"Just what I need, a weasel chaperone," Cooper grumped. "But at least it's a sign of intelligent response. Is he talking to you yet?"
"No, not yet. Should I be worried? I mean, I could've picked wrong."
"You got a good strong empathy buzz off him at the animal shelter, right?"
I pursed my lips. We'd gone to dozens of shelters and pet stores looking for an animal to be my familiar. Birds, snakes, rats, cats, frogs, dogs, rabbits, iguanas ... my mind was reeling by the time we'd gotten to the Ferret Rescue League. When the attendant put the second slinky ball of fluff in my hands, I felt a strange warm humming buzz along my spine. And before I had a chance to think, I'd already said This is the one. Let's take him and go home.
And, honestly? I'd sort of been hoping for a cat or dog. The ferret was sheer adorableness, sure, but we couldn't let him out of his cage without him immediately finding the most damn inaccessible place in the apartment to dive into and hide. Like the bedsprings, or the coils behind the refrigerator. Cooper finally had to cook up a ferret retrieval charm.
However, the ferret was still a bit stinky. The musky oils in his fur took a half-dozen hand washings to get off my skin. Cooper refused to do a deodorant charm on the grounds that a ferret ought to smell like a ferret, and I was Just Being Picky. So I became resigned to the ferret funk, and waited for the magic to happen.
"Yeah, I think I did," I said. "But how do I know what something's supposed to feel like if I've never felt it before?"
Cooper shrugged. "You just know. I've seen a dozen apprentices pick their first familiars, and so far things seem normal to me. I wouldn't worry about him yet. He isn't fully grown. Sometimes it takes a while for a familiar to awaken. Probably he just needs a little more exposure to magic."
Cooper snapped his fingers and the radio tuner face lit up, the dial spinning over to his favorite oldies station. "Stairway to Heaven" was just fading out.
The DJ's voice broke in. "Hope all you night birds have found your own little bit of Heaven tonight, even if it is too darn hot out. Don't you wish it was Christmas? A little Christmas in July? Here's some Doug and Bob Mackenzie to make you think cool thoughts ..."
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" lurched through the speakers.
Cooper jerked and swatted the air. The speakers squealed as the radio sparked in the dashboard. The stench of scorched wiring filled the car.
"Jesus, Cooper, you didn't have to break it!"
"I hate that goddamn song." The color had left his face, and a muscle in his left eyelid was twitching.
"I know. But jeez." He'd never been able to explain to me why he so disliked any version of the song, no matter how silly, but usually he could suffer through a few stanzas until he could change the station or leave the room. I'd never seen him react so violently to it before.
"What are you going to do if we get carolers next December, kill them?" I asked.
He didn't reply. The bad post-nightmare madness was back in his eyes. I rolled down my window to air out the car.
"Hey, are you okay?" I asked him gently. "If you're not feeling well, we should put this off until tomorrow night."
"No." He shook his head as if to clear it. He gave me a quick, unconvincing smile, then fixed his eyes back on the road. "I'm fine. Let's do this thing. I told the Warlock we'd hit the Panda Inn for karaoke and a late dinner tonight."
You mean late drinks, I thought, irritated, but didn't say anything. I couldn't really fault Cooper for wanting to hang out with his half-brother; it was good to see Cooper happy, and he and the Warlock always had fun. The Warlock's boozy come-ons were tolerable. I just wished their nights out didn't always end with Cooper puking up Suffering Bastards and Mai Tais at five in the morning. As with stinky ferrets, Cooper refused to use any anti-poisoning charms on the grounds that a night of drinking ought to feel like a night of drinking.
>> Go on to Spellbent: Chapter One, Part 7