MEADOWLARK: Book One
Praise for Yosemite Rising:
“At once evocative and gritty, Yosemite Rising is a roaring beast of a page-turner that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. The tale is a collision between a mystery as old as the high mountain valley at its heart and cutting-edge bio-tech terror. Raw and fast-paced, sexy and shocking, with compelling characters and genuinely creepy villains, Yosemite Rising will interrupt your sleep and haunt your dreams. And you’ll be glad it did.”—Bill Cameron, award-winning author of County Line
“I will start by saying Zombie books are not my thing. I would never seek out the genre to read just for pleasure. Quite frankly, the concept scares the crap out of me. So I committed to 60 pages, just to see if I could handle it. Before I knew it, it was almost one in the morning and I had read 100 pages. I was in and there was no going back. I would just have to put on my big girl pants and suffer through the heart palpitations, from the anxiety this book would no doubt give me. I honestly thought for a millisecond about quitting, but my desire to see how it all played out kept me going.
I would describe this as a coming of age story, with a long series of Zombie speed bumps, set in and around Yosemite National Park. From the jump my heart was pounding with the twists, the turns and the WTF moments. This books pushed the limits in every direction. Just when you think, OK enough already, the author slams your head against the wall with more. I loved that I couldn’t predict what was going to happen next. Through all of it , Elizabeth ( the heroine) is a rock star. You are rooting for her to make all the right decisions and survive.
I needed a week to digest it all after I finished the book, before I could write about what the heck I read. Overall I liked the book. I am glad I was given the opportunity to step outside my genre comfort zone. Great premise, great story, strong female lead, good conclusion, though I was left feeling like there was more of Elizabeth’s story to tell.”—Jen, Mama’s Dirty Little Reads
The Great Grey Owl
“We should’ve told her a long time ago.”
“Margaret!” Jack grabbed hold of the travel bags. If they didn’t hurry, they’d miss the plane. There wasn’t time for wallowing. He stopped halfway down the hallway, let go of the bags, and returned to the bedroom.
Margaret sat on the bed, hanging her head low.
He joined her, wrapped his arm around her waist, and pulled her in tight. “She wasn’t ready until now. Let’s go. We don’t want this to turn into more regret.”
She took his hand and swept Elizabeth’s present from the bed. It wasn’t until that awkward moment just before the car starts—that quiet moment, where everything that should be said finds its chance—that he spoke.
“You were a good mother.” He rested his hand on her knee. “You are a good mother.”
He knew to let go; holding on any longer would make her crumble. It was an hour’s drive to Oregon State University, then two hours more to the airport. He pulled out of the driveway as she stared at the modest ranch, the place they had hidden their daughters for a decade. He glanced at the house through the rearview mirror, watching all their memories fade behind them, and noticed a black Hummer pulling away from the curb a few feet back.
Margaret took a breath and tried to avoid her reflection in the side view mirror. Jack was being so sweet, so patient. She looked at him. His eyes were glued to the rearview mirror more often than the road. She turned to look out the back.
“No. Don’t,” he said.
She sat back and sank a little in the seat.
“They’ve been following us for a long time.”
She laughed. “You’re not thinking….”
“They pulled out when we left the house.”
“They’re probably going to town, just like us.”
He glanced down at the gift in her hand. “Do you believe that?”
She didn’t know what to believe anymore.
The edge of Corvallis emerged in the distance. Jack sped up. They needed more time; she needed more time. At the first intersection, he cut the car left like a maniac. She slid up against the door. As the car straightened, she turned around. The road was clear behind them. Jack slowed a little. He smiled at her and she smiled back. It was only paranoia. Since Elizabeth was born, it had felt like someone was watching them—following them. There never was anyone—not that they knew of—just a feeling she had. But Jack felt it, too. The past few days the feeling had grown stronger.
Jack’s driving returned to normal and he stopped at the next light. He let out a sigh and smiled at her. “You know I love you.”
