My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Phoenix: Chapter 2

Twelve years later…

“Phoeb, get out of the mud. You know how hard it is to clean dirt out of your feathers.”

I glared at Mark, who was standing by the car, and flopped my entire body into the mud anyway. Then I got up and shook my wings out, flinging wet dirt everywhere. Mark shook his head.

“If you have to sit around in the bath for an hour again, it’s your fault,” he said.

Mark was about twenty-six. He adopted me as a baby, but wasn’t married. We’d lived together, just the two of us, for all of my twelve years. We moved from place to place a lot—usually never staying in one place for more than a year—because both of us loved to travel. We rented houses and often stayed in apartments. Right now, we were in the middle of moving from Colorado Springs to Maquoketa, Iowa. Colorado had been fun but expensive, so this was a cheaper venture.

Mark was kind of an odd-jobber. He could fix VCRs and DVD players in a nanosecond, and was really good with computers. He made a lot of money by making people websites and de-bugging computers, and he was writing a historical-fiction novel in his spare time. I read parts of it—it involved pirates invading the Old West and a lot of blood, guns and confusing bits about how the pirates got into the middle of Arizona. I told Mark it would be an instant hit.

Somehow, he managed to produce enough cash to get us by, even with how much we moved. We didn’t have a big flat-screen TV, and didn’t need to take summer vacations or travel across the country to some old relative’s funeral, since we didn’t have any old relatives. Or any relatives, really. Mark didn’t seem to have a lot as far as family.

I didn’t mind moving a lot. I didn’t make friends easily, so by the time we left a place, we’d only stayed long enough for me to have made one or two friends to say goodbye to. There was something that set me apart.

“Phoebe,” Mark warned, “you’d better hide your wings quickly. This is a neighborhood, not a mountainside.”

“I liked the mountains,” I said, folding my super-muddy wings under my jacket and whispering a spell to hide the feathers on my arms, clutching the wand in my jacket pocket.

“I know,” Mark said. “That place was a lot… freer. You’re doing the first round of laundry,” he added, eyeing the jacket.

He went around to the back of the car and started setting boxes on the sidewalk.

“You can run off to the paint store,” he said. “The entire house is already painted white on the inside. But let’s go see the rooms first, so we know how much we need.”

“Owner doesn’t care?”

“We have to paint it white again before we leave,” Mark said. “So zebra stripes are out. Get me something blue or green, okay?”

That was it. No ceremony. No planning. It was just another house and just another decorating routine.

I took my bike outside the neighborhood and found my way to a paint store that had a ton of racks of paint chips. I picked out a super-bright orange for myself and an icy blue for Mark’s room.

By the time I was done painting, I had an orange room streaked with yellow paint left over from my room in Colorado, but there was wet paint everywhere—and not just on the walls. Oops. I wandered into the kitchen, which was already complete with a grand feast: half a banana and a loaf of bread on the counter with two pieces missing, accompanied by an empty bag of spicy Cheetos on the floor. I could only guess that Mark had been up to some of his Taco Bell-style “cooking.” What can I say? With Mark, the teenager effect didn’t wear off, even though he’s out of college now and has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Geekiness.

I rummaged through the boxes, but failed to find a rag. In this absence, I looked through Mark’s box of socks. You could easily tell which were clean. I picked out the tube sock that a previous pet of some sort— maybe a ferret, could have been a dragon—had demolished so badly that all that remained were a few strips. Mark still wore it sometimes, but it looked a lot like those sandals that boy-crazy girls wear to the beach and then trip over. (We lived in California for a while.) Of course, if it was a little more shredded, then it would look like the other popular shoe in California: the flip-flop.

I fulfilled my promise to Mark—that I would one day do something even stranger with those socks than his pet had—by quickly mopping up the dripping paint with them, drying them with a hairdryer, and setting them carefully in the bottom of his sock box.

My hand brushed past something furry. It was in the sock box. “Uh, Mark, these socks aren’t clean… you’re shedding again.”

The pale fur of Mark’s polar-bear side was unmistakable, just like my bright orange feathers weren’t, and he shed everywhere. If I wanted to know whether he was in my room, I just needed to look at something black.

“You sure it’s a sock that’s furry? Not… something else?”

