CHAPTER SIXTEEN: THE PRESENT
Buffy shivered slightly as she stepped away from the corpses and returned to the street. She was worried she was getting sick—it seemed to her that the temperature had dropped substantially in just a few hours, and she knew that was impossible. She resolved to worry about it later—vampires first, flu bug second.
She strode purposefully towards home, meaning to check on Dawn and Jamie. She felt sorry for the latter—the pain of having one’s precious illusions about life shattered in such a horrific way would not be easy to deal with. Buffy herself knew this better than anyone, after assuming the role of the Slayer and growing up much too fast.
The streets seemed quiet and deserted, but it wasn’t long before she heard a dull roar coming down the street. She thought it must be a garbage truck or maybe a semi until she made out human voices mixed with the sound. She recognized the noise from her days as a cheerleader in Los Angeles—there was a crowd, and it was angry. She idly wondered where it could be from. The baseball stadium was across town, and the only other thing happening tonight was the rally at Weatherly Park, also blocks away.
She noticed that the sound grew louder and closer as she turned back onto Revello Drive. She spun around to see if she could get a better idea of where the clamor was coming from, and then she saw it: hundreds and hundreds of people brandishing weapons, rushing down the street, screaming and yelling at the top of their lungs. Their eyes were wide and their faces wore masks of pure hatred. It reminded her of the mob scenes from old Frankenstein movies, except this crazed group wasn’t after a monster—it was headed straight towards her!
Fight or Flight. Me versus ten-thousand nutcases or me sprinting home? Good call, she thought as she turned and raced down the street. She began breathing harder after a few blocks, but the mob didn’t falter. Still, she was keeping ahead of it and knew she would reach safety—home—before it caught up to her. She raced across another intersection, wondering where the police were. She passed a few more houses and then, reaching her own, slowed down, and risked a glance over her shoulder.
The mob was paying no attention to Buffy. It had stopped in front of a house about a hundred yards away. With angry shouts of “This is the one!” and “This is where the outsiders live!” the mob broke through a fence and trampled onto a lawn. Buffy watched as it surged against the front wall of the house like ocean waves rocking a small boat. For now, the front door was holding steady, but she knew it wouldn’t for long. She recognized the house. It belonged to the Jocerta family.
She looked at her own home. The porch light was on, and Buffy knew her sister was inside. It would be easy for her to walk right in and plop down on the couch. They would be safe there, and Buffy could pretend that nothing had happened. But she knew that was impossible. Being the Chosen One meant more than slaying the occasional vampire or keeping the Hellmouth sealed. It meant doing the right thing, even when it seemed crazy.
She dashed towards her new neighbors’ house at top speed, hurdling a bush and skillfully side-stepping a lawn ornament. She reached the edge of the mob and plunged in, keeping low but using her strength to push her way through. It was difficult to duck around all the elbows and hands, but she persevered. She emerged on the Jocertas’ front porch a second later and turned to face the mob. Her presence didn’t seem to register on their senses, and she could see the group was about to surge forward again.
She drew herself up to her full height, which she knew wasn’t terribly impressive. “Stop this!” she shouted. The crowd seemed to hush for a second. Encouraged, she went on. “This is insane. These people,” she pointed her thumb over her shoulder, “are good people. They’re no threat to you. All of you should go home.” Her voice was already getting hoarse from shouting so loudly. “And beside, the only way you’re getting in here is through me!” She smiled as the crowd drew back slightly, and then frowned as she realized they were about to rush her. She backed up as close to front door as she could and assumed a fighting stance. She didn’t want to have to hurt anyone—she knew these people were being controlled or influenced somehow--but at the same time, she couldn’t let them tear the Jocertas apart.
She was saved from having to choose when the front door abruptly swung open. She fell backwards onto the carpet of the Jocertas’ living room. The door was quickly closed, and then bolted. Buffy leapt to her feet to see the entire family staring at her. She could tell they were nervous, and with good reason.
“We knew you weren’t one of them,” Mrs. Jocerta said confidently. “Although we were hesitant after your sister’s . . . behavior.”
Buffy looked ashamed. “I’ve been meaning to talk to—“
The front door buckled, and Buffy could see the wood was cracked and straining. “We’ve got to get out of here!” she said, taking charge. The sound of breaking glass told her that the mob had decided to try the windows. “Is there another way out of here?”
“Th—through there,” said Mr. Jocerta, pointing.
Buffy pulled the frightened family to the rear of the house. Just off the kitchen, down a few steps, stood theback door. Buffy hastily pulled it open and shepherded the family through just as she heard shouts and curses coming from the living room behind her. The mob was in the house, and only moments away from finding them. She heard sirens in the distance. Great timing, she thought ruefully.
“Go, go!” Buffy yelled, pointing towards the alley that ran behind the Jocertas’ house. “Three houses down and then through the fence. Tell Dawn I said to stay put and lock the doors!”
