Buffy’s Lost Summer

II — Return to the Lot

by StoneDog

Part 1

It was a place where even the summer breezes, so common to the Maine countryside, made sure they kept well to one side or another, but never passed directly through. You could sit in the gazebo that rests quietly in the town square park, and the air would feel rigid and stifling, perhaps a little musty. Imagine the way the atmosphere might be in a room shuttered and sealed for a decade or more. There were no American flags that flapped in the wind, no heedless children running along the sidewalks, no ancient Ford trucks with more rust than metal chugging slowly down the streets. There were no birds in the trees, no crickets in the shadows, no stray dogs burrowing through garbage bins. The sunlight even seemed muted, like the whole town had on a pair of sunglasses.

In America, there are many ghost towns, scattered across the nation like tiny shards of broken glass.

This was not one of them.

This was a dead town.

This was Salem’s Lot.

They still told stories, though. The sun didn’t always have to be down below the horizon, although it helped. In towns like Bangor and Castle Rock, Haven and Derry, you could always find a roadside pub with an old-timer nestled up to the bar, weathered and beaten by the tides of life. He’d have the look of a man who’s spent more time drinking than loving, a man who decided long ago that God was just a cruel little man who enjoyed watching his creations twist in the wind, an omniscient wizard of Oz laughing at the fools who talked one way and looked the other. He’d be tall sometimes, or short, sometimes so fat his belly nearly pushes him off the stool, sometimes so skinny that you’d think that the breeze from the open door would knock him over. Buy the man a drink, and he’d tell you a story, about things you’d never believe, things no one in their right mind would consider for more than a second before shaking their head in denial. With a voice so cracked with time and ill use that you can’t help but imagine a dried-out riverbed , he’d tell you a story like —

“I had a cousin up the Lot way, this’d be now twenty years gone last month. Ayuh, it all went bad up there in a summer just like this one: hot like blazes, and drier than year-old cow dung. My cousin Billy, he was a good guy, was a mechanic in the garage downtown, never married, but God, that boy could drink one of them Frenchmen up north under the table in two hours flat and still have room left for a tequila chaser. But when it all came down, Billy never got out in time. It’s hard, you see, when you hear the rumours from your neighbours, but they just all sound so wild and crazy. You don’t know until they’re tappin’ at your window at four in the morning asking to come in, they got somethin’ to show ya, and you can tell by the looks on their faces that it ain’t good. By the time you scramble for the cross that’s on your night-table, they’re gone, but you still remember, ayuh, you remember the eyes and how they looked at you.”

The trucker signaled the bartender for another couple of drinks. “How was that?”

The old-timer looked at the trucker and his apparent companion, a young blonde girl who looked pretty tough for her age, probably on the road and on the run for a long time. The girl returned his gaze with a disturbing eagerness. The old-timer shifted lightly on his stool, suddenly feeling the need to center himself and grab hold of something, because there was something old in this room, old and powerful, and he had seen too many broken years go by, too many faces pass by in his crowd to miss that sensation of coiled tension. He was suddenly glad that the sun had not yet set.

“They looked at you like you were somethin’ good to eat.”

This trucker had heard stories, too, it seemed, because he didn’t laugh or shake his head in disbelief. And the girl … She didn’t look away either. The old-timer, Jacky to his friends if he had any left that still lived, tightened the grip on his drink. He remembered hearing about a young boy right after the Lot went bad, a young boy people said looked a little wild, crazy. Like he was going to pull something out of his coat and start makin’ some trouble. He thought this girl had that look, too.

“So what happened then?” asked the girl.

“Well, it was a funny thing, how people who had lived in the Lot all their lives, they’d just up and left, or how others, they just disappeared. Undertaker was really busy for a while, until he went on a holiday, and the schools in town closed down ’cause there weren’t any students. Mind, all this happened in a few weeks time, and then somehow, somewhere, a fire got started, a fire that lasted three days. When it was finally over, there weren’t anybody left.”

The trucker cleared his throat. “What do you mean, anybody left?”

“I don’t know how many people lived in Salem’s Lot before, maybe a thousand, but after the fire, there weren’t anybody left. The fire crews got in there, and the people were gone. It was funny, too, because there were some houses that were burned right to the foundations, and other houses weren’t touched at all. They had search and rescue go through the debris and rubble, but when it came to searchin’ the other houses … well, one of the boys there, Jimmy Dupree, good kid, he told me that the Lot was way too damn creepy; they just wanted to get the hell outta there. I don’t blame ’em.”

