I’m excited because I’ll finish the third and final book in my Menagerie series this week–although I won’t be publishing it until August. It’s always a rush of accomplishment (although a little sad to say goodbye to my characters) when I finish a series. If you would like to read Melee in exchange for an honest review, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and use the word REVIEW in the subject line.
Of course, you might be a little lost if you haven’t read the first two books in the series, but Menagerie, the first book, is only .99. You can get it here: MENAGERIE
It is during the wee hours when our most immense dreams come to us.
From Lizbet’s Studies
As sunlight touched the eastern sky Declan sat up, shivering. Brushing twigs and leaves off his naked skin, he crawled to huddle behind a huckleberry bush to make sense of things. His whole world tilted as he tried to process what had happened. He had spent the night in the woods. Naked? How could he have forgotten something as important as his clothes?
Beyond the woods, Lizbet’s house. Only the barn stirred with life. Horses nickered, goats bleated, pigs snorted—all were waiting for their breakfast, and Declan knew who would provide it. Lizbet. He couldn’t face her. Not like this. After shooting a quick glance at the house, wondering if anyone was awake to witness his streaking, he ran for his car.
The keys. Where were they? In the pocket of his jeans. But where were his pants? Crouching behind the Mercedes, he spotted them—or what was left of them—at the edge of the woods. He commando crawled through the tall grass, snake-like, flinching as twigs and pebbles poked and pierced his skin. All his clothes had been ripped to shreds, but thankfully, his keys were still in the remains of his pocket. He scooped up the cottony threads of what had once been his clothes.
His shivering accelerated as he pressed the key fob, crawled back through the grass, avoiding anything sharp or dangerous looking, and lifted the car’s door handle. Inside the Mercedes, he started the engine and turned up the heater full blast. He glanced in the rearview mirror, half expecting to see a furry snout instead of his nose and unshaved chin. He looked exactly like himself, but…he gazed at his arms and chest…different. He studied the wolf bite on his hand. A few hours ago the puncture wounds had been a bloody mess, but it had since healed to a pink line. Strange.
By the time he arrived at his grandfather’s house in the University District, he had practically convinced himself that it had all been a bad dream.
But his shredded clothes told a different story.
He collapsed onto his bed just after dawn and fell into a restless sleep.
Lizbet addressed a crowd of gathered animals. “I really appreciate your willingness to put aside your animosity to fight our common enemy. As you know, a pack of wolves has been terrorizing our community. There have even been some deaths.”
Chattering, growling, and murmuring rippled through the crowd.
“It needs to stop,” Lizbet said. “And I believe it can. But only if we all work together.”
A crow fluttered to perch on Lizbet’s shoulder. It whispered in her ear and she stopped and slowly turned in Declan’s direction. He thought about hiding, but realized he could never do so from the birds.
“What are you doing here, Declan?” she asked, her voice hard.
He stepped out from behind the tree, amazed to find he was almost as scared of Lizbet as he was of the bear. “What—“ His voice cracked. He cleared his throat and tried again. “What are you doing?”
She twisted her lips together and scowled at him. He could tell she was battling between the truth and a lie. Finally, she said, “I’m going to catch a werewolf.”
Drenched in sweat, Declan bolted up, kicking the covers off his bed. He swung his legs off the side of the bed and sat with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. He willed his heart to stop racing. It’s only a dream, he told himself. But it was more than that. It was a memory. A painful one.
And if it was a memory, it meant that the other, more terrifying dreams could also be memories. He padded over to his computer, sat down in front of it, and turned it on. He typed “night terrors” into the search engine.
Episodes usually occur 1 to 2 hours after going to sleep and can last from 1 to 30 minutes. The victim will look like himself with open eyes but his expression will be vacant, if not horror-struck. Waking a victim will prove difficult, if not impossible. Upon waking, he or she won’t remember the incident, no matter what terror he has endured.
During an episode, it is typical for one to exhibit intense fear or agitation. They may be violent. They will not be cognizant of their surroundings. Their breathing may quicken and their heartrate increase. They may perspire profusely. They may scream and try to fight demons that only they can see.
