I'd heard Cooper and the Warlock talking
about travel between dimensions; portals were hugely dangerous. The longer they
stayed open, the worse things got. And creating one was supposed to be a
complicated ordeal involving extended rituals and the blood of red-haired
virgins and stuff like that. I never imagined that anyone could open one by accident.
Smoky started having some kind of seizure.
The howls and growls coming from him were sounding less and less doglike. I
couldn't think of any Earthly creature that made a shriek like metal sheets
being rent in half, a rumble like wet bones being crushed beneath a dire war
machine. I ran toward the crater, giving the little dog a wide berth.
I came within a few yards of the crater's
edge and stopped. I'd expected to see the bottom crawling with lava or
hellfire, but saw only a void of utter blackness. My head swam with vertigo,
bile rose in my throat, and every cell in my body thrummed with pain: I was
staring into the heart of Nightmare.
I closed my eyes, certain the horrible Dark
would surely melt my brain into epileptic gelatin. I could still feel it with
every nerve and every pore, an evil heat that would cook me and everybody else
down to ash.
Stumbling away from the portal, I bent and
grabbed a handful of sod and dirt and hurled it at the crater, shouting what I
hoped would work as a sealing chant. I circled, staring at the ragged edge of
the crater, pushing the nightmare shadows out of my mind with images of closing
doors, healing wounds, windows blocked shut with nails and boards.
The longer I stayed near the portal, the
more afraid I was that I would trip and fall inside, that it would grow and swallow me up. And I was desperately afraid I was too weak to get it closed. An
icepick of pain lanced behind my eyes; I was burning through so much magic energy that my blood sugar was getting low. If the spell didn't start working
soon, I was going to pass out.
I chanted the words for "close" in
every language my mind could bring forth, all the while casting handfuls of
good, fresh dirt into the vile portal like antibiotics into an infection.
Finally, finally, it was working. I
felt the earth start to move under my feet, and the sides of the crater started
to pull together. Yard-wide jagged cracks opened in the park's lawn as the
crater's edges sealed, a puckered scar in the earth.
I took a step back, breathing hard, pressing
against my temples to try to ease my throbbing skull. You did it. You
actually did it.
A metallic scream dispelled my sense of
relief. I turned, dreading what I might see. Smoky was still thrashing. His
body was stretching and growing; I could hear his bones crackling. Bladelike
reptilian spines erupted from his back. He was fairly steaming with the bad magic I'd felt from the portal.
I backed away. I'd never even heard
of anything like this happening to a familiar. Definitely time to call for
I pulled my cell phone out of my pants
pocket and called up Mother Karen's number. I pressed the phone to my ear.
"Jessica, is that you?" Mother
Karen didn't sound like herself. "Jessica? It's so dark, it's hard to hear
It wasn't Karen. I felt my knees buckle as I
recognized the voice. "Aunt Vicky?" I stammered.
"Jessica, I've been waiting so long for
you. When will you come visit me? It's so cold in here, and the snakes won't
leave me alone--"
I shut off the phone, and stared at it,
shivering. My Aunt Victoria had been dead for over five years; she'd murdered
her philandering husband Bill with rat poison, then killed herself with a
bottle of sleeping pills and a fifth of gin as she cried over his body.
I found the corpses four days later after I
got worried because nobody was answering the phone; flies had found them much
sooner. It was a memory I'd tried hard to purge from my mind.
I turned the phone on again. The menu was no
longer in English; the characters resembled Cooper's tattoos: sigils that came
from no known human language; symbols he'd described seeing in his dreams.
"Oh fuck," I whispered.
Smoky's body was still growing, changing.
His body was hugely elongated now, and a third set of stocky, clawed legs was
sprouting from the bottom of his rib cage. His skin was splitting, his white
hide hanging in bloody tatters over swelling gray scales.
I was shaking with panic. The pain in my
head was making it hard to think; I had no idea what I could do. Thunder rumbled, and the first raindrops started pattering down from the sky.
I can help, I heard in my mind. Let
me out of this car and I can help.