Tuesday, July 24, 2012
CHAPTER FIVE: FOUR YEARS AGO
Angel unzipped the tote bag and looked inside. But for a dozen freshly cut wooden stakes lying in a loose bundle, the bag was empty.
“I was going to put in some garlic, holy water, and even a cross. But then I remembered your, ah, condition,” Giles finished lamely. He had been sitting in the library ever since his dinner with Jenny Calendar ended. Although filled with shadows during the daytime, the main room of the library was even darker now. It was Friday night, and the high school would be deserted for the rest of the weekend.
“Thanks,” Angel said, looking up while he zipped up the bag. “Well, I guess I’m off then. The graveyard, the Bronze, alleyways. Anyplace I’m forgetting?”
“No, I believe that covers it rather well,” responded Giles. “A few hours’ patrol should be sufficient.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll let you know if anything happens.” Angel grabbed the bag and turned towards the doors.
He turned around. “Yes?”
“I thought perhaps we could . . . talk for a moment.”
“Oh, nothing in particular,” said Giles. “I just thought we might . . . get to know each other better. After all, you and Buffy have been . . . ah . . . together for quite some time now, and as her Watcher, I’m responsible for her, of course, and—“
“And why do I feel as if I’ve just been taken home to dinner for the first time to meet Buffy’s father?” Angel smiled slightly and then he returned to the table and sat down.
Giles’ face reddened. He sat down as well. “Of course, I didn’t mean to--well . . . actually I was going to ask you what your intentions were towards the girl,” he confessed.
“My intentions?” said Angel to himself, as he looked off in thought. He looked back at Giles. “With everything that’s been happening . . . I haven’t really thought about it--I mean, I haven’t formed any intentions as of yet. I wanted to take things slow, but things just sort of happened.”
“Please don’t take my question the wrong way,” said Giles carefully. “I’m not trying to break you two up. I know Buffy cares about you deeply. But . . . . Well, the idea of a vampire and a Slayer together, while quite romantic, is not . . . practical. In the long run, I mean. It is not as if you and Buffy can ever be married and live happily ever after.”
Angel looked up, grimly. “I know that. I tried telling her that.”
Giles looked increasingly uncomfortable as the conversation went on. He stood up abruptly. “Well, there’s no need to come to any decisions tonight. Just something to think about is all.”
Angel nodded, and walked out of the room with his shoulders slumped. He wouldn’t make any decisions anytime soon. But he would think about it.
The three vampires pressed themselves flat against the roof of the small mausoleum and peered over the side. It was hard for them to believe that, after all these years, human prey still willingly walked into the Sunnydale cemetery after dark. One would think they would have wised up by now—but they hadn’t. The cemetery was still prime feeding ground for the shyer varieties of the undead who didn’t want to risk the Bronze or the streets of the city. Often dinner would consist of children out to play pranks, or couples out on a scary but romantic stroll. Sometimes even police officers came to inspect strange noises. It didn’t matter, though—they all tasted good.
One such figure soon came into view. With so little moonlight, it was hard to tell much about this potential meal. He wore a long, dark coat, and was holding something. He seemed pretty well built, but that didn’t matter to Cleo, the only female of the three vampires. The strongest human was rarely a match for the weakest of their kind, and the larger the prey, the better the meal. She whispered to the others. “I’ve got this one. Watch out for the Slayer until I’ve dragged him under.”
She inched along the roof of the mausoleum to position herself right above where he would walk. She waited patiently, until the time was perfect. She leapt off the roof, and landed on the man’s back. With one swift, smooth move she pulled down the collar of his coat and sunk her teeth into his neck, right where the jugular vein lay. Half a moment later, she recoiled in pain and let out a yelp. Her mouth hurt. She realized she was bleeding and that she had lost two of her fangs. Metal! He was wearing some kind of armor or something, and she had bitten right into it.
The man turned around and looked at her with cold eyes and clenched teeth. He grabbed her by the arm and swung her into the air so hard that the tombstone she landed on broke in half. She wasn’t dead, but she wasn’t moving, either.