She grabbed his hand and leaned to kiss him. The light turned green. He took his foot off the brake and sat back up in the seat. Something moved in the corner of her right eye. A vehicle was speeding down the side street toward them—the Hummer. It crashed into the passenger door. The car’s momentum shifted all at once and the world spun into darkness.
“He’s dead,” said a male voice. It wasn’t Jack’s.
Margaret opened her eyes to a grey sky. Rain dripped down, stinging her eyes. Where’s the car? She turned her head to the direction of the voice. Asphalt scraped her cheek like sandpaper. Two men stood beside her car looking at their feet, blocking whatever drew their attention. Their uniforms were identical—solid black like those of a SWAT team.
“You go deal with the public, use the terrorist bit. That should smooth over any questions. I’ll take care of her.” The man turned around and his partner went to control the crowd now gathering.
“Margaret, something tells me you’ve been expecting us.”
She didn’t recognize him. He looked ex-military, clean cut. His eyes were dark blue, reminding her of the sky that was hidden nine months out of the year.
He stepped closer, exposing the accident behind him. Jack. Her husband’s body hung limp in the driver’s seat. His warm eyes had gone hollow. She tried to move—to run to him—but couldn’t. Pain flooded her right side. She reached for its location but only her left hand moved. When she touched her right side, her fingers slid into blood.
“Who are you?”
He leaned down beside her, placing his hands against her ears.
“What do you want?” Raindrops pelted the cement around her.
She looked up at the sky. High in the clouds, something flew—something moved. She squinted.
I had planned on meeting Mom and Dad at La Café. It was right across the street from campus, so I wouldn’t have to miss my next class. The café’s bright yellow bricks stuck out bold against the grey sky. Amber light radiated through the large front window, its etched glass sparkling around an Eiffel tower design. A car gusted by. The wind pulled at my umbrella and rain drenched me before I could gain control of it. Maple leaves tore from a sidewalk tree and followed me across the road, smacking the side of the building.
I could see a man sitting in the back of the café through the glass. How the hell did Dominic beat me? His class didn’t end for another 15 minutes. I spun the new ring on my finger with my thumb. My Dad forbids me or my sister from marrying before graduation. Dominic knew this. The ring wasn’t much—a gold band with a cubic zirconium—but he had promised that in two years we’d be married. Mom would be so excited. I nudged the door open and shook the umbrella off to the side. A small bell hanging above the door jingled. Then I realized it wasn’t Dominic.
An old man sat at the back of the café. His skin looked like crinkled autumn leaves. He wore jeans and a blue plaid shirt, but he looked uncomfortable in them. His grey hair was pulled into a ponytail, except for a piece below his right ear, which was twisted into three turquoise beads securing an eagle’s feather.
Normally I wouldn’t care that out of the whole empty café he chose my seat. Since I had started college, my sister met me every Thursday for lunch and we always sat in that seat. It was lucky.
The mosaic dragonfly, hung where there should’ve been a window, glistened in the light. I had only missed sitting in that seat one time since freshman year and I flunked that day’s test. Out of all the tables, he had picked that one.
The scent of fresh-baked cookies carried from the back kitchen and filled the room. Every other booth was empty. If he left soon, I would still have time to take his seat before my next class. A teacup sat in front of him. If he was ordering breakfast there wouldn’t be enough time to switch seats. Shit.
He stared at me.
The busy sidewalk outside would be a distraction for ignoring that guy. I swung my backpack into the booth framing the front window. It hit the side of the wall, hard. Shit, my phone! I couldn’t afford to fix another screen on that damn thing. It had taken two weeks to pay for the last one.
The door opened behind me. The little bell jingled with a cold rush of wind. Thank God for another customer. Before I could turn to see who it was, warm lips pressed against the side of my cheek. I closed my eyes. I’d known that feeling since freshman year.
“Hey. Sorry I’m late, babe.” Dominic was across the room ordering before I could turn my head. A pencil-thin girl stood behind the counter smiling at him and of course he was eating it up. He looked back at me. “Do you want whipped cream on yours?”
