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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
LUCKY’S CHARM COPYRIGHT 2014 Kassanna
Published by Sybarite Seductions, an imprint of Twenty or Less Press. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or Sybarite Seductions.
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For my readers.
Thank you for sticking with me on this wild ride.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The room vibrated and glass in the small windows rattled in their frames. Monkeys shrieked. Some ran back and forth in their cages while others grasped the bars and shook them in a bid for freedom. Landis Mitchell grabbed the gurney and planted her feet, staring anxiously at the sleeping panther. The animal’s tongue lolled out its mouth as the big cat slid to the edge of the steel examination table. Prevented from tumbling to the floor by the raised lip, not once did the panther crack its lids, in spite of the chaos around them.
Hoping to see a sign of what was happening, Landis glanced through the window. Shrubbery blocked her view and she made a mental note to speak with the landscaper about trimming back the bushes. The rumbling stopped and the animals quieted. She resumed pushing the newly inseminated panther to her assigned cage and swung the door wide.
Landis sighed. No way was she going to be able to move the heavy beast by herself. “Don, I need some help here.” Tapping her nails on the edge of the table, she waited for a response from the zoo keeper.
“Give me a minute,” he called from the other room, his voice fading in an out.
She gazed impatiently at the doorway then back at the sleeping animal. Whatever occurred outside had to be huge, and she wanted to see what exactly had happened. Don jogged into the room, short of breath.
“What’s going on?” Leaning heavily on the gurney, Landis stared at him.
“One of the visitors said a huge sinkhole opened up under one of the foot bridges leading to the kid’s Mythical Lands section.” He wrapped his hands around the cat’s legs.
Concern skittered through her. This couldn’t be good for the zoo. “Was anyone hurt?” She slid her arms beneath the panther’s shoulders. “Wait. Is this an April Fools’ joke?”
Don shook his head as they walked into the eight-by-ten enclosure then gently set the beast on a thick bed of hay.
She stared at the animal and said a silent prayer to St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, that the procedure had worked and the panther was indeed pregnant. Snuggles wasn’t a young female, and for whatever reason, she’d never been able to conceive. Landis hoped the insemination worked. It would be a huge boon for the Gold Coast Zoo if they were also able to become a big cat sanctuary. There were one hundred and fifty acres of unused land at the back of the property. Set up retaining walls and a fences and it would be perfect for the cats, more room for the animals. A better yet separate entrance could be built. There were so many ways to do it, and the additional grant money would be fantastic in getting the zoo back on its feet. It would also give her career a boost.
As she backed out of the cage, Landis kept her gaze on Snuggles and mentally crossed her fingers. When the gate closed, the latch clicked with a finality that sent a shiver down her spine.
What the hell was wrong with her? She’d be back in a few hours to take the animal’s temperature and check her vitals to make sure there was no adverse reaction to the anesthesia. Hopefully within the next hundred days she would be able to announce the birth of cubs.
After blowing out a breath, she faced Don. “We better check out this sinkhole and then get a hold of maintenance and the director.”
“I have no doubt someone has already contacted the head office. Some folks are always looking for a reason to complain around here.” Don snickered.
“I hope not. That’s all we need, Mr. Schiller panicking, running around like a chicken without its head. Hopefully, the sinkhole won’t be too bad.” She moved down the hall, passing the surgical suite. Landis glanced at the open area that had now become the catchall of storage for equipment, animal supplies, and everything else that didn’t have a proper home. She shook her head. At some point, she would have to gather her co-workers and clean out the space.
As they continued through the animal services building, Don hesitated at the kitchen’s entrance. “It’s almost time for the afternoon feeding. I need to prepare the food. The dietician is supposed to be popping by today. I want to make sure she or the other zoo keepers don’t file another complaint about me. The last thing I need is another write up.”
Landis offered him a rueful smile. Her official title was Chief Veterinary Physician, but lately it felt like she was doing more administrative work. It was tiring, having to operate on a shoestring budget. Workers had to wear multiple hats, and the constant feeling of dread that someone was always looking over your shoulder, waiting for you to fuck up, was exhausting. It was no wonder some of the employees were leaving for other jobs like rats deserting a sinking ship. She didn’t care if she had to paddle this zoo upstream on her back from the brink of disaster with a broken oar. One way or another, she would get this place on its feet again.
She nodded. “I can inspect the footbridge, Don. You go ahead and get everything started. When I’m done, I’ll come back to help.” Landis opened the door and stepped into the bright sunshine. Blinking, she glanced around the area before heading toward the latest disaster.
It was eerily quiet. Normally she would hear the chatter of families talking, kids running, maybe the roar of a lion. If someone had fallen into the sinkhole, there should be information flying back and forth on her walkie-talkie. She checked her belt and played with the knobs, but only white noise blanked in and out. She tapped back the unease that skittered up her spine. Hopefully, the damage wasn’t bad. Perhaps some of the zoo workers had been able to contain the situation. The west coast of Florida was notorious for its sinkholes, and the authorities had been known to shut down an entire neighborhood due to the landscape’s instability.
