird’s slender neck slipped between her cage’s bars as she nipped at my cap.
I smiled and stroked the long, silky feathers draping from her crown. “Already fed yah, girl. You know the rules.”
“Kirk!” Her chirps grew sharp—and a bit snarky. She retreated into her cage and stuffed her head beneath her scarlet wing.
“Patronizing peacocks!” I muttered. I hurried along the length of cages. “Oi, Crispy! It’s adoption day!”
The giant cage filled with vines and an oversized birdhouse was oddly quiet. I circled the cage, finally spotting its occupant in the perching-tree.
My heart sank.
Instead of a perky, canary phoenix, an elegant, emerald bird nested on the topmost branch. On the ground, next to a small feeding dish, lay a pile of ash and yellow feathers.
“For the love of unicorns!” I threw down my cap. “Crispy! You’re a blinkin’ yellow-tail!”
The phoenix merely blinked her large eyes and chirped in a sing-song fashion, unconcerned. Of course she wouldn’t care birdseed about her breed’s specification.
“Miss Flipperhorn only adopts yellow-tails, Crispy! What am I supposed to tell her?”
I groaned, yanking a hand through my flat hat hair. Yes, I knew that phoenixes rebirth upon reaching old age—obviously—but their self-absorbed infatuation with appearances made elderliness tricky to spot. A phoenix would rather burst into flames than show its actual age, which made it almost impossible to tell when they were about to reincarnate.
“You know what? You don’t deserve adoption!”
I regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth. Offending people was one thing, phoenixes quite another.
Crispy let her shiny, new wings drop. “Kirk!” she squawked. Dragon-sized tears rolled down her beak.
“Crispy . . . girl, I’m—”
The door to the aviary burst open.
“My, what an exquisite collection!” Miss Flipperhorn’s voice echoed through the chamber.
I blinked overwhelmed eyes at Crispy and hurried to my customer. “That’s right. Phenomenal Phoenixes offers the very best selection of birds.” I toted the company line.
Miss Flipperhorn, a regal regular at Mystic Critters, was known for her estate’s sprawling garden full of extraordinary creatures—including yellow-tail phoenixes. But this was the first time I’d seen her actually step foot inside the aviary.
“Wonderful,” she smiled gleefully. “Now, where’s my new yellow-tail?”
I opened my mouth, hoping for a burst of inspiration, but the aviary filled with woeful squawking.
Miss Flipperhorn appeared distressed. “What is that miserable sound?”
“Apologies, miss. Someone’s a moody girl today.” I scowled in Crispy’s direction. The phoenix was sulking at the bottom of her cage.
My customer followed my gaze. “Oh, that one must be mine.”
I did a double take, then sprinted across the aviary followed by mocking squawks of “Kirk! Kirk! Kirk!”
Crispy nestled near her feed dish, an expression of smug satisfaction on her beak, and clad in bright, canary yellow feathers.
My eyes darted to the pile of ash, now merely soot. The feathers had been restored by Crispy’s tears to their original purpose. Reincarnate, restore, renew. I guess phoenixes—and their tears—can do it all.
“Yep. Looks like she’s all ready to go.”
All around me, phoenixes pressed against their cages, chirping with a noise that sounded an awful lot like laughter.