After a quick dinner of Mrs. Sanchez's tasty tamales and salsa, Cooper and I and the two animals piled into the Dinosaur --
Cooper's big, black, much-tinkered-with 1965 Lincoln Continental. Smoky hopped
onto the back seat while I sat shotgun with my ferret in his walking harness
Cooper talked to Smoky over his shoulder as
he drove. The white terrier seldom
made any noise as he replied telepathically. Familiars almost never seem to be
"talking" to their masters, so the masters' sides of the
conversations can seem a little schizophrenic if they don't remember to think
instead of speaking out loud. I know of several witches and wizards who just
can't keep their mouths shut; when Bluetooth headsets came on the market, a lot
of chatty Talents ran out and bought them to reclaim some of their dignity.
"Yes, about midnight," Cooper
said. "What? No. You have to pee? You should have said something earlier.
No, you'll just have to wait."
With a heavy, long-suffering sigh, Smoky lay
down on the black leather upholstery and covered his snout with his paws.
I felt my cell phone buzz in the right thigh
pocket of my cargo pants. I pulled out my phone and flipped it open.
"Hello, vibrating pants," I said
into the receiver.
The woman on the other end burst into laughter.
"Jessica, you are such a weirdo sometimes!"
No one still called me Jessica but Mother
Karen, an older white witch I had met through Cooper. "Pot, kettle, black,
Karen. How are you?"
"I'm fine. What are you two doing
"We're off to drown some farmers'
"Calling a rainstorm? Good girl, my morning glories are starting to wilt. Well, I was doing some baking tonight,
and thought I'd invite you two over if you were free."
"Who's that?" Cooper asked.
"Mother Karen. She's baking."
"Ooh!" Cooper's eyes lit up.
"I want me some haish brownies," he said in his best hillbilly
accent. "An' summa thet cherry pah!"
Karen heard him, and laughed. "Tell
that man he is not to so much as sniff my cannabis brownies ever again. Last
time he got stoned he turned my kids into spider monkeys and they broke half
the dishes in the house. But I will save him a cherry tart or two."
"You get pie," I told him.
"Las drogas es verboten."
"I never get to have any fun."
"Speaking of breaking things, did you
want to ride with me to hapkido practice this week?" Mother Karen asked.
"Yes, thanks. We're doing knife and
sword defenses, right?"
"Right you are. And don't remember that
belt tests are in three short weeks."
"Oh, cool, I totally forgot!" I
was up for my purple belt; I figured it would be at least another year before I
was ready for my black belt test, mostly because I kept missing class.
Mother Karen laughed. "Ah, to be young
and still excited about belt tests. Meet me at my house around 6 on
"Okay, sounds like a plan."
I said goodbye, turned off the phone and
slipped it back in my pocket. Then I realized Cooper had taken I-71 south toward
downtown Columbus. "I thought we'd be doing this someplace out in the
country, near the farms."
Cooper laughed, a touch nervously, it seemed
to me. "I ... just don't feel like being out in the boonies. I figured we
could do this in the Grove. Any magic we work there will be amplified for
To most people, the Grove is just the middle
of Taft Park. The park's made up of two dozen acres smack in the middle of
downtown, extending from the east side of the Statehouse to the Columbus Art
Museum. The central dozen acres were old-growth forest, virtually unchanged
since the first European explorers set foot in them.
But to the city's Talents, the Grove is the
focal point of a strong upwelling of Earth magic and is one of only two places
of power in the entire state. It's home to some of the only enchanted trees
left in the Midwest, and, as the occasional normal kid on a ghost hunt finds
out, the Grove is a lot bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. The
Talented families in the city have worked hard behind the scenes to make sure
the Grove stays wild and unmolested by developers and Parks & Recreation
officials bent on "improving" it.
The problem was, if any
of the vast majority of the populace who didn't know wizards existed saw us
performing magic, Cooper would get in quite a bit of trouble with the
local governing circle. A few
people, like the farmers paying us to call down some rain, know Talents exist.
But those few are put under a geas to keep the secret and not speak to outsiders
about magic. In the wake of the
medieval witch hunts -- which murdered a lot of harmless mundane women and
almost nobody using actual black magic -- Talent leaders had decided it was
best that most mundanes knew as little as possible about the magical world.
"If we get a really good storm going,
the skyscrapers will give better lightning protection," Cooper said.
He put his right hand on my leg and moved
his fingertips in a light, teasing circle on the inside of my thigh. Tingly.
"I have a feeling we're going to get things very, very wet tonight, don't
You just want to fuck me downtown where
someone might see us, I thought, then found myself sitting there with a
dirty grin on my face as my inner exhibitionist pushed my worries under the
covers. Erotomancy was just the
thing for working forces of nature. I lifted his hand and put it over my left
breast so he could feel my nipple hardening beneath my thin tee shirt.
"Why, ah have no idea what you are
talkin' about, Mista Marron," I said. "Ah think you might be trying
to take advantage of me. Ah think you are planning to put that great big ol'
cock of yours inside me and make me just scream."
His fingers gently squeezed my nipple,
sending a shiver of delight down my spine. "Stop with the Southern belle
dirty talk ... you know it gets me hot."
"Why, Mista Marron, isn't that what you
"What I want is to stop this car, throw
you onto the hood, and take you right here by the side of the road."
He had that certain horny-loony gleam in his
eye; he wasn't kidding one little bit about stopping the car. He was going to
do it -- do me -- right out there in the light of the oncoming traffic
so the truckers could get a quick rearview mirror peepshow at 70 mph. And he'd
be able to get us both off before the highway patrol showed up -- and if he
couldn't, he'd be able to cast a mirage spell and make the cops and everyone
else think the car was parked miles away from our actual location.
You should stop this, I thought. Take
his hand off your tit and put it back on the steering wheel.
Instead, I squeezed his hand tighter against
my breast and said, "I want you."
It was the nightmares' fault this was
happening. I knew he woke up so crazy with relief at finding himself alive with
all parts intact that he wanted to send us both into orgasmic oblivion right
out in the open where gods and monsters and mundanes could see them.
I knew because I felt exactly the same way.
Cooper had always been a bit of an exhibitionist, but I had warmed to it during
the year of nightmares as my own way of giving the Darkness the finger. The
Darkness could take us to dreamland and torture us, it could murder us in a
thousand ways and leave us shivering on our sheets in confusion and terror, it
could leave us psychically scarred, afraid to sleep, but it could not break us.
We wouldn't let it.
As Cooper's foot touched the brake, my ferret wiggled out of the crook of my right arm, hopped onto my chest and
nipped Cooper's thumb.
"Ow! Dammit!" Cooper jerked his
The ferret chittered at both of us, his
little beady eyes glittering.
I laughed. "Guess he doesn't want us
getting our freak on until it's rainstorm time."
"Just what I need, a weasel chaperone," Cooper grumped.