My brother entered the shed and tossed his kill on the butcher block in front of me.
“Kind of a scrawny turkey this year, Ceph.” The autumnal feathers were beautiful, they might even fetch a good price at market, but the bird itself would barely feed Ceph and I, let alone Momma and the twins. Food was scarce since Papa had died, mauled by that wyvern.
“There’s nothing out there, Brin. I was lucky to find this bird.” He tossed his bow and arrow in the corner and opened his sack. “Got these for you as well.”
He pulled out herbs, a handful of mushrooms, and a couple of tubers. “Maybe you could make soup or something."
On any ordinary day, I would. But I couldn’t today. “It’s Thanksgiving. For the twins’ sake, we’ll have a bird. It’s bad luck otherwise.”
He nodded and left to finish his chores and wash up.
I plucked the feathers from the turkey and placed the keepers in a basket. It didn’t take long, but by the time I was finished, I’d broken out in a sweat despite the coolness of the November morning. My fingers were red and raw, but between the woodpile’s ax and my cooking knife, I had the fowl prepped and ready for the cast iron stove before Ceph was finished with his bath.
Inside the cottage, Momma sat on a threadbare blanket playing with my two-year-old brother and sister. “Did Ceph bag anything?”
“The skinniest turkey you ever did see. But it’ll make a nice meal.”
The furrow in her brow relaxed a measure. “I’m thankful. A bit of bird is better than no bird at all.”
I placed the dressed fowl in the stove and started on the vegetable broth. Between what Ceph had found and what I’d gathered from the garden, we might not go to bed hungry tonight. Ceph did his best, but he was only eleven. He couldn’t provide for a family like a grown man could. Unless we had a change of luck, there’s no telling what we’d eat tomorrow.
I was stirring the tuber and mushroom broth over the fire when Ceph, hair still wet, entered the cottage. I motioned with my chin toward the stove. “Check on the turkey, would you?”
He went to the cast iron stove, but stopped with his hand on the handle. “It’s not hot.”
Had I forgotten to light the fire before putting the turkey inside? Of all the fool things.
He caught the expression on my face. “Don’t worry, I’ll light it.” He grabbed two pieces of firewood from the small pile on the floor, and flung the door open. Then he stopped cold. “Well, I’ll be knackered.”
“Watch your language, Ceph Havenaugh!” Momma scolded.
“What now?” I wiped my hands on my apron and went to the stove.
Ceph pulled the turkey out of the oven. A perfectly cooked, but still scrawny, turkey.
“Must have just gone out, is all,” I said, relieved. Maybe our luck was changing.
After the turkey had time to cool and the vegetables were cooked, we sat down at our small table. It must have been my imagination, but the turkey looked browner that when Ceph had removed it from the oven. Residual heat had roasted it more, I guessed.
“For what we’re about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful,” Momma prayed.
“Amen,” we chorused, even the twins.
Ceph, as the man of the house, lifted the carving knife to the turkey. After that, everything happened in a moment that seemed to last for eternity.
The turkey began to smoke, then a spark went airborne, followed by several more. A small flame followed that exploded into a bonfire.
“Quick, grab the soup pot, Brin,” Momma yelled.
I pulled the pot off the fire and threw it at the flames. They hissed and sputtered but didn’t extinguish.
Then, as quickly as it had started, the fire was gone. In its place, curled in ball, lay a chirping baby bird.
“Ceph, you fool,” I said. “That wasn’t a turkey, it was a phoenix!”
Without a turkey, and because I’d tossed most of the broth onto the table trying to douse the flames, we went to bed hungry after all. We fed the bird what was left of the tuber and mushroom broth—Momma said it was the least we could do considering we’d killed it thinking it was a turkey.
But our luck did change. The phoenix feathers fetched a good price—a very good price—at market, so we had enough food to last through the winter. Come spring, our pet phoenix started laying eggs, which were quite filling and also profitable.
From that time on, we never ate turkey for Thanksgiving again. Just in case.