Then it would be time to go visit the graves of my parents.
It was twenty-five years ago today that they got married and started their dual veterinary practice. Three years after that, they got hitched, and I was born.
Today was also the two-year anniversary of their death.
“Victor! Why are you lounging around? What is your problem?” my boss’s voice cut through the silence of the clean kennels like nails across a rough chalkboard.
“Hey, Beatrice!” I said as I turned to the stout woman who ran the Animal Control Center. “I just finished cleaning up all the shi-- poop from the floors, walls, and ceiling. I’m about ready to head out.”
“Hmmm.” She glanced around the walls, my mop, the step stool, and finally the ceiling.
Beatrice wasn’t exactly an attractive woman, but what really got me was how mean she was. She never smiled, never laughed, and never seemed to care about the animals we rescued. The woman just wanted slaves that did her bidding, and she’d been put in charge of the center because her uncle was some big shot who donated money to the mayor.
“So… I’ll be heading out now. See you tomorrow?” I grabbed the mop-bucket combo and made as if I was going to leave.
“Nope,” she spat, and I felt my stomach drop.
“What’s up?” I asked as I tried not to wince.
“I need you to put in some overtime today.” She cleared her throat with a frog-like croak and then reached up to pick her nose with her pinky.
“Uhhh, I asked for this afternoon off, remember? It’s my parents’--”
“Look, Victor, you are still the low grunt on the totem pole here. Dispatch just got a call from some richy-rich folks up in Hollywood Hills. I need you to go out and fix their problem.”
“Beatrice, any other day--”
“How many times have I told you to call me Ma’am?” she screeched as she stepped toward me.
“Ohhh, uhh, sorry, Ma’am.” I searched my mind for any recollection of her ever asking me to call her “Ma’am” and couldn’t think of any.
“Dispatch will tell you the address, get going.” She’d snagged a booger from her nose and carefully inspected it before she flicked it away.
“Ma’am, can’t Nicole or Justin get this one?” I asked as I tried to keep my stomach from churning. “I did ask you for this afternoon off. I wanted to visit my parents’ gra--”
“Are you an idiot?” she asked as she finally looked at me. “Nicole and Justin are on patrol. It sounds like you are disobeying a direct order. If you’d just gotten in the truck and left instead of arguing with me, you’d be done. Now get your ass out of here.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” I said with a heavy sigh.
She gave me a confused look when I handed her my mop, and then I turned and walked out of the kennel, through the office hallways, and out into the parking lot. There was only one truck left in the fleet. It was a fifteen-year-old beast without air conditioning that we all affectionately called “Old Guss”.
On most days, the lack of air conditioning in Southern California wouldn’t have been a big deal, but it was midsummer, and the temperatures were in the mid-nineties.
I hadn’t expected to go on patrol today, so I made a quick trip to my own beat up Honda Civic, grabbed my hat, and then jumped into Old Guss. A few minutes later we were on the road, and I was crawling up the 405 Freeway traffic toward Westwood.
Hollywood Hills was one of the richest areas in the already uber rich suburb of West Hollywood. I’d only been at my job with Animal Control for six months, but the remote location of the community ensured that we got plenty of calls to take care of wild animals or stray pets. Soon I was at the gate of the address dispatch had given me, and I pressed the button on the control panel.
“Hey, this is Victor, from the Los Angeles Animal Control,” I said after the beep.
“Oh, my gosh! We’re so glad you’re here. Hurry around to the side gate at the end of the driveway!” The voice coming from the front gate intercom was feminine, and I could hear other female voices echo from the speaker.
“Sounds good. I’ll head on up,” I said as the massive wrought iron gates opened in front of my truck. As soon as there was enough space for my vehicle to fit through, I pushed the gear shift of Old Guss and crawled up the cobblestone path toward the mansion.
Dispatch logged this call as an emergency, but then again, all the calls animal control got were treated that way. It didn’t matter if there was a stray skunk, dead possum, or cat stuck in a tree; when people had problems with animals, they tended to freak out. It was okay though, even though Beatrice was a pain in the ass and I was supposed to have the afternoon off, I loved this part of the job.