Tomas and Albert, the other two vampires on the roof of the mausoleum, didn’t know what to think. This guy wasn’t just another idiot strolling into the cemetery in hopes of some spooky fun. But then again, he wasn’t the Slayer. They would never live down running back to Spike and the others like cowards if this were something they really could handle. But if it were something they couldn’t?
Pride got the better part of Albert’s discretion, and he jumped down a few yards in front of the man. Albert’s face morphed and he opened his mouth widely and licked his fangs. He expected the middle-aged geezer to blanche in fear and try to run for it. But instead, the stranger lifted up a small pistol. Albert laughed.
“Bullets ain’t gonna hurt me, old man.” It was then that Albert noticed that a thin hose ran from the handle of the pistol and disappeared somewhere inside the man’s voluminous coat.
“No, but this will,” said the figure. He pulled the trigger, and a blast of high-pressure holy water hit the vampire right in the face, completely drenching his skin and clothes. Albert’s flesh was literally burning, and he felt like he was covered by napalm. He screamed and ran around frantically before collapsing into the dirt and disintegrating into ashes.
Tomas had seen enough. He took a running jump off the mausoleum and landed almost twenty feet away from the man before regaining his feet and booking it for the entrance to the tunnels below. He didn’t get far enough, however. The man’s hands disappeared into his coat and emerged holding a small rifle with a circular barrel drum around it—it looked almost like a tommygun from an old 1930s-era gangster movie. He aimed carefully, and each time the drum rotated, a short, sharp piece of wood shot from the barrel. The last thing Tomas knew before he disintegrated into dust was that something had hit him in the back.
The man walked over to where Cleo was still lying on the ground. She was semi-conscious now and struggled to look around to see what was happening.
“I have a question,” he said simply, drawing a long, thin knife from his belt.
Xander felt like he had been driving all night long, even though it had only been a few hours since Cordelia had traded the wheel for a spot in the passenger seat, with Buffy moving to the back seat, bummed she didn’t have her driver’s license yet. Night came quickly as they moved further east, and the world seemed desolate once they left the Interstate for one of the myriad highways which branched off of it. Even though it was only late September, snowflakes were already beginning to hit the windshield as they climbed higher and higher on mountain roads. None of them were accustomed to the cold, so they set the heater on high.
Buffy seemed to relax considerably since they left the restaurant, and now slept soundly. Xander glanced in the rearview mirror and saw that she was drooling slightly on Willow’s shoulder, who also dozed peacefully, and in fact, was snoring slightly. It was a cute scene and would have made a memorable incident to tease them about later if he had thought to bring a camera.
As the minutes passed, Xander grew more and more nervous. The snow came down harder and harder, and it was getting difficult to see the road clearly. Learning to drive in Sunnydale had not exactly provided him experience in handling potentially icy roads.
“Are you sure this is the right way,” Xander asked for what must have been the fifth time. “We were supposed to reach the place like two hours ago.”
“Yes I’m sure,” said Cordelia. It was late, she was tired, and she was getting sick of Xander constantly questioning her. She unfolded a map and turned on the overhead light.
“See, we’re on this line and pretty soon we’ll reach this dot there,” she said while pointing at it. “I’m not stupid. I can read a map, you know.”
Xander spared a moment’s attention from the road to glance down at the map. He looked back at the road, thought for a second, and looked back at the map.
“That’s a map of Canada,” he sighed.
Drifting snow blew across the road, causing him to slow down considerably. Time seemed to drag on even slower as they inched along the road. After a few more minutes, he realized he was only guessing where the road was. He pulled the SUV over to where he hoped the side of the road was and put it in park.
“If this is some pathetic attempt to make out with me, it’s not going to work,” said Cordelia.
Xander sat patiently, waiting for the snow to die down. It seemed to take forever, but finally the snowfall began to lessen and he put the car back into drive.
The only problem was that it didn’t move. They were stuck.