Night terrors are different from nightmares. Nightmares are frightening dreams that can often be recalled the next morning in vivid detail. Night terrors leave no trace in the memory.
That was it. Night terrors. Although, according to this article, victims of night terrors were usually under the age of twelve. But Declan wrote off his experience in the woods as night terrors—a phenomenon brought on by the shock of Lizbet’s revelations. For that, of course, he couldn’t manufacture a rational explanation without engaging in a losing argument with her—and maybe a bear or a skunk. No sense in picking a fight he had no chance of winning. But as for his own personal nightmare—he didn’t need to revisit it.
It was only a little after six. He could sleep for another couple of hours. But could and would were two very different concepts. Silently, he crept from his room and down the hall and peeked through his mom’s ajar bedroom door. She slept curled in a ball in the middle of her king-size bed, the bedclothes wrapped around her legs, her arms tucked under her. He tiptoed across the long stretch of carpet, passing through a swath of early morning light streaming through the window. In her bathroom, he found her collection of medicine in the cabinet. He grabbed four bottles, and after another glance at his mom, he took them into her closet and closed the door before flipping on the light.
The sudden brightness stung his eyes. It took a moment for his vision to clear. Surrounded by his mom’s power suits, silky dresses, and shoes, he scanned the medicine labels before selecting the one that read, For relief of sleeplessness when associated with pain.
He knew what he was doing was wrong, but he rationalized away his guilt. He told himself emotional pain was just as real as physical pain. He swallowed the pills dry.
Elizabeth stood in the far corner of her garden waving her cane at a flock of sparrows.
“Something wrong, Grandma?” Lizbet asked, coming up behind her.
“These dad-gum birds are eating all of my grapes!” Elizabeth groused.
“They have to feed their families, too,” Lizbet said gently as she eyed the small, hard green balls that had weeks to go before being palatable to anyone other than the sparrows.
Elizabeth blew out a sigh. “You sound like you’re on their side!”
“I didn’t know there were any sides,” Lizbet said. “I’m just pointing out—”
“Ugh. You sound like Josie!” Elizabeth sloshed through the muddy garden patch. “She’s always trying to get me to sell this place.”
That was not only unfair, but it was also untrue. “I don’t want you to sell the ranch, and I know my mom doesn’t either.”
Elizabeth sniffed as she moved between the corn stalks. Some had already grown past her shoulders while others barely reached her waist. A few of the taller stalks had baby ears of corn and sported puffs of silk.
“This place is my life,” Elizabeth said. “I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I had to vegetate in Josie’s condo all day.”
Lizbet trailed after her grandmother. Because she was a good five inches shorter than her grandmother, some of the stalks touched her hair and threatened to poke her in the eye with their floppy leaves. “No one is asking you to move in with Josie.”
Elizabeth made a harrumphing sound. “We’re going to have to make some salsa out of these tomatoes,” she said. “If we can keep the deer out of here.”
Lizbet took note of the hundreds of nearly ripe tomatoes. Only a few, that she could see, had deer bites in them. “I think the critters have shown a lot of self-restraint,” Lizbet said.
Elizabeth turned and gave her an are-you-insane look.
“Come on, Grandma,” Lizbet said, taking Elizabeth’s arm. “Let’s go and make some lunch.”
When an invitation to Nicole’s going away party coincided with the first night of August’s full moon, only a niggle of warning flashed in the back of Declan’s mind.
“Are you sure you want to go?” Declan asked Lizbet as they browsed the bookstore for used textbooks. He would be a freshman at the University of Washington at the end of September and Lizbet would start classes at Queen Anne Community College a couple of weeks before that.
“Sure, why not?” Lizbet flipped her curls over her shoulder and gave him a smile that sent him over the moon.
“Well, it’s not as if you’re friends…”
“But she’s your friend, right?”
“Come on, it’ll be good for me. I’m trying to be more social.” She bumped him with her hip before moving down the aisle. She glanced at her list of required books for the upcoming semester.
“You’re plenty social.” Declan trailed after her, but stopped as a title caught his eye.
