"Oh God!" Cooper turned and gave me a hard shove away from him. I tumbled backward over the grass.
I rolled to my feet, feeling confused and exposed, wishing my clothes weren't all in the car. "Cooper, what the --"
His body had gone rigid; the cords of his neck stood out, and his tattooed sigils glowed faintly purple in the dim light. The air was growing ominously electric, the clouds above them darkening into a slate-gray spiral.
"Get away!" He sounded as if something was choking him. "Far. Fast. Now!"
I knew better than to argue or waste time asking questions. I sprinted back for the car, fear churning in my stomach. Nothing like this had happened before. Cooper had said that the ritual couldn't be interrupted, no matter what.
I got to the Lincoln, ran around to the driver's side and and dove into the seat. Smoky was whining on the front seat, his paws pressed against the window. Before I could get the door closed, he'd jumped over me and was running towards his master.
Cooper started to scream. His voice sounded like a band saw blade grinding against a rusty iron post.
Should you run away like this? I wondered as I cranked the key in the ignition and slammed the car into drive. Don't think. Just do it. Cooper knows this stuff way better than you do.
The storm was gathering with alarming speed. Thunder rumbled. In the rearview mirror, I saw the wind whipping a dust devil around Cooper's rigid form. The sound of the gale was drowning out his scream.
I hit the accelerator just as a massive bolt of lightning shot down from the sky.
The earth around Cooper exploded. A shockwave whipped across the park, and I was thrown forward into the steering wheel as the back of the Lincoln jerked off the ground.
The car tilted, and the gale blasted into the Lincoln's passenger side, lifting it and knocking it over onto the driver's side. I fell hard against the window, helpless as the car spun like a carnival ride across the grass. My clothes and the ferret flew off the dashboard. The weasel scrabbled for purchase on my sweaty skin to keep from being hung on his leash.
The car slammed into a steel-framed picnic bench bolted to a concrete slab beside the goldfish pond and stopped.
I untangled myself from the steering wheel and set the frightened ferret on top of the passenger side headrest. I grabbed my scattered clothes and got dressed as quickly as I could. The ferret had left a dozen pinprick scratches on my side and hip. Once I was no longer in danger of being arrested for public indecency, I unrolled the passenger side window and stuck my head out to see how Cooper was doing, hoping against hope this would turn out to be just be another one of those funny little Babbling-gone-wacky incidents where he'd be standing there amidst smoke and debris with singed hair and a sheepish oops-did-it-again look on his face.
No such luck. There was a steaming crater the size of a child's wading pool where he'd been. I couldn't tell how deep it was, but the charred sides reflected a bright red glow, as if from live coals or lava.
"Cooper! Cooper, where are you?" I shouted, feeling sick bile rise in my throat.
>> Go on to Spellbent: Chapter One, Part 10