“If you can fit it in.” I bit my lip. I’d like to try whipped cream sometime while he’s fucking me. I glanced over at the old man. His eyes widened. Did he hear that? His eyes rested for the first time since I had gotten there, directed at his cup. Clearly I had gotten up too early for entomology—eight-fucking-o’clock in the morning.
I looked away, through the etched window. Maple leaves flapped as they clung to their branches. As soon as they let go, they’d be dead. Wind pushed the incoming rain against the windowpane. The metal napkin holder reflected the light above the table. Its placement was no less than perfect to capture the old man already two steps from the back of my head.
He stopped behind me and I had no choice but to face him. His voice was strong, not at all withered like his skin, “A-wah—”
My heart choked and sweat built in my palms. My ears felt like they were on fire, burning as I tucked a few curls behind them.
“Do not become the moth.” He rested a hand on my shoulder. A moment of peace—pure contentment—washed over me. I closed my eyes and let a sigh escape. The tips of his fingers ran through my hair. The warmth of the room swirled as he whispered, “Do not become the moth.”
“One white chocolate mocha.” Dominic slid in beside me.
I opened my eyes. The old man was gone.
“So you all packed for this weekend? Don’t forget a sleeping bag.”
I stared at Dominic.
“Are you okay?” he said.
“Where did the Indian go?” I sat up searching the room and the sidewalks outside. Pieces of half-stuck leaves waved from the cement.
“I didn’t see anyone.” Dominic sipped his coffee, his finger covering the black magic marker scribbled with the name ANNA 541—
“I bet you didn’t.” My eyebrows lifted. It would be fun to watch him squirm out of this one. His smile always got him into trouble. I spun the ring on my finger.
A grin swept over his face. His fingertips brushed my cheek, pulling my lips to his. The smell of his aftershave drew me deeper into his kiss. He leaned away and whispered, “You have nothing to worry about.”
I glanced past him, at the counter, but the little slut was hiding in the back. Dominic sat back, switched our coffee sleeves, and rested his hand on my knee. His fingers slid up my leg, warming the wool of my stockings, pushing the lace edge of my dress up. He leaned into me, pressing the weight of his lust against my lips, pinning my head against the window.
My phone beeped, beeped, beeped.
Shit, only ten minutes. I pushed Dominic back and fumbled for the backpack behind me. As I sat up, he kissed my neck. His hand inched up my thigh. The blood in my body flowed, trying to reach his touch.
“I can’t miss another class.” I smiled and nudged him off. “Besides, I might have a date with”—I spun the coffee sleeve—“Anna tonight.”
“Oh, would you let it go?” He scooted out of the booth and opened the door.
The bell jingled above the doorway. I stood up. The seat. I almost botched the whole damn test. Rubbing my fingers across the sparkling mosaic dragonfly wouldn’t be enough for an A in microbiology, but it sure as hell was worth a try.
Dominic let go of the door and joined me in the far booth. The warmth of the seat seeped between my legs. I slid my fingers over the pieces of broken mirror following the lines of putty. Hazel loved this dragonfly. Where are Mom and Dad?
“Oh, I almost forgot.” Dominic pulled a Mason jar from his backpack. “I know its getting hard to find insects now.”
“What is it?” I scooped the jar up. The ridiculous 50 insect project for entomology was due tomorrow and I had been one short. It didn’t matter. I had fifty now. I leaned over the table, restraining the pressure of my lips and kissed him. If the table had not been in the way, my stockings would have been straddling his lap in gratitude.
My phone rang. My heartbeat skipped. It was 9:57, three minutes to make it to class. One missed call. My parents were probably running late. I jammed the phone back into my bag and grabbed the jar from the table. A gypsy moth fluttered in the glass. When I stood, the phone rang again. I slid the backpack from my shoulder and dug back into the front pocket. Two missed calls. 9:58. I was already late. Shit.
I slid the phone back into the pouch. I should really buy a cell phone case. It rang. I looked at the screen: Hazel. Why is she calling me in the middle of the morning?
“Lizzy, where are you?” Her voice was loud, but she sounded distant. She hadn’t called me that since we were children, the day our dog Haju died. “Where are you, Lizzy?”
