Florence noticed the dead bird first. She flapped toward the small heap of feathers, eager hand outstretched.
“Look! What happened to it?”
Abel slapped her hand away and crouched, coat spreading over the snow as if it were wings itself. He squinted and frowned. It was about the size of a puppy. He had seen many dead things before, but this time, it chilled him even more than the cold wind that slithered around them.
“I don’t know, but it’s not moving. I don’t think it will ever move again. I don’t know how long it’s been there either.” He pulled some newspaper out of his pocket and laid it down. He didn’t want to touch it. He would rather leave it and get out of the wind. But his hands moved on their own.
“Can we keep it?” Florence begged. She had gone back to flapping in her moth costume, jigging and hopping around. A stick. He could use a stick to move it. The blank white snow presented no possibilities. He reached up to a dead tree and pulled off a dry twig.
“Don’t step on it! Gosh, Florence. You and your annoying costume. I’m going to bury it.” He approached again and gently nudged a still wing with the twig’s tip. The bird’s feathers stirred in a sharp breeze and a bit of poppy-colored blood showed through. “Hold the newspaper down.”
Her brother, tongue between his teeth with effort, maneuvered the dead bird a few inches.
“I’m glad Cass isn’t here. She’d be upset. But she’s upset about almost everything these days. Keep holding!” The corpse settled in the middle of the paper. “There. You can let go now.” Florence dropped her edge and hopped away. Abel slid a bare hand under the little bundle. For a moment he stood holding the dead thing, while the moth that was really a little girl swirled around him in the grey light. Florence’s hands were turning purple, he noticed. And then he noticed something else, and nearly dropped the paper.
The bird’s heart was beating, a tiny thump thump thump barely noticeable. Had it been beating a moment ago? Or had he brought the bird back to life? That was a possibility. But something didn’t feel right.
“Florence! It’s alive.” He held out the package with wide eyes.
The little moth stopped and gaped. “It is? How can you tell?”
“Never mind how I can tell! We need to warm it up. Thank goodness I had that paper. I was…” He swallowed and looked at his feet. “I wasn’t going to touch it. It would have died after all. Come on!”
“Do you think we should use one of our wishes?” They were nearly at the house now, tramping through the crunchy snow in their boots, stealing glances at the bird every few steps. “To bring it all the way back?”
Abel’s face darkened. “We could, I suppose. Except we’re supposed to be really careful with them. Remember?”
Florence stopped flapping. “But there’s nothing wrong with bringing it back, right?” Her little face crumpled in an overwhelming frown.
Abel didn’t reply. “We’d better show Cassandra. I have a feeling…” His stomach clenched with the weight of a fresh thought. “I think maybe this isn’t a bird after all.”
This is intended to be the first part of a multiple-part story. Stay tuned for the next installment.