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What's Inside


Chapter 20

“WE NEED HELP!” Henry shouted.
“OH! OKAY! SURE!” Mariana, the animal protection lady, shouted back over the squawking of the black birds in their ornate cage. She dropped the cloth back down, silencing them once again.
“We need you to take the birds,” said Will.
“Take them? Where?”
“Anywhere,” replied Ella.
“Like an animal shelter?” Henry offered helpfully. The chicken was back on his lap. He brushed it once again onto the floor. “You don’t want them?”

“It’s not that we don’t want them, Mariana,” Ella explained. “It’s just that we don’t want whatever ticks or bugs or parasites they may be carrying. Ones that might, for example, dig down through your skin and anchor into your flesh so you can’t pull them out while they drain you of your blood. Or that might sneak in through your ear canal and lay eggs in your brain. Or deposit some kind of bacteria that creates a flaky red-and-white rash all over your face and body. Y’ know, that kind of thing.”

Mariana stared at Ella, not quite sure how to respond. She finally decided to simply ask, “Then why did you get them?”

“WILL YOU PLEASE GET OFF ME!” Henry shouted, shaking the chicken from the top of his head, where it had somehow landed. He regained composure and explained, “We didn’t get them. They were sent to us.”

“All of them?”
“Yes,” all the Sullivans said in unison.
“By who?” Mariana asked, scrunching up her face in a way that made her nose look particularly small and pointy.
“We don’t know,” replied Ella unenthusiastically.
“Someone you don’t know sent you four colly birds?” Mariana said, pointing to the huge iron birdcage covered by a blanket.

Ella looked at Mariana curiously and asked, “What sort of birds are they?”
“Well,” Mariana explained, “they’re actually a type of blackbird, but they’re referred to as colly birds—because they’re black like coal—or sometimes known as calling birds because they, as you know, call out a lot.”

The Sullivans looked at each other as a curious thought simultaneously began to form in each of their minds independently.

“So,” Will said tentatively, “we have been sent four calling birds...?”

“And the hens, Mariana,” asked Ella in a worried voice, “are they a particular type of hen?”

“Yes. Faverolles, I believe,” Mariana informed them.

Faverolles? That sounds . . . French,” Will said with a sigh.

“Yes. Very good. They are French hens. How did you know?”

“Lucky guess,” he replied as their worrying thought solidified.

“I don’t suppose,” started Henry, “that those doves you told us we have are actually...turtle doves...” Henry pointed up to the top of the bookcase where the two white birds cooed softly.

“Wow! You guys really know your stuff.”

“And a partridge,” said Ella, pointing to Alan in his shoebox home.

“...who arrived in—what I’m now assuming was—a...pear tree,” Henry whispered hoarsely.

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