He could have been referring to the woodland animals that were in such abundance in Maquoketa (several of which I think he accidentally hit on the way in. Man, squirrels are stupid) or he could have been referring to mold, which was much more likely. Fortunately, this was neither.

“It’s a sock,” I called back. I was pretty sure.

“Oh, good. That whole box should probably go through the wash once.”

“I think it should go through the trash once.”

“Very funny. Since your room’s done—did you even give it two coats?—why don’t you go grocery shopping? I’ll unload what we do have. Come over here, I’ll give you fifty bucks. Just don’t spend it all on Ding-Dongs like last time!”

I collected the money, grumbling about Mark’s prevention of my mischief. I was about to leave when Mark said, “Oi. Kiddo. You’re gonna lock yourself out again if you don’t get your house key.” He produced a little metal key from his pocket. “In fact, why don’t you get that copied so we can hide it under the mat?”

“I could think of a better place for it than that,” I protested. “People always leave the key under the mat. If you want to break in, it’s the first thing you try.”

“Fair enough,” he said. “Just make sure it’s not only reachable by flight. Also like last time.”

I slipped the key into my pocket.

“Oh—that reminds me,” Mark said, getting a mischievous smile himself. “Even if you do use the hiding spell, people don’t expect to see a teenage girl hurtling through the air. Take your bike. And your wand, just in case.”

“I’m not a teenager,” I reminded him. And my wings were still way too muddy to fly with right now. They’d be too heavy. But I decided not to remind Mark, because he might have made me bathe first, and I liked to run errands like this.

His face froze as he seemed to remember something, then, realizing I was watching, he crossed his eyes at me and shooed me off. I grabbed my duffel bag and hopped on the bike.

“I’m home,” I called out, an hour later. “It was a trick getting these home on a bike.” Especially this, I thought, setting the small chocolate cake on the counter. I had the bakers frost the words Welcome Home on the top in electric blue, Mark’s favorite color. There were already three visible Ding-Dong wrappers scattered around, and heaven knew how many were invisible.

Mark was on a home improvement-type ladder, painting the kitchen a sage-ish color, and he’d brought out our bright purple Kitchen-Aid. There was a bag of flour on the counter, next to a bottle of oil and several cans of ravioli. Mark looked down from his painting.

He groaned. “I forgot to mention other chocolate bakery products. You got me.”

“It was cheap,” I said. “And I brought home something for dinner so you don’t have to eat Cheeto and banana sandwiches again.”

Mark set the brush down on the ladder’s table and crossed his arms. “But I like Cheeto and banana sandwiches.”

“You’ll like this better,” I said, and set out the taco ingredients. I figured Mark was wondering how they would taste with Cheetos, but maybe he already knew.

“How much did you buy?” he asked, peering over my head at what I was setting on the counter. “Did you get any eggs?”

“Eggs,” I said. “Eggs. On a bicycle, riding from thirty-five blocks away in a duffel bag with a cake and a bunch of taco stuff.”

“Good point,” he said. “I’ll get them later. I was going to try making omelets again, but I guess that’s not necessary.”

I was glad I’d bought taco stuff. Mark might be a wizard at computers, martial arts, and snowball fights, but I was definitely the cook. Let’s just say that spicy Cheeto and banana sandwiches are the safest things you can ask him to make, and if he made an omelet, well… I’d have some trouble cleaning out the microwave.

He sighed. “I wish you didn’t have to do that stuff,” he said, as I rummaged through the boxes for the pan, found it, then started up the stove. “You’re a kid—you shouldn’t need to work.”

“I don’t mind,” I said. “Besides, there’s–”

“Only one of me,” he said. “I know. But you’re twelve. You should be a kid. Doing kid things.”

“Other kids ride bikes to the grocery store,” I said.

“Having sleepovers.”

“I had that one with Marisa two months ago.”

“Playing video games.”

“I stink at them,” I said, getting the meat from across the kitchen.

“Watching TV.”

“Waste of time.”

“Joining the drama club.”

“All the kids in drama were stuck up at my last school,” I sighed, “and nobody was ever at the art club, and everybody treats the choir kids like performing pigs. There’s no reason for me to go make a fool of myself.”

Mark scowled and returned to his painting. “I still wish you’d do something extracurricular, with kids your own age.”

“I’ll start my own club, then,” I said. “The ‘Be a Decent Human Being’ club.”