He shifted gears several times before throwing his hands up in frustration. He zipped up his jacket and opened the car door to take a look around. The problem was quickly apparent—he had stopped the car in a thick bank of snow and ice. Fortunately, he had managed to avoid driving into a ditch by mere inches.
Cordelia joined him outside. The snow continued to fall thickly and was illuminated by the small pool of light emanating from the car’s front grill. There was some moonlight as well, but the area was empty except for a row of trees several yards away. There were no tracks on the road except for the ones they had made, and they had not seen another vehicle for almost an hour.
“I tried calling on my cell phone, but I guess I used up all the minutes talking with Harmony earlier.” Small clouds of fog formed as she spoke. She looked at the SUV. “So isn’t there something you’re supposed to do, like rocking it back and forth or putting down dog food or something?”
“If we rock it back and forth, we’ll likely to end up face down in the ditch. Dog food gets soggy when it’s wet, and we don’t have any kitty litter—unless you packed that in one of your bags too!” he snapped. The stress and the cold—and Cordelia—were getting to him.
“Hey, don’t put this one on me, ‘Xan-Man’,” she shot back with a glare. “You’re the one who was driving. If you can call it that.”
“And you’re the one who can’t even read a freakin’ map! Listen Cordelia, let’s just put what’s going on between us away and concentrate on figuring out a way out of here.”
“There never was, and never will be an ‘us,’” she said.
They glared at each other. They were angry, not in the faux-anger that led them to leap into each other’s arms in the past and embrace passionately. This time, they were simply torqued at each other.
Xander walked around the car and trudged a little way into the snow. Willow and Buffy were still asleep in the back seat. He simply had no idea how long the storm would last, or if it was really a blizzard or would be melted by tomorrow. All he could think about was that stupid book he read in eighth grade on the Donner Party.
“I think I see a light up ahead,” he said to Cordelia, who started to shiver. “Maybe we can find someone there and call for a tow truck.”
“No way. This is like the start of every single horror movie in existence. Car dead, walk to strange mansion on the hill, meet Norman Bates. I don’t think so.”
“Fine.” He started trudging off into the snow. He was scared too, and thought about asking Buffy and Willow to come with him. But Buffy was sleeping soundly for the first time in who-knows-how-long, and he didn’t want to have to freak her out and ruin the last vacation she might have in a long time. Or ever. Vampire slaying is listed next to land-mine defuser in the High Risk Occupation chart.
The snow was deep, and sometimes it seemed as if he was wading more than walking. He silently cursed himself for walking around in weather like this in just jeans and a jacket. But it wasn’t like he had much of a winter wardrobe, he remembered in his own defense. Up ahead, the light was getting brighter and it did look like there was a building up ahead—maybe a farm or a gas station.
Snow crunched under his feet as he walked. Suddenly he realized his footsteps were only making some of the crunching sounds—he was being followed! His mind raced through all the possibilities life in the Hellmouth had taught him to expect: the Abominable Snowman, Bigfoot, giant frozen zombies. He turned around, prepared to run.
It was simply Cordelia.
“I know you all think I’m just some kind of stuck-up bitch, but I’ve helped all of you out several times,” she said when she caught up to him, as if their earlier conversation had never ended.
Xander knew she was right. There were a lot of examples—she had helped them out when the Master had escaped, when Ethan had cast that spell turning them all into what they were wearing for Halloween, and even when Buffy was being hunted by that weird insect assassin thingie. She had even let herself be talked into letting them come with her on this messed-up trip.
“What do you want me to say?” said Xander, throwing his hands up in the air.
“’Thank you’ would be a good start,” she said.
“And ‘Don’t worry, I’ll find a way to get us out of this’ would be a good second,” she added, still in a confrontational tone.
“Don’t worry, I’ll find a way to get us out of this,” said Xander, doing his best Sylvester Stallone. It made them both smile and broke the tension. They weren’t lovers yet, Xander knew, but he could never tell on any given day whether they were more or less, than friends. But they were something, at least, and he resolved to just let things be.