Hell, I was kind of like the police, except it was for animals. I even had a badge made out of polished brass, and I gave a quick glance at the LA County shield hanging from my left shirt pocket. Animal control was as close to a real job as I could find with my two-year certificate in animal science. It came with a bad ass uniform and a utility belt with the tools of my trade, but even though I kinda felt like a cop, I had very little of the authority wielded by real law enforcement.
I gave the mansion another appreciative glance, let my imagination run wild a bit about what the inside might’ve looked like, and then reached for my Australian cowboy hat. It wasn’t regulation, so I only wore it at remote job sites. It made me feel like an exotic game warden in the land of Oz.
Even though I wanted to visit my parents’ graves, I enjoyed patrol and service duty. I liked to think of it as another perk of the job. I got to be out of the office, I got to work with animals, I got to be a hero for a few minutes, I got to wear a badge, and I got to wear a cool hat. It all made up for the painfully low pay, terrible boss, and three hours a day I spent cleaning animal shit out of cages.
I’d barely had time to angle my hat how I liked it before someone banged aggressively on my window. I gave out a yelp of surprise and turned to see the faces of three beautiful women. They looked to be about my age, and they all pointed frantically toward the mansion as if there was a fire that needed to be extinguished immediately.
I cracked open my door and was practically yanked the rest of the way out by the young women. They were wearing skimpy swimsuits, and their bodies glistened from a mix of Southern California sunlight, pool water, and suntan lotion.
My mind stopped working for a few seconds.
“Oh, thank God, you’re here. Please, hurry!”
Especially as she jumped and tugged at me.
The cover-up dangled down to her hips as she pulled me along, and it acted as an attention magnet for her shapely thighs, calves, and bare feet. I couldn’t even get a proper look at the other two ladies in those first bountiful moments.
I only knew they wore different colored skin tight bikinis which would be right at home in a Brazilian Carnival parade. I stumbled a bit as they joined the first girl in pulling my arms, and I let them lead me around the side of the mansion.
My brain was still reeling from the unexpected sight of the girls in all their glory, so I had trouble actually processing what they were telling me. I did hear the word “snake” and “Oh my god, the biggest one. Like ever,” but I had a million thoughts going through my head, including one where I’m searching for a hidden camera. This seemed like a potential setup for a cornball skin flick.
We were close to Hollywood after all.
“We’ve been calling pet stores to help us with this thing, but no one came. Not even for lots of money! I’m so glad we found your number,” the dark-haired beauty said as she turned over her shoulder to shoot me a smile. She was one of the prettiest women I’d ever seen, and my body went numb when she squeezed my hand.
“Yeah, the county pays for our services.” I tried feverishly to think of something to add, but I was visually enthralled by the three jiggly women pulling me toward a gate to the backyard. I grew up in Los Angeles, so I’d seen plenty of beautiful women, but most of my house calls were from far less attractive people, and I hadn’t expected to be met by three goddesses in swim suits.
“It’s right out back. You’re such a lifesaver,” the leader said with almost infectious excitement. She stood aside as her friends went through the gate first, and it gave me an opportunity to admire each of their backsides. They had to be wearing bikini bottoms several sizes too small because they basically didn’t exist.
I forced myself to look away from their butts, and my eyes turned to the face of the beautiful dark-haired one that was leading me. The beauty had long, curly black hair and big brown eyes. Her gold hoop earrings practically glowed against her brown skin, and I wondered how expensive they were.
The rest of her face was a mixture of sun-kissed tan, just the right amount of freckles, luscious full lips, and a dimpled smile which almost made me forget how little she was wearing. I realized she looked very familiar, and I wondered if I had seen her on television. Hell, all three of the women could have been actresses, or models, or model-actresses. I really should be watching more TV and playing fewer video games, then I would probably know who she was.
She led me through the gate at the side of the house and pulled me around to the pool area of the mansion after her two companions. I felt the breath leave my body, and despite my stalwart intentions and attempts to stay on task, my brain was gripped by a riptide.
The two girls ahead of us were quickly lost in a sea of beautiful women. It wasn’t just a trio of hotties in distress. There were more. A lot more, and they were all wearing swimsuits as fantastic and revealing as the one holding my hand.
“Over there. Hurry.” The tanned hottie pulled on my hand again, and I let myself be led through a dozen soaking wet girls at the impossible-to-believe pool party. A few were in the water chatting under the bright sun, a couple sat at the edge, but most were lounging alongside the water as if they’d been put there solely for my viewing. This was like a hip hop video, only there were no men to be seen, just twentyish beautiful women scattered haphazardly around the pool.