Mark’s mouth twitched. I could tell he was trying not to smile. I returned to the taco meat.

“And what are they going to do in this club?”

“Whatever they want,” I said. “Well, almost whatever they want,” I added, at Mark’s look. “No Nintendo. But how hard could it be to get some painting supplies, maybe pencil and paper, and a few snacks? Get a few kids in a room and just hang, instead of a teacher ordering us around to get on that side of the stage, or to give the picture more eye movement or something? How hard could that be?”

“Harder than you think,” Mark said. “Are you willing to mediate an argument between two kids you don’t know? How about two kids you don’t like?”

“Fine,” I said, not taking my eyes off the cooking.

“You’d have to perfect your hiding spell so it lasts longer.”

“That reminds me of a question I was thinking about,” I said. “Why don’t the other kids have problems with their hiding spells? It always seems like they can concentrate on anything they want to, and they never look like anything but a human.”

Mark was silent for a while. Well, I thought, this could mean that he doesn’t know, or it could mean he doesn’t want to say.

I transferred the meat into a dish and turned off the stove. “What do you want on your taco?”


“Do I even have to ask?”


My tacos aren’t the same as the ones from Taco Bell. Taco Bell uses lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, hot sauce, and meat. I use lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, hot peppers, bell peppers, Dijon mustard, onions, carrots, cucumbers, relish, vinegar, bacon, hot sauce, tzatziki sauce, and meat with garam masala and cumin in it, in a very large taco shell. Mark demands that I do the laundry afterwards.

I put the plates on the table and filled two glasses with milk.

“Not gonna need that,” Mark said.

“You want water?” I grinned. “You’re welcome to it.”

I gave him the milk anyway, and a few minutes later, he was trying not to reach for it.

“Oh, just drink the milk,” I said. He took it and grinned sheepishly, so I said, “How about this? Young man, you are not to leave this table until your milk is finished! A growing boy needs his calcium!” I shook my finger at him, and we both started laughing. I was imitating a teacher from last year who we nicknamed Mother. Everything that came out of her mouth sounded like that. Mark and I made fun of her constantly.

Mark was now staring absently at his oddly-colored taco, but I knew he wasn’t thinking about how gross it looked. Not Mark.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, brushing my black hair out of my face.

“Oh…” he said, unsure whether he wanted to voice what was upsetting him. He was silent for a few minutes, thinking.

“You’re trying to choose whether to lie or not. I’ll know,” I warned. “It’s about magic, isn’t it?”

“Uh…” he said, and I could tell that he wanted to say, “Oh, no, of course not. I was just thinking about what color to paint the living room.”

But he didn’t say that. He said, “Yes, it’s about magic. Phoebe, you’re twelve. Your hiding spells aren’t as effective as hiding spells normally are. You have to slip into the bathroom in the middle of school and relax your form to your phoenix half-and-half so you don’t accidentally do so in the middle of class. You can’t hold a human form for over five hours.”

“What about it?”

“You should be able to stay through the school day…” he mused. “Phoeb, the reason the other kids don’t have trouble with their hiding spells is that they don’t need hiding spells.”


“They’re human. They don’t have an animal side like we do. We’re Epselans, an entirely different species. It’s not just a social faux pas to show the animal, it’s discovery. We’d both end up in a zoo, or worse, viewed as a threat and rooted out. Can you imagine the description on the Wanted posters? An adolescent girl with black hair and amber eyes, who sometimes shows feathers and phoenix wings?” He gave me a look. “How about a guy in his twenties, brown hair and eyes, polar bear paws and ears optional? You’re an Epselan, three quarters human and three quarters phoenix.”

“But that…”

“…comes to a person and a half. I know. It’s magic. But you’re different from any other Epselan I’ve met, and I’ve met a lot. Your animalina, your animal side… it’s a magical creature, not a normal one.”


“Why what?”

“Why is it a phoenix?” There had to be a reason.

