CHAPTER THIRTEEN: FOUR YEARS AGO
Everything was quiet—almost eerily quiet, as there were no crickets chirping, alarm clocks ticking, or police sirens blaring like there would be back in Sunnydale. Cordelia tried not to disturb the silence as she carefully and slowly rolled out of bed and dressed in jeans and a warm jacket. She walked to the door and lifted up the latch ever-so-slowly, glancing around to make sure no one was awake. She slipped out the door and closed it quietly behind her.
It really is beautiful she thought to herself. Without the light pollution of the city, the stars were brilliant and sparkling. Mountains in the distance loomed up large and imposing, while the snow nearby, illuminated only by the moon, stood out in a confusing mix of foreground and background.
She hurried across the snow towards the direction of one of the slopes, hoping she had timed her escape correctly and that he would be there to meet her. In truth, there was no need for her to have been so cautious— Cordelia was seventeen and it wasn’t as if she needed the others’ permission if she wanted to have a midnight rendezvous with Chad on the slopes. But sneaking out was so much more exciting and romantic that it simply seemed like the thing to do.
In actuality, however, she hadn’t escaped the cabin without being noticed. Xander had been awake the whole time, and had correctly surmised the purpose of her leaving. He hadn’t been able to sleep a wink that night, feeling restless while his thoughts dwelled on Amara. Although he knew intellectually that it was simply a crush, puppy love, an infatuation, it didn’t change the fact that he couldn’t help but think about her. She was everything he had been looking for, and surprisingly, she actually liked him too. And she’s not even embarrassed of me like Cordelia. He rolled over and arranged the blankets again, trying to get comfortable for again. A few minutes after Cordelia left, he gave up and started getting dressed. If she can go out in the middle of the night to meet her boyfriend, I can do the same thing. Though not with her boyfriend. Or my boyfriend. With a girl! Xander often bantered with himself like this in his head—most of his famous one-liners occurred when he decided to verbalize this internal monologue.
He also lifted the latch of the door slowly and passed through. He started walking in the direction of Amara’s cabin. He wasn’t expecting to see her, though he hoped he might. Instead, he thought that a brisk walk might tire him out enough to help him finally fall asleep. When he reached her cabin, he was disappointed but not surprised to see that the lights were out. I guess I could act like a stalker and try to wake her up anyway, he thought, but quickly rejected the idea. He still wanted to see her tomorrow and not scare her off.
Xander jumped as he felt a hand on his shoulder—he had been so sure he had been alone outside, except for Cordelia and Chad, of course.
“It’s only me, silly,” said Amara. She was dressed just as he had seen her that morning, and looked ready to jump on a board and fling herself down the slopes at any minute.
“Amara! Hi,” Xander gave a nervous little laugh to relieve the tension he felt. “I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I would walk about a little.”
“And stare at my cabin?” she said with a grin.
“Exactly. One of my favorite hobbies really: standing outside of some girl’s house, staring at it for hours on end with a creepy look on my face. Explains why I’m so popular back in Sunnydale.”
“Doesn’t it though?” she said rhetorically. “Well, I’m up too. Come on then,” she said, grabbing his arm and pulling him away from the cabin. “We can go exploring.”
“Yeah. The lodge has been closed down for years. Who knows what’s in there? Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?”
Xander hesitated. “Amara, have you heard the stories about the resort being haunted? Poking around a strange place after midnight is sure to bring any ghosts right down on us.”
“You’re silly,” she said, smiling at the look of earnestness on his face. “Ghosts aren’t real. And if they are, you’ll be there to protect me, right? Besides—it’ll make the whole experience that much more fun.”
He still wasn’t exactly keen on the idea. The lodge looked strangely menacing in the moonlight, and he spent enough time back home walking into spooky places and encountering dangerous things. But this is not the Hellmouth, he reminded himself. And if she wants to go look around, why not?
They walked around the building a few times before finding that one of the boards covering a window at the side of the building was loose enough to pull off. With a solid pull, Xander also managed to wrench the window up, enabling them to peer inside. Even with the moonlight, it was so dark they couldn’t see anything but a small patch of the floor.
“Wait here,” Amara said, sprinting off into the night, only to return a few minutes later with a gas lantern in hand. “Isn’t this exciting?” she said. “I feel just like Nancy Drew in one of those old books.”
Xander had already been in enough “exciting” situations to last a lifetime, but he couldn’t help but smile at her enthusiasm. In fact, his experiences made him feel like an old pro at this “skulking-about-spookyplaces- at midnight” game.
They climbed through the window and lit the lamp--it illuminated only an area about twenty or thirty feet away. They noticed that the floor was covered with a thick layer of dust, which they kicked up everytime they walked, causing it to swirl about them and be reflected in the lamplight. Around them, couches, chairs, and small tables were all covered with dingy white dust cloths.
“This must be the lobby,” Amara said. “See, there’s the bar.” She pointed at another object covered with a dust cloth. “And there’s the fireplace.”