And they were all staring at me.
I tried to keep my eyes forward and not stare back at them. From their point of view, I’m sure I was probably the nerdy animal control dufus, but my male brain insisted I look at each of them as I walked by.
There was a thin redhead in a green pasta string bikini. My eyes absorbed her white porcelain curves in that instant.
Another pair of blonde girls wore bikinis that almost didn’t cover their nipples. They were in the shallow end of the pool splashing each other, and they paused their play so they could wave to me. A redhead was sipping on an iced drink, and the freckles on her face danced down her neck, shoulders, and ended where her toned stomach touched the top part of her tiny bikini bottom.
If I were a Japanese anime character, blood would have already erupted from my nose, and I would have fainted. Fortunately, I was able to kind of fake keeping my cool, and I gave the two splashing Playboy Bunnies a small wave. They giggled and then moved to get out of the pool. It almost looked as if they were going to come meet us, and I felt my pulse quicken.
Someone mentioned my uniform, but I couldn’t hear what was said since my brain and eyes were so over stimulated.
I saw an athletic-looking brunette in a two-piece standing nearby. The bottom wasn’t a bikini, more like boy shorts with multicolored stripes. Her breasts were wrapped by an all-white tube-style top. She’d just gotten out of the pool, and her nipples were clearly visible through the thin white cloth covering her breast.
A few more beautiful women blended together in a whirl of exposed skin awesomeness.
Too-tight bikini tops.
Microscopic bikini bottoms.
Long wet legs.
Lips firmly wrapped around the straws of fruity drinks.
The gleam of sun reflecting from oil slathered bodies.
My mind was going to explode.
“Victor? Is that you?”
A girl stood at the far edge of the pool, which seemed to be the focus of much of the commotion. The spark of recognition struck us at the same moment, and I felt the air leave my lungs with a dizzying explosion.
It didn’t seem possible, but she brightened even more when she realized who I was. “Oh my god! Victor! It’s you! You’re working for animal control now?” She ran up to me and planted her towel-wrapped body against my uniform. It was a friendly hug that only lasted a second, but this was already the best assignment of my career.
“You remember me?” I had wanted to sound a bit manlier with my question, but my voice squeaked, and I had to clear my throat. Lacey Rogers. She was the girl of my dreams. We shared several honors classes, and I’d been in love with her since freshman year.
But I’d only talked to her a few times.
“Of course. You always helped me out during biology. Do you remember Katie?” She pointed to the black-haired girl who brought me around through the side gate. My brain was starting to come free of the fog, and I realized that I’d recognized her because of school. She was a California 10 for sure, but my interest had always been in Lacey.
“Oh, yeah. Hi, Katie. Nice to see you again.” My voice was back, but my heart was still hammering in my chest, and my legs were still shaking. There was a crowd of beautiful women around the three of us now, and they were all looking at me.
“Hiya, Victor. I didn’t recognize you at first.” She wiggled her fingers in a dainty little wave, and I studiously avoided her look-at-me cleavage under that cover up. “Where are you going to college?”
“I’m not, well, at least not right now.”
“Why not? You were so smart in class!” Her dimples and bubbly demeanor were hard to resist, despite what she was saying.
Lacey coughed and gave her friend a pointed look. Katie’s perfect mouth opened wide, and then she turned to me with pity plain on her face.
“I heard about your parents,” Lacey said as she adjusted her towel. “Uhh. I know it's been a few years, but I'm sorry about that. I should have--”
“No, it’s okay. It's not your problem, Lacey.” I let out a sigh and tried to keep my eyes from her towel adjusting activities. The wrap was pushing her breasts up and almost out of her swimsuit top. It was a good distraction from thoughts about my parents and the postponed visit to their grave.
“So, where’s the emergency? I’m here to help.” I was proud of myself for being able to string together a sentence with all the surrounding women.
“Oh, it’s over here!” Lacey gently grabbed my hand and led me a few paces to the end of the pool’s sitting area. When I got up next to her, she pointed to a fancy cooler lying upside down in the well-manicured grass a few yards from the pool’s edge. The pillows stacked on it were a nice touch.
I stood thinking of my next move, acutely aware that I was outnumbered at least twenty to one by sexy young women.