The Meaning and Translation of Dreams. He pulled it off the shelf and flipped it open.
People who are anxious or overtired are more likely to sleepwalk or experience sleep terrors. A relaxing bedtime routine paired with an early bedtime can help prevent sleep disturbances.
Avoid sleepwalking injuries by making the bedroom and house as safe as possible. Consider the following precautions:
Make sure there are no sharp or breakable objects near the bed.
Install gates on stairways.
Lock doors and windows.
If psychological stress contributes to disordered sleep, counseling may help. Both children and adults may benefit from hypnosis or biofeedback.
In some cases, a doctor may prescribe short-acting sleep or antianxiety medications to reduce or eliminate episodes.
Seek professional help if:
Episodes are frequent or severe.
The sleepwalker gets injured during episodes.
The sleepwalker leaves the house.
Nighttime episodes are accompanied by daytime sleepiness.
Stress, anxiety or other psychological factors may be contributing to sleep disturbances.
Sleepwalkers occasionally injure themselves or others. But most episodes of sleepwalking and sleep terrors are brief and harmless.
Lizbet glanced over his shoulder. “What’s this?”
He slammed the book shut. “Nothing.”
“You having problems sleeping?”
“Not really. Just that one night.” He slipped the book back onto the shelf.
“What night?” she pressed.
He shrugged her question off. “Listen. It makes sense. Talking animals, werewolves, and were-Schnauzers. Anyone would have nightmares. It was a lot to process.” A sudden memory assaulted him and he closed his eyes, trying to tune it out.
Hunger burned the back of his throat and tightened his gut. He padded across the forest floor. A carpeting of pine needles and soft soil muffled his footfalls. Above the trees’ canopy, a smattering of stars glistened, pale against a cloud-filled night. Mist shrouded the round, full strawberry moon.
He sat back on his haunches and lifted his head toward the moon. Snatches of conversations drifted by. Apprehension surged through his blood. He gazed at his paw…so foreign. How had he transformed into this creature? Standing on all fours, he loped through the woods aimlessly, fighting the hunger that zinged through his veins.
“Of course.” Lizbet looped her arm around his and pulled him into a sideways hug and out of the memory. Hallucination. Nightmare…whatever it was.
“It’s amazing that we’re both not bonkers,” she said.
“Bonkers,” he murmured. His gaze landed on another book, Mental Health for Dummies.
He needed help.
Music thrummed through the open windows. Someone had hung a disco ball from the dining room chandelier and shafts of multicolored light sparkled on the dark lawn. Kids in jeans, T-shirts, and UW hoodies lounged on the front porch. Lizbet wanted to belong, but she still felt like a poser. This was Declan’s world, as foreign to her as the moon.
She picked out Baxter, Declan’s oversized friend, Maria, her friend and neighbor, and McNally, another friend of Declan’s from East End High’s basketball team all standing in a tight circle just inside the double-wide doors. She tightened her grip on Declan’s hand.
He wore jeans, flip-flops, and a Twenty One Pilots T-shirt. Trying to fit in, she’d chosen a nearly identical outfit, but her T-shirt and jeans couldn’t hide her curves…and nothing could tame her curls.
As if sensing her insecurity, Declan dropped a quick kiss on her temple.
“Who’s that with Nicole?” she asked, nodding at a guy with a Cross-Fitter’s build leaning against the porch railing, his eyes trained on Nicole, a lithe blonde with flushed cheeks.
“Jason Norbit. Her old squeeze. They broke up a while ago.”
“You mean when she applied to Duke?”
Declan dipped his chin. “He’s going to UW on a football scholarship.”
Lizbet bit her bottom lip as she followed Declan up the porch steps and through the doorway. She had her own theories about why Nicole had applied to Duke.
Nicole was beautiful in an ice-queen way. Her home had the same understated elegance—the disco ball being the notable exception. Someone had carried the dining room table out through the French doors to the back patio and people danced on the hardwood floor beneath the spinning lights.
“Want to dance?” Declan asked.