Man, Chad would be pissed if he found us here, Xander thought, but then caught himself. Good. He can go crying to Cordelia all about it.
Amara grabbed his hand again and left it there this time. “And up there must be the guest rooms,” she said, pointing to a curved staircase, which led to a balcony overlooking the lobby. Doors must have led from the balcony to the guestrooms, but they were too far away to be seen with the lantern.
“So what’s on the agenda for tomorrow,” Xander said, becoming unnerved by the place. “More skiing—or breaking and entering? You know there’s this great restaurant we found down in the town and—“
“Oh Xander, didn’t I tell you?” she said, apologetically. “This is my last night here—I have to leave in the morning.” Her face looked odd in the lamp light—almost translucent.
“Ah,” he replied, obviously disappointed. “Well, we can still write, right? I am mighty with the pen,” he joked lamely.
“I . . . don’t think that’s a good idea. You how it always works out. It’s okay in the beginning, but then we start receiving letters from each other less and less often, until one of us simply never writes back and then . . . It’s better to just end it on what we had—a great day together, something memorable.”
“Of course, you’re right,” he said, trying to smile. The award-winning Xander jinx comes into play once again, he thought, but then resolved to try and make the best of it.
They started up the stairs slowly, still holding hands. Xander held the lantern with his other hand and shone it about every few steps. The lamp jiggled as they stepped on one stair that creaked loudly, just like in an old horror movie. They chuckled a little at their own hesitation and continued up the stairs to the balcony.
Suddenly, they heard that same stair creaking and realized that they weren’t alone.
Meanwhile, Cordelia and Chad were having a great time on the slopes, enjoying a midnight ski. Cordelia was still shaky, but Chad was there everytime to steady her. She was attracted to him, partially out of the belief that Chad was simply much more mature than boys her own age, including Xander. In fact, when she was away from Xander, she had difficulty remembering what it was she ever saw in him. It sure isn’t his taste in fashion, she realized, watching Chad ski quickly down the slope in front of her, showing off as if it were a slalom race.
She plunged her skipoles into the snow and pushed off, hoping to catch up to him and surprise him. He had turned by then though, and stood watching her as she wobbled in his direction.
“You’re learning fast,” he said admiringly when she finally reached him. “But it’s getting cold and we’ll have to walk back up since the lifts are turned off. You know, I have some hot cocoa in my cabin—we could warm up there.”
She smiled to herself at this obvious line. But still, hot cocoa and Chad didn’t sound like a bad combination. Even with the “Slayerettes” along, this trip isn’t turning out so bad after all, she thought, as they turned to begin trudging back up the slope. All of the girls in Sunnydale are going to be so jealous when I tell them about Chad.
They heard the loud whine of the snowmobile coming towards them before they saw it. Chad didn’t know what to think—he kept one locked up securely behind his cabin for maintenance of the resort and emergencies, but he was pretty sure no one else in the area had one. And besides, they weren’t allowed on the slopes.
The pair stood waiting expectantly as the snowmobile approached. Chad could see that it was his, but he didn’t recognize the two curious looking figures who were riding it. They were dressed completely inappropriately for the weather, as far as Chad was concerned, in not much more than jeans and leather vests or jackets with Tshirts underneath. As the snowmobile grew closer, they realized it was going fast and headed towards them.
And then they realized it wasn’t going to stop!
Chad panicked and stood there frozen, with his mouth gaping open, but Cordelia pulled him out of the way just in time. The pair of skiers fell on the snow, with Cordelia finding herself on her back, half buried in a soft spot, and Chad struggling to extract himself from Cordelia’s skis and poles.
He managed to reach his hands and knees just as the snowmobile came back for another pass.
“Duck!” Cordelia shouted, but it was too late. The man on the rear of the snowmobile thrust his hand out and grabbed Chad by the back of his jacket, and incredibly, held him aloft for several dozen feet before throwing him face down in the snow. The man on the back of the vehicle jumped off on top of Chad, while the driver turned the snowmobile around and headed back towards Cordelia. Still unable to get to her feet, she screamed as she realized the man planned to ram her with it! She screamed again when she realized from his face that he was a vampire.
From out of nowhere, a blur of pink and blue jumped towards the vehicle’s driver and tackled him, knocking him off of it and into the snow. The snowmobile careened wildly and then tipped over on its side, its tracks still moving in the air as its motor continued running.
“Buffy!” Cordelia shouted. She could hardly believe her eyes. Buffy was there rolling around in the snow with a vampire in nothing more than her pajamas.
“Now’s . . . not really a good time for conversation,” Buffy spat out, as she struggled to gain the upper hand on this vampire. He was on top of her now, trying to sink his fangs into her throat. He was incredibly strong, but she knew how to use her leverage. She kneed him in the stomach and then put both feet on his chest and kicked out, sending him sailing into the air only to land relatively softly in the snow near Cordelia.