The building in the distance began to definitely take the shape of a small farmhouse as they approached, but it grew no less spooky in appearance. A porch light was on, but otherwise the place looked run-down and abandoned. Two of the windows were boarded up, the fence in front had long ago fallen over, and there were no vehicles parked in the area. The two teenagers walked to the front door, and Xander readied himself to knock when he heard the distinctive sound of a shotgun being pumped behind him.
They turned and saw a squat, plump woman in a thick flannel shirt gripping a twelve-gauge with gloved hands. Her hair was done up in curlers, and she had a grim expression on her face. Xander thought that she looked much more like Kathy Bates than Norman Bates, but that thought led him to think about his earlier conversation about Misery, making him even more uncomfortable. The woman raised the gun menacingly, and they raised their hands instinctively.
“What do you kids want?” she said with the air of someone who was not going to take bull from anybody.
Xander explained how they were on their way to Arctic Ridge when they had gotten stuck about a mile back. Each time he finished a sentence, the gun lowered slightly. When he was finished, the gun was pointed at the ground.
“Well you’ve got the good and the bad,” the woman said. “The good is that you’re not five miles from that old resort.”
“See!” said Cordelia, elbowing Xander in the gut.
“The bad is that no tow will be comin’ out at night in this weather. Hafta wait ‘til morning.”
Cordelia visibly paled at the thought of having to spend the night sleeping in a cold, cramped car. The snow continued to fall, and it seemed that the temperature dropped with each passing minute. She realized for the first time, even in spite of the fact it lacked a decent mall, that Sunnydale had at least some good things going for it.
“But I guess if ya don’t mind the floor, ya ken sleep inside,” continued the woman. She used the gun as a pointer to indicate the house. “Name’s Martha.”
Xander and Cordelia smiled and then retreated a few steps and whispered to each other.
“No way,” said Cordelia. “Look at her. She has ‘personal hygiene’ written on her ‘To Do’ list and it hasn’t been checked off yet. Her house must be even worse. And I still see ‘Psycho’ written all over her face.”
“Look Cordy, it’s like math, right. A dirty floor and the chances of her being a nutty knife-wielding maniac are outweighed by the 100% chance of freezing our butts off in the blizzard. With Buffy along, I’m willing to be warm and take my chances with the maniac. Still, if you want to sleep in the car all by yourself, you’re welcome to it.”
That convinced Cordelia, and they told Martha they’d get their things. They trudged back to the car, retracing their own footprints that grew shallower as the snow continued to fall. Xander gently woke Buffy and Willow, both of whom had slept through the whole incident, and told them that they had decided to stop for the night and rest with a friend. Both were too sleepy and out of it to inquire about how this “friend” had been made.
It was bright and sunny the next morning when they watched a mechanic carefully attach tow cables to the SUV. They spoke with Martha about Arctic Ridge while waiting.
“It’s sure not what it useta be,” she said. “Looks like crap. Has for years now. Since the owner’s daughter died, he’s let the place run to hell.”
“It can’t be that bad,” said Willow. “I mean, we’ve seen pictures and all. On the Internet.”
“Don’t know much about that,” Martha said. “Still gets visitors, though not many this time of year. It’s haunted though.”
“Haunted,” queried Buffy, her Slayer persona coming online.
“Ghosts,” replied Martha, matter-of-factly.
“’There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophies, Horatio,’” Willow recited.
“Horatio?” Xander said.
“Shakespeare,” Willow answered.
“I’ve always wondered what Shakespeare’s first name was,” he said earnestly. Willow sighed—it almost made her regret being well-read when no one ever understood her references.
“Wait, I’ve seen this one,” interjected Cordelia sarcastically. “Old resort, haunted by ghosts. It’s really the old caretaker who’s behind it all. Scooby Doo, right?”
“We’re in great shape then,” responded Xander. “I’ll be Shaggy, and Will, you’re Velma.”
“I’m Daphne,” said Buffy, trying to imagine herself being kidnapped by all kinds of weird goons. She was disturbed to realize that very much was her life.
“Well no way I’m that other guy,” said Cordelia. “Those ascots? Please.”