The old-timer finished his beer and sighed significantly. The trucker signaled for another. They always did.

“So,” said the teenager, “nobody ever came out of Salem’s Lot after the search and rescue teams left?”

“That’s right. In fact … anyone who’s ever gone into Salem’s Lot since then hasn’t come out either. Not ever.”

*                              *                              *

The eighteen-wheeler lumbered along the Maine highway. The sun was beginning its slow descent to the other side of the world.

“You knew the story already, didn’t you?”

The trucker, Brian Redfield, nodded without looking at his hitchhiking passenger. “Ayuh, it’s a common story round these parts. And not one to take lightly, from what I’ve heard.”

The blonde girl hmmmed. “So you believe it?”

Redfield glanced over at her. Lord, if she wasn’t the best-looking girl he had ever seen hitching rides on the Interstate, and yet some dimly sensed impulse told him the moment she stepped into the cab that she wasn’t someone you messed around with. Not that he was that type of guy, mind you; he knew where to stop and spend a few bills to get some quick satisfaction if he needed it. But this girl, who by all rights should be fearing for her life on an hourly basis out here on the road, looked like she was the dangerous one. Maybe not to folks with good intentions, but he wondered what had happened to those foolish men who thought that a free ride meant a free ride of another kind.

“Ayuh, I believe it. If enough people tell me the same story, I gotta think that somebody’s telling the truth.”

The girl, who had never told him her name, stared out her passenger window deep in thought. He thought about asking her what she was running from, who she was trying not to be, but he figured it would be like asking her out on a date, and he was twenty years removed from that sort of behaviour. That sparked another thought: where was he when the Lot burned to the ground? Down in Ogunquit High School, sitting in the back row, yukking it up with his no-account buddies, most of whom were in jail now, or working at the sawmill in Castle Rock, or selling fries down at the tourist beaches. Now here was a girl who had her whole life ahead of her, with so much potential, so many possibilities. And instead of mooning over boys or burying her head in a textbook or shopping at the mall with her friends, she was in his truck, hitchhiking to God knows where for God knows what reason.

He opened his mouth, and —

“You so do not want to know.”

He shut his mouth with a snap.

“Although I appreciate your concern.”

And as they hurtled along the pavement chasing the twilight, they sat silently, both wishing the other would find a way to say the right thing.

*                              *                              *

“Is that the exit up there? To Salem’s Lot?”

Redfield squinted at the distance, wishing he had the time to get to an optometrist some time this century. “Ayuh, I think it is. Look, it’s all closed off.”

The girl looked at the trucker, and as Redfield met her gaze, he knew what she was going to ask before she said a word. He took his foot off the gas.

“Would you mind letting me off here?”

That was less of a request and more of an order, really. He pulled over and began braking. “You, uh, know that it’ll be dark pretty soon.”

“That is the logical progression. Day, then night, then day again, hopefully.”

She was rummaging in the back for her things, and Redfield silently cursed himself for never taking a moment to have a quick look in her packsack. When she sat back in the seat, radiating a calm determination, he reconsidered. I wouldn’t want her to catch me doing anything bad.

“Listen, if you want off, the next town’s just a half hour away, we’ll be there in no time, and …”

She put her hand on his arm and smiled. “It’s okay. I know what I’m doing.”

That’s what scares me, he thought. Outwardly, he nodded. The truck came to a stop a dozen yards past the Salem’s Lot exit.

“Do you need anything? Here, I’ve got some cash you can have.” He pulled out his wallet and began rifling through it, looking for something to give her.

“Please, the ride was really great. I owe you, for the ride, and for being a good, considerate person.” She stuck out her hand. “Shake?”

They shook hands. She opened her door.

The last words he heard from her were, “Have a good life.”

The last words he said to her were, “Have a long life.”

After she had gone, he wondered why there were tears in his eyes, and why it felt like he said goodbye to the daughter he never had. He sat there for a few minutes wishing he could have thought of some good advice to give, or some way to convince her to continue on, at least to the next town. Because the overriding sense that he had gotten from her, the radiance that she unconsciously projected, was an innate goodness. He recalled seeing Charles Manson on TV once and thinking, God, that is pure evil. And now, he felt, he just met the closest thing to … what? Evil’s opposite. Hope’s champion. His hand was on the door handle, and he was pulling it down, then …

Then he realized the sun was setting. Thirty seconds later, the truck was back on the highway.

