Authors: R. L. LaFevers
Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #General, #Legends, #Myths, #Magic, #Fables, #Ages 9-12 Fiction, #Animals, #Mythical, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #Action & Adventure - General, #Action & Adventure, #Children's Books, #Social Issues, #Family, #People & Places, #Adventure and Adventurers, #Parents, #Children: Grades 3-4, #Animals - Mythical, #Girls & Women, #Readers, #Boys & Men, #Emotions & Feelings, #Middle East, #Orphans & Foster Homes, #Animals - Birds, #Birds, #Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, #Phoenix (Mythical bird), #Readers - Chapter Books, #Chapter Books, #People & Places - Middle East
The Flight of the Phoenix (Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist Book 1)
R. L. Lafevers
FOR ALL THOSE HAPPY HOURS
WE SPENT SITTING ON THE FLOOR,
PLAYING THE ANIMAL GAME
A BROTHER EXPLORER
It was one of the most important moments
in Nathaniel Fludd's young life, and he was stuck sitting in the corner. Miss Lumpton had promised him an overnight trip to the city to visit the zoo. Instead, he found himself in a stuffy office with their suitcases at his feet and his sketchbook in his lap. He'd been given clear instructions not to listen in on Miss Lumpton's conversation with the lawyer. The problem was, they sat only three feet away and the lawyer spoke rather loudly. Nate tried to concentrate on his drawing.
"Thank you for coming on such short notice," the lawyer said.
Nate drummed his heels on one of the suitcases to try to drown out the sound of their voices. Miss Lumpton shushed him.
He stopped kicking.
"You said you had news?" Miss Lumpton asked.
The lawyer lowered his voice, and Nate felt as if his ears grew a bit, straining to hear. "We've had word of his parents." Nate's head jerked up.
Miss Lumpton caught him looking. "Keep drawing," she ordered, then turned back to the lawyer. Nate kept his eyes glued to the sketchbook in front of him. But even though his pencil was moving dutifully on the paper, every molecule of his body was focused on the lawyer's words.
"On May twenty-third of this year, the airship
crashed on the ice near the North Pole."
Nate's pencil froze. His body felt hot, then cold. He hadn't even known his parents were on an airship.
The lawyer continued. "After months of searching, only eight of the sixteen crew have been found. The boy's parents were not among them."
Miss Lumpton put a hand to her throat. "So what does that mean, exactly?" Her voice wobbled.
"It means that, as of this day, September fifth, 1928, Horatio and Adele Fludd have been declared lost at sea."
"I thought you said they crashed on the ice?" Nate blurted out. Luckily, Miss Lumpton was too busy fishing for her handkerchief to notice he spoke out of turn.
"Yes, well, technically, the ice was frozen seawater," the lawyer said. "But either way, I'm afraid your parents aren't coming back." Miss Lumpton began to cry quietly.
Nate hadn't seen his parents in more than three years. Of course, he'd missed them horribly when they first left. He'd been comforted only when they promised to send for him on his eighth birthday.
"You need a little more time to grow up," his father had said. "When you're old enough to travel well and your sense of adventure has developed, we'll send for you then."
Time had passed. On his eighth birthday, Nate had been excited, but nervous, too. He wasn't sure his love of adventure had shown up yet. But his parents' letter asking him to join them never showed up, either. "Just as well," Miss Lumpton had sniffed. "Their job is much too important to
have a youngster tagging along, getting in the way."
On his ninth birthday Nate had been hopeful. Miss Lumpton told him not to be silly. His parents' work was much too dangerous for a young boy. Especially a young boy like himself, one who liked quiet walks, reading, and drawing. Clearly he wasn't suited to a life of adventure. Nate was a little disappointed--he thought he had felt the smallest beginning of an adventurous spark.
By his tenth birthday, Nate had buried the memory of his parents and never took it out anymore. Much like a toy he'd outgrown, he told himself. But the truth was, thinking of them hurt too much.
And now he would never see them again.
Miss Lumpton dabbed at her eyes with the handkerchief. "So the poor boy is all alone in the world?"
Nate wished she'd stop crying. It wasn't
parents who'd been lost at sea.
"No, no, my dear Miss Lumpton," the lawyer said. "That is not the case at all. The boy is to live with a Phil A. Fludd."