I sat back down, clenched the jar in my hand, and looked at the mosaic dragonfly sparkling from the wall. “At the café.”
“Is Dominic with you?”
“Yes,” barely escaped my lips. Why was she asking?
She sighed. “I’m five minutes away ….”
The call ended.
I looked up at Dominic and saw that his eyes were already showing concern. The specimen jar slid from my fingers onto the table. The moth inside lost flight as it spun with the rolling glass. My stomach tightened as I exhaled all the air from my lungs. Sadness crept into every thought. The next five minutes were spent in a haze trying to make sense of the conversation, dissecting each word to the other half of me—to him.
The door opened.
Hazel’s high heels beat through the threshold stomping out the bell’s jingle. Her synthetic tan looked almost natural against a tight chestnut ponytail. The eyes that had given her the name dripped with mascara. We couldn’t look more different. Her eyes held an emptiness—a piece lost from everything that made her whole. She didn’t have to say a word.
I felt it.
My father would never walk me down the aisle. My mother would never kiss my children goodnight.
It was a car accident. The fact that they died instantly was supposed to be a comfort. Why would it be? There is no comfort, not in death. A piece of my heart grew dark.
My stomach hurt from crying. Every breath burned. Each step from the café blurred into the sidewalk. Rain poured from the sky. The leaves stopped waving from the ground. Puddles filled outside my dormitory. The climb to the second floor was too much; it was just too much. Dominic grabbed my hand. Warm tears dripped down my cheeks. He nodded. It was okay to cry. Hazel’s heels echoed through the stairwell from behind. Her fingers locked between mine. There were no words; we both knew that.
Dominic held the stairwell door. As soon as we got to my dorm room he sprinted across the room, scooped up the “ribbed for her pleasure” condoms, and shoved them under my pillow. The top bunk was made. The bathroom, to the left of the door, was empty. Megan had already left for gymnastics.
Dominic returned to me as fast as he could and kissed my forehead. His hands cupped my wet cheeks. He kissed me, smearing the snot from my upper lip onto his.
Hazel kicked off her heels and slid into the bottom bunk. The condoms fell out from beneath the pillow onto the floor. I nuzzled in beside her. I tried not to think. I tried so hard not think about how many moments were gone, how in a matter of minutes my life had changed. Tears soaked my pillow. My sister, my co-partner in crime growing up, wrapped her arm over me.
That was enough. It is the moment I cling to—the only moment that keeps me alive.
We slept, wrapped in each other’s love, for the rest of Thursday. By nightfall, Hazel woke up, kissed me, and snuck off to bury herself in work. When Huju died, she cleaned the whole house. I was only eight at the time. That was 12 years ago—Mom and Dad were still alive. If I could just go back to that moment, change something, anything… things might have turned out different.
Dominic’s warm body replaced hers. He wrapped his arms around me, securing me beside him. The red digits of the alarm clock turned past midnight. The clock’s glow danced with the caged gypsy moth, its white wings swirled with red—so beautiful. She kept me company in the hollow darkness.
Dominic tossed, reminding me that I was still alive. Moonlight rippled through the trees, caressing the dorm’s windowpane. The red digits fought with the moon’s glow for my entertainment. What a fucking night. The corners of my lips puckered, holding back my sorrow. The world melted into darkness as I closed my eyes, but sleep would not come.
A shadow crept over me. Something moved outside. I sat up and whacked my forehead into the top bunk. Fuck. Could life get any worse?
“What the hell are you doing?” Dominic mumbled and rolled over. He never was much use after his head hit the pillow.
My head throbbed and pounded beneath my palm. Minutes were lost rubbing the pain from my forehead. When it eased, I glanced out the second-story window.
A two-foot Great Grey Owl sat across from me in a tree. The darkness of the night dissipated into the shadows, leaving only the bird’s feathers stained with darkness. Rain sprinkled down, tearing the orange and brown leaves to the ground. Sunlight warmed the horizon. I had made it through the worst night of my life.
I slid from the bed and pressed my nose to the windowpane. The warmth of my breath fogged the glass.
