Renaissance: A Phineas Phoenix Origin Story, Part One

Phineas Phoenix existed only to fulfill the curse that Venus had borne since she first surfaced, fully-formed, from frothing, frigid foam. With her air of majesty about him, Phineas shed his virgin egg-tooth as he reared his beak and bestowed in his former home its first puncture. The egg’s allure of safety — its comforting threat of captivity — no longer permeated his stubborn will. The first vision he ever glimpsed of the world in all its boldness was his nest, engulfed in flames. Flames of a vivid vermillion. Streaks of soft indigo meshed with gold. The brightness and all-encompassing warmth of those flames instilled in him a lingering desire for freedom and a thirst for a steady stream of knowledge.

With nothing to follow him but his name and his trail of brilliant scarlet feathers, the infant Phineas took to the sunrise, searching for some haven to satisfy his flame of ambition.

He counted the sunrises and sunsets as he flew and searched for his new home. Each day, they came more rapidly, one after other, a cycle of life and death. His feet never once touched the ground during the time that he sailed carelessly through the Earth’s cyan sky, a burning star in his own right. When finally the noble phoenix tired of his quest, he spotted a building far below him — a mammoth building of herculean stature, composed of two enormous wings protruding from a majestic dome. Here, Phineas decided, he would rest his exhausted little body for the night. In the morning, he would hunt and fish for sustenance in the nearby creek.

When his legs so much as touched the shingles of that lovely dome, however, he took to the air in fright as an explosion resounded beneath him. The building quickly took to flames, and before he processed the extent of his own destruction, a column of fury shot through the west side of the dome. Phineas looked at the rapidly-growing cloud of smoke beneath him, mortified that he had become his own newly-selected home’s arsonist.

The year was 1881, and the month was September. It took hours for firefighters to arrive from the nearby city of Philadelphia to squelch the apparent instance of arson, but by then, the building already sat in a pile of its own ashes and embers. Nobody ever found out what had caused the fire to begin with, but Swarthmore students thus referred to the incident as “The Great Fire”.

Phineas left the area thereafter, only returning once the building and dome had been rebuilt with newer, more flame-retardant materials. He lived in peace on top of that dome for another 102 years, circling around the tri-state area to brighten his days, and occasionally visiting his closest and dearest friend, Bryn Mawr’s Owl.

In 1983, however, Phineas felt a pain in his chest, a pain white-hot and scorching his insides. He felt as if he couldn’t breathe, and rather than crashing down from the sky, he decided to take refuge on top of the nearest building. He coughed, and with that cough and tiny gust of fire that came with it, Phineas’s world no longer existed. As a solitary phoenix in a world of short-lived, ethereal birds, he knew not the fable of the manner in which phoenixes tend to live and die. An excruciating pain came over him as he coughed and sputtered about in the flames, and he felt the ceiling under him collapse in a pile of rubble and loose stone.

When he woke up, he wondered where the Carnegie Library had disappeared, why he felt so helpless, and why, oh why, a layer of thick black soot suffocated him as he struggled to breathe.



Anatole Shukla '22 is a senior from Fort Wayne, IN. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of The Phoenix.

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