Buffy watched as the family sprinted down the alley, and then she turned back towards the living room, only to see that it was too late to escape herself. She rolled with the first punch and ducked the second, only to be clipped by the third. Before she could even react, she was knocked out into the alley, and then they were all over her. Dozens and dozens of townspeople—many of whom she knew and liked—cursed and screamed as they attacked. With an insane fury in their eyes, they punched and kicked at her from all directions. Their sheer weight pressed Buffy to the ground until she could hardly breathe. With one last, final push she tried to stand up, but there were too many of them—they held her down and continued attacking. Why’s it so cold was her last conscious thought before darkness came.
“Why’s it so cold?” Willow asked softly, hugging herself tightly.
“I’m not sure,” Xander replied. He was relieved to notice that it really was getting chillier and that Willow wasn’t just going crazy again. “Listen, just stay put and lock the doors, okay? If any First Principles fellas come by, you have my express written permission to get all veiny and black-eyed. But only until they leave again. I’ll be back when everything’s quieted down, okay?”
He shut the door securely and headed back towards his car. When everything’ s quieted down. Right. Thousands of nutso-First Principlers rioting, attacking people left and right. I’m sure everything will be quiet soon. He flipped the car radio on and listened. Mobs had trashed the International Students Union and GLBT Resource Center at Sunnydale College, and partially burned down the Multicultural Affairs Office. Several people had been attacked on the street and even in their homes based purely on the way they looked or dressed. He quickly turned the radio off--the reports were depressing. It sounded like the police and fire departments already had their hands full, and no one knew when all the violence would stop.
Xander sped towards Wittingstone’s condo, intending to figure out what was going on. He was relieved that Willow seemed safe, and more or less back to normal. But someone was manipulating or even brainwashing people to hate each other—and Wittingstone seemed like the likely suspect.
“We need to talk, Xander.” The voice seemed to come from right next to him. The car lurched into the other lane as he looked over and saw Anya suddenly sitting in the passenger seat. She started to talk again, nonchalantly, but Xander slammed on the brakes and brought the car to a halt along the curb.
“What are you doing!” he shouted, slightly panicked and breathing heavily.
“Attempting to talk to you,” she fumed. “Or is that not an option any more?”
“Listen Anya, you can’t just come teleporting into people’s cars—“
“Sure I can. Moving targets are just slightly harder. But I’ve had plenty of time to practice teleporting—being a Vengeance Demon has its perks, you know.”
Xander shook his head. “Listen Anya, I know things are messed up with us right now. But as if you
couldn’t notice, there’s other things going on. Like Sunnydale turning into Beirut, for example.”
“You think I’m here because I want you back? That is so typical of you!”
Xander rested his head against the side window. He couldn’t believe he was hearing this. It was then he noticed that the glass was starting to fog up. He decided action would have to be taken and did something he wasn’t sure he had only done once before in his entire life: he turned on the defroster.
“Anyway, I just came by to tell you that your little girlfriend came to see me,” Anya continued. “And I want you to know I don’t like being your message board, okay? But anyway, she said you should know about this Castillo vampire, and his summoning frost demons and everything.”
“What?!” He heard the words, but they didn’t make any sense to him.
“Solasheyk the Frost Demon. It’s like a cycle. He influences people to get them angry—and then the angrier they get, the more powerful he becomes until he’s able to break his way through. And the colder it gets, the more he’ll manifest.”
“I just told you that. Try to stay with me. And so, if you want Sunnydale not to freeze over . . . Well, whatever. Good luck.”
He looked over again and she was gone. Teleporting. She just likes to get the last word is all. Castillo. Buffy fought him a long time ago. Back at that ski resort. Where Amara was, too! But frost demons? Add another name on the list of Hellmouth crazies. He started the car up as yet another fire truck, alarms blaring, sped down the road past him.
Dawn tried to smile, but she felt totally uncomfortable. The entire Jocerta family was in her living room and a mob raged outside. She could hear the sound of broken glass and sirens all around her, but it looked like they hadn’t focused in on the Summers’ house yet. Still, she wasn’t sure what was worse: the mob outside, or the sheer agony she was feeling from being around the Jocertas after what she had done to them. She had tried to explain— akwardly blathering on about how she wasn’t really like that, it was mind control and so forth—but she wasn’t sure they had believed her. And she wasn’t quite sure whether they should. Deep down she knew the hatred she had felt before had not been her own, had been somehow placed there by Wittingstone and First Principles. But she still felt guilty about it. Guilty and ashamed. Her one relief was that Jamie’s mother had been by and had picked the girl up before the rioting had started in earnest.
“Well, I better go check on Buffy!” Dawn said, standing up suddenly. She knew her sister could take care of herself, but a little help never hurt and it was a good excuse to avoid having to sit with the Jocertas any longer.
“It’s very dangerous outside. Maybe we should call the police?” Mrs. Jocerta offered.