“Come back to bed,” Dominic said.
My heart jumped. Shit. He scared me.
He pulled back the covers and smiled, unsure how to handle me. He still had both of his parents. He’d never understand this.
The windowpane squeaked beneath my fingers as I turned from it. He was already half naked and more than willing to fill my emptiness.
I climbed into bed and buried my face into the pillow. His hand slid up my thigh and tugged my stockings down. The tips of his fingers slid beneath the elastic of my underwear. The tightness of his boxers pressed against my leg.
Music blared into the room as the alarm clock went off.
The top bunk rustled.
I hit the snooze button, 7:45. The large owl still sat in the tree. It looked as though it were staring at me. Dominic pulled me back into bed. Sex would clear my mind, if I let it. He gently kissed me. Saltwater streamed down my cheeks. I wanted to feel something—anything. He hushed me as he inched my dress up. His body pressed against the thin cotton of my underwear. I inhaled and my chest rose against his.
Someone knocked at the door.
I pulled away from him, allowing the world to take back my warmth. I tugged the dress down below my waist and hurried to the door.
The owl screeched.
I tripped and caught myself right before falling. My fingers rested on the brass door knob.
Okay, I could do this. I took a deep breath and opened the door. One comment—one how are you doing—and my face would be pressed back into the pillow. Don’t do it, don’t cry ….
I opened the door. Zach stood outside, ready for entomology, as he had done every Friday for our eight o’clock lab. His California tan was still deep for autumn. The brown of his eyes held no sympathy, no pity. I was in the clear. He didn’t know I was crumbling inside.
His sandy blonde hair had been darker when we were children. Until junior year, I hadn’t seen him since we were eight—the last year at our summer home, the day he kissed me. If I stood there any longer, I would have lost it.
“Hey,” I walked away from the door, “give me a second.” I fumbled into a pair of jeans and pulled a hooded sweatshirt over the dress.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Dominic leaned from the bottom bunk and pulled me onto him. His hand slid up under the sweatshirt, rubbing the delicate fabric covering my nipple.
“My project is due.” I pushed away from him and sat on the edge of the bed. I could stay in bed wasting a whole semester, or stumble through the rest of it—two more months. I pushed a pair of flip-flops on and tied my hair into a loose ponytail. “If I don’t go, I’ll lose my scholarship.”
“Isn’t there a rule that if ….” He silenced himself.
I stood up. I knew what he was going to say. My professors would excuse me. Maybe losing myself in school work would help. Hazel always did her best when shoving her emotions to the floor. Sun warmed the gypsy moth. It fluttered until I cupped the glass jar.
Dominic rolled over, cocooning himself into my bed. “I’ll wait for you.”
I nodded. Tears rained down my cheeks. One deep inhale stopped the rest. I held it, clenched the jar, and headed for the door.
Zach’s smile faded as I joined him. “Are you okay?”
“No.” I hurried past him and down the stairway, trying to keep one step ahead of him. He’d ask what’s wrong—they all would. How could they not? I wore it all over my face. I flung the door open. The cold air dug down into my bones. There, perched alongside the building, was the owl. It stared at me, watching the wind destroy what warmth I had left.
Zach bumped into the back of me. I lost balance. He caught me. I looked up, but by then the owl was gone, its branch left vibrating.
“Did you see that owl?” Zach’s saving grip on my arm pulled me closer.
“Yeah.” I tugged the sleeve of my hoodie and wiped my wet cheeks. He let go of my arm as we walked along the usual path. It was quiet, even for a Friday morning. He was quiet. His pace slowed. I couldn’t stand the silence. “So are you and Melissa going to Alex’s tonight?”
He stopped and glanced back at the empty tree.
“Zach?” Don’t do this to me. Don’t ask me questions. Please fill my head with idle conversation.
“Did you know that Indian folklore suggests owls are the messengers of death?” He stepped closer and brushed a curl stuck to my cheek. “They believe that if an owl speaks to you, it is a bad omen.”
I glanced down at the jar in my hand. The moth fluttered helpless within. “I’m sorry,” I stepped back from him. “I can’t. I just can’t.”
