A gloomy hole sheltered the shivering cardinal during a raging thunderstorm. The hole was an incomplete snake house, burrowed with consummate skill. The cardinal knew he had to get out before the hole filled with rainwater. Ever so carefully, he worked his way up the shallow passage, his gorgeous red feathers now streaked with dirt. He chirped desperately; he was stuck, as water started to fill the shelter. The cardinal used his last shred of energy to try to push his way out, but it was no use. As thunder boomed and lightning cracked, the cardinal knew he was done, knew it was all over.
Just a few seconds later, a branch broke off the nearest tree, crashing to the ground beside him! The cardinal opened one eye, but the limb had not widened the hole on impact with the ground. The branch was no help to him. But he was wrong! A child had heard the branch fall as she was running home through the storm with drinking water for her family. The limb blocked her path, and as she bent to move it the stranded cardinal caught her eye. He looked up at her, up to his neck in water, and took in the girl’s appearance. She was tall, with deeply tanned skin and a jet-black braid down her back. Her eyes were a liquid brown, kind, yet reserved. She had on moccasins and a deerskin beaded dress.
“I am Jessica,” the girl solemnly spoke. “I will help you.”
She gently helped free the bird from the earth and rain. Noticing how filthy he was, she sprinted into a nearby cave, lightning flashing all around her. In the cave, she sacrificed her family’s drinking water to clean him. The brown streaks finally gave way and revealed a brilliant red coat of feathers.
Jessica stared at the now sleeping bird, transfixed. Huddled in the cave, she waited out the storm. When the cardinal woke up, it did not move.
“I will name you Fire, for the wings on your back and the glimmer in your eye,” Jessica said. Worriedly, she gently lifted Fire. He simply perched on her hand, gazing at her steadily, trustingly. She tossed him in the air. He flew around her head, made a loop-de-loop, and sat back down on her shoulder. She giggled.
“Show-off.” Together, the improbable pair sat in the cave, and Jessica fed Fire some jerky, until he was comfortable enough to come over again, grab the meat, and eat it sitting right on her head. Even so, the little night of fun was bittersweet, for Jessica knew she would have to let Fire go when the storm let up.
As soon as it was over, she murmured a little goodbye to him and set him loose to go back to his family. Jessica watched the sun make dancing rainbows on the wet cardinal’s wings. As he flew away, he seemed to set fire to the trees.