Miss Lumpton stopped crying. "Phil A. Fludd? Well, who is that, I'd like to know."
The lawyer studied the paper in front of him. "A cousin of the boy's father. Lives in Batting-at-the-Flies up in North County."
Miss Lumpton sniffed. "Well, what about me?"
Suddenly Nate understood why she'd been crying. She hadn't been worried about him at all.
"They've left you a Tidy Sum, Miss Lumpton. You shall not want."
Miss Lumpton's tears disappeared. She sat up straighter and leaned forward. "How much?"
The lawyer told her the amount of money she would receive. Her cheeks grew pink with pleasure. "Well, that should do very nicely."
"In fact," the lawyer said, "my clerk is holding the funds for you. If you'd like to check with him when we're done--"
Miss Lumpton stood up. "I think we're done."
Nate looked at her in surprise.
didn't think they were done. He didn't understand why he couldn't stay with Miss Lumpton. Why couldn't things go on the way they had for the past three years?
His governess came over to where he sat and gave him
an awkward pat on the head. "Good luck, dear boy." She grabbed one of the suitcases and left the room in search of her Tidy Sum.
Nate did feel like crying then. Instead, he blinked quite fast.
"Now," the lawyer boomed, "we must go, too." He pulled a pocket watch from his vest and looked at it. "You have a train to catch."
"A train?" Nate asked.
"Yes. Now put that book of yours away and come along." The lawyer closed his watch with a snap. "Eh, what have you drawn there?" he asked. "A walrus?"
"Er, yes." Nate shut the sketchbook quickly, before the lawyer could recognize himself.
[Image: The lawyer.]
"Well, do hurry. It wouldn't do to miss the train. It wouldn't do at all." The lawyer came out from behind his desk and grabbed Nate's suitcase.
Nate stood up and tucked his sketchbook under his arm. The lawyer clamped his hand onto Nate's shoulder and steered him out of the office.
Nate had to take giant steps to keep up. The train station was only two blocks away, but Nate was out of breath by the time they got there.
"All aboard!" the conductor called out.
"Here." The lawyer thrust the suitcase at Nate and shoved a ticket into his hand. "Hurry, boy! They won't hold the train for you." His voice was gruff and impatient. Nate wondered if the lawyer would get a Tidy Sum for getting him on the train.
Once he was onboard, Nate hurried to the window to wave goodbye, but the lawyer had already left.
he train didn't arrive in Batting-at-the-Flies until late afternoon. Nate was the only one who got off. An old dog slept in the doorway of the station, a swarm of flies buzzing idly around his head. As Nate walked toward him, the door opened and an old, bent man came out. He studied Nate. "You must be the newest Fludd. C'mon, I'm to give you a ride up to the farm."
The stationmaster tossed Nate's suitcase into the back of a wagon harnessed to an old horse. Then he and Nate climbed in. The stationmaster clicked his tongue, and the horse set off at a slow clop.
They rode through a rolling green countryside dotted with farmhouses and cottages. Sheep stood in the pastures, twitching their tails lazily. Something about their dull, placid faces reminded Nate of Miss Lumpton. His eyes stung and his throat grew tight. He opened his sketchbook, took out his pencil, and began to draw one of the sheep.
He sketched until the wagon turned down a rutted road and a rambling farmhouse came into view. The house was slightly rundown, with rough stone walls and a thatched roof that jutted out at a steep angle, like a bristly mustache. Two monstrous brick chimneys loomed against the skyline. Towers and gables stuck out from all sorts of odd angles.
[Image: The sheep.]
It looked as though it probably had bats. Nate's heart sank as the wagon rolled to a stop.
"Here ye go, then," the stationmaster said. The old man hopped down and unloaded Nate's suitcase. Before Nate could say thank you, the man tipped his cap, climbed back in, and turned the horse back toward the village.
Nate picked his way up the path, which was overgrown with weeds and brambles. The front door was sturdy and thick and needed a new coat of paint. The brass door knocker was shaped like the head of a snarling lion or a snarling man--Nate couldn't be sure which. He reached gingerly around its sharp teeth and knocked on the door.
As he waited, he noticed a brass plaque above the door:
p. A. FLUDD, BEASTOLOGIST.
He'd never heard of a beastologist before.
