All three of us remained frozen for about half a second before jumping into motion. Scared as hell, we broke the circle and rushed out of the house to pile into my Neon. Catching a glimpse of the demon-dog's butt as it flashed around a corner, I took off in pursuit. Hearing the grinding of the engine, I winced, knowing that I would catch hell from my mechanic from this one. Tim always seemed to take the state of my Neon as a personal offense.
"What did you *DO*??" I yelled at Jess. No sense dwelling on a disturbed auto mechanic.
"I don't know!" she screamed back. "The ceremony was going fine until the actual conjuring, then something just gave it a shove!"
"What do you mean, a shove?" I asked.
"I'll be damned if I know!" Jess said. Glancing in the rearview mirror, I could see that her eyes were huge and her face was even paler than usual. Jess gives a whole new meaning to the definition of caucasian. "I've performed that spell a hundred times, and I've never had something actually appear like that! I've heard of manifestations, but never by accident!"
"Why is that?" I asked. The little wheels in my head were starting to click...
"It takes too much power!" came the shrill response. "It takes a whole circle of experienced witches just to *try* for a manifestation, and even then it's more of a fifty-fifty shot at best!"
There was definitely a pattern here, and I opened my mouth to ask Jess another question, but Connie broke in.
"We can worry about that later!" she yelled, having so far been quiet. A quiet Connie is a Connie planning something. When she starts getting quiet around my birthday, I usually try to get out of town. "Pull over here!"
"What?" I asked. We were in the downtown area, and all I could see were little shops. A few people were looking quite surprised as the demon-dog ran past them, but most shrugged and kept walking. Apparently seeing a huge dog with glowing red eyes running around without a leash wasn't something out of status quo. Denmark wasn't just smelling, it was *reeking*.
"PULL OVER!" she yelled. With a grimace, I screeched the car to a stop, throwing all of us slightly forward. Even before my Neon had come to a complete halt, Connie had her door open and was racing into a store.
Wait a second, she was racing into a *PET STORE*.
Hoping that Connie had a reason for her madness, I twisted around in my seat to look Jess in the eye.
"Is there any kind of way for you to summon that thing?" I barked. Under stress, my people skills deteriorate quickly.
"What do you mean?"
"When you cast the spell normally, is there any way for you to get the spirit to come to you before it has completed its task?"
Jess thought for a second, then nodded. "Yeah."
"What do you need to get it to come for you?"
"Nothing." Seeing my expression, Jess elaborated. "It's a mental command, but I don't really think that you want to confront this thing in downtown Sunnydale."
Damn, she had a point. A plan was starting to vaguely form in my head, but it required a more private area. Glancing around, I hopped out of the car to intercept two teenage boys who were walking down the street. One was tall with dark hair, and the other was short with red hair. Both were cute, too, but the fact that I was almost old enough to be their mother was something that normally would've depressed me. Right now, though, I had more important things to worry about than my own impending mortality.
"Hi!" I said, with as much perk and zip as I could muster. Unfortunately, that really wasn't much. I really need to take one of those seminars for better people skills that my boss keeps trying to ship me off to. "My company is sponsoring an employee retreat, but we need a spot where we can have privacy. Do you know any place where there wouldn't be any crowds or people walking in on us?" Pretty bad lie, I admit, but I flying by the seat of my pants here. Figuratively speaking here, but I was clearly working under a handicap. You'd think that the powers that be would take that into consideration, but clearly neither boy had bought it. They exchanged a glance, and both began making a big show of thinking it over.
"You have to excuse my friend," Jess purred, coming up next to me. Glancing over at her, I resisted the urge to groan. She had unbuttoned at least the first four buttons on her blouse, and her body language just screamed 'Slut'. This certainly caught the attention of the dark haired boy. His friend merely arched an expressive eyebrow, clearly unimpressed, but Jess continued. "We're actually representatives for the Wiccans of America Coalition, and we're looking for a spot to conduct our seminar."
Three jaws dropped open. The jaws of the boys, who were obviously getting some pretty descriptive mental pictures, and mine, just at what Jess had said, not to mention her unique way of catching their attention. For some reason guys always just assume that anything that wiccans do will involve naked dancing. I have no idea why. Even some wiccan guys are initially disappointed to discover the lack of nude dancing. Go figure. My mouth clicked shut after Jess gave me a quick kick in the ankle, and then it fell open again when the dark haired boy gave us quick directions to a spot in the woods where apparently no one ever went. Connie came running out of the store holding a small bag just as Jess was thanking them, and we all piled into the car and tore off again.
