Excerpt: 'David and the Phoenix'

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A surprise awaits David as he climbs a mountain one morning: a face-to-face confrontation with a huge bird possessing a head like an eagle, a neck like a swan and a scarlet crest. And it can read. In this title, recommended by librarian Nancy Pearl on Morning Edition, the phoenix leads David an adventurous journey.

Read Chapter 1

All the way there David had saved this moment for himself, struggling not to peek until the proper time came. When the car finally stopped, the rest of them got out stiffly and went into the new house. But David walked slowly into the back yard with his eyes fixed on the ground. For a whole minute he stood there, not daring to look up. Then he took a deep breath, clenched his hands tightly, and lifted his head.

There it was! — as Dad had described it, but infinitely more grand. It swept upward from the valley floor, beautifully shaped and soaring, so tall that its misty blue peak could surely talk face to face with the stars. To David, who had never seen a mountain before, the sight was almost too much to bear. He felt so tight and shivery inside that he didn't know whether he wanted to laugh, or cry, or both. And the really wonderful thing about the mountain was the way it looked at him. He was certain that it was smiling at him, like an old friend who had been waiting for years to see him again. And when he closed his eyes, he seemed to hear a voice which whispered, "Come along, then, and climb."

It would be so easy to go! The back yard was hedged in (with part of the hedge growing right across the toes of the mountain), but there was a hole in the privet large enough to crawl through. And just beyond the hedge the mountainside awaited him, going up and up in one smooth sweep until the green and tawny faded into hazy heights of rock. It was waiting for him. "Come and climb," it whispered, "come and climb."

But there was a great deal to do first. They were going to move into the new house. The moving van was standing out in front, the car must be unloaded. David would be needed to carry things. Regretfully, he waved his hand at the peak and whispered, "It shouldn't take long — I'll be back as soon as I can." Then he went around to the front door to see what could be done about speeding things up.

Inside, everything was in confusion. Dad was pushing chairs and tables around in an aimless way. Mother was saying, "They'll all have to go out again; we forgot to put down the rug first." Aunt Amy was making short dashes between the kitchen and the dining room, muttering to herself. And Beckie was roaring in her crib because it was time for her bottle. David asked, "Can I do anything?" — hoping that the answer would be no.

"C'mere," Aunt Amy said, grabbing him by the arm. "Help me look for that ironing board."

When the ironing board was finally located, Mother had something for him to do. And when he was finished with that, Dad called for his help. So the afternoon wore on without letup — and also without any signs of progress in their moving. When David finally got a chance to sneak out for a breathing spell, he felt his heart sink. Somehow, in all the rush and confusion, the afternoon had disappeared. Already the evening sun was throwing shadows across the side of the mountain and touching its peak with a ruddy blaze. It was too late now. He would have to wait until morning before he could climb.

As he gazed up miserably at the glowing summit, he thought he saw a tiny speck soar out from it in a brief circle. Was it a bird of some sort, or just one of those dots that swim before your eyes when you stare too long at the sky? It almost seemed like the mountain waving its hand, as if to say that it was quite all right for him to wait until morning. He felt better then, and returned more cheerfully to the moving.

It was long after dark before the moving van drove away. Beckie crooned happily over her bottle, and the rest of them gathered in the kitchen for a late supper of sandwiches and canned soup. But David could not eat until he had found the courage to ask one question:

"May I climb the mountain tomorrow?"

Aunt Amy muttered something about landslides, which were firmly fixed in her mind as the fate of people who climbed mountains. But Dad said, "I don't see why not, do you?" and looked to Mother for agreement. Mother said, "Well...be very careful," in a doubtful tone, and that was that.

