Smoky lay near the crater, his flanks heaving as he gasped for breath. His body looked strangely bloated.
I bent down to make sure the ferret's lead was still secured to the stick shift. "You stay in here," I told him, my voice shaky, not certain if he understood. "I'll come get you when I'm sure it's safe."
I pulled myself up through the window and slid down the curved door, landing lightly on the grass. Where was Cooper? Had he been knocked unconscious and thrown into the trees? Or was the crater all that was left?
No, no, no. He couldn't be dead. He just couldn't.
"Smoky?" I called. "Smoky, where's Cooper?"
The terrier was trying to get to his feet, dragging his hindquarters as if he'd broken his back. Bloody foam flecked his muzzle. He saw me and started to howl.
Oh, Jesus, poor thing, I thought.
The crater smelled like a gangrenous wound, like bad magic, and I was getting the same stink off Smoky.
I stepped closer to the crater. And then it hit me: I was looking at an intradimensional portal. I couldn't have been more stunned if I'd put a cake in the oven, left it to cook, smelled smoke, and opened the oven to discover the cake had transformed into an angry firedrake. Actually, the cake-to-firedrake I could have explained away as a prank from the Warlock, but this? This was off-the-chart bad and unexpected. How in the name of cold sweat and stomach cramps had we created an intradimensional portal from a simple storm-calling chant?
After a couple of beats, my brain shifted out of shock and into more practical questions: where did the portal go? I had no clue, but by the look of it, it sure wasn't a beachside resort. Had Cooper been pulled inside? It seemed likely. I couldn't see any trace of him nearby. If he'd been blown apart in the explosion, there'd still be blood or -- I swallowed sickly against the thought -- scattered bits of his flesh.
My first instinct was to call Mother Karen and get her to send help, but I realized I couldn't just stand there and do nothing while I waited for the cavalry. God only knew what might come through. Might come through at any moment. I realized I had to do my best to get that sucker closed, and fast.
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.
>> Go on to Spellbent: Chapter One, Part 11