*                              *                              *

FBI agents Starkey and Jameson sat in their nondescript Ford Taurus and waited patiently. Two blocks down the street, a van sat in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. It was a familiar van; they had been following it for the last two thousand miles, through Nevada and Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, Florida and Georgia, the Carolinas, Delaware, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, and just how many New states were there anyway? But now they were in Connecticut, in a quaint little town called Derby, and their quarry had decided to stop at yet another fast food joint for lunch.

“Do they eat anywhere else?” Starkey was enjoying a fine Julienne salad.

“It’s the teenagers today. They can shovel that crap into their stomachs all day long. Give them real food, and they gag.” Jameson had chosen a health shake.

“Makes you wonder what their moms cook them for supper.”

“You’re out of touch, Starkey. Moms don’t do all the cooking anymore; sometimes the dads cook too.”

“That explains it.” They laughed.

“Man, if it isn’t a barbeque, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing,” said Jameson, sucking the last bit of goodness out of the straw.

“I’ve had your burgers. You still don’t know what the hell you’re doing.”

“Your lack of appreciation of my generosity continues to amaze me, Starkey. I suppose you don’t like my choice of beer, either.”

“Any alcoholic beverage whose name ends in the word ‘light’ can’t be good.”

“Remember who paid for that salad, buddy.”

“Yeah, the American taxpayer, God bless ’em.”

They laughed again.

Starkey poked at his salad. It was almost done. “How long is this going to take, anyway?”

Jameson grinned. “Who cares, as long as they’re doing all the work?”

“Xander, I’m tired of doing all the work here. Here’s some newspapers, you go through them.”

“Cordy, no offense, but the one paper you picked up this morning was the first one you read since we left California two weeks ago.”

“I get carsick really easily. Excuse me for having a delicate stomach.”

“And yet,” interjected Giles, “you seem to have no ill effects from eating that greasy hamburger.” The librarian was struggling to make sense of the soggy salad he had ordered. He was also still irritated that the cashier had given him one of those ‘what-kind-of-lunatic-have-we-here’ looks when he had asked for it.

“Grease is good,” said Xander. “Helps speed the blood along the veins. And keeps you regular. In fact, I think grease has gotten a really bad reputation over the years. After all, grease is your friend.”

Giles shook his head in defeat. “What are we teaching you children in school these days, anyway?”

“The question should be what are we learning in school these days,” replied Willow.

“Not a question you want honesty to be anywhere near,” added Oz.

The Watcher poked at the lettuce, hoping vainly for any signs of life, or at the very least, freshness. “Are they still there?”

Xander leaned over and looked out the window.

“Oh yeah. One very conspicuous FBI tail present and accounted for.”

Giles sighed, thinking of the empty feeling his wallet was experiencing. “I must admit, I did not expect this pursuit to take quite this long. I am afraid that if we do not find Buffy soon, we, uh, may not have the funds to continue the search.”

“Not a problem,” said Oz, grinning.

Willow turned in her seat, surprised. “Oh?”

Oz’s grin shrunk slightly. “Well, it’s not something I’m proud of, really, selling out and all that.”

Willow poked him in the ribs. “Selling out? To who?”

“A few months ago, in my spare time, nothing serious, you know, but, um, I developed an internet search engine. And I sold it.”

His girlfriend’s eyes grew wide. “Not to …”

Oz covered her mouth with his hands. “Shhh. No one has to know. They gave me a bag of money and I thought, well, I could use the money for a rainy day, or a cool gift for my girlfriend, or a summer roadtrip.”

Giles leaned forward. “How much money are we talking about here?”

Oz whispered a number in his ear.

“Oh, my …” said Giles.

*                              *                              *

When she passed the city limits of Salem’s Lot, she could have pointed to the exact spot with her eyes closed, ran her palm along the demarcation line like a street mime. There was definitely a difference to the air, both physically and psychically. This was a bad place, emphasis on the word bad, and since she had spent the last week or so on the road and travelling without a stop, she was getting antsy. Restless. Hungry for something to do with herself. Something to distract her from the dreams she had been having. They wouldn’t have been so bad, except they were all about Angel, and as she thought about them, she was a little surprised to find herself blushing.

All about Angel, indeed.

