|My idea of Colin.|
|My idea of what Jay looks like.|
CAGED IN MYTH
A Bayou Zoo Novel, GLBT YA
Excerpt from Chapter 2, First Draft/Unedited
Excerpt from Chapter 2, First Draft/Unedited
By S.J. Drum
Assured all other creatures in Area Five were accounted for and properly locked within their enclosures, Rabalais and I exchanged the cumbersome magic-repelling cloaks for large, long-handled nets to catch the escaped Gnomes. Gnomes were magic in nature but didn’t have the mental capacity or power to wield magic against anyone.
Because Gnomes were relatively harmless and functioned in a group, scattering then coming back together like a flock of chickens, capturing them wouldn’t be too dangerous. The problem lay with finding them. Area Five encompassed ten acres, seven were covered by creature enclosures, the remaining three were densely wooded acreage.
The eerie silence of earlier began to lift, a low hum of cicadas starting to sound through the forest. Still, it was obvious things weren’t quite right on this side of the portal. Had Grace entered the Gnome habitat for some reason and forgotten to lock the gate? Check and double checking locks was something ingrained in zookeepers from day one. Hard for me to imagine anyone, let alone the anal-retentive Grace, leaving an area without making sure the gates were locked. Especially inside Area Five.
Rab and I crept through the forest with slow, deliberate steps meant for quiet movement, listening for any sign of the Gnomes. Neither of us were using flashlights, counting on our enhanced night vision to spot the tell-tale red tops of the Gnomes. I wasn’t sure what kind of supernatural Gregory Rabalais was,he wasn’t the kind of man to offer up the info and he sure as hell wasn’t the kind of man who’d welcome personal questions. Whatever he was, he could see as well as me in the dark.
He froze, foot in mid-step before setting it slowly on the ground. He pointed to our left and when I looked, a bush was rustling back and forth with small, jerky movements. I squinted, trying to spot what hid there but whatever it was, the thing stayed behind the bush and far enough away I couldn’t see.
Something darted across the path behind me and when I spun, net swinging with the turn, all I caught was air. Chatter exploded all around us, the sound of startled Gnomes bringing the Cicadas’ song to an abrupt halt.
“Damn!” Little red horns popped up and dropped back down under the cover of dense foliage in a parody of the whack-a-mole game the zoo administration brought out during fund raising events.
Rab and I spent the rest of our shift, seven hours in total, chasing, catching and depositing Gnomes back into their securely locked habitat. When we finally climbed through the portal and emerged behind the Aquarium, we were sweaty, dirty, and both bleeding from numerous scratches caused more by sharp branches and thorns than by the Gnomes.
We drug our asses into the Keeper Center, Rab now favoring one shoulder. I’d seen him favor the same shoulder on a few occasions and assumed he’d injured it at some point in the past. He tried to hide the fact that it bothered him when he used it too much and no one was stupid enough to ask him what was wrong.
“Jesus!” Jace jumped up from his sprawl on the vinyl couch. “What the hell happened to you?”
Alex was right behind him. “You alright?” He cast a wary look at Rabalais’ back as the man disappeared into the locker room without a word.
“Fine. The Gnomes were loose when we got to our Area.” I took a deep breath and stretched my arms over my held, pulling on one elbow and then the other. Damn, I felt like I’d competed in the Iron Man.
“Shit. How’d that happen? They dig a hole under the fence?”
I shook my head, eyes averted and dropped into a chair at the table before tugging the Area Five report binder to me. I sensed Alex and Jace’s curious stares on me but I didn’t want to get into my theories about what’d happened. If Grace was guilty, I didn’t want to be the one to condemn her. I knew as soon as the words were spoken aloud, the news of her carelessness would be spread throughout the dysfunctional family of Bayou Zoo staff faster than a high school rumor of lost virginity.
“They’re back inside now, that’s all that matters.”
“The hell it—” Jace started. Alex put one long-fingered hand on Jace’s elbow and gave him a meaningful look.
That was Alex, always the peacekeeper and more perceptive than anyone else I knew. He seemed to understands things without explanation and rarely questioned the why...just trusted with a blind faith I found both naive and humbling.
