Buffys Lost Summer
When the hunger came upon him, he considered it a point of pride to be able to ignore it like one would a quick gust of wind on a cool summer morning. That didnt mean he wouldnt act on it, in time; planning, the art of the kill, these were the things that kept him from running out into the scorching sunlight long ago.
Jimmy paid for both tickets, but Sarah could tell he wasnt happy about it. Her tall, lanky boyfriend raked his fingers through his hair, and God, how he loved his hair. She narrowed her eyes slightly. Loves that hair more than me, maybe. Not a train of thought to climb aboard. Let that one go on by. Jimmy turned to her, holding her ticket out like a carrot to a horse.
Sarah, baby, come and get it. His face was calm enough, but she could hear the buried frustration.
She jabbed him in the stomach, surprising him, and snatched the ticket from his falling hand. Always leavin yourself unprotected, babe. Dont worry I wont tell your friends.
Jimmy grabbed her wrist and pulled her close, for a moment looming over her smaller, waifish body. He blinked, and let her go. Thats all right, Sarah. My friends all know Im a sucker for your charms six days a week.
She curved her short brown hair around her left ear. And the seventh?
Thats Charlenes day, baby, didnt you know? He laughed, hooking his arm in hers. Now, are we goin in this haunted house, or did you chicken out already?
She pulled him up to the entrance of the haunted house, which looked like an oversized trailer, maybe two side-by-side, decorated with paper skeletons, rubber spiders, and ghosts made out of bedsheets. A Wal-Mart Halloween.
Lets go before you lose your nerve, Jimmy. She smiled, but it was a quick smile, with the old nervousness and fears running up out of the background to pull it down. Her brother had always liked the haunted houses and scary movies liked them right up until the night he was driving them home from the last scary movie both would ever see, Evil Dead 2, the stray dog had come out of nowhere, the car swerved, lost control, and slammed into the rock cut, crushing her brother. She had sat there in the silence of shock, staring at his still-alive body, his mouth working but no sounds were coming out, and she had finally asked him, What is it, Allen, what? The car door and upper frame had collapsed on his folded-up body, trapping him between that and the seat, his head twisted at an odd angle. She had a few minor cuts, but otherwise was fine. She had undone the seatbelt, leaned over to hear whatever he might be trying to say, and all she heard before he died was, Black. So black.
But that was so long ago; surely she had put all that behind her now. Right?
Jimmy pushed the curtain aside, and they stepped through into the inviting darkness. A glowing arrow indicated a direction: right. Another curtain. The wooden floor creaked. Suddenly a bloody skull swung down from the ceiling, and Sarah screamed, clutching her boyfriends arm.
He chuckled, patting her hand. Its just a skull, baby. Youll be okay, I promise.
They continued on, through another curtain. A whooshing sound was their only warning as a ghost came at them from the left and passed over them, the light bedsheet ruffling their hair. Next room, random flashing lights gave them glimpses of horrific scenes: axe-wielding goblins, bloody corpses, and a mannequin with a hockey mask and a chainsaw. Next room, severed heads, arms, and legs. Next room, an evil laugh seemed to come from all around them. The curtain had an odd, vaguely slimy feel to it, and after making their way through that
(God, feels like intestines.)
(Sarah, how would you know what intestines feel like?)
they were on a short wooden platform.
Jimmy hugged her. This leads to the second trailer, probably. Were halfway there, baby. Howre you doin?
The worst moment for her was the severed limbs room. She was thankful that Allen had stayed in one piece. An urge to puke rose momentarily, and she shut her eyes tight in concentration. The urge passed.
Im okay. Im ready.
Lets do it. At the other end of the platform, there was a door with a shiny doorknob. Jimmy turned the knob, and the door swung inward with surprising force, yanking him into the darkness.
Sarah was so shocked that she didnt move for a few moments, waiting for him to return to her. The shock turned to irritation.
Jimmy? Come on, Jimmy, you know this isnt funny.
She stepped through the doorway, and she could see some light at the end of a short corridor. Where are you, Jimmy? She reached the lighted area, which turned out to be a mirror maze. Oh, great, a maze. At least I dont have wonderboy to get us lost. She took her first right and followed that to a dead end. Turning around, she went back and took another right. She remembered something Allen had told her once: to get out of a maze, just keep turning right. She raised her voice.
