Title: In the Garden of After: Murder in Yosemite
Rating: R (mostly for disturbing imagery/conversations)
Summary: There's a killer on the loose in Yosemite Park
Yosemite universe: AU. Ten years or so after high school, Zeke is a park Ranger at Yosemite National Park. Casey is somewhat of a thrill seeker. (Neither of them remember aliens but are drawn together…)
A/N: This is an excerpt and is incomplete!
A young female hiker from Chicago had been brutally stabbed twenty-five times on a lonely trail in Yosemite Park. It was the middle of summer, so in theory most trails shouldn’t have been empty enough for such a vicious murder to have been able to take place and the murderer to have gotten away. A nearby couple had heard the woman scream, but by the time they arrived, the young woman was undeniably dead and there was no trace of the murderer.
“Jesus God,” Zeke said, taking a swig of a beer. He and Casey were sitting in the tiny employee cabin. Zeke was not on Search and Rescue duty until the next day, and he was glad he had not been on duty when the body was discovered. “They’ve already got all the background on that woman. No ex-husband or lover who could have followed her here, no known enemies. She just came to Yosemite to,” and Zeke made the quotation signs with his fingers, “reclaim herself and prove that she could vacation in a national park on her own. Apparently she was chickenshit about traveling alone.”
“Sometimes our fears are trying to tell us something,” Casey said. He looked a bit shaken. Ever since their near tragic end at the Grand Canyon at the hands of Casey’s overzealous lover, Casey had been much more subdued, less likely to do anything.
“Shit,” Zeke said, shaking his head. “Imagine being terrified to do something and everyone convinces you it’s going to be just fine and statistics are on your side and so you get the courage and then the worst-case scenario happens. That’s some shit. I mean that’s like a person who’s chickenshit about flying and finally gets the courage to get on a plane and that one in a billion fluke happens where the plane actually crashes.”
“When it’s your time, it’s your time,” Casey said. He was lying on Zeke’s tiny couch, his feet dangling over the edge. “You know what’s really weird about it? When someone stabs someone else twenty-five times, he’s not just in it for the random thrill. He’s full of rage. She had to have known him, even if for a few minutes. Maybe she passed him on the trail and yelled at him for littering or something.”
“You assume it’s a him.”
Casey shrugged. “Statistics and all.”
“Way before I worked here there was this other really gruesome case. This woman’s body was found at the bottom of a cliff. Totally and completely dead, with brain avulsion--”
“I really didn’t need that detail,” Casey said with a grimace.
“The story doesn’t get any better. Want me to stop?”
Casey grinned. “Fuck, no.”
“So anyway, this woman at the bottom of the cliff couldn’t be any deader, and so they examine her, and it turns out she’s been raped, too.” Zeke shrugged. “No biggie, right? Normal psychopathic behavior, rape, murder, throw over the cliff. But no. Not in this case. This sick fucker found this woman after she had fallen from the waterfalls, brain avulsion and all, and moved her body. Then he raped her.”
Casey looked impressed. “Okay, you win. That’s beyond sick. Did they ever find him?”
“Nope. For all we know, the sick fuck is still wandering around the park.”
“Maybe it was the janitor,” Casey said. “Or a pissed off park ranger?”
“Why does it always have to be the creepy ranger?” Zeke asked, dropping on the couch next to Casey.
“Okay, but seriously,” Casey said. “The guy was pissed. Much like my good friend at the Grand Canyon.” He winced. “Maybe she met someone earlier and told him she wasn’t interested.”
“According to her blog, she was traveling alone.”
“She had a blog?”
“The authorities found her best friend through the blog. Her best friend was hysterical, but she insisted this woman absolutely would have told her if she’d met someone romantically.”
“So we have a psychotic killer wandering around the park.” Casey shook his head. “Or maybe it’s a zombie, the evil dead.”
Zeke snuggled in close to Casey. “And people come to Yosemite worrying about bears and shit. Did you know that not one single person has ever died from being mauled by a bear in Yosemite Park?”
“Speaking of sweet,” Zeke said, leaning in to capture Casey’s lips in kiss.
“Don’t start something you can’t finish,” Casey said, wriggling away from Zeke.
“What do you take me for?”
Zeke had to admit that he was happy, much happier than he had been in a good long time. After their experience at the Grand Canyon, he and Casey had gone back to Yosemite together. Yes, together. There were no definitions, no long discussions, no plans, and no platitudes. Casey had just moved into the tiny employee cabin, barely big enough for one person, much less two, with Zeke. Zeke had no idea if it was legal since Casey did not in fact work for the park, and he figured as long as he said nothing about it, nobody would really notice.
Zeke stared at the ceiling. It was two in the morning and he had snapped awake for no good reason. No, that wasn’t exactly true. A sound had awakened him, maybe an echo from a dream or maybe the sound of a branch scraping against the window. No good ever came out of anything at two in the morning. That was the void time when sex was long over, the sunrise a distant dream. Only nightmares and bad news and bad people came out at this time. Like the psychotic killer loose in the park.
The murder had shaken him more than he let on. He had come to the park to escape this sort of thing, but now it had followed him to the most beautiful place in the world.
“Ezekiel,” Casey muttered with a smile, not bothering to open his eyes.
“Don’t call me that,” Zeke said.
“Why are you awake?”
“I can’t sleep.” With Casey awake now, Zeke could no longer say that nothing good came at two in the morning.
“I thought I’d tired you out earlier tonight,” Casey said.
“How come you’re awake?” Zeke asked.
“I could feel you awake,” Casey said. Zeke felt his smile in the dark.
“Are you being an asshole?”
“No, I’m for real. I was just now dreaming that I was driving us up high into the mountains and you had been sleeping in the passenger seat next to me, and when I looked over, your eyes were open, looking at me. Somehow I knew that was for real, too, not just in a dream.” He shrugged.
“There’s a vicious killer wandering around the park.”
“He’s probably long gone,” Casey said.
“Why would he leave when there’re plenty of other victims to be had?”
“That’s pretty stupid, Ezekiel.”
Zeke was just about to tell Casey to fuck off when he heard the sound again, the same sound that had awakened him, a methodical scratching just under the window. “Did you hear that?”
“That scratching sound?”
“It’s probably a raccoon.” Casey leaned on one elbow and really peered at Zeke. “Hey, are you scared? Is the big, bad ranger actually afraid?”
“Fuck you,” Zeke said. He swung his feet out of bed. “I’m going to go check it out. That raccoon better run fast and hard.”
“Hmmm,” Casey said. “Fast and hard.” His hand drifted under the covers and Zeke could see that he was touching himself. This made him go hard. “Come back soon, Ranger Zeke.”
“I’ll come all right,” Zeke said, laughing. “Hold your position, pretty boy.” He knew he was holding his. He threw on a jacket and some boots and stepped outside into the chilly mountain air. He could see the dark shadow of Half Dome in the distance, which looked like a black, slightly bent giant hand. He walked around the side of the cabin, to the side where he had heard the scratching. Nothing. Absolutely nothing there.
“Figures.” He did a walk around the cabin, jumping a bit at the shadows.
That was when he saw the figure of a man, standing oh-so-silently at the side of the cabin two over.