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Authors: Kathryn Reiss

Pale Phoenix

BOOK: Pale Phoenix
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Pale Phoenix
Kathryn Reiss
Table of Contents

Title Page

Table of Contents





Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen



Harcourt, Inc.
Orlando Austin New York
San Diego Toronto London

Copyright © 1994 by Kathryn Reiss

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and
retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work
should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department,
Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

First Harcourt paperback edition 2003

The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:
Reiss, Kathryn.
Pale Phoenix/Kathryn Reiss.
p. cm.
Summary: When her parents take in a strange orphan girl with a
mysterious past, fifteen-year-old Miranda decides to find out why she
seems to have come from nowhere and how she seems to be able to
disappear at will.
[1. Supernatural—Fiction. 2. Time travel—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.R2776Pal 1994
[Fic]—dc20 93-32299
ISBN 0-15-200030-5
ISBN 0-15-204927-4 pb

Text set in Stempel Garamond
Designed by Lydia D'moch

Printed in the United States of America


Kathryn Grace Sawyer—
my oldest friend in the world

With special thanks to my agent
and longtime supporter,
Marilyn Marlow

This book was written
with the aid of a grant from the
New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

"So the blessed Phoenix, his death-hour over,
His dear old home once again seeketh...."

—"The Phoenix
From the 8th-century Anglo-Saxon poem
attributed to Cynewulf, translated by
J. Lesslie Hall, 1902

"And to die is different from what any one
supposed, and luckier...."

—Walt Whitman,
Song of Myself

Chapter One

it all began, Miranda Browne had no idea this day would be different from others. Only afterward, looking back, it seemed there had been signs. The cold morning late in January dawned as though a dream, white and heavy with blankets of snow, with thick, white flakes still falling past her window. Silence enfolded the house as Miranda lay warm and snug beneath her quilt, listening for the usual morning sounds. But there was no grind of snowplows or cars going by on the road, no drone overhead of airplanes on their way to the Boston airport, not even the usual beat from the radio down in the kitchen. The whole world might have been catapulted back to an earlier time, when mornings always broke this way: fresh, bright, and soundless.

Wincing as her bare feet touched the cold wooden floor, Miranda crossed to her window seat and rubbed a clear patch on the frosted pane. New-fallen snow blanketed the shrubs, the fences, Dan's house across the street. The magnolia tree outside Miranda's window sparkled in the gray morning sun, its snow-laden branches dripping with ice ornaments. For a moment the scene outside appeared to her as if it were an old photograph in a museum exhibit—a winter morning frozen forever in black and white.

Later, looking back, Miranda decided the silence that morning had been a sign, as loud in its own way as a warning bell.
Something is going to happen
, it tolled.

And something did.

Miranda dressed quickly in jeans, a warm sweater, and thick socks. She yanked a brush through her tangled dark curls and hurried out into the chilly hallway and down the stairs to the kitchen. "Hi, you guys. Did you listen to the radio?"

"School's open, believe it or not," her father, Philip, greeted her. He was sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper. "I don't know how the buses are going to get out in all this, but the newspaper was right on time, so maybe it isn't as bad down in town as it looks up here."

"I'll die if people can't get out to come to the flea market," moaned Miranda. "After all our work!" She pulled out her chair and sat down.

Her parents sat watching the flakes fall outside the window over the sink. Helen, Miranda's mother, held a mug of strong black coffee. Her china plate was laden with two buttered bran muffins. Philip sipped a glass of frothy pink milk—his usual diet drink. There was no plate at his place, but he had finally moved beyond the days of eyeing Miranda's and Helen's food jealously. Since losing nearly one hundred pounds, Philip Browne was a man of new energy and drive.

Now he drained his glass and carried it to the dishwasher. "I'm off," he said. "That is, I hope to be off, if the roads aren't too bad. But at least the snow is beautiful here."

"Quite a change from New York," Helen agreed.

Miranda nodded and bit eagerly into a warm muffin. Garnet snow was crisp and white and sparkling, unlike the snow in New York City, which grew gray as soon as it touched the streets. The Brownes had moved to Massachusetts from New York two years ago when Miranda was thirteen, leaving their cramped city apartment for this spacious old home in a small town near Boston.

"I'm driving you to school today," Helen told Miranda, clearing the table. "And Dan, too, if he's ready to go in fifteen minutes." Miranda's mother had a private gynecological and obstetric practice in the Garnet town center and spent hours each week at the Garnet Hospital as well, delivering her patients' babies. "Let's get all these bags of junk out to the car now."

"Mither!" The affectionate nickname Miranda used for her mother came out as a screech. "Mither, that's
fine stuff." She glanced at the brown grocery bags crowding the corner behind the door. "We're not supposed to sell anything that isn't in good condition."

"All I know is that I'm delighted to get it out of the house." Helen smiled. "I can't believe we've collected so much rubbish over the years."

"What I can't believe," Philip put in, as he wound his scarf around his coat collar, "is that you insisted on lugging all of it here from New York in the first place." He shook his head. "You pack rat!"