Jimmy! Were way beyond the withholding-sex phase now, pal. Now were in the severe physical harm phase where Ill hurt you until I stop liking it. Everywhere she looked, her reflection stared back at her. She wasnt too impressed with the view. And Im betting Ill like it a long, long time.
The dim lights went out completely, plunging her into total darkness. It is during times like these that the instinctive part of the mind takes over, and its first instruction to her was: Get out of here. To hell with Jimmy.
With one arm tentatively outstretched in front of her, she shuffled slowly forward. Slide-step, slide-step, slide-step, wall. Damn. Turn around, feel along the wall for the next intersection. Find it. Slide-step, slide-step, new intersection, turn right. Some part of her expected her night vision to kick in, but the darkness was still completely black.
She whimpered softly, speeding up the slide-steps, running her hands along the mirrored walls. Even though she couldnt see anything, her mind supplied more than enough pictures for her to contemplate.
Allens crushed body.
Jimmys severed head.
Allens pain-encrusted eyes, begging for the end to come, begging for death to take away the pain.
Jimmys smile, fractured by an axe imbedded in his skull.
She had never been so scared in all her life, not even when the car had been spinning out of control, not even when she was four years old lying in bed, hearing an ominous thumping sound that she thought was the Grim Reaper but was actually her own pounding heart. But even through the fear, there was a growing hate. Hate for her boyfriend, who put her through this hell. The next time I see him, Im gonna hoof his private parts up into his esophagus. Slide-step. Slide-step.
What was that?
There! Was that a slide-step matching hers?
She froze, held her breath. There was somebody behind her.
Her instincts spoke up again. Thats not Jimmy.
Gurgling a scream, she abandoned the safe route and started running through the darkness, banging into walls and dead-ends, not caring, she had to get out, who cares about a few bruises compared to whatever dark fate lay directly behind her?
She felt another intersection and turned right into a corridor that had light at the end. The exit. My God, the exit. She sprinted like the devil himself was at her heels, no, like Allen himself was at her heels, folded-over like a wallet, chasing her, a demented troll-like thing wanting her to join him in the black, so black down here, wont you join me, Im so lonely
Im going to make it, she thought as her outstretched arms broke through the curtain.
Something grabbed her by the waist and pulled her back from the world. She wanted to scream, but a cold, cold hand was already at her mouth. Her mind spun frantically, ohmigod, its allen, hes come to get me at last, Im so sorry, allen, but I dont want to die, and then the fangs pierced her throat. Dizziness ensued. She felt flushed, vaguely excited, even though she knew she was dying quickly. Sleepy, so sleepy.
Black. So black.
* * *
It seemed like a blur to her now, the passage of time and space tossing her firmly into the future like a discarded garbage bag. As Buffy Summers approached the open-gated entrance to the traveling carnival, she allowed herself a weak moment, a moment to consider what had gone before. The flight from Sunnydale with a few bucks in her pocket and fears that hid behind firmly locked doors in her mind. Sometimes she only knew the fears were still there because shed hear the occasional frantic giggle. The arrival in L.A., coming up to her fathers place, and then stopping short, wondering why she had ever thought that this was the answer to whatever was driving her forward. The truth was, she hadnt focused on her reasons for leaving her family and friends behind, and maintaining the status quo seemed like a good idea. And the responsibilities, what about those, hmmm? Every other week, saving the world, saving her friends, saving her sanity. Hitching a ride out of L.A., travelling in whatever direction the ride was going, to points anonymous. Running out of cash in Arkansas, reduced to working odd jobs here and there, earning enough to buy some food and shelter for the night.
All of these dominoes, falling one after the other, brought her to the Sombra Brothers Travelling Carnival on this warm June evening, the scent of hot candy apples mixing with the joyous screams of the kids on the Tilt-A-Whirl.
I hope they have a freakshow here, cause Id fit right in.
A steady stream of people were going into the carnival grounds, and Buffy made herself join the flow. She walked around for a little while, not focusing on anything in particular, just waiting for the rush of people and smells and noises to toss her in some new direction.
She found herself at the front of a small crowd that surrounded one of the oldest attractions that carnivals have offered over the years.
Step right up, gentlemen, and show your ladies just how strong you are! You all know the drill; grab the hammer, hit the platform, ring the bell. This is where boys become men and some men become boys!