“No.” The thought horrified her. She’d never danced before in front of a crowd. Her thoughts flitted back to the first time she had ever danced…with Declan…in the moonlight. Dancing had turned to kissing. That had been a first for her, too. “Do you?”
He shook his head, grinned, and put his hand on her shoulder to steer her outside to his cluster of friends surrounding the food-piled dining room table.
Nicole waylaid them. “Hey, Declan. Any second thoughts about ditching Duke?”
Declan shook his head. “Sorry, Nicki, you’re on your own.”
Jason pulled himself away from the wall and draped his arm across Nicole’s shoulder. “Not quite on her own. There’s only about three thousand in the freshman class.”
Lizbet wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw a flicker of irritation in Nicole’s eyes.
McNally appeared at Declan’s side and elbowed him. “Yeah, now that you’re going to UW, have you thought about playing intermural basketball?”
“Basketball?” A girl Lizbet didn’t know broke into the conversation. “That’s no fun. What about ultimate frisbee?” She flashed Declan a smile full of perfectly straight, bright white teeth. “That’s co-ed.”
“How about you?” Jason nodded at Lizbet. “Where you headed?”
“Queen Anne Community,” Lizbet said. “Staying local.”
Jason’s gaze swept over her and lingered on her lips. “Me, too.” He lifted his soda bottle as if to clink her invisible goblet in a toast.
Lizbet sent Declan a quick glance, but he was lost in conversation with McNally and the unknown girl, debating the virtues of basketball and ultimate frisbee.
Jason leaned forward, placing his hand on the wall directly behind Lizbet and making her feel pinned. “What’s your story?”
Lizbet knew he wouldn’t believe her if she were stupid enough to tell him. She tested him. “Well, last month I killed a werewolf. How about you?”
He laughed as if she were joking. “So you’re like Buffy? A vampire slayer?”
“No vampires,” she said in all seriousness. “I tend to stick to creatures.”
He nodded and a glint she didn’t like filled his eyes.
“Seriously,” she said. “I’m auditing a mythology class from Professor Madison at the University of Washington right now.”
“What are you going to do with that? Kill more werewolves?”
“I’d rather just scare them away.”
He snorted. “You’re a tiny thing. It’s hard to believe you could scare anything.”
She blinked at him. “You’d be surprised.”
“You’re like a werewolf warrior?”
She wanted to smile to show him his invasion of her personal space wasn’t making her crazy, but the closer Jason pressed, the more uncomfortable she felt. She looked over his shoulder for Declan, but couldn’t see him. Everyone else had deserted the porch and gone inside. Annoyance flashed through her. She spotted a cat sitting on the windowsill, watching them with slit eyes. She crooked a finger at the animal. He responded by twitching his whiskers.
Jason flicked a glance over his shoulder before turning back to Lizbet. The cat stood, arched his back, and batted a dead moth out of the corner of the window toward Jason’s crotch. Surprised, Jason jumped out of the line of fire.
Lizbet’s lips twitched as she escaped. “Thanks,” she whispered to the cat as she went to find Declan. She didn’t see him with his friends in the backyard, in the mass of kids huddled in the kitchen, or in any of the circles of conversation in the living room. She thought she heard his laughter floating up the stairwell that led to the basement, but before she climbed halfway down, someone turned off the lights and plunged the basement into inky darkness.
“Everyone close your eyes,” a girl said.
Lizbet froze on the stairs, unsure where to go or what to do. She risked tripping in the dark in either direction.
“Vampire, open your eyes and select your victim.” Someone switched on a flashlight and a girl giggled.
Lizbet hurried down the stairs.
“Stop! Intruder!” Someone turned on the overhead light amidst groans.
Lizbet swallowed hard, suddenly aware that somehow she’d inadvertently pooped on the party.
The girl who seemed to be in charge pointed at Lizbet. “State your name and business.” She had a severe haircut and wore I-mean-business glasses, a black turtleneck despite the warm summer night, and a pair of painted-on jeans.
“She’s Lizbet and she’s with me.” Jason came up behind her and placed a heavy hand on her shoulder. “’Scuse us for interrupting. Mind if we join you?”