You never know what you will find when you climb a mountain, even if you have climbed them before — which, of course, David never had. Looking up from the foot of the mountain, he had thought that it was a smooth slope from bottom to top. But he was discovering as he climbed that it was not smooth at all, but very much broken up. There were terraces, ledges, knolls, ravines, and embankments, one after another. The exciting part of it was that each feature concealed the ones above it. At the top of a rise would be an outcropping of strangely colored rock, invisible from below. Beyond the outcropping, a small stand of aspens would quiver in the breeze, their quicksilver leaves hiding a tiny meadow on the slope behind. And when the meadow had been discovered, there would be a something else beyond. He was a real explorer now. When he got to the top, he thought, he would build a little tower of stones, the way the explorers always do.

But at the end of two hours' steady climbing, he was ready to admit that he would never reach the peak that day. It still rose above his head, seeming as far distant as ever. But he did not care now. It had been a glorious climb, and the distance he had already covered was a considerable one. He looked back. The town looked like a model of a town, with little toy houses and different-colored roofs among the trees that made a darker patch on the pattern of the valley floor. The mountains on the other side of the valley seemed like blue clouds stretching out over the edge of the world. Even the peak could not give him a better view than this.

David gazed up the face of a scarp which rose like a cliff above him...a smooth, bare wall of rock that had halted his climb. Halfway up the scarp was a dark horizontal line of bushes, something like a hedge. Apparently there was a ledge or shelf there, and he decided to climb up to it before he returned home. To scale the rock face itself was impossible, however: there were no hand or foot holds. So he turned and made his way through the grass until he reached the end of the bare stone. Then he started upward again. It was hard work. Vines clutched at his feet, and the close-set bushes seemed unwilling to let him pass. He had one nasty slip, which might have been his last if he had not grabbed a tough clump of weeds at the crucial instant.

But, oh! it was worth it. He felt like shouting when at last he reached the ledge. Truly it was an enchanted place! It was a long, level strip of ground, several yards wide, carpeted with short grass and dandelions. Bushes grew along most of the outer edge. The inner edge was bounded by a second scarp — a wall of red stone with sparkling points of light imbedded in its smooth surface.

David threw himself on the grass and rolled in it. It was warm and soft and sweet-smelling; it soothed away the hurt of his aching muscles and the sting of his scratches. He rolled over on his back and cushioned his head in his hands. The sky seemed to be slipping along overhead like a broad blue river. The breeze ruffled his hair and whispered, the bushes murmured and gossiped to each other. Even the sunlight seemed to hum to him as it laid warm hands on his face.

But there was another sound, which now and then rose above these murmurs. Then it would fade and be drowned out by the breeze. Hard to say why, but it just did not seem to fit there. David propped himself up on his elbows and listened more intently. The sound faded: he had been imagining it. No, he had not been imagining it — there it was again. He sat up. Now he noticed that the ledge was divided by a thicket which grew from the inner side to the outer. The noise, whatever it was, came from the other side of the thicket.

David's curiosity was aroused, but it occurred to him that it might be wise to be cautious. The noise did not sound dangerous, but — well, he had never been up a mountain before, and there was no telling what he might find. He dropped into a crouch and crept silently up to the tangle of bushes. His heart began to pound, and he swallowed to relieve the dryness in his throat. The noise was much more distinct now, and it sounded like — like — yes, not only sounded like, but was — someone talking to himself.

Who could it possibly be? Well, there was only one way to find out.

He dropped down on his stomach and carefully began to worm his way under the thicket. The branches grew very low, and the ground was full of lumps and knobs which dug into him with every movement. There were vines, too, and some prickly things like thistles, which had to be pushed out of the way without allowing their leaves to rustle. He progressed by inches, pushing with his toes, pulling with his finger tips, wriggling with the rest of his body. At last he could see light breaking through the foliage in front of him — he was nearing the other side. A bunch of leaves hung before his face.He hesitated, then pushed them aside gently, slowly — and peered out.

He thought his heart would stop.

Excerpted with permission from the Purple House Press.

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David and the Phoenix

by Edward Ormondroyd and Joan Raysor

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