She couldn’t escape the strong feeling that even though she sent him to Hell, he wasn’t entirely gone.

So here she was, in a ghost town, looking for trouble because it had been too long since she last flexed her muscles and exercised her powers. Sure, there were the drivers who had picked her up and thought she was this helpless little girl, but there was no fight in those guys — one punch and that was it. And when they had stopped at that bar and heard the old-timer’s story, it was like a light going off in her head. A floodlight, really.

Maybe it’s because I fight for the forces of good, I have to do some good every once in a while to keep myself from going crazy. Destiny’s a hard bull to ride.

The two-lane road wound around some small hills before topping a rise, and then she could see the whole town, tinted orange from the sunset. It looked like a dried-out beehive husk, the bees long gone, but perhaps one or two remained to surprise the unwary visitor.

A ghost town. Can’t be any worse than Sunnydale.

To her right, overlooking the town like some malevolent gargoyle, was a large, ancient house. Two miles away, and she could feel a darkness emanating from the boarded-up windows, a simmering, ancient evil that called to her with naked glee. Oh, and it pulled, didn’t it? An insistent tug at her spine, like an impatient lover wanting all the goods.

That place is wiggins central.

She decided to give it a wide berth for now. Not a hard decision.

Whatever was going on in this town, she didn’t want to start at the top right away.

She picked up the pace.

*                              *                              *

The young girl walked past the War Memorial, past the overgrown ruins of a dozen storefronts, past Eva Miller’s boardinghouse. She kicked at the dead leaves on the sidewalk; she watched the streets like a Secret Service agent at a political rally. She seemed to be looking for something, but she didn’t have a great deal of time left before darkness would claim the Lot for its own. Finally she turned a corner and stopped momentarily. She was staring at the Catholic Church. He could understand why; the houses all around it had burned to the ground twenty years ago, but the Church was miraculously untouched. God takes care of His own, when He feels it’s necessary. Now she was walking up to the front doors, and from this distance, he couldn’t be sure if she was examining the blasted doorknob, but if she had any sense, she would be. Then she pulled the door open and walked in.

It was time.

*                              *                              *

The pews were overturned and at the front of the church, the cistern that at one time held holy water had been smashed against the far wall. She could see handprints burned into the wood, but the cross hanging on the front of the pulpit was unharmed, and the stained-glass windows were all intact. As good a place as any to spend the night. It seemed that whatever had happened here, a pitched battle of some sort, was long in the past; there was a fairly thick covering of dust on everything in the church.

“This was Father Callahan’s church.” The voice carried easily from the front doors.

She turned quickly to see a young man in his early thirties, fairly tall, thin, dressed casually, with dark hair and darker eyes. He took a few steps forward, closing the door behind him, and she was impressed by his grace; he seemed to flow from one step to another. This is a dangerous man, she thought.

“I didn’t think Catholics got so rambunctious during services. But I guess the last service was a while ago.”

The man stepped closer, his movements betraying a certain wariness. “I doubt that you were alive at the time.”

“Was he?”

The man raised an eyebrow in surprise. It felt like he was faintly mocking her. “You have heard stories, then.”

She found a pew that was still upright and solid, brushed away the dust with her hand, and sat down, facing away from the stranger. “This place looks like a Gap store after a year-end clearance sale. What happened? The altar boys got into the sacramental wine?”

He came up to her from behind and put his hand on her shoulder. “This is not the safest place to be.”

She turned, smiling, and looked up at him. She watched his eyes for a moment, dark and intense. He was vaguely handsome, but his gaze was of a man who had seen too much too soon. His apprenticeship as a child had been far too short. “What, the church? Or the town in general?”

His grip tightened on her shoulder.

“If you have come here on a dare, or something like that, I suggest you leave as soon as possible. The consequences are greater than you could imagine.”

She twisted suddenly, grabbing his arm and, in a fluid motion, flipped him over judo-style into the next pew. The sound of his body crashing into the wood echoed loudly.

“I don’t know. I can imagine a lot. I’ve seen even more. And I don’t even have cable.”

The man groaned, blinking at her. “Who are you?”

Buffy stood and offered her hand. “No, no, I get to hear your story first. These pews are tough on the rear end. And a little dusty. Why don’t we find somewhere more comfortable to talk?”

*                              *                              *

“You’re not a vampire.”

“Neither are you. I could tell by the way the sunlight didn’t fry you to ashes when we walked across the street.”