Lacey coughed to get my attention as she pointed to the cooler again.
“Snake?” I kind of blurted out the word I thought I had heard Katie say when she first pulled me from the truck.
“Yeah. Some kind of snake. I tipped over the empty cooler and kind of closed my eyes when I did it.” She put her free hand on her hip in a pose I found pouty and cute at the same time, but only for the briefest of seconds. I followed the angle of her tanned arm, her slender wrist, and long fingers with pink painted nails, back to the white and blue cooler.
“That was really smart, Lacey. It’s okay. I got this,” I said as I reached for my catcher’s tool kit. Then I realized I’d left it in the truck because Katie and the other two young women had pulled me to the back of the house in such a hurry.
One of the pool girls behind us remarked, “Just kill it. We can’t walk through the grass if that thing comes back.”
“I don’t need to kill it. I can catch it.” I didn’t want to kill the creature, especially since every hill in the area was crawling with all kinds of snakes, but I recognized the sentiment. Snakes had that effect on most people, not just hot college coeds.
“I’ll be happy if you can get it off my parents’ property,” Lacey amended.
“Yeah. They have a beautiful home,” I said. “Did you live here when we were in high school?” Lacey, Katie, and I had all gone to Fairfax High School. It was close enough to Hollywood Hills, but I didn’t recall Lacey driving a fancy car to school every day.
“Nope, my parent’s business really took off last year, and they bought this.” She waved her hand back at the structure but seemed to reconsider. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to brag. I know that your parents--”
“Don’t sweat it. It was a long time ago,” I interrupted her. “You said you didn’t know if this was a rattler?”
“No. Well. I didn’t hear a rattle or anything,” Lacey said with a shrug that nearly caused her towel to fall away from her breasts.
While I looked down to the cooler, I realized I’d fallen into a golden opportunity. If it was a friendly snake, I could make a big production of grabbing it and getting it out of their sight. The girls would all be impressed.
I really should go back to my truck and get all my gear. I had snares and big ugly gloves that would safely end Lacey’s problems, but my man brain dialed up an alternative. A much better one. I strode up to the cooler like I knew exactly what I was doing, pulled off the useless pillows, and tipped it slightly to one side so I could see underneath, then let it drop back down.
“Fuck,” I whispered. It was a good-sized rattlesnake. Of course.
I turned to my audience, aware they hadn’t come but a few steps into the grass. Lacey watched me with a serious but hopeful expression. The others were similarly captivated by my proximity to their “emergency.” Their eyes were wide orbs of wonder, and they hung on my every action.
Walking back to the truck would give me a reason to check them all out again, but deep down I felt there would be shame in that journey. It wasn’t what they were waiting to see. Three girls had pulled me from my truck, dragged me into their yard, and demanded action. Twenty-some others, plus Lacey, watched what I did. No, I was going to sack up and do it the old fashioned manly way.
I nodded to them, and their eyes got larger when they realized I was going to handle the creature with my bare hands. I was sure I had a snake bite kit in the truck. Well, pretty sure, but I didn’t really want to run back to Old Guss and sort through all my equipment. I could probably drive to the hospital if it came to that. I just didn’t want this mirage of beautiful women to disappear.
I lifted the cooler ever so slowly and prayed the rattler hadn’t been hurt when Lacey tossed it on him. Then, sack or not, we’d all be running.
It was easy to see my new friend sitting in the grass. His little round eyes regarded me with a menacing glare and some casual flicks of his forked tongue. I ruined his safe space, and I could almost watch his guard amp up. When I knelt to the side of the big gray pile of scales, the rattle started to shake. The terror-inducing noise caused some of the girls to gasp, and my own heart to stutter.
The diamond-backed rattlesnake had coiled itself in several loops in the rear corner under the cooler. When it saw me, it stood up from the middle of that coil and made a low hiss as it wagged its tail. The dark markings near his black eyes made him look like a little bandit.
“It’s okay, Ernie. I’m not gonna hurt you.” The girls couldn’t hear my soft coos.
I felt it helped to name the creatures I’d encountered. Mostly out of boredom, but sometimes, like now, it helped keep me calm. And being calm was the key to everything with animals. That, plus running like hell when it was called for.
