My aunt opened the glass-windowed doors of the china cabinet. “Pick something you like out of here. Anything you want. My brothers have already been through it, and I don’t want anything.”
I scanned the trinkets inside. Figurines, vases, even a few things that looked like they must have been my uncles’ high school art projects, all the things my grandmother had collected over a lifetime. At the back, a glint of silver caught my eye, and I reached for what looked like an old bell.
The ornate loop of the handle turned out to be the tail of some kind of creature that coiled around the rest of the tarnished bell. I picked it up and gave it a shake. No sound.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Not sure. I think they got that on their trip to Scotland,” my aunt said.
I turned it over to look inside the dark cup of the bell. A bent wire inside must have held a clapper at one time, but now the bell couldn’t ring. The creature on the bell had a beak and wings like an eagle, but a long snake-like body and four paws like a lion.
“I like this,” I said. “Maybe I can find a clapper for it.”
It went into my suitcase, along with some of grandma’s books I’d picked out, and the program from grandma’s funeral. I zipped it all up, said goodbye to grandma’s house, and rolled my luggage out to my aunt’s car so I could get to the airport and catch my flight home.
Once I got home, I put the bell on a little curio stand in the corner of my apartment. There it sat, still silent, for over a year. I found it one day while putting out Christmas decorations. Once again, I turned it over and studied the bent wire inside, forming in my mind the sort of thing I’d need to make the bell sing again.
While out shopping for Christmas presents I found what I was looking for. A pack of metal beads, just the right size. I bought them and brought them home.
It took some doing to get the wire unbent, slide the bead over the end, and bend it up again, but when I was done the bell rewarded me with a sweet peal of music. I thought about hanging it up on the miniature fake Christmas tree on my kitchen counter, and turned to carry it over there.
I screamed and dropped the bell. Something stood, or more like filled, the room behind me. A black beak like an eagle’s gleamed inches from my face, white feathered wings waved gracefully, a lithe golden body, lion’s paws, silver eyes with narrow slit’s like a snakes or a cat’s studied me with a sort of arrogant dismissal.
“For what have you summoned me?” it purred, as if it knew quite well I hadn’t been expecting it at all.