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Hi folks,

wombat-socho has been admitted to the Minneapolis VA hospital with a bad leg infection, and will likely be there until tomorrow, if not longer. If you're in the area, please consider stopping by and regaling him with terrible jokes or bringing him something to read.

Thanks,
cass

     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 help.

     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 you."

     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.

I've had a bad tendency through my short life to only change when instructed. I have to get yelled at to get shit done. I had be ordered to stop sleeping in class. I had to told to learn to drive. Everything's been forced for me. Today was no different. My dad, a man on blood pressure meds, had his prescription halved. He's been losing weight, and though I haven't checked in months, I know I've gained.

The Houston-OKC game was on, I'd mentioned his medicine to him and he said, "Yeah, they halved my prescription. You know, I love you to death, but you've gotta shed some of that weight or you'll be having problems like this too." I just said yeah and my mind was racing. Excuses flooded in. Well, I was waiting for us to get a gym subscription again was the main one. I'd been putting off exercise for a long time, always losing focus quickly. I refuse to let that happen.

From here, I'm running. Every week. Every day. Sick, well, or half-dead, I'm putting shoes to asphalt. Once I've lost some weight, I'm in the gym. My arms are already halfway to muscled and my legs never stopped being strong. I'm breaking more than one habit here. I may have to be told to do it, but I'll be damned if I have to be told twice. Just another flaw. Baby steps I suppose. Told over and over to told once to never being told. They say form follows function, and I'm feeling like testing a theory.

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