Helen came to kiss him at the back door. Philip waved good-bye and headed through the unshoveled drifts behind their house toward the old barn that now served as a garage. He had given up a career as a professor of American History at the City College when they moved to Garnet. Now he was an assistant curator and research director at the American Museum in Lexington. He said he had burned out as a teacher. Students studied history only for the credit toward graduation, he felt; they didn't have any love of the past at all. At least museum visitors came out of a genuine interest in America's history.

"I bet we sell everything," predicted Miranda as her mother swept out the snow that flew in when Philip left. "It seems everybody's interested in the Witch House now."

The Witch House was the old Prindle House, Garnet's oldest building. It was nicknamed for Nathaniel Prindle, who had been an avid witch-hunter back in the days when people's fear of witches erupted into hysteria. He built the house for his family in 1692, and generations of Prindles lived there until the family eventually died out and the house was bought by the town. It had served as a hospital, a village school, an orphanage, and a library before being abandoned, too run-down for public use. Eventually the house grew so derelict, the city planned to demolish it and build a new community center on the same site, with the empty yard next door made into a parking lot. Garnet folklore long held that the yard was haunted by one of the poor souls Mr. Prindle had accused of witchcraft. On a windy day, legend had it, you could hear wails of anguish.

The local Historical Society stepped in and clamored for the Prindle House to be saved. Eventually the townspeople voted for the old house to be renovated into the much-needed community center. And the high school was helping by holding fund-raisers—a Halloween haunted house in the school gym had been the first of these. Now the flea market promised to draw a crowd, and a dance was in the works.

Miranda stood up, cramming a last piece of muffin into her mouth. "I'd better go call Dan," she mumbled. "You know he's probably still asleep." She went to the phone, picturing his tousled dark hair and sleepy eyes.

"Tell him ten minutes," said Helen. "If I can get my car started."

On the way to school, Dan Hooton rummaged through the cardboard box he had stowed in the car and pulled out a pink china piggy bank. "Look at this. Ugly as sin, but I bet we can get ten bucks for it."

"If not, your parents can start a 'Garnet Kitsch' exhibit," teased Miranda. The Hootons' large pre-Revolutionary War home housed the Garnet Museum in one wing. Dan's parents ran the township museum themselves, collecting memorabilia of Garnet history for the displays. Miranda's father maintained that he owed his present job in Lexington to Ed Hooton, who had first introduced him to the curator of the American Museum.

"Who would buy it?" Miranda wondered, examining the pink pig as Helen drove slowly down the hill. "It's too pink." She handed it back to Dan. "I've got two teddy bears, some dominoes, a clock radio, and loads of old camping gear."

"Pretty cool," said Dan, rummaging around in his box. "I've got a bunch of old books and coffee mugs. And this. It's a whistle." He held up a small white stone figure and put it to his lips. A clear, high note piped loud and true as Helen piloted the car through the Garnet center. The road wound around the old village common and it was just there, where the road curved, that a girl stepped suddenly off the sidewalk, straight into the path of their car.

The long note from Dan's whistle still hung in the air as Helen slammed on the brakes and jerked the steering wheel to the left. The car swerved and skidded off the road into a snowbank. The girl lay motionless in the street.

"Oh, my God!" Helen jumped from the car and rushed to the fallen figure. Miranda wrestled with her seatbelt, her breakfast muffins now a hard mass in her stomach.

Miranda and Dan knelt in the street while Helen tried to revive the girl. A small crowd began to gather, and several cars slid slowly to a stop behind them. Miranda's first thought as she gazed down on the girl was that she must be dead. She blended too well with the fresh, soft snow to have warm blood pumping in her veins. Her long hair, wispy and pale, lay fanned out around her body. She lay utterly still, her thin coat of dirty beige wool covered with a light sprinkling of snow.

A very large beaded satchel had fallen in the snow next to the girl. Miranda had never seen anything quite like it. Shaped like an old-fashioned carpet bag, it was covered in gaudy pink beads. Some of the beads had a silvery cast, and in several places swatches of faded cloth showed through. Notebooks and pens had spilled out of the beaded bag and now dotted the street like dark smudges next to the unmoving girl. Feeling helpless, Miranda began gathering the things up.

A blue vein throbbed on the girl's neck, and her eyes slowly opened. They, too, were strangely pale, a funny milky beige that nearly matched her colorless hair. She focused on Miranda. "Don't touch those things—" Her voice was small and frightened. Slowly she sat up with Helen's support.

Miranda realized only then that she had been holding her breath, and she let it out in a puff of frosty cloud. She set the beaded satchel in the snow next to the girl. "I was just—"

"Did you take anything?" asked the girl, reaching for the bag.

"Wait, don't move," cautioned Helen. "You may have broken something."

"I'm all right," said the girl. She slanted a glance up at Helen. "Don't worry about me."

"Cracked a rib, maybe," said an elderly man who had stopped to see what had happened. "Girl ought to have a doctor look at her."

"I am a doctor." Helen bent lower to examine the girl, feeling her gently through the thin coat for signs of injury. Then she put her arms around the girl to help her to her feet. "Are you sure you can stand?"

"I'm fine. I said I was all right." The girl pulled away and reached down for her satchel. Miranda frowned at her.

BOOK: Pale Phoenix
4.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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