"What were you thinking when you told them that?" I yelled to Jess as I headed towards the woods. "Now we can count on having every male Sunnydalian from the ages of thirteen to sixty surrounding the spot!"
"We got a spot, okay?" she yelled back. "And at least we'll have half an hour or so before they start showing up!"
I groaned. Then I looked over at Connie, who was drawing symbols on a red dog collar with a black marker. "And what are *you* doing?"
"I figured," she said without looking up, "that we'd need a way to control the demon, so this was my best idea. We corner the demon and someone puts the collar on it. Assuming the spell works correctly, then his behavior patterns will be those of a regular dog instead of a demon straight from the bowels of Hell."
The fact that we were pinning all of our hopes on an 'if' was just a delight to my heart. What Connie was proposing to do was really just an adaptation of a fairly combination of soothing runes. Under normal circumstances, I'd have much more faith in it, since Connie was quite skilled with rune use, but then again, Jess was usually Old Faithful when it can to summoning spirits.
We reached the spot in the forest about twenty minutes later. Working quickly, we managed to build the protective circle in record time. Guess who got to hide in the bushes and hope to collar the demon?
"How are you planning on luring the demon towards you?" I asked. Trust me, I was *very* interested in the plan that would keep the demon distracted from little old me, who had no protective circle.
"Well," Connie said, "When Jess is in her trance, she'll be giving the demon the mental command to come to her. Then, this is the secondary incentive." With a flourish, Connie pulled out a small bag of doggie kibble. Sometimes I really wonder how this woman graduated college, and if it's really a good idea for her to be working in a hospital, where she's around all of those sharp objects.
"Connie," I said carefully, "this is a *DEMON*. Maybe if you put out a bowl of *blood* it might have a little more appeal!"
Connie gave me the finger, but took my advice. Finding a knife that looked relatively clean - though I was wincing at the thought of tetanus and germs - she cut her arm and sprinkled blood on the kibble. Oh, yum. Looked like my ex-boyfriend's omelets. Then we settled down to wait.
Too soon for my taste, we could hear a loud crashing in the bushes. The demon came charging out, heading straight towards Jess. Blessed be. Fortunately, the circle stopped it before it could go for her throat, though I could see the ripple in the air that showed just how close it had come to breaking through. As it stalked around the circle, looking for a weak spot, it spotted the kibble. Whether because of the kibble itself or because of the blood, it walked right next to the bush where I was hiding without so much as a sniff in my direction. Not one to let an opportunity straight from the Goddess go past me, I jumped out and threw the collar around its neck, throwing a quick prayer at the same time.
She must've been in a good mood, because I managed to fasten the collar around its neck before it realized what was going on. Then that huge head turned, and the bright red eyes looked right into mine.
And, man, was it pissed.
It lunged right at me, and I had a sudden glimpse of lots of sharp teeth before it gave a surprised yelp and the magic of the collar kicked in.
Whatever was affecting magic in Sunnydale made another appearance, and the magic that was meant to give the demon the *personality* of a dog twisted.
The demon *became* a dog. To be more specific, the demon became a tiny, flop-eared dog with short black fur that could fit easily into a lap. The bright red eyes were still there, but they looked pretty out of place in the face of a terrier. The dog opened its mouth to roar in anger, but all that came out was a disgruntled yip.
Then I heard voices echoing from further up the path, coming closer. Teenage voices.
In addition to all of her other faults, my mom was a dog person. There was always a minimum of three mutts roaming our house when I was growing up. I've always been a cat person myself. After all, George cleans himself, uses the litter pan, doesn't inhale his food, and isn't glued to my side. I also like looking into that furry face and seeing a beacon of thought. Who needs a man when I have George? No, I'm not fooling myself, but George is a good muff of fur.
So when I grabbed our little terrier from Hell, I knew how to do it. My right arm went around his waist, sitting his doggy butt under my arm for the best leverage, with my hand braced against his chest while my left hand clamped his muzzle shut. Terrier he might be, but those little teeth could still hurt if buried in your leg. Yes, that's experience speaking there.
Connie and Jess are smart ladies, and when they heard the voices of the kids they managed to dismantle and hide a protective circle faster than anyone else I've ever seen. If we were in kindergarten, they would've gotten cookies. Running up to me, Connie clipped a bright green leash onto the demon dog's collar. The look I gave her must've spoken volumes, because she anticipated my question and said, "Leash laws."
Connie really should be recruited for the army. A mind that practical should be studied by the nation's top scientists.