I stared into Ernie’s eyes and whispered my request. “Come on little buddy, what do you say we jump in this cooler, I carry you to my truck, and we get you out of Lacey’s nice pool party?”
The man in the animal control video series on catching reptiles would have ripped me a new one if he saw me there. I admit I was going about it all wrong, and not just because I had left the tools in the truck. Catching a snake in the wild was easy when it was spread out and sunning or slowly on the move. Doing it while the thing was bunched up and all snuggly in a defensive pose? Not so easy.
And I couldn’t use any of those fake snake charmer skills. I didn’t have a flute to make it appear to dance. Plus, that was just performance art.
But I’d always been good with animals. My parents had owned a veterinarian clinic, and they came to recognize that I could subdue the most vicious of their patients with just a few easy words and a careful pat or two. It wasn’t like I was the Dog Whisperer or anything, but I did have a knack for getting the creatures to relax easily.
I pretended to reach for Ernie’s face while watching his eyes, and the rattler sunk back with a warning hiss. His fangs came out, and he exploded with a strike at me. I expected his attack, and I yanked my arm to the side a fraction of a second before Ernie could sink those venomous fangs into my flesh.
The girls screamed with fright, and the sound warmed my stupidity-fueled man brain.
My heart jumped in my chest a bit, too, but then it came right back down. Little Ernie wasn’t going to mess with the top dog once he missed his first strike. He began to slither away to the safety of the nearby cooler, but I grabbed his tail just above the rattle as if that was normal procedure for snake removals.
Ernie wasn’t happy about me touching him, and he flung himself from side to side, rattling viciously. The women squealed with amazement again, and I moved quickly to shove the snake into the opening of the cooler.
“That’s alright buddy. Easy. I’ll get you someplace safe. Just relax in here.” My words were soothing whispers, and the snake seemed to calm down as it sought the bottom of the cooler. I used my foot to get the cooler upright, and I carefully pushed the lid shut and sat on it purely for showmanship.
Fuck yeah. That’s how we did it in the Los Angeles County Animal Control.
The women gathered at the edge of the grass all began cheering. Not the polite rich people golf clapping either. They cheered and hugged each other with a mixture of glee and wonder while they looked at me.
This was, quite possibly, the best day of my life.
I turned from the women and saw that Lacey had readjusted her towel while I was busy doing my thing with Ernie. She’d pulled it down her body, so it hugged her hips and draped down to her knees. She wore a strip of cloth across her chest in what could have been the world’s tightest bikini. Her breasts were round, firm, and unconcerned that the shoulder straps dangled to her sides.
I gulped when I took her all in, and the combination of my adrenaline and the women’s excitement made my head swim with testosterone-fueled pleasure.
Lacey was my high school crush. She was the girl I said I was going to ask out dozens of times but always found excuses to avoid following through. Outside of a few study sessions where she and I would talk about math, most of our brief chatting happened as we passed in the halls with our friends. Even then, it was rare that I figured out something to say beyond “See ya in class.” I never got close to pulling the trigger on the big one, asking her out. I wasn’t really popular in high school, nor was I a big jock. I was the guy in the computer club. The guy organizing the study groups. The guy playing video games instead of asking all the pretty girls out. I had never thought I was good enough for Lacey, and she remained just a daydream.
And now she was waving me onto the patio while her friends were egging her on.
“Um, leave the snake there, okay?” She smiled as if we were old friends, and her fingers wrapped around mine. My skin felt warm everywhere, and my mind melted as well.
I was just an animal control guy, but I’d saved all these beauties from a rattler, and they were more than a little excited about my snake taming display. A few girls touched me on the back of the shoulders as I got into the nucleus of their swimsuit hotness. Others hugged me. Others jumped up and down with excitement, and their breasts did astonishing things inside their swimsuits. They were acting like groupies at a rock-and-roll concert, and I had to admit that I loved every second because I felt like the lead singer.
Lacey touched me on the arm above the elbow, and I think it burned. “Can you stick around? I mean, you did save us from that snake and all. Will it be okay in the cooler for a bit? I’d love to hang out with you for the rest of the day. We all would.” Her smile melted my willpower, and the world seemed to start some serious spinning. “You can borrow a pair of my dad’s swim trunks if you’d like. They are gone for the weekend. Can you? Please say yes.”