[Image: The brass plaque.]
That could be interesting. Except that thinking of beasts had him thinking of bats again. He glanced up at the shadows under the eaves, then lifted the knocker and rapped harder.
Finally, he heard the sound of footsteps from inside the house. The door jerked open as a voice said, "I told you. I don't have anything else for your charity bazaar. Now, do leave me alone--oh. Hello."
Nate took a step back and stared at the person in the doorway. She was tall with lots of elbows and knees and angles poking about, which reminded him of a giraffe. Her hair was pulled back, but little wisps escaped. A giraffe with a mane, Nate corrected. His fingers itched for his pencil. Instead, he drew himself up to his full height like Miss Lumpton used to do. "I am Nathaniel Fludd. Would you please inform the master of the house that I have arrived?"
"Oh-ho! A bit of a nib, are you?" The woman looked amused.
am the master of the house, young Nate. Phil A. Fludd, at your service."
Nate blinked. This was his father's long-lost cousin? "B-but you're a
"Phil is short for Philomena. The A is for Augusta. My parents couldn't decide between Latin and Greek. I'm sureyou can understand why I go by Phil.
[I mage: Phil A. Fludd and Nathaniel Fludd.]
You may call me Aunt Phil, if you prefer."
Nate was unsure what to do. He couldn't have imagined someone less like Miss Lumpton if he'd tried. A wave of homesickness swept through him, and he fought the urge to run all the way back to the train station.
"You look just like your father, when he was your age," the old woman said.
Her words chased all thoughts of flight out of his head. "I do?"
"Yes, very much so."
"Did you know my father well?" Nate asked shyly.
"Of course I did! I taught him half of what he knows.
" she corrected. Her voice softened. "I'm very sorry about your parents, Nate." They stood awkwardly for a moment before Aunt Phil cleared her throat. "Well, come in. I'm quite busy and it's nearly dinnertime."
She grabbed his suitcase, picking it up as if it weighed no more than an umbrella. Halfway through the front hall, she turned back toward him. "Well, do come on."
Pushing his homesickness aside, Nate followed her into his new home.
he first thing Nate noticed were the maps. They covered the walls like wallpaper. There were maps of the world, some bigger than he was, and maps of oceans and continents and places Nate had never heard of. There was even a map of the moon and the stars.
Globes of all shapes and sizes were scattered throughout the hall. They passed a shelf that held strange instruments. Nate recognized a few of them, such as the telescope and the compass, but others were completely unfamiliar.
Aunt Phil set Nate's suitcase down at the foot of
dusty-looking stairs. "I'll show you your room after supper. I've got to get back to the kitchen before it boils over."
Indeed--Nate thought he smelled something burning already.
The kitchen was warm and full of bright yellow light. But it was just as jumbled and cluttered as the rest of the house. Crockery was stacked in wobbly-looking towers. Old dishes and pans filled one side of the sink. On the stove, a giant pot bubbled and hissed, cheerfully sending a small stream of something brown over its side. A large, odd-looking statue of some unusual bird sat in the corner. It was nearly three feet tall and sported a tuft of curly feathers high on its rear. A dodo, Nate thought. His fingers itched to draw it.
"Sit down, sit down," Aunt Phil said, hurrying over to the stove.
Nate brushed the crumbs from a chair, then sat.
She set a bowl of stew in front of him and handed him a thick slice of buttered bread. "I'm going to leave you to your supper. I've loads to do before tomorrow morning. I'm so glad you're here. I was worried you might not make it in time."
Nathaniel wanted to ask,
Make it in time for what?
but his mouth was already full.
"Cornelius here will keep you company." And with that, Aunt Phil disappeared out the back door.
Nate looked around the kitchen, wondering when Cornelius would show up.
"Well, with that hair of yours, you certainly
like a Fludd."
Nate jumped at the voice, then whipped his head around to see where it had come from. There was nothing there but the statue of the dodo bird. Unless ... "You're alive?"
"Very much so."
"B-but... you're a dodo!"
"And you're a boy. But I don't hold it against you. Well, not much, anyway."
The stew forgotten, Nate stared. "But you're extinct."
"Well, rare, certainly. There are only four of us left, three of us in captivity. Only I don't think of myself as being captive. More of an honored guest."