A couple of people made groaning sounds, but most murmured a welcome. The lights were doused before Lizbet even got a look around the room to see if Declan was in the crowd.
Jason tugged at her hand and she fell into a cross-legged position beside him. “I don’t know this game,” she whispered as she disentangled her fingers.
“It’s easy. You’ll catch on.” Jason’s warm breath fanned against her cheek. “As a werewolf warrior, you’ll be a natural.”
In the darkness, he seemed closer than she would have guessed. She inched away from him and bumped someone next to her. “Sorry,” she hissed and held herself very still so as not to touch anyone else.
“Night has fallen…again,” the game-master girl began. “While the villagers sleep, the vampire works the wages of death. Vampire, open your eyes and select your victim.”
“Keep your eyes closed,” Jason whispered, and he squeezed Lizbet’s knee.
Moments later, the game-master girl flipped on a flashlight. “Everyone open your eyes.” She flicked the flashlight at the faces of the twenty or so kids seated on the basement rug. When Lizbet saw Declan wasn’t in their number, she wanted to leave, but she’d already interrupted the game once and didn’t want to do it again.
“In the dark of night, a vampire stole into the home at twenty-eight Reynolds.”
“Yeah! That’s my house!” a redheaded kid with a smattering of freckles said.
The game-master girl slid him the evil eye. “While Carl slept, the vampire sucked his blood and left his lifeless body on the library floor.”
“I have a library. Cool,” Carl said.
“Yeah, like that’s going to do you any good seeing as how you don’t read,” someone said.
“Hush!” a girl in a vintage Van Halen T-shirt hissed.
“You can’t talk,” a guy with hair like a hedgehog said. “You’re dead.”
Carl looked as if he wanted to argue, but he bit his tongue.
“I’m not sure I want to play this game,” Lizbet whispered to Jason.
“You better be quiet, or else the vampire will kill you, too,” Jason whispered.
“I’d be okay with that,” Lizbet returned, “seeing as how I don’t want to play.”
“Silence!” the game-master girl called out. “Villagers, who among you executed this dastardly deed?” she asked as she flashed the light into the blinking faces of her friends. “Who is the vampire?”
Speculations and laughter flew. Lizbet tried to be a good sport, but with Jason’s thigh pressing against hers, she felt increasingly uncomfortable. The guy sitting on her other side had excessive arm and leg hair so that every time she bumped into him she felt like she was touching a fur ball. Plus, he had onion breath.
“Okay! New round!” The game-master girl stood and flipped on the overhead light, illuminating the orange shag carpet and plaid sofas pushed up against the wood-paneled walls. “Everyone turn in your cards.”
Lizbet had missed something.
Declan, Baxter, and McNally followed by Nicole and a couple of girls trooped down the stairs.
“Hey, can we join in?” Baxter asked. Lizbet had observed that because Baxter was so big, people rarely told him no. The circle widened to let him in while Declan inserted himself next to Lizbet.
“What brought you down here?” Declan whispered in her ear.
“I was looking for you.”
“Hmm, I was looking for you, too.” He kissed her lightly on the lips.
“Not yet, Lamb.”
“Sorry,” Declan said, sounding not in the least repentant.
Nicole, who had wedged herself on the other side of Jason, rolled her eyes.
The game-master girl hit the lights. “Villagers, close your eyes! Night has fallen in the village of the doomed. While the villagers slumber, the vampire stalks his prey.”
Someone dropped in front of Lizbet and planted a sloppy wet kiss on her lips. She struggled and pushed him off.
“Yeah! That’s the game!” Jason said.
“Sorry, I…” Lizbet jumped to her feet. “I told you I didn’t want to play.” Embarrassed, she crawled over people in the dark until she found the stairs and felt her way out of the basement. In the kitchen, she realized that Declan had followed her.
“Ugh.” She covered her face with her hands. “That was awful.”
He laughed. “Don’t let Jason hear you say that.”
She shuddered. “Can we go?”
“Sure.” He draped his arm around her shoulder. “It was just a game.”
“I know. It wasn’t a big deal.” But it felt like it was.