The crowd chuckled politely. The barker, a young man barely out of his teenage years with tousled hair and a gangly frame, gestured theatrically at the pole.
And if we have any ladies that can outperform their gentlemen, they get a special prize: a man-sized leash and collar!
A tall, burly man stepped out from the crowd and grabbed the hammer. I hope that bells nailed tight on that pole, son, otherwise Im gonna send that thing into the next county.
The barkers grin grew wider. All right, folks, weve got a serious contender for the strongest man crown here! He leaned in close to the customer. Two bucks, my good man.
The burly man handed over a bill; the barker took it and stood back. Several anonymous voices yelled from the crowd:
Come on, Bobby, hammer that sucker!
I got a six-pack of Bud that says he cant do it!
Youre on, pal!
Buffy watched the barker, who kept grinning at the attention his customer was getting. As the large man raised the hammer, the barker moved stealthily towards the rear of the pole and flicked a small switch. Buffys left eyebrow raised with interest.
Here goes, baby! The hammer came down with frightening speed, hit the platform with a satisfying smack, and sent the bar shooting up the pole, stopping just below the bell, and then falling back down.
AUGH! What the hell?!? yelled the customer. Behind him, the crowd was laughing and snickering.
So close and yet so far, sir. Care to try again? The barker was all smiles.
The customer advanced on the smaller man. This thing is fixed! There aint no way that damn thing didnt hit the bell!
The situation was getting out of hand quickly. The barker looked left and right, still flashing that toothy grin, looking for a fellow carny to help him out. Buffy sighed and stepped out of the crowd.
Hey! Let me try! Buffy said loudly, hands on her hips.
The burly man stopped, turned, and laughed. You? Girly, if you can even lift that hammer over your head without fallin on your ass, Ill buy you a beer.
Sidling his way past the burly man, the barker came up to Buffy. All right, young lady, lets see what youre made of. He leaned in close, Buffy grabbed his shirt, and pulled him in closer so only he would hear her words.
If you get within five feet of that switch, Ill show it to the crowd, understand?
The barker nodded, his face going slightly gray.
Now, if I can hit this bell, will you get me a job around here?
He coughed in surprise. Sure, little girl. Just dont say nothin else, okay?
She nodded and let go of the barker. The crowd whooped it up.
We got a tough one here!
She doesnt take any crap!
I got another six-pack that says she nails that bell!
The barker waved for silence. Give her some room, folks. Lets see what shes got.
Buffy grabbed the hammer, tested its weight, and smiled. This was going to be easy. She lifted the hammer up, gave it a 360 degree swing around her head that made the crowd go ooooh, and brought it down with all her might on the platform.
The bar shot up the pole and rang off the bell with a clean, clear sound.
The crowd went nuts. In between the excited shouts and cheers, Buffy heard the barker say, Jesus Christ. She grabbed him again and pulled him close.
She said quietly and forcefully, We have a deal. That tone of voice brooked no disagreement.
The barker nodded, clearing his throat. She let him go, and he went back into his spiel. Ladies and gentlemen, proof that anyone with the willpower and determination can prove themselves worthy. Would anyone else like to give their strength the ultimate test?
He was surrounded by hands bearing dollar bills.
* * *
Buffy was sitting alone at a picnic table, sipping a Diet Coke, when the barker joined her, sitting across the table while keeping tabs on the crowd.
Do you work out or something? Because I only know three people that can ring that bell with the dummy switch on, and they probably outweigh you by a couple hundred pounds.
You said it yourself willpower and determination. So whats the scam? You flick on the dummy switch for the first couple of tries, then turn it off so they wont lynch you?
The barker nodded. Something like that. If everybody hit the bell their first time, it would be too boring. You worked carnies before?
Buffy smiled. No. Im just not an idiot. My names Buffy Winters. She stuck out her hand.
The barker took it and shook it quickly, marvelling that his hand wasnt instantly crushed. Well, Miss Winters, Im Jake Chambers, and I guess I should take you to the head cheese round here, if you want a job.
That would be nice.
Uh, you wont tell anyone about the, uh, the switch, right?
Not unless you seriously annoy me.
* * *
Where is my daughter?
Joyce Summers voice startled them all out of a deep reverie. The echo rattled around the library like a Superball, bouncing off the wrecked bookshelves, the broken windows, the shattered chairs, the battered egos, and the fractured hopes. The teenagers looked at Rupert Giles, the Watcher, the one person in the whole world who should know at all times where the Slayer is.