Plus, I knew I’d tell Alex what’d happened in Area Five once we were alone, even if just to bounce some ideas off him. Not that Jace wasn’t trustworthy, but, well...he liked gossip as much as any chick I’d ever known.
I filled out my section of the report, leaving plenty of room for Rabalais to chicken-scratch the few meager words I knew he’d add and left a note for the Area Five curator—who functioned as a sort of manager for that particular section of the zoo—and kept my theories about Grace to myself.
Jace, Alex and I were on our way out the door when a sound—something between a grunt and a growl—caused me to stop. I turned as Jace and Alex stepped outside and found Rab standing there looking like he was irritated with me for something. I raised a brow and waited.
Under closer inspection, Rab didn’t look irritated as much as uncomfortable. He stared over my shoulder at the back of the now closed door and I knew he couldn’t be that interested in the fliers scotch-taped there like wallpaper. “Uh, Rab?”
His gaze flicked to mine and then he thrust one big, meaty fist toward me and I thought for sure he’d hit me. He didn’t. His hand stopped in front of my chest, he opened his clenched fist and I scrambled to catch what he’d dropped. My stone, the black stone I’d lost at the beginning of my shift, the one I always used to check the portal before jumping.
I stood there, stunned, staring at the shiny black surface. I didn’t think Rabalais had ever seen me use it. How did he even know about it or that it was kinda my own personal worry stone and I felt naked without it weighing down my pocket. I looked up to ask him how he’d found it or even known to look but he was gone, the door of the keeper center snicking closed silently behind him.
From Birth to maturity—usually around sixteen years of age—the kids of my clan live in a group home ran by the clan. If you’re wondering why we don’t live with our parents, well, that’s because most of us don’t know who our parents are, if we know, then they’re either dead or not willing or able to care for us.
The Treigthe Clan, are all orphans.
All of us came here through various means and for different reasons. I came to be in the care of the Treigthe in a literal flash of light. One moment the house mother was sweeping the hardwood play-room floor, the next she heard a low-level hum, then a flash of light filled the entire room and when it faded, there I was. In a fucking woven basket. Bad enough my parents, whoever they were, abandoned me. Did they have to send me off in such a cliche way? I suppose they should get points for the execution though, a high-power spell and fireworks is pretty impressive, but I wasn’t ready to give them credit where it was due.
Now, as I steered my rusted jeep onto the rough gravel drive leading me home, I shoved the lifetime of questions and no answers out of my mind. Didn’t do any good to dwell on things I couldn’t control. In the time it took Alex to jump out, open the gate, then close it behind the jeep after I drove through, I got my thoughts on other things. Like if I’d see Him tonight. I both anticipated and dreaded seeing Him.
Alex jumped back inside, not bothering with opening a door. The roof on my jeep was pretty much permanently removed. I hadn’t had it on in...maybe never. If it rained, we took Jace’s pick-up.
“I could go for a beer,” Jace said, stretching his long legs across the backseat and allowing his booted feet to hang outside.
“Well,” I said, shifting into second gear as I drove down the long drive, “If you’d gotten your sister to make the fake ID’s like you were supposed to, we could be going to the bar right now and drinking all the beers we want.”
“Hey, man, I tried. I’m telling you, she’s turned into a total prude since she married that douchebag Zander.”
Alex piped in, “I thought you liked Zander.”
Jace grumbled something unintelligible.
I laughed, “He just doesn’t like that the guy’s fucking his sister.”
That earned me a smack to the back of my head and a stream of curses from the backseat. I slammed the brakes and ripped the keys out of the ignition with Jace hanging onto my neck like a spider monkey and Alex shouting encouragements from the passenger seat. I rolled out of the hastily opened driver’s side door and onto the gravel with Jace still attached to my back, trying his damnedest to assert his authority by inserting a spit covered finger into my ear.
“Gross, dude! How old are you?” I tumbled Jace to the ground, straddled him and pinned his legs with my knees. With my hands clasped tight around his wrists, I proceeded to give him a little Junior High Justice by making him slap himself in the face repeatedly.
