This is a teaser of my latest work in progress, Menagerie. It's the story of seventeen-year old Liza Woods who has spent her life cloistered on an island in the Puget Sound with her mom and a menagerie of animals--some domesticated and some not.
The birds heralded the storm, as they always did. They liked to be the first in the know, although, as Liza had learned long ago, not all birds were created equal, and some species were much more reliable than others. Not that they lied, very few creatures had that ability or cunning, but rather in their haste to be the first in the know, some blurted out misconceptions and half-truths.
Not that Liza had much familiarity with liars—or people in general—but she’d read of several, as Rose, her mother, had accumulated an impressive library since her arrival on the island. Not that Liza was in any position to know what was and was not impressive library-wise, or any otherwise, since Liza herself had never been off the island she and Rose called home.
The howling wind drowned out the calls of the birds and squirrels’ and chipmunks’ chatter. Opossum, skunks, and fox sought shelter in the forest’s thickets. Rats and mice scurried to find hidey-holes. Liza fetched an armful of wood from the shed to stoke the fire while her mother gathered candles.
Wind rustled the tarp protecting the woodpile. The pine trees, used to standing straight and tall, moaned as the wind whipped through their canopy, and bent them in ways they didn’t wish to go.
“A man approaches,” Wilson whined, terror tainting his words.
Liza looked over the German Shepherd’s furry head to the storm-tossed sea. The Sound, normally a tranquil gray-blue slate, roiled as if shaken by an unseen hand. Liza couldn’t see anyone, but her heart quickened as it always did when a boat wandered into their cove. “Are you sure?” She saw nothing but a curtain of rain, an angry sky, and churning tide. The gulls, who generally swooped above the bay, had wisely found shelter. The otters, too, had disappeared, and for once the noisy, boisterous sea lions, were silent.
The dog nodded. “He’s lost, but hopeful.”
“Hopeful? Of what?”
Wilson shook his head. His ears flattened and his tail drooped when another flash of lightening lit the sky. He cowered as the thunder boomed.
“Come,” Liza said, “let’s go inside. Only an imbecile would be out on the water today.”
“He’s no longer on the water,” Wilson whined. “His boat has landed.”
Liza peered into the storm, saw nothing more than before, added another log to her collection, and headed for the house. Their cottage was made of stone, but the adjacent shed which sheltered the woodpile, gardening tools, and chicken feed, was constructed of recycled wood. Wind blew through the slats and rattled the shake roof. The cottage would be warm and dry in a way the shed never could.
Wilson whined again. Liza knew he longed for the comforts of the house as much as she did, but she also understood Wilson had an important job to do and he would never back away from protecting her from strangers.
“There’s no one there,” Liza said, stomping toward the cottage. She climbed the steps and pulled open the Dutch door. The warm comforting scent of the crackling fire mingled with the smell of ginger cookies.
Rose stood at the large pine table, stacking the cookies onto a plate. Liza stared at the amount, knowing that she and her mother would never be able to eat so many.
“There’s a man in the cove,” Liza said, wondering if her mother already knew, and if so, why hadn’t she told her she expected company.
Rose kept her gaze focused on the cookies and blushed.
“Are you expecting someone?” Liza demanded.
“No, not really, but I…” Rose’s voice trailed away.
Liza stomped through the kitchen and passed into the living room. She deposited her logs onto the hearth, stood, placed her hands on her hips, and marched back into the kitchen. She hated surprises, but she was also curious.
“Who is this man?” Not Leonard, the postman—her mother would never blush for the potato-shaped letter-carrier. Besides, Leonard would never venture to the island in a storm. He only came a few times a month.
“He’s someone that I used to know,” Rose said without meeting Liza’s eye.
“Why is he coming? Will he bring books?”
Rose laughed, but it sounded strange—strained and nervous. Liza decided that she already disliked this man. She plucked a cookie off the plate.
Rose looked up sharply, an expectant look on her face.
Liza studied her cookie, suddenly suspicious. Her mother studied and experimented with herbs and she’d taught Liza a variety of recipes. Lilies to lighten the mood, lavender to soothe worries, dandelions to bring sleep, basil to stimulate energy, and gingerroot to make one forget. Liza sniffed the cookie and touched it with her tongue.
Her mother watched her.
Liza smiled, took a big bite, and left the kitchen. In the privacy of her own room, she went to the window and pulled it open. A cold breeze flew in, ruffling the drapes, and blowing about the papers on her desk. Liza ignored the wind, stuck her head out the window and spit the cookie out into the storm. She slammed the window closed.