I thought about the drive back to the station, and then the depressing trip to my parents’ grave. I needed to go visit them, but I knew for sure my parents would want me to stay. I also knew there was a good chance that Beatrice wouldn’t even know I didn’t come back. As soon as 5PM hit, she was out the door without even a wave goodbye.
Besides, no man could have refused Lacey’s puppy dog eyes.
Yes. This was absolutely the best day of my life.
“Yeah. The snake will be okay if I put him somewhere safe. I would love to stay.”
“Really? You won’t get in trouble?” She asked her question sweetly.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. I’d love to hang out. I was pretty much done with my shift.” Even if Beatrice somehow figured out I came back late with Old Guss, she wouldn’t do anything more than yell at me. Yeah, I could get fired, but I did almost everything around the center, even fixing her computer, so I figured worst case is that I’d get yelled at.
But it would be worth it.
“That’s great Victor! I’m so happy you can hang out with us the rest of the day!” Lacey’s fingers wrapped around my arm, and her towel-wrapped body wiggled into my side. The movement made my head spin, and my blood started to heat up.
Yep. Totally worth it. Even if I did somehow, worst case, get fired.
“Is there a garage or carport or somewhere where I can park?” I asked Lacey as I grabbed Ernie’s cooler. “I need to put him in the truck, but it will get too hot in there if I leave it parked out in your driveway.
“Sure!” Lacey exclaimed as she led me through the small crowd of happy women. “There is a gate on the side of the house by the fountain. It leads to our garages and our courtyard. All the other girls are parked there.”
“Great, thanks.” I said as I grabbed the cooler from the ground when we passed it. My hands were shaking a bit, and I realized that I needed to use the bathroom.
“Can I wash my hands real quick?” I asked after Lacey had led me through the crowd of beautiful women and toward the side of the mansion.
“Sure, Victor. Of course. You can put the cooler over there.” She pointed to a spot in the shade by the rear sliding door of the mansion. “I’ll show you where the bathroom is and then go get you swimming trunks. You can put them on when you get back from moving your truck. I’m so glad you are staying.”
“Thanks, Lacey,” I said, but my smile faded when I followed her into the mansion.
The sliding glass door entered her home in the kitchen, and I suffered the inevitable comparison with my own apartment and, I guess, my life. I didn’t have the granite countertops, central island, industrial oven, and my old fridge didn’t have a television screen in the door.
A couple other girls milled about some food platters on the big table. For once the skimpy swimsuits utterly failed to distract me. I couldn’t believe the insane amount of room they had to stand there and gnosh. The eating area was bigger than my living room.
“Bathroom is that way,” my crush said while pointing to an open doorway just off the kitchen.
“Thanks,” I replied as my attention returned to the lovely young woman. She might have been richer than me, but she had invited me to hang out with her even though she must have guessed that I was broke.
My imagination went into overdrive as I stepped into the bathroom and thought about all the things I would say to Lacey. I’d never been that great with girls, but I felt like I was friendly, and I could always make them smile and laugh if I was given a chance to talk to them.
I pissed in the toilet and then washed my hands in a marble sink that was probably worth more than the truck I drove. As I dried my hands, I happened to catch a conversation from the other side of the wall. For a mansion, the walls were super thin.
The reply was Lacey’s voice.
“You were into him?”
“I kind of had a thing for him. Maybe I still do. So what? He’s a nice guy.”
“Well, I wouldn’t date someone who’s a dog catcher. Would you?”
I leaned hard against the wall, but somehow the topic went in a new direction.
“I guess he is kind of cute. In a nerdy kind of way because of the glasses.” I heard a voice say. “Do you want to fuck him tonight?”
I felt my heart slam up into my throat, and I pushed my ear harder against the wall to hear Lacey reply, but there was just a bunch of giggling.
“The thing with the snake was hot. I can’t believe he caught it with his bare hands!” another girl said.
Other voices joined in the conversation, and I realized I needed to pull my ear away from the wall so I could hear them all.
“He did great in high school,” Lacey’s voice said. “Lots of friends. Seems like he hit some bad luck when his parents died. It happened right after we graduated. Actually, I think it was around this time two years ago. So maybe.”
Wait. Did she mean maybe to fucking me? Or was she answering another girl’s question that I hadn’t heard? My mind spun, and I tried to force my heart rate down with some deep breaths. It sounded like their conversation was mostly giggles now, so I decided to exit the bathroom.