Buffy jumped to her feet and sprinted after him, landing a solid kick to his jaw as he tried to stand up. With one quick motion, Buffy grabbed the top of one of Cordelia’s skis, still attached to the latter’s foot, and kicked it hard. It broke with a snap. Buffy held the broken piece and turned it away from her just as the vampire leapt on top of her. He disintegrated as they landed on the snow, covering her with a fine shower of dust and ash.
“Get it off me!” shouted Cordelia, trying to wipe scattered remnants of the dust off of herself. “And then go help Chad!”
Buffy ran over to where the other vampire was, but it was too late for Chad. The vampire got up and looked at Buffy, his teeth and lower jaw dripping with warm blood. The Slayer! he thought to himself, suddenly unsure—but it was too late to back off now. He deftly stepped to the side as Buffy charged him, and thrust his elbow out, hitting her with a glancing blow on the side of the head. She staggered slightly, but spun around and drove a fist into the small of his back and then executed a perfect jump side kick to the back of the head, knocking him into the snow. He rolled down the hill several feet, before slowly standing up and running for the snowmobile to escape.
Buffy pulled the same trick on one of Chad’s skis, arming herself with another makeshift stake before she headed down the slope after the vampire. She reached him just as he had started to push the snowmobile back on its wheels, which were still spinning. She aimed carefully with the stake, but he dodged at the last second and the stake slammed into the vehicle, splintering into useless pieces.
He backhanded her with a vicious swipe, but Buffy managed to roll with the blow. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do now though, unarmed. There simply weren’t many ways to kill a vampire—a stake through the heart, sunlight, holy water, decapitation. None of those are an option she realized as the vampire, seeing her vulnerability, changed its mind and decided to attack.
He grabbed her with both hands around her throat. She thrust her hands straight up between his, and broke his grip. She punched him quickly in the solar plexus with a solid right uppercut and then swung her left fist around, catching him the jaw. She saw the snowmobile still on its side, spinning ineffectually, and instantly devised a plan.
The next time he lunged for her, she clotheslined him with her forearm and simultaneously swept his legs out from under him. He landed on his back right in front of the snowmobile. With a powerful kick, Buffy tipped it over. As soon as its treads found traction, the snowmobile zoomed forward.
Ugh! thought Buffy as the vehicle crushed the vampire’s skull. I hope that counts in the decapitation category, she thought, because if it doesn’t that thing is going to be so disgusting to fight. As the snowmobile kept on running driverless down the slope, the small explosion of dust and ash from the vampire’s corpse told her that her fears were groundless. She ran over to Cordelia and helped her up.
“How did you know I was here?” Cordelia said, glad that Buffy had come but slightly disappointed that she hadn’t been as sneaky as she had thought.
“I heard the snowmobile motor and woke up and saw that you and Xander were gone. And then I just followed it.” With the stress of the combat over, Buffy finally realized how much she was freezing—she wasn’t even wearing shoes. “Chad’s dead. I’m sorry, Cordelia. But now we have to think about Xander have you seen him?”
“Huh? Xander?” Cordelia said, still trying to process Chad’s death. “No . . . I don’t know.”
They hurried back up the slope to their cabin, and Buffy hastily pulled on some warm clothes and boots while Cordelia locked the door securely and began piling firewood onto the fire.
“Hey Buffy?” Cordelia said.
Buffy looked around frantically. “She was here. I know she was. I told her not to go anywhere! We’ve got to go look for them.” She ran over to the bundles of firewood, trying to find anything that would suffice for a stake. If only I would have brought my Slayer bag . . . I thought that by leaving it, I was leaving the Hellmouth behind. It was stupid to think that I could ever escape the horror movie that has become my life simply by leaving Sunnydale.
Something heavy hit the door, causing its hinges to groan.
“They’re coming!” Cordelia shouted. “Buffy, they can’t come in here unless they’re invited, right?”
“I don’t know—we don’t really live here, we’re just visiting remember?” she said, as she began pushing one of the beds towards the door. The door splintered open before she could reinforce it—but she was ready. She picked up one of the makeshift stakes from the mantle where she had left it and flung it at the door just as a vampire stepped through. It disintegrated and Buffy readied for another. But all was quiet.
“Enough of that, Slayer,” she heard a voice call from outside. Buffy peeked out the windows and realized the cabin was surrounded by vampires. “We have something you might want,” the voice continued. Castillo was furious that two of his employees broke with the plan and had attacked the Slayer on the slopes. He had had this “Buffy” watched long enough to know that she was a match for any random attack—only a careful, orchestrated plan would defeat her.
After all, he hadn’t lured her all the way to Arctic Ridge with tickets she had “won” just to have his employees mess it up at the crucial moment. But his underlings had received a fitting punishment for their disobedience, he realized, and he could always adjust his plans to fit changing circumstances.
“Oh yeah, what’s that?” shouted Cordelia sarcastically. “A trip to Bermuda?”
Willow’s face suddenly appeared in the door, with a large hand on the back of her head. She didn’t look hurt, but she certainly looked scared. She was still wearing her pajamas and shivered from a combination of fright and the chill air.
“This,” said Castillo, in a voice as cold as the world outside.