Like a coiled rattlesnake, Emilee sprang at her brother, Adam. A twisted mass of arms and legs crunched onto the concrete floor of an abandoned warehouse.
He never thinks before he acts, Emilee thought. Her arms and abs flexed as she forced Adam’s shoulders to the cold floor. She straddled his midsection, so he couldn’t do anything else stupid.
“What the heck?” he growled.
“That’s Morris, you dolt!” Emilee said, pushing down hard on his shoulders for emphasis. His eyes went wide.
“I’m sorry,” he stuttered, “I didn’t think—“
“Exactly. You didn’t think.” Emilee got to her feet and brushed the dust off her ripped and faded jeans.
Adam rolled onto his stomach and shimmied over to stare at the pile of ash on the floor. Emilee walked over to a cardboard box, the size of a microwave, and picked it up. She turned back to Adam and the pile of ash. Adam was slowly reaching his stubby finger toward the pile.
“Adam,” Emilee snapped.
“You think he would come back with fewer tail feathers if some of the ash stuck to my finger?” A mischievous smile crept across Adam’s face, making his cherub cheeks blossom. She kicked her kid brother’s leg as she walked by him and set the box over the pile.
“We made it back here by the skin of my sneakers before he burst into flames. We were following a solid lead on mom and lost track of time,” Emilee sighed.
“It’s been six months. We’re never going to find her,” Adam said, folding his legs Indian style and resting his elbows on his knees while cradling his face in his hands.
“Morris thinks we will,” she said. Her voice barely a whisper. “Go grab that wooden pallet, so we can put it on the box to protect Morris while we find dinner.”
Adam drug the pallet across the floor. It weighed as much as he did, scraping and grinding along the concrete. Together they set it on top of the box. Emilee ruffled Adam’s shaggy blond hair and put her arm around his slender shoulders. He was getting tall. She scooped up their backpack off the floor and headed for the door.
The sun had just ducked below the horizon shooting shards of yellow and orange into the sky. Emilee and Adam walked down the alley toward the main street. Adam ran ahead and kicked a plastic soda bottle. It was dark by the time they reached the congregation of fast food restaurants.
They stood on the sidewalk and looked both ways before heading to the back of the McDonalds where the dumpsters were. Emilee held open the hard plastic lid.
“In you go small fry.”
Adam placed both hands on the edge of the metal dumpster and hoisted himself up and swung his leg over. He was looking for chicken nuggets. They were his favorite.
“Hurry up, will you.”
He scrambled out of the dumpster and tossed two cheeseburgers and a twenty-piece Chicken McNugget into the open backpack in her hands.
Back at the warehouse, Emilee threw their solitary dingy blanket over the wooden pallet. She rolled two tires over to the makeshift table and set the box of nuggets on one side for Adam and taking the cheeseburgers for her. Adam bounced on his tire, rolled it back and forth, and bounced some more as he popped one nugget after another into his mouth.
Emillee piled several walnut brown flattened boxes on top of one another as a makeshift bed. Adam rolled up the backpack for his pillow, and she covered him with their dingy grey blanketed.
“How long until Morris is back?” Adam asked. His eyelids were sagging, and his words stretched out like a cat.
“You know it takes about twelve hours.”
She shook her head at his impatience and smiled a crooked grin. His butt was sticking through the hole in the center of their blanket. She laid on her back next to him. There was nothing to do until Morris reformed. If they went to the police, they’d be separated in foster care. Maybe never see each other again. No way was she going to let that happen. She had promised their father, as he bled out in her arms, she would not leave Adam. She promised herself, she would find their mom. Whoever had buried five kitchen knives in their dad’s chest, had taken their mom. The Virginia license plate 473GHU was their only lead.
Adam sobbed in his sleep. His arms began flailing as if a swarm of wasps circled his head. His hand careened into Emilee’s nose. Sharpe pain and warmth let her know it was bleeding. She pinched it closed and tried to calm Adam with her left hand. The blanket was knotted around his legs.
The cardboard box, with the pallet resting on top, trembled. Emilee swiveled her gaze to the box. It trembled more violently. She released her nose. Bright red crimson drops hit her knees and shoes as she ran over to uncover the ashes. She flipped the pallet off the box with both hands, splinters digging into her palms.
Rolling ember wings unraveled from around the small body blanketed in feathers the color of autumn leaves. Garnet eyes peer up into Emilee’s face from above a beak as bright as the sun. Morris spread his wings and gave them two tentative flaps before launching into the air and showering the floor with sparks from the flames rippling through his feathers.
Morris’s screeched waking Adam. He stared up at the soaring phoenix eyes wide with the wonder only a child can find in the world, even a child who has watched his father die.
The search for their mother would not end until they were both safely wrapped in her arms and breathing in her lavender scent. With Morris, they would not fail. Emilee’s smile widened resembling the crescent of the sun rising above the Appalachian Mountains.
Author’s Note: This story was written in response to a 1,000 word prompt to write a story that somehow tied into the legend or theme of a Phoenix.