“What are you doing?” Rose asked.
Liza started. She hadn’t heard her mother come in. Wrapping her arms around herself, Liza said, “I was looking for the man.”
Rose’s lips lifted into a smile. “Don’t worry about him. Here, I’ve brought you some tea.” She set down a steaming mug on Liza’s bedside table. “Gingerroot, your favorite.”
“Want to come and read by the fire?” Rose asked.
Liza glanced back at the storm on the other side of the window. An idea tickled in the back of her mind. “In a second,” she said. After plopping down on her bed, Liza sipped from the teacup, but she didn’t swallow it.
Rose lifted her own mug to her lips and watched Liza.
Liza set the mug back down and met her mother’s gaze. After an awkward moment, Rose lifted her shoulder in a half-hearted shrug and headed down the hall.
Liza bounced from the bed, closed the door, and spat the tea back into the mug. She poured the entire cup down the toilet, flushed, and climbed back onto her bed. She lay perfectly still, waiting for her mom to re-enter the room. She didn’t have to wait long.
A few moments later, her bedroom door creaked open. With her eyes firmly closed, Liza practiced her corpse pose and didn’t even flinch as she heard her mother steal into the room. Rose tucked a quilt around Liza’s shoulders before softly closing the door.
Liza peeked open an eye and met Wilson’s steady, brown-eyed gaze. “Who is he?”
“I don’t know,” the dog whimpered. “He isn’t scared.”
“How can you tell?” Liza asked.
“The smell. All emotions have a smell.”
“My mom—what’s her smell?”
Wilson jumped up on the bed beside Liza and nestled beside her. “She loves you.”
“I know that. But I don’t know what that has to do with anything.”
Wilson whimpered again and snuggled closer. “You have to let me out so I can meet this man.”
“I can’t. If I do, she’ll know I’m awake. You’re on your own.”
Wilson blew out a breath, stood, shook himself, and jumped off the bed. He went to the door to bark and whine. It didn’t do any good. Her mother ignored him, which told Liza a number of things. One: the potion Rose had given Liza must have been so strong that Rose didn’t worry about Wilson waking her. Two: Rose didn’t want to be interrupted. Three: Rose must have been expecting this man.
Liza sat up as a thought assaulted her.
Wilson, as if reading her mind, jumped back up beside her and gazed into her eyes.
“This man is my father!” Liza blurted out.
“You cannot know this,” Wilson whimpered.
“She loves him enough to drug me just to spend time with him! Of course, he’s my father!”
Wilson moaned a disagreement.
Liza had a lot of questions—mostly because she was only seven, but also because she lived a solitary life with her mother on an uninhabited island in the Puget Sound. She had a faith that her questions would eventually be answered, but the biggest questions in her heart and mind all centered around her father.
Liza kicked off the quilt her mother had tucked around her and crawled off the bed.
Wilson placed his nose against her thigh, stopping her. “There must be a good reason why your mother doesn’t want you to meet this man.”
“She never said she didn’t want me to meet him.”
Wilson snorted. “If she had wanted you to meet him, she wouldn’t have drugged you.”
Suddenly Liza hated her mother. “She can’t keep me from my own father.”
Wilson parked his butt against the door like a giant hairy roadblock. “You do not know he is your father.”
“Of course, he’s my father. Now move.” She grabbed Wilson’s collar to pull him away.
His fur bunched up around his collar, but he wouldn’t budge.
Liza tried the door knob, but since Wilson outweighed her by nearly fifty pounds the door wouldn’t open. Liza flounced to the window.
“Where are you going?” Wilson asked, his ears poking toward the ceiling.
“To meet my father.” Liza threw open the window. The wind spat rain in her face and carried a breath of bone-chilling cold into the room.
Wilson stood, shook himself, but didn’t move away from the door.
Liza had one leg thrown over the sill, and her exposed foot was already wet from the rain.
“You’ll look like a drowned cat if you go out into the storm,” Wilson said.
She sent him a dirty look. He gazed back at her. She clambered out the window. The rain hit her like hundreds shards of ice. The cold stung her face and pierced her clothes. She ran around to the side of the house so she could look in the windows.
Inside, sitting side by side on the sofa, snuggled together in front of the fire was her mom and a man. Liza knew she’d never seen him before—not that she could remember, at least—but there was something about him that spoke to her, and called out to him.
But as she watched him laughing with her mother, Liza had another realization. She knew that even if she introduced herself to this man, because of the cookies on the platter, in time, he would forget her. She’d only be a vague recollection—a face he couldn’t place.
Liza never drank gingerroot tea again.