Peck. Beak bites sharply against black. Peck. Tear away the old shelter. It's too constraining. Too restricting. Peck. Shatter it into fragments. Break this prison into specks so tiny that they can never be reassembled. Peck. Peck. Peck.
Maggie woke up in the middle of the night. The rock was moving. She had gone to sleep with it wrapped in her arms lest it try to escape. Or in case Lucas tried to steal it again. The memory of that brought a pout to her face, but she banished it quickly. This was important. The rock was moving. This was real. Not like Santa.
Very carefully, she set it on the bed a few inches away. Then she propped her arm up on her pillow—and with it her head—and sat back to watch. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. The rock jumped.
It wasn't a slight movement. It wasn't slow either, like the way other rocks moved. It bounced in the air like one of those beans daddy had brought back from a business trip a long time ago. Inside the rock, something made a faint snapping sound. Maggie scrunched back to the wall-ward side of the bed, hardly daring to breathe. The rock bumped against the covers again.
This is important she kept thinking, climbing out of bed. I've gotta wake everyone up.
The hallway was summer-cool. During the day it had been hot, but all the shadows draped over the heat made it okay. In her pajamas, Maggie crept silently across the floorboards to Lucas' room. She hesitated outside the door, then opened it softly. He might have been mean to her, but this was magic. Everyone deserved to see magic.
"Lucas!" She whispered, urgently. No response came from the bed. This was kinda like Christmas morning, when she was always the first one up. "Lucas, wake up! This is important!"
The sleeping boy stirred. Rubbing his eyes against the dark, he sat up. "Maggie? What's going on?"
"Help me wake dad." With no more explanation, she stepped out of the room. Lucas sighed, but he climbed out of bed and followed her into the hallway. Together, the knocked on David's door. Soft, hollow thumps echoed in the night.
"Louder!" Whispered Maggie. Lucas obliged, pounding on the wood.
It took a minute for David to come to the door. He was dressed in pants and a t-shirt, both rumpled. Something angry was poised on the edge of his lips, but he called it back when he saw Maggie's expression. "What's going on?"
"The rock's moving!"
Lucas groaned. Loudly. "That's what you woke us up for?"
David sighed. "Come on. Let's go. I'll prove to you that it's not moving." He took her hand in his and together they walked to Maggie's room. Lucas lagged along behind.
At the doorway, David paused. He found himself wishing that Maggie had been right. There should be some magic in the world, even if it was only Mexican Jumping Rocks. He looked into the room.
There was the bed, with its covers in disarray. There was a small black stone sitting amidst them. It was entirely motionless. "See," David said half-heartedly "It's not moving."
Maggie said nothing. He started to turn, but something caught his eye. Black edges glistened. There was a hole in the rock, right where it tapered to a point.
"Oh my God." Lucas. David looked at the boy, then followed his gaze. It led him to the window.
The curtains had been drawn back and the shutters left open to call in a breeze. The night was calm, though, so it evidently hadn't worked. The screen was up too, which David didn't remember doing. Moonlight trickled in, collecting in a silver puddle on the floor. But none of that was important.
"It's a bird," Said Maggie. David didn't question her. On the ledge sat something almost like a peacock with feathers of blazing orange. Its eyes were black, but the moonlight gave them a greenish tinge. Owl's eyes. A long, flowing plume hung from the bird's back, resting a breath above the floor. As if uncomfortable, the bird ruffled its feathers and turned out towards the night.
"I don't believe it."
Evidently the bird didn't either. With an ungainly hop, it lurched out the window and opened its wings. They flapped softly, stirring the still air. Then the phoenix was gone.
Away, away, away from the squabbling problems and half-hidden tragedies it flew. It was a creature of freedom, for the brief times it was allowed to be free. The girl had cared for it, but that meant little. It was reborn. It was rebirth. And it couldn't stand to be around the people who clung to old things.