Chapter One

"…Do you hear something, Manuel?"

At the question, Manuel Santana paused, glancing around as he listened for noise. There was a scratching sound in the distance if he paid very close attention, and he moved away from the stove to get a better idea of where it was coming from. It didn't seem to be in the hallway; however, when he went towards the door leading into the garage, it got louder.

"Yeah, I think there's something in the garage," he agreed after a moment.

Tamera Jackson sighed and rubbed her forehead. It was possibly just a creaky window, or something, but it wasn't even the first time this week they'd gotten mysterious sounds like that. And considering what had happened last time, her money was on something else.

Tamera stood up and set down the book she'd been reading. Then, she walked over to the door, causing her fiancé to look curiously at her. The redhead nodded towards the garage as she rested her hand on the knob.

"I'm going to go see what it is," she said. "You can look, too, or finish up dinner. Whatever you want, really."

Manuel shrugged and went back over the stove. "I need to watch the birria. You shout if you need help or something, all right?"

Tamera nodded again and headed into the garage. She peered around after turning on the light—there was nothing too weird yet. At first, she was simply greeted by the sight of her beat-up old truck and Manuel's shiny new Volkswagen. Then, there was another rustling noise. Tamera quickly turned to her left and saw something moving around near the boxes under the window.

Promptly, she hit the button on the wall to open the garage door, and it rattled upward with several groans of protest. (They really needed to get that fixed, Tamera complained internally, but that was beside the point right now.) Then, she grabbed the rake from nearby and headed towards the source of the noise.

Upon poking at the boxes, Tamera was met with a hissing noise. There was another sudden movement, and Tamera instinctively jumped back when a furry head became visible. She was looking at a small raccoon, and Tamera stood there in disbelief for a few seconds before getting back into action.

How had it even gotten there? Oh, well; this wasn't the time to ask questions. Tamera swung the rake at it, and the raccoon screeched as it scampered around the garage. It snaked between the two vehicles, and Tamera grumbled under her breath as she tried to chase after it.

"Go on—get out of here!"

She swung the rake again as the raccoon got closer to the door. Finally—finally—it darted out into the driveway, hissing at her one last time before disappearing into the field separating their house from the neighbor's. Tamera stared after it for a few more seconds before sighing in relief and setting the rake aside.

Before going back inside, Tamera made sure to close the garage door—she couldn't have something else getting in there. She was met with Manuel's curious gaze when she stepped back into the dining room. Tamera sighed again as she went to wash her hands in the kitchen sink—the rake had been a bit dirty—and she looked over at her fiancé as she dried her hands off.

"It was a raccoon," Tamera said flatly. "At least this time, it was something easier to chase out."

"A raccoon," Manuel repeated incredulously. "I'm not sure if that's better or worse than the bird we got on Saturday."

"I just want to know how the damn thing got in there," Tamera groaned.

"Maybe the side door was loose?"

Tamera shrugged at Manuel's suggestion. That was always a possibility; the house had been rather old when they'd bought it, after all. She was sure there were several other things that could use an inspection. The side door had been a problem for a while, though.

"I don't know. Maybe we should check later." After a pause, Tamera added, "You need any help with that, or is it almost done?"

Manuel looked back at the pot of birria on the stove. He gave it a quick stir before reaching for a smaller spoon. After taking a bite, he grinned and shook his head.

"Nah, it's done. You want to get the dishes out?"

Tamera nodded and went over to the cabinet where they kept the bowls. She could set the table—that was nothing after chasing out the second animal that week. Somehow, that made the birria smell even better, and Tamera silently admitted that the raccoon had been good for one thing: working up an appetite.

Still, she couldn't object too much when the problem was easily solved. Tamera cast one last glance at the garage after sitting down again. She wondered what exactly about their house attracted so many pests.

The smell of the soup distracted her, though, and she quickly slurped up a spoonful. Ah, there—Manuel's cooking was always good at cheering her up, and Tamera grinned as he sat down beside her. She hoped things could stay calm for a while but she supposed she'd just have to wait and find out. For now, she'd eat and let herself hope, though.