He reached for me but I ran back to the dorm. His voice faded behind me, “Elizabeth.”
It became hard to breathe. My heartbeat pounded with each step. Mud splashed between my toes. I threw open the door to my room. Dominic was right. I should’ve stayed in bed.
Sunlight trickled across the floor. The empty tree past the window framed the background for the silhouettes entangled on my bed. A girl’s legs were wrapped around Dominic’s bare ass. His triceps flexed as he gripped the edge of the mattress, pushing his cock into her. Her hair pressed against my pillow with each thrust. He pulled her thighs farther off the bottom bunk. The purple thong that was wrapped around her ankle fell to the floor.
The doorknob slid from my fingers. The door closed behind me.
“Oh shit. Elizabeth. Wait!” Dominic pulled out of her. A ribbed condom choked the erection he had. Megan lay fully exposed, grinning at me. Fucking slut.
The world swirled. How could he? I would never … I couldn’t move. My stomach tightened. I could taste the acid creeping up my esophagus. Just the other night he had promised me everything. I had given him everything—two fucking years. I had done his homework, washed his clothes, given blow jobs at his every beckoning. He had given me a cheap-ass ring. I pulled it off and threw it at his ugly, pathetic face.
I needed to get out of there, away from there. The bathroom was a step away. I went for it, but tripped and fell to the floor. My cheekbone whacked the tile. I clenched the Mason jar.
“Babe,” Dominic bent over, reaching for me, his erection pointed straight at me.
“Get away from me!” I shut my eyes, but tears leaked out. He was supposed to be there for me. Leave me alone. I felt him back away, but it didn’t ease the crushing pain in my heart. On exhale I cried. I couldn’t hold it back any longer. Why? Why me? Why now? Why the fuck is everything falling apart? My cries turned silent. Life wouldn’t even grant me the release that I needed. I had nothing left. The clarity of the bathroom blurred, doused in a sheet of tears. I heaved a breath, hoping the floor would swallow me whole. Any life would be better than this. Nausea pushed through me as my cheek smeared against the tile. Numbness took hold like an old friend.
“Elizabeth,” he whispered.
Blood rushed through my veins, poured into my fingertips. My fingers tightened around the jar and I hurled it at Dominic’s fucking head.
It missed, hit the edge of the doorway, and broke. Shards of glass ricocheted from the wall, raining down on me.
“I didn’t cheat on you. It was nothing. I didn’t even finish so it doesn’t count.”
Blood rushed back to my heart with a pounding hurt. His subsequent words were deafened against its beat. A piece of glass fogged beneath my breath. My cheek throbbed against the floor. The lifeless moth lay at the tip of my right hand.
“This is your fault. You left me alone with your roommate after not finishing.”
Why’s he still talking? I pulled the white wings closer and drew the insect’s limp body between my fingers. White powder smeared onto my skin. Why won’t he leave me alone?
“I love you,” he whispered. He sat in the doorway, naked, on his knees.
He’d done enough. It doesn’t matter anymore. Warm tears drained from my eyes, whether I wanted them to or not. Light reflected off their droplets. The broken glass shined. I couldn’t move. There was no place to go. I closed my eyes and released the fragile body from my fingers. A piece of glass cut into the side of my hand. I grabbed it. Its edge sliced into my thumb. I opened my eyes fully. Blood filled the seam of my skin against the glass. I shoved my sleeve up. The blue veins running down my left arm looked like the branches of a tree on white canvas. They blurred with tears. I forced the water from my eyes. I clenched the glass. Blood dripped from my thumb.
The edge of it cut deeper as I forced the jagged glass through my wrist. Blood poured from my vein and the weight of my hands fell against the floor. The tile wasn’t as cold as it had been. The pounding in my head eased. The piece of glass slid from my fingers. The moth’s broken body disappeared in a puddle of blood.
Then I felt the pressure of his hands pressed against my wrist. His fingers crushed what was left of the insect.
Do not become the moth. The old man’s voice trailed into darkness.
READ CHAPTER TWO