“I think they’re doing everything they can,” Dawn replied. “I’ll be okay.”
“I’ll go with her,” the teenage son said.
Dawn looked at him carefully. He didn’t look frightened anymore, as he had when Timothy and Brian—and me, she realized—had chased him away from the park, threatening to hurt him because he was an “outsider.” Instead, he looked determined and anxious to help.
“My name is Mark,” he said simply.
Dawn didn’t know what to say. She led him to the kitchen and peered out the backdoor window. Everything seemed safe, but she jumped back with a gasp when a face appeared in the glass. Before Mark could even react, Dawn angrily unlocked the door and pulled it wide open.
“Xander, you scared the hell out of me!”
He was taken aback. “Well Dawn, I’m sorry about that. I would’ve used the front door, but the friendly mob with pitchforks and torches mentioned I should try the rear.” He looked at Mark and smiled.
Buffy awoke with a groan, seeing flashing lights in the darkness before the image resolved into the faces of her sister and Xander. She groaned again.
“This is when you’re supposed to say something semi-witty,” Xander said. “Like ‘Did you get the number of that truck that hit me’ or ‘I sure delivered some vicious shots to their fists with my forehead.”
Buffy was in pain but couldn’t help but grinning in spite of it all. “Xander,” she whispered, “I’ll let you say all those things when you wake up from getting beaten.”
She raised herself to a sitting position and realized they had company. She smiled weakly at the Jocertas, still sitting patiently in her living room. “Is it over?” she asked them. They shook their heads slowly. “Then help me up guys,” she said to Xander and Dawn. “And then tell me what’s going on. We need a plan.”
The pair helped her into the kitchen. Her wounds looked terrible. She was bruised, scratched, and her face was caked with dried blood. But it was nothing serious. As a Slayer, Buffy was more resilient than a normal human. She was just lucky the mob had left her lying on the ground after she had fallen unconscious. Mobs had been known to do far worse.
“I am glad you’re okay,” Xander said. “No jokes.”
“Me too,” Dawn added.
“I know,” she said.
“So Dawn tells me you know that Castillo’s back,” Xander said. “But apparently you haven’t been told about the big frost demon and the whole returning-Sunnydale-to-the-Ice-Ages thing.”
“But don’t worry,” Dawn added quickly, seeing her sister’s expression. “We still have at least two or three hours before the demon manifests fully and it’s too late to stop it.”
Wittingstone was pleased. The odious task he had been charged with was completed, and he would never have to address another crowd of badly-dressed suburbanites again. Acting as the channel for that winter demon to focus its persuasive powers through was quite an unsettling feeling, one not kind to Wittingstone’s digestion. The bit where he was forced to entrance the Rosenberg girl in just a few moments had been most unsettling of all, but at least it had kept her from being a threat. Until it wore off anyway, which could happen at anytime. Control over her was a temporary thing, unlike the more constant influence the demon exercised on the others. Of course, once it had amassed enough hatred to break through the dimensional barrier, it would release their minds—but by that point they’d surely be dead anyway. Wittingstone shook his head and tried to push such minutiae out of his mind. It was all irrelevant to him now.
Yes, he was pleased indeed. Not only was his task completed, but by all accounts it had been completed most successfully. He relaxed and leaned back against the plush seat. Looking out the sedan’s side window, he could just make out the first few faint flakes of snow. He still hardly believed what his employer had done. Notthat it had worked—Mr. Castillo always achieved what he put his mind too—but that his formerly business- focused employer would devote the last few years to finding a rather . . . unique way to destroy Sunnydale and Ms. Summers along with it. All because of a grudge. Destroying cities, raising demons? It just wasn’t profitable, and the old Mr. Castillo never would have gone for it. But ever since his obsession with the Slayer began, his employer was simply not the same man.
A few minutes later, when his cellphone rang, Wittingstone shut it off. He knew it was probably Mr. Castillo, but he preferred not to answer it. Answering it might mean he would be wanted back in Sunnydale, and Wittingstone did not want to return to the city—at least not until all the excitement was over. The risks were simply too great, and certainly not worth the gain, especially since his task had already been completed successfully and his payment was waiting. Instead, Wittingstone decided he would wait a few days before calling his employer. He even contemplated a short vacation.
A few seconds passed, and then he heard another, fainter ringing sound through the glass panel which separated his rear compartment from the drivers’ compartment. Suddenly, the sedan slowed down, and then executed a perfect U-turn and began heading in the opposite direction. Wittingstone unbuckled the seat belt he always wore—he was not one to take unnecessary risks—and thumped his fist on the glass. The center panel slowly lowered.
“Yes, Mr. Wittingstone?” the driver said without looking back.
“What are you doing, driver?”
“That was Mr. Castillo on the phone, sir. He said I’m to take you back to Sunnydale. He said he may not be finished with you yet.”