“Hey,” I said as I walked back into the kitchen. It was really hard not to seem too eager in front of the group of beautiful women, but I managed to pull it off.
“Oh, shit!” Lacey gasped. “I forgot to get the swim trunks.”
“No problem,” I replied as the other girls in the kitchen smiled at me. “I’ll go put the snake in the truck and come back.”
“Great!” Lacey beamed at me, and then I walked outside as quickly as I could.
There were still plenty of girls out by the pool, and I waved to a few who called my name. Then I grabbed Ernie’s cooler and swaggered out toward the driveway.
Yep. Today was going to be the best day of my life.
Transferring Ernie into one of the holding cages on the truck was as simple as tipping the cooler over while I kept my hands free of the opening. The big rattler came out with a hiss and a shake of his tail, but then I closed the cage and threw a blanket over him. He went quiet almost immediately, then I slammed Old Guss’ tailgate, climbed behind the steering wheel, and looked around the side of the mansion. The entrance to the courtyard parking area must have been off to the right of the drive, and I turned the ignition to bring the old beast to life.
Then I thought of my parents. Their story ended when the California Highway Patrol made a similar, but much smaller driveway to give me the bad news. I shook my head free of the sad memories and then remembered Lacey and her uber-hot friends were waiting for me. It sucked that my parents were dead, and that I was barely scraping by working for animal control, but at least I was about to party with the girl of my dreams all day.
And probably all night.
The truck died as soon as I put it in gear, and I looked down at the steering wheel with confusion.
“What the fuck?” I asked as I turned the key on and off. I guessed the beast was going to die one of these days, but it was slightly embarrassing to have it happen right in front of Lacey’s house. Then again, maybe this was exactly what I needed? Now I had a legitimate reason for Beatrice when she asked me why I didn’t come back to work tonight.
“So weird,” I said to myself as I turned the key again. The engine wasn’t even trying to turn over. It was as if the battery was completely dead.
Then my hat rose slowly off my head like an invisible hand had a hold of it. I looked up to the ceiling of my truck and saw a light coming down. It seemed to push through the fabric of the cabin and shoot into my brain like a white laser.
Then a loud bang led to instant darkness.
Hands were grabbing me, and I felt my feet drag across a smooth floor. I pried open my eyes and then closed them immediately. It was so bright, and my eyes hadn’t adjusted.
Voices were speaking, but I couldn’t understand the language. Then I felt my body lift off the ground before I was slammed down onto something soft.
“Harg!” I grunted as the air left my lungs.
I heard the tang of metal as heavy locks secured my ankles and wrists.
“What? Who are you?” I shouted as I opened my eyes. It was just in time to see four sets of gray hands push something against my skull right where my eye socket was.
Then a small metal claw yanked out my right eyeball.
It felt like someone had shoved a hot poker into my skull.
I screamed and tried to get away, but there were straps on my legs, and I couldn’t move. My glasses were gone, and the light, plus the pain, made it hard to see with only my uninjured left eye. The hands weaved through the white light above me while I screamed, but it seemed as if they were connecting something to the nerves that extended out of my face.
Then everything went black.
I woke up blinking both my eyes to the morning light coming through my apartment window. Shit. That was a horrible nightmare. Maybe the awesome pool party had also been a dream. Figures. I hadn’t thought about Lacey in a long time. I must have seen a girl that reminded me of her yesterday, and the memories caused my subconscious to play “Pool Party Male Fantasy Episode 1.”
“Ahhh. Damn,” I hissed as I reached for my phone on my nightstand. What day was it? Did I have to work today? I was really out of it from that dream.
My hand closed around sand instead of my phone. I gasped, and then I spun my head to take in my surroundings. I was on a beach, and the sound of the soft waves joined a gentle breeze that flowed through the tops of the nearby palm trees. For half a minute, I wondered if I’d remembered the pool party all wrong. Had I stayed there? Did Lacey and I drive over to the beach? Then I remembered my truck stalling. I remembered the strange aliens grabbing me. I remembered them pulling out my eye, but now I could see, so maybe I’d imagined that.
Either way, a quick glance toward the horizon gave me all the clues I needed. I wasn’t on Earth anymore.
Not unless the earth had suddenly gained a second moon.