I, um, we dont know. Giles adjusted his glasses, glanced up at Mrs. Summers, and returned his gaze to the floor. Such a failure, a complete, utter failure. Giles barely remembered being pulled out of Angels lair by the crippled Xander, barely remembered the look on his Slayers face as he stumbled by, but he remembered her eyes, so cold, so angry. So afraid. It had been seven days since Buffy had left Sunnydale quietly and invisibly, seven days and seven nights of staring blankly at nothing, trying to figure out what had gone wrong; no, even better, what had he done wrong, what had he failed to give her.
What was so terrible to Buffy Summers that she thought she could not bear it with her friends at her side?
Seven days of recriminations, self-flagellations, tears, unspoken words. Around the table, Giles could see the same emotions flashing through the eyes of everyone else, Willow, Xander, Cordelia, Oz.
Giles looked back up at Joyce and realized she was holding something in her outstretched hands. What have you got there?
Buffys mother approached the table and handed Giles a small sheet of paper. She she left it on her bed. I dont know what to do, I She closed her eyes.
Giles winced inwardly. What an idiot I am, thinking only of myself. He pulled up a chair. Please, Mrs. Summers, sit down. She sat down, shaking slightly, and Willow was at her side, holding her.
The Watcher blinked to clear his eyes and head. He held up the note and started reading.
I dont think I can explain what Im feeling right now, except . Willows in the hospital, Xander has a broken arm, Kendra is dead, and Giles was tortured and almost killed. This is all my fault. I spent weeks thinking that Angel would come back to me like it was all a bad dream, and because I let myself believe this, my friends paid the price. Tonight I sent the man I loved to hell to save the world. I have to go away now. Theres too much here for me to deal with, too many memories, too many reminders of my failures. I couldnt even stay in school. I couldnt even keep my mothers trust. Whoever finds this, please understand, I dont blame anyone but myself. Maybe someday Ill come back, when the pain isnt so fresh. Maybe with me gone, you can live normal, safe lives again. Im sorry.
Giles finished reading, but the words hung in the air like icicles, dripping, melting slowly in the heat of emotion.
Willow started crying, hugging Joyce fiercely. They rocked slowly in the chair. Xander and Cordelia held each other, eyes tight. Oz came up behind his girlfriend and joined the hug.
Giles found his voice. This, this is She blames herself? It was my fault, giving her so much responsibility at such a young age. I cant believe this.
Mrs. Summers stared at the librarian. You mean she was really telling the truth?
Xander opened his eyes in surprise. She told you? That she was the Slayer?
The older womans voice wavered, afraid. I thought for sure it was a bad dream, just a string of coincidences and awful timing. Buffys my daughter, not a superhero.
Willow choked back a sob and looked at the rest of them. We have to find her. We have to tell her it wasnt her fault. She cant take all that on herself, its not fair.
How can we find her? asked Cordelia. We dont even know where she headed off to.
Giles sat up straight in his chair. Willow, as usual, is right. We do have to find her, and soon, before she does something rash.
A cool snicker came from the library door. Before she does something rash? It was my impression that her behaviour has been nothing but.
Principal Snyder, growled Xander.
It was a blur, not a man, that rose out of his chair, raced across the library floor and slammed Snyder into the wall.
Mr. Giles, I suggest you
If anyone in this room is to blame for anything in this sorry mess, it is you. Giles eyes were afire, and his arms were tense with the effort of pinning the Principal to the wall. The police arrived rather quickly on the night Kendra died, too quickly since none of us called them What is your game, Snyder? Why did you expel Buffy?
Snyder drew a ragged breath; Giles right arm was across his chest, making it hard to breathe. Shes a troublemaker, always has been. I was doing this school a favour.
Giles pushed Snyder harder against the wall. Perhaps I should do this school another.
The library doors opened, and two tall, nondescript men in dark blue trenchcoats and sunglasses entered nonchalantly. One of them put his hand on Giles shoulder.
Let the man go, sir. I believe the plaster is about to crack.
Giles backed off slowly, eyeing the two strangers. And you are ?
Two men with a job to do and the will to do what it takes to get it done. And our job this afternoon is to locate one Buffy Summers. Mr. Snyder here informed us that you may have some knowledge as to her whereabouts.
