The Lark's Curse - Chapter One

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Cold, hard rain pounded on the cement sidewalk, sinking into my freezing bones. Leave it to Jacob to be late on such a gloomy day.

Sitting under the bus shelter proved useless since water managed to trickle down through a small gap in the roof. It splashed down repeatedly on the bench beside me, making it as wet as the surrounding landscape.

They should really get that fixed, I thought distractedly.

I supposed that I could've taken dry refuge in one of the buildings lining the street. But between a gun shop, a tattoo parlor and a strippers club, I figured I'd be better off waiting here. I considered going into the posh nail salon behind me and relax on the furry white couch but I don't think they'd appreciate a soaked, muddy fourteen-year old girl inside, messing up their stain-free pink carpets. The girly, soft-stomached ladies working there would probably pass out just at the sight of my genuinely torn up, no-name jeans, black aviator jacket and Timberland hiking boots.

Yup, even if I risked catching pneumonia, this was sure as hell a better place than the lair of the frill zombies. Ugh.

So there I sat, waiting for my immature eighteen-year-old brother to pick me up. I might as well have been waiting for Santa Claus to stop by our house in July. Why couldn't I have taken the bus here? I would have already been at home an hour ago.

Finally, just as I was considering walking the ten miles home, Jacob pulls up in his beat up sedan my parents gave him for his first car.

"Hey, sis," he greets enthusiastically, "looking a bit wet there, eh?"

"Shut up," I mumbled, scowling at him.

"Hey, don't get all smartass on me. I'm your only ride home."

"I wouldn't be so grumpy if you hadn't kept me waiting two hours in the rain. What took you?"

"I had some grown-up stuff to deal with" was his usual snarky answer.

By that, he meant either chasing "the ladies" or gambling. I grumbled some unintelligible curses at him as I climbed in the back.

"Don't get mud anywhere," he warned.

"Wouldn't dream of it," I replied as I covertly swiped my muddy boots on the floor. With all the soda cans, crumpled paper and something that vaguely resembled half a cheeseburger, I don't think he'd notice a little dirt.

"So, how was it?" Jacob asked innocently.

I gritted my teeth. "Fine."

He was talking about my much hated pet sitting job for Mrs. Andros. She was this snobby, mean old lady who lived in a ramshackle old house with her sixteen cats. I never actually thought that real old ladies lived with multitudes of cats. I thought it was just exaggerated in movies.

The worst part was that each cat had some weird long names like Prince Percival Petticoat, and I have to remember it along with their "special dietary needs." Talk about a pain in the ass.

The only reason I go through with it is because she pays me good money and I need that if I want to get anything I can call my own. As the second oldest of four, my parents' budget for me just barely covers my food and clothes. With this job I get three bucks for every cat kept in check. So, the maximum I can get is forty-eight dollars. Usually I get about half that because, let's face it, not even God could hold up that many nasty furballs.

"I'm telling you, sis, you should really reconsider the job Mike's offering you. At least then you wouldn't need to deal with lots of smelly clumps of hairballs and a wrinkly old hag."

I rolled my eyes. Jacob's twenty-something-year-old buddy Mike said he'd pay me five dollars an hour to do his chores until he could get out of his parents' house. Sad, isn't it? Asking outside help for problems he brought on himself. Maybe if he weren't so dumb and made it to college, he'd be living the grand life... or maybe he'd just blow all his moolah on booze and girls. Anyway, best not to associate with unstable influences.

"Thanks, but no thanks," I muttered as I turned to stare out the window.

Outside, the rain was pouring even harder, obscuring my view of the California One. Not that there was much to see. Thanks to Jacob's late night run, it was pitch black out there and the clock on the dashboard read 8:42.Thank goodness it was a Friday.

Just as the car's engine started lulling me to sleep, I saw lights flashing somewhere in front of us. It's nothing, I told myself sleepily. But as I continued my desperate attempts at sleep, the lights got brighter. Annoyed, I tried to focus on what was in front of us.

Picking my head up off the foggy window asked Jacob, "What the heck is with the light show?"

Jacob, who was squinting intently at the empty dark road before us, finally looked past five feet in front of the car to the nearing horizon.

"Aww, man," he groaned, "I think the road's closed."

Just my luck. "Well then," I said impatiently, "turn on the stupid GPS and find an alternate route. I wanna go home." I knew I sounded bratty but being sleep-deprived does that to a person.

After a couple minutes of beeps and a woman's cheery voice asking a bunch of questions, we found our location on the GPS screen.

"Let's see..." Jacob murmured, "There's another exit about two miles back-"

"Then let's go!"

"Alright! Jeez, chill, Idy. Just give me a sec-"

Jacob abruptly stopped talking and faced the road before him, eyes wide. "Uh-oh."

"Uh-oh?" The impatient scowl on my face withered away as I caught sight of Jacob's panic-stricken face in the dim moonlight filtered through the open sunroof. I could see his foot making jerky movements toward the breaks and his knuckles turning white as he held the steering wheel in a death-grip.

"Jake?" I asked again, my voice strained after a few tense seconds.

He confirmed my fear a few scary moments later. "The breaks aren't working!"

Okay, I know in emergencies you shouldn't panic, but that's really all you could do when you're going 65 miles an hour on a narrow empty road with a steep drop on one side and a high cliff face on the other. It didn't help that the road block was now only about a half mile away.

"Pull the engine!" I yelled as I quickly strapped myself in.

"It's not slowing down!"

The next few seconds went by in a blur. All I remember is the feeling of numbness as we raced down the highway. A man's voice amplified through a megaphone telling us to stop and turn around. Splintering glass. Yells. Then everything going as pitch-black as the scene outside my rain-obscured window.

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