While briskly walking through the various displays, she smiled. Attendance was up, not that she could tell today, but she’d glimpsed the front office numbers at the last staff meeting. The new Mythical Lands exhibit was bringing in families by the droves. The unicorns and fairies seemed to appeal to the little girls, while the giants stood with massive arms crossed over barrel-sized chests appeared to bring smiles to the boys’ faces. Usually, the trolls guarding the bridges were a favorite photo spot, as families crowded around the statues to take pictures.
Instead of laughter that usually floated on the air from the play area on the other side, silence was heavy. She walked the length of the footbridge then on to the narrow strip of grass next to it. Peering down into the small gully, she inspected the pylons that held the bridge aloft but couldn’t see what had caused the thunderous clap from earlier. Whoever reported a sinkhole had to have been mistaken.
She inched closer to the edge of the slender trench filled with flowers in varying shades of blue and green planted in bunches to mimic water. Dropping to her haunches, she stared at a bare spot devoid of color. It wasn’t a huge hole.
Not too bad at all
. Maybe it was a prank. The small, hollowed out space could easily be filled in. She straightened and eased down the embankment to drop to her knees at the edge of the flowerbed. The plants weren’t disturbed beyond the little circle, and it was only an indentation in the ground.
Don must have got it wrong.
Perhaps he misunderstood whomever he had been talking to.
That still didn’t explain the noise. Landis looked up to check the sky—no dark clouds, so no thunderstorms on the horizon. She reached over the vegetation, careful of the blooms, and pressed her hand to the spot. Either someone was making a mountain out of a mole hill, or her friends had an epic gag planned for April Fools’ Day.
Landis dipped her hand into the soil. The grainy silt covered her fingers. She tugged her arm, and was yanked downward, flattening the plants beneath her as she was sucked in up to the elbow. The sweet scent of flowers filled her nostrils. In an effort to free herself, she pushed her palm into the moist dirt and pushed off. The harder she tried to yank her arm up, the more she sunk into the muck that was now at her arm pit. Slowly, land started to give way around her and the hole widened, pulling her in to the shoulder.
Her screams rent the air as she cried out for help at the top of her lungs. She curled her hands and dug her nails into the earth, clutching at flower roots, but the clumps of dirt disintegrated in her fists. Soil touched her cheek and she reared her head back as the tips of her dreadlocks were slowly pulled into the quicksand, yanking her scalp. A hard jerk on her hair made her flail her arm and legs. Cold, moist dirt slid across her forehead. Tears escaped under her lids as she shut her eyes tight. She opened her mouth to yell and silt poured over her lips, filling her throat.
Then she was swallowed whole.
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Lucky wiped Dubh down, slowly rubbing the cloth over his sweaty hide. The beast snuffled, lifting its head toward the sky. They had been riding hard for a couple of days and stopped to take a much needed break at a low, rocky outcropping. A small creek bubbled from somewhere above them and ended in a tiny natural pool at the base of the stone. Salt plains dotted with dry grasses surrounded them.
“Well, there be a sight you don’t see often.” Tolley’s thick brogue cut through the air.
“What are you blathering on about?” Lucky glanced at Tolley. His head was lifted skyward. Lucky followed his gaze.
A woman flapping her arms fell out of the sky, dissecting clouds as she dropped through them. Thick locks of hair trailed behind her and her clothes billowed in the rush of wind.
Lucky leaped on his unicorn’s back, buried his hands in the animal’s mane, and dug his heels into the beast’s flanks. Dubh started off in a gallop.
“I wouldn’t rush. She’ll hit the ground in no time,” Tolley called out.
Lucky leaned in, speaking to the animal in Gaelic, “
Dubh snorted at his request.
“Come on, ye damn nag.” Lucky tugged hard on his mane.
Dubh reared up, kicking the air with his front legs. A rainbow sprouted from the ground, curving high into the sky. Lucky had to ensure his timing was right. The unicorn jumped on the vein of blue and followed it up, running at top speed. The closer they got, the louder the woman’s screams grew. They stopped a hair’s breadth from where the clouds enveloped the rainbow. Lucky couldn’t go past the veil that separated the worlds or he would end up outside his realm.
He’d heard the stories. There was a good possibility he wouldn’t be able to come back, and from what he gathered, people shrouded by the clouds liked to torture his kind. All for a little gold, and his world was covered in the stuff. Hell, Dubh dropped a load of the shit twice a day.
Lucky twisted a fist in Dubh’s mane to make the unicorn turn and snatched the falling woman by her wrist as she whizzed past.
She swung in his grip and he locked his knees, tightening his hold on the beast as he hauled her into his lap, ass up. She hit his thighs with an
Beyond the haze, the vibrant colors that made up the rainbow began to fade. He took hold of Dubh’s hair and directed the unicorn down the steep ridge. If they didn’t reach the ground before the colors disappeared, they would fall out the sky and his efforts would be for naught. He sunk his heels into the animal’s ribs as the red thread completely vanished.