Jace laughed and I remembered why I considered him one of my best buds, even if he did gossip like a girl. He bucked his hips, trying to dislodge me, finally getting lucky when a hand clasped the back of my shirt and lifted up at the same time he bucked.
“Alright children,” Alex said, giving me a too-hard slap on the back, “let’s move this party inside.”
Now that we’d reached maturity—and by ‘maturity’ I mean age—we lived in the Treigthe Residential Compound instead of the group. Instead of the old, possibly haunted, converted manor house that served as the group home, we now lived...well...to put it indelicately, in a trailer park.
Calling it a Residential Compound made it sound much more awesome than it actually was. In reality, it was a roughshod spattering of outdated trailers in various states of repair—though we tried to keep up with repairs and landscaping—housing around fifty, give or take, supernaturally inclined former orphans.
“And,” Alex said, breaking into my monologue, “I’ve got beers.”
“What?” Jace and I both said at the same time.
Alex smirked and raised one perfectly arched, dark brow, his silver-gray eyes shining under the moonlight.
“Oh, did I forget to mention that? Yeah, turns out Jace’s douchebag brother-in-law is good for something after all.”
“Wait,” Jace hurried up the wood steps to our trailer, “Zander bought us beer? No freaking way.”
“No lie. He said he’d rather us drink a few beers at home than go out somewhere and get in trouble. Plus, he agreed it was stupid that we’re old enough to live on our own and work a full-time job but we can’t have a beer when we get home.”
Jace bounced on the balls of his feet right behind where Alex stood with one hand on the yellowed fridge door.
“Don’t blow your load, Jace. It’s only a twelve pack. Four beers each tonight or two beers each tonight and tomorrow. I don’t wanna hit Zander up again for a few days.”
“Fine, fine. Just gimme!”
Alex chuckled, handed Jace a Bud Light and grabbed two more bottles before turning and kicking the fridge shut with the heel of his boot. Jace practically skipped into the living room and bounced onto the couch, sending the cheaply made piece of furniture into a fit of creaking that was both familiar and worrisome.
“Shit, I left my phone in the jeep.” I sat my unopened beer on the scarred half wall separating the living area and kitchen. “Be right back.”
Not that there was anyone not already inside the trailer that was likely to call me, but you never knew. If I were honest with myself, I’d say that I waited all damn day, all damn week, obsessively checking my phone for new texts, hoping to get one from Him.
I hopped down the steps, making a mental note to nail down the habitually loose board on the second step again. The night air hung thick and smelled heavily of the magnolia trees surrounding the property.
The sounds of the bayou seemed deafening this far outside of town. Bull frogs, cicadas and other things I didn’t want to think about, all talking, singing, calling into the night. I was almost to the jeep when something made me stop and look toward the neighboring trailer, the trailer Grace shared with two of the other girls.
I stopped, my heart speeding until I thought it might crack free of my chest. I stared into the shadowed area in front of her trailer and felt my arms go heavy, my hands go numb. A flush stole over me and I wasn’t sure whether I was freezing or burning up.
Colin—Him—had Grace up against the side of her trailer. One strong thigh wedged between her thighs, her slutty-short jean mini-skirt riding up too high, or just high enough for what they were doing. Her tanned legs were wrapped around his lean waist, bare feet hooked at the small of his back. He had one hand fisted in her fake blond hair and one sliding up the outside of her slim thigh, snaking its way under her skirt.
I couldn’t breathe, air turned to fire in my lungs and I wanted to hate him. I wanted to hate him but all I could do was hate myself for being this way. Grace moaned and I clenched my fist so hard the keys to my jeep dug into my palm.
I shouldn’t feel this way. I shouldn’t be watching this, feeling jealous. Not of Grace. I shouldn’t be wishing it was me Colin had pinned to the side of the trailer, slowly thrusting his jean-clad hips, looking like he wanted nothing more than to sink into her warm depths and break apart. I wanted to hate him for doing this to me, even if he had no idea I wanted him. For making me watch this, even though he wasn’t making me do anything. I wanted to hate him but I only hated myself for feeling utterly betrayed by someone who didn’t even know I existed in that way.