He looked out the window of the deserted restaurant and watched the setting sun fade behind a stand of trees. “How fortunate for me that you’re so observant.”

“Easy call. I’m a night person by nature.” Buffy smelled her drink, which was a clear liquid in a plastic cup. It had no scent. She shrugged, and tossed it back. “So what’s your story? You like the night life?”

He looked back at her, and for a moment, she thought she could see agony in his eyes, a twisting, trembling burn in the fires of hell. He blinked, and the illusion faded. Intense, she thought.

“When I was twelve years old, I saw my parents killed right in front of me. If it hadn’t been for Father Callahan, I might have joined them on the living room carpet … or worse. His name was Barlow; at least, that’s what he called himself, but his look was ancient, his evil bloated but still hungry. When everything in the Lot went bad, Barlow and his henchman, Straker, were at the heart of it, living up at the Marsten House, adding to their army of the undead each night. There were a few of us who knew what was going on: me, a writer named Ben Mears, Doc Cody, the English high school teacher, Father Callahan. By the end, after my parents were dead, and Doc, and the teacher, and so many others, it was just me and Ben. I still don’t remember what happened in that basement, but Ben cleaned Barlow’s clock, you bet he did. Staked that bastard like it was God swinging the hammer.

“We left then, too tired and afraid to do any more. But we had to come back. We had to return to the Lot, because people were starting to disappear from neighbouring towns, and we knew that was something we couldn’t ignore and still live with ourselves. So we came back, and we lit the fire that burned. It was an oddly pretty sight, the flames driving the creatures from their hiding places into the sunlight, into our waiting arms with the stakes at the ready. I don’t know how many we killed in those three days; I lost count after a hundred.”

He stopped to take a sip of his water. He gazed shrewdly at her, a small grin surfacing. “The story crazy enough for you? Wondering what I did with the strait-jacket?”

Buffy was still trying to make sense of what he said. The whole town, full of vampires, and this man, once a little kid, staking as many as he could.

“Keep going. I left the strait-jacket back in the Mercedes.”

He kept his eyes on her a moment longer, trying to assess her mood. Then —

“Ben and I had to hide for a while after that; firefighters came in, tried to clean up, and we didn’t want to be around to answer questions. They didn’t stay long, though, and by the time they left, we knew what we had to do.

“We had to stay and make sure they were all dead. Barlow was gone, but who knew how many were left after the fire, nursing their wounds, hiding from the flames, waiting for their chance to find more victims? Through that winter and the following spring, we hunted, going from house to house, looking for the undead. We found some, but not as many as we expected.

“Then Father Callahan returned.”

Buffy blinked. “I thought he died.”

The young man sighed. “Oh, no, that would have been a blessing, if he had. No, Barlow made him a vampire as punishment for not having enough faith. He saved my life, but I guess he didn’t have anything left for himself.” He paused then, closing his eyes. Buffy thought he was probably imagining those fateful moments, and her heart went out to him. How many times had she done the same? Closed her eyes and saw the sword sink so easily into Angel’s chest. Closed her eyes and watched her love fall so far, so long.

Finally he continued, “We didn’t know at the time, but Callahan travelled down to New York and wintered there. And then he came back. With friends. We found them in his old church. God knows how they got in, but when we walked in, they were performing … rituals, something, I don’t know. There was a dead body on the altar, they were all around it, chanting stuff. Father Callahan was the first to see us, and that was it. All hell broke loose inside that church. It was a huge battle, but we had been training for a while, see, and new vampires tend to be a little dumb, so by the end, there was just us and the Father, but he escaped.

“In the morning, Ben decided that he should go after Callahan, because he wasn’t likely to stick around the Lot now that he knew we were still around. I stayed in the Lot, to continue the hunt and the vigil. Sure, I was only thirteen by then, but I was an old thirteen.

“Nineteen years ago, Ben Mears left Salem’s Lot to find the Father, and I haven’t heard from him since. I’ve spent those years here in the Lot, keeping an eye on the town, making sure that those events from long ago never get repeated again.”

They looked at each other for a couple of minutes, before Buffy reached inside her vest and pulled out two stakes from her rib holsters. The man’s eyes widened, and she held out her hand.

“We haven’t been properly introduced. Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer.”

The man took it.

“Mark Petrie, Vampire Slayer.”

PREVIOUS STORY               Next Part