“Phoeb, not now! You’re part phoenix, right? Well, doesn’t a phoenix have different magic from a polar bear or a lizard? That phoenix is three quarters you! It controls three quarters of your magic! And I think you’re particularly attached to it,” he added, “since your hiding spells don’t work. In a hiding spell, you stow away two of the three quarters of you that’s phoenix, leaving you 25% phoenix and 75% human. If it’s not working, then the rest of your phoenix side must be desperate to come through. That, and the fact that you need a wand to do spells… That’s mage magic. It’s like you can’t control the phoenix magic, which is bad, since it’s so integrated. The good thing is that it seems like you’re a mage as well as an Epselan, except… it’s not all good. It complicates things.

“I should be getting a letter any day now, telling me that it’s safe to bring you somewhere specific. In Canada, there’s a place where Epselans meet, and there’s a chance that someone there could help you sort your magic out. You’ll be a teenager soon, and your magic will start to come through even more than it already has. You have to be able to control it by the time it does, or it’ll control you and your phoenix side will take over.”

I buried my face in my hands, then raked my hands through my hair. I crossed my legs, then uncrossed them, then scowled and crossed them again. Then I tried to sit on my heels, in the chair, but that didn’t feel right either. “Okay, uh… what?”

“Exactly my point. What.”

“What does this have to do with you being worried?”

“Because I haven’t gotten anything at all from that group for years. They never were the weekly newsletter kind, but I should have gotten that letter by now. I don’t want to get you into that assassin’s territory…”


“Oh, um.” Mark said something else here, but I’m not going to print it in a kids’ book. “Epic fail on the Don’t Freak Phoebe Out thing. Great. Oh, don’t worry, kiddo,” he added in an almost sarcastic tone. “You’re part phoenix. You’ll probably just be reborn again.”

“Wait. Does that mean I’m immortal? Um… again?”

“I doubt that you’re immortal,” Mark said. “You’re only three-quarters phoenix, remember? You probably just have a certain number of lives, like a cat’s supposed to have nine. The problem is that we don’t know how many. For all I know, you could die next time someone stabs you or something. And anyway, you’d have to grow all over again if you did regenerate. You’d be reborn, sure, but as a baby. If you were sh—um, choked to death, right now, you wouldn’t just stay twelve.” Mark took a bite out of his taco, and looked wistful even as Dijon mustard dribbled down his chin. He swallowed and said, “Do you like the name Tallie?”

“No, ick,” I said, wondering why he’d suddenly changed the subject. I couldn’t blame him, though. “It reminds me of feathery pink wedding dresses and cheesy beauty pageants.”

“Thought so,” Mark said with his mouth full. You can’t make Mark forget he has hot food in front of him for more than fifteen minutes, and our previous conversation had been a stretch. “I knew a girl named Tallie once,” he said, looking at me oddly. “Rather bookish. Quiet. She didn’t mind school that much, and I don’t think she minded me, either.”

“What about her?” I asked.

“Oh, we went to the same high school as freshmen.”

“As freshmen? What about beyond that?”

He started fiddling around with the fallen ingredients of the taco, some so covered with sauce that they were indistinguishable from everything else. “She disappeared, probably went off somewhere. Maybe traveling.”

That sounded nice. I half-wished I was in her position, except without the name. She didn’t have to worry about goofy hiding spells. She wasn’t set apart from the rest of society. She was, however, set apart from Mark, so I decided she wasn’t too lucky, after all.

It was clear that I wasn’t going to get much else out of him. He’d been working hard on the house, and Mark always got mumbly when he was tired. The motormouth calmed down. As it was, he’d been driving all day before we got here, all the while having a running debate with himself which computer operating system was better. It takes a real geek to do that.

We finished our tacos and went to bed without even cleaning up the mess.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 29th, 2011 at 8:27 pm and is filed under Phoenix. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “Phoenix: Chapter 2”

    4:49 pm on January 31st, 2013

    o i get it, the real tallie is the freshman mark noticed. so that makes mark… 26 or 27

    4:50 pm on January 31st, 2013

    and in the beginning we saw it from the fresmans point of view. Props for the cool story twist!

  3. Writer
    11:47 pm on February 17th, 2013

    Actually, they were still in middle school in the first chapter, and Tallie is Phoebe. I don’t know how obvious it is in the beginning, but he sorta gave her phoenix powers and she “died” and came back as a baby, which he then started taking care of because he felt responsible for her. Your age range is almost right, though.

    It was kind of a dumb start, but first chapters usually are. I don’t know if I’ve put up the revised one yet–I’ll have to check that. I made it a little less awkward the second time around.

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