Why couldn’t I be like Jace and Alex and everyone else I knew? I’d taken girls out, I’d even gotten close to screwing a few of them but it’d never felt right. Then, a year ago, when Colin moved into our compound from parts unknown, I’d taken one look at him and known. I wanted him. I also knew I’d never act on it and I’d never let Jace or Alex know about my...urges. How could I?
It was bad enough to think I might be gay, but I thought it was worse somehow to be attracted to Colin, someone so blatantly masculine. Maybe if I were attracted to an effeminate man it wouldn’t be so shameful. Like an effeminate man might be better because they’re kind of the middle ground between a man and a woman. Like, if that’s what did it for me, it’d be a little more excusable. Feeling my dick harden for a boy—a man—like Colin? Shit, I couldn’t even lie to myself about what that meant.
Sometime during the moment I’d been lost in my thoughts, Colin had stilled. Grace didn’t seem to notice, wiggling her hips as if to encourage him. He moved his mouth away from hers, resting his forehead against hers for a moment before turning his face slightly in my direction and drawing in a long breath through is nose.
I froze, not wanting to be caught watching this private moment, even if all I wanted to do was walk over there and tear Grace away from him. When Colin scented the air again, testing, I realized the keys in my hand had cut into my palm deep enough to cause a good bit of blood to drip down my fingers and splash onto the gravel at my feet. Shit.
I backed up a step but my boot crunched on in the gravel and Colin was no longer too engrossed in what he was doing to notice. Colin, a descendant of Berserkers, had quite a few supernatural abilities, which unfortunately included an enhanced sense of smell. I was caught the moment the first drop of blood escaped my palm.
His intense, liquid amber eyes met mine and I could have sworn they started to glow but then he blinked and they were normal again—well, as normal as incredible, odd amber colored eyes could be.
I felt a strong urge to turn and run back inside the trailer and pretend none of this ever happened but I’d been spotted and I didn’t like the thought of being both a coward and a peeping tom. Damn.
Colin leaned in, whispered something to Grace that had her giggling and then patted her exposed thigh with one large hand before stepping away and allowing her feet to rest on the ground. She cast a smug look in my direction and I wondered if she knew what I felt for Colin. I had a moment of panic before deciding there was no way she could know. No one knew. I’d barely admitted it to myself and always took great care to never do anything that might give me away. She turned and skipped up the steps to her trailer before disappearing inside.
Colin stood with his hands on his hips and his back to me for a few long seconds before he seemed to come to some decision and turned, walking towards me with a determined gate that had me backing up a couple of steps until I bumped into the front of my jeep.
“Hey, I was just—” I blushed, thankful for the darkness and hoping it’d be enough to keep my reaction from being apparent to him. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Left my phone in the jeep, just came out to grab it.”
Of course my attempt at being casual was ruined by my nervous stuttering and the blood oozing in a lazy trickle when I held my keys up as proof of my purpose for skulking around in the dark. I quickly tucked my bleeding hand behind my back although I knew the action was of no use.
Colin looked at me with the same quiet intensity that’d drawn me to him to begin with. Well, that and his amazing set of eight-pack abs hiding just behind the blue plaid button-up shirt he wore. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled up to his elbows, exposing toned, tanned arms with a dusting of dark hair I wished I could run my fingertips over.
I jerked my gaze back to his, realizing I’d been staring and he still hadn’t said anything. “Sorry, for interrupting, I mean.” I tilted my head in the direction of Grace’s trailer. I really was sorry, but not for the reason I implied.
“Hmmm,” Colin hummed, as if he was contemplating accepting or rejecting my lie. He stepped closer, too close. My breath caught and I thought I should back away but there was nowhere to go, I was stuck between Colin and the cool, steel body of the jeep.
Trying not to meet his gaze directly, I let my eyes rove over his face until his earlobes caught my attention. Well, not his earlobes but the the gaged plugs taking up space there. The jewelry held some type of magic, the centers of the index finger sized holes were comprised of a mass of swirling gears.
The small flash of steampunk style fit Colin perfectly. The gears in perpetual motion kept up their silent dance. Spin, twist, catch. Spin, twist, catch. Almost as mesmerizing as Colin himself. Almost.
I swallowed hard and forced my focus away from the jewelry.