The others left the table to approach the growing crowd at the doors.
Lets see some I.D., boys, said Xander. We dont have the time to talk to just any idiot who thinks wearing sunglasses indoors is a good idea.
The two men reached into their trenchcoats and pulled out their identification. FBI. Starkey and Jameson.
What are FBI agents doing here in Sunnydale? asked Oz. Isnt Area 51 five hundred miles east?
What does the FBI want with my daughter? Joyces chin raised up in defiant anger.
Starkey smiled. Your daughter, Mrs. Summers, assaulted two police officers. She is also a suspect in the death of a young girl, as well as destruction of private property, theft, and resisting arrest. We believe she has crossed state lines, which makes her our responsibility.
Giles stared in shock. You cant be serious.
We definitely are, Mr. Giles, replied Jameson. She is a fugitive, and were working with the U.S. Marshals office, state police, and the justice department to find her. Any information that you can provide would be quite helpful.
Of course, said Starkey, We understand that you may not be especially cooperative. But understand this as well: the longer shes on the run, the worse itll be for her. And if we find that any of you are holding back vital information, youll be joining her on the docket.
So, said Jameson brightly, what can you tell us?
The note but the note had somehow made its way into Giles pocket, and there it would stay until these men had left.
You probably know more than we do. Giles looked at the others. She left Sunnydale four days ago, and we havent seen or heard from her since.
Starkey and Jameson stood silently for a few minutes, waiting for any more contributions.
Oh, Xander piped up, and if she sees two guys dressed like a couple of feds, I doubt that shell ask them for directions.
Indeed, said Starkey. Well, if you do hear from her or see her, let us know. And, of course, well have you under surveillance, phone taps, all that good stuff, so if you dont tell us, well know anyway.
Nice to see the Bill of Rights is still being followed in this country, said Oz wryly.
Were the government, replied Jameson. We can do whatever we want. Remember that.
The two FBI agents turned and left the library, leaving Snyder behind to absorb some decidedly hostile stares.
Well, I guess I had better be going. Ive got a school to run.
Run, yes, thats a good idea, Snyder, said Giles, too casually.
The principal got the hint.
* * *
Rya Raines was very much ensconced in middle age, but Buffy thought that if she looked that good at that age, shed be quite happy. Of course, she had to get to middle age first. Now that was a concept that seemed quite far away.
I understand you gave Jake quite a shock today, Buffy. Not that he doesnt need one from time to time. Sometimes hes a little too slick for his own good.
Doesnt that pretty much describe men of all kinds?
Rya smiled. In this universe? Yeah.
Buffy glanced around Ryas trailer, which was very large and decorated with an odd combination of exotic weapons and potted plants. The teenager spotted an interesting device hanging over the door.
Im sorry to be rude, but what is that thing over there?
Rya stood up, walked over, and took the device off the wall, bringing it back to her desk. It looked like a pair of freaked-out binoculars, the lenses replaced with a complicated array of multi-coloured prisms, with a sturdy leather head strap.
This is something my husband made. He called it the Twilight Eyeglasses.
What are they for?
Rya lifted the glasses up and put them over her eyes, looking at Buffy through the strange lenses.
He used to say that you could use these to look into a person and see their true nature.
Really? And what do you see right now?
Rya lowered the glasses to look Buffy in the eyes. I see a fighter. A girl on the run from something shed rather not talk about. A girl with secrets, a girl with no thought of the future beyond the sunset.
Wow. Buffy shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
But I didnt need the glasses to see all that. Rya smiled again. I used to be like you, too, until I found reasons to face the world and myself again.
This was a little much. Buffy began to entertain thoughts of getting out before this woman started talking about Slaying and demons.
Rya reached out and took Buffys hand. But until you find your reasons, we can give you a place to stay for a while, no questions asked. All right?
Buffy sighed in relief. Thank you. This really is a great thing youre doing for me, and
Listen, this world is full of crazy people and crazy things, but there are still people who are always willing to help someone else who needs it. And you may turn out to be useful in unexpected ways. Life is like that.
They stood and shook hands.
Really, said Buffy, I appreciate this a lot.
Rya guided her to the door. No problem. Now, lets go find Astra; shell set you up with a place to stay. And be careful those Twilight Eyeglasses have got nothing on her.