* * * * *Every family has their own secrets. Mine is no exception. Earlier this morning Daddy received a phone call that sent him into the dining room where we were having our breakfast. “It’s time,” he said. Now we’re two states away, with Daddy parking the car beside Uncle Jamil’s in front of his parents’ estate. From the amount of cars and motorcycles crammed in the big yard, almost every one – if not all – is here. My sister and I burst out of the car before Daddy even turns off the ignition. Mama carries my youngest brother. He’s too young to walk without falling, much less to know what’s going on, but our excitement seems to have caught. He’s wide awake and jumping in Mama’s arms. My grandparents’ house is big, filled with antique furniture that Mama tries so hard to prevent us from touching or knocking over every time we come to visit. But Mama is a grown-up. She doesn’t understand the grand adventures my cousins and I have up and down the stairs, in and out of the many rooms, and up and around the four shady rambutan trees in the backyard. Even with the whole family crowding the hall, the house is quiet. I see Uncle Jamil’s children and I go to them while Daddy and Mama settle down at another corner, my sister trailing them. I don’t see my grandparents, but I think they must be in the middle of the room. “What’s happening?” I ask Cousin Asri. “Nothing the past hour we’ve been here.” My taller cousin rolls his eyes. “It’s boring.” “Shh,” says Uncle Jamil. His eyes are stern. From somewhere beyond the wall of uncles and aunts comes a weak squawk. After a collective gasp, I see everyone looking up. I follow their gaze. The crystal chandelier hanging from the high ceiling is glowing red, except that light is not coming out of it, but from underneath. A small bird is flying in a slow circle. It looks wrong, not like the beautiful bird I remember. The crimson feathers have lost their sheen, the gold beak lacks its usual luster. I feel a lump forming in my throat when I look at its eyes. The bird is saying goodbye to us. “Fly, Garuda, your final flight,” comes Grandfather’s voice. At first I don’t understand what’s going on, but looking at Daddy standing across the room, I remember the story he told my little sister and me when we first saw the bird years ago. Garuda is a special bird, a secret I can never tell anyone, not even my best friend Kit Wan. It has been looking after my family for generations, when Grandfather’s grandfather was young. I remember telling Daddy it’s impossible, but he said that this is Garuda’s eighth incarnation. I still don’t understand what that means. The bird flies toward us and hovers over Uncle Jamil’s head. I see everyone nodding, as if agreeing with a well-chosen decision. Uncle Jamil is smiling. It feels wrong, somehow, to see him happy when the bird is giving off such a sad feeling. The bird sighs. I sigh with it. With gentle flaps of red wings, it floats down to land. Not on Uncle Jamil, but into my arms. I hear everyone gasping aloud. I see them clearing a circle around me, but right now I don’t care. I stroke Garuda’s little body. It feels light and soft. And warm. Tears start to drop on its belly. I’m crying and I don’t know why. “Put it down, Khir,” says Grandfather, his tone gentle. I ease the bird onto the marble floor and sit in front of it. Garuda squawks at me and lifts its head. It sighs again, before going limp and lifeless. I cry out and reach for it, but it suddenly bursts into flame, gold and red. It feels warm, but not scalding like the fire on a stove. I hear Mama crying out, but I reach out anyway. The fire tickles my skin. It feels like clothing fresh out of the drier. I touch Garuda’s burning beak and gasp not in pain, but in surprise. The bird crumbles into ash, and in the middle is a gold egg slightly smaller than chicken egg. “Garuda has chosen you, Grandson, to be its next keeper.” I look up and see Grandfather smiling at me. Daddy too. Mama looks worried, though. “The egg feels warm.” “When it hatches, Garuda will be reborn the ninth time. Whomever it chooses is destined for greatness. I hope I’ll live long enough to see you achieve it.” Grandfather chuckles, and the whole family laughs with him. Except for Uncle Jamil, although I can’t understand why. “Guard our secret well, and Garuda will watch over you and your family, Khir.” I cup the egg with both hands close to my heart. I feel a quiver, a pulse, matching my heart. I don’t understand much of what Grandfather has just said, but I know this much is true: I will have a lifelong friend, and no matter how dark things can get, there will always be light.
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Author's note: With this piece, I wanted to write something different, but believable. I didn't want to write about how an animal lost its previous lives, but I wanted to concentrate on its current life. I thought about an animal that had multiple lives. I immediately thought of the phoenix. Granted, it's a mythological animal and not a real one, but the prompt was not specific enough to stop me from looking into this. Using a phoenix, I knew my story would be difficult to believe. That's why I rooted the story in reality, and instead of concentrating on the bird, I wrote it from a human perspective, witnessing the miracle of its death and rebirth. A few days before the prompt came about, I was contemplating on writing children's stories, mainly for my niece Arwen. I wanted her to have something grand, something meaningful, something she could pass down to her children, something hers and hers alone. I've been buying her stuff, but it's different. Since I'm good at spinning stories, why not? Why not have her read something that's from me for her. So when this prompt came, I gave children's story a try. And readers love it! They say I kept the PoV and perspective from a child's throughout the story, and his innocence and naivety is portrayed well. And the story is believable. They want to read more, of what happens next. I'm thinking about turning this story into a book, with illustrations. Sigh. If only.