There are a few vampires left, I think. I cant be everywhere at once, unfortunately, and there are some hiding places in this town that I havent found.
The story I heard was that no one who enters Salems Lot comes out alive.
Mark frowned. That does have more than a ring of truth to it. Luckily, you went almost straight for the church, which is a place that well, I find myself drawn to it, sometimes. As for anyone else Vampires seem to be able to sense fresh meat.
They were sitting on a balcony overlooking the Lots downtown; night had fallen for good some two hours before. Inside, there was a backpack full of wooden stakes that Buffy had oohed and aahed over, as well as a hefty crossbow that Mark had said was an antique from the store Barlow and Straker had run. A souvenir. A trophy.
If there are any vampires left, they dont seem to be barking up your tree.
Mark sighed. They know me too well, it seems. Like your Sunnydale? Are the vampires at your window every night?
One was, she said without thinking. Uh, but he was an exception. Usually the vampires stayed out of my way unless they were trying to end the world.
Mark nodded and sat back in his lawn chair. Buffy watched him scan the streets for any movement, and she suddenly realized the depth of his sacrifice and commitment.
This is a guy thats been fighting vampires for twenty years, and expects to keep doing it for the rest of his life. She felt a rush of sympathy for this tired young man, whose situation was so much like her own. Except hes been doing this all alone, with no friends, no help Its not like he could tell a prospective buddy or girlfriend, yeah, I hunt vampires for a living. And you? The unreality of her life seemed to pale against the stark reality of his. So lonely.
Marks jaw dropped. He was looking off to the east.
Mark? What is it?
He pointed, and in the moonlight, Buffy could see the slight shaking of his hand.
Theres a light on in the Marsten House. Marks tone brought a chill to her spine.
Were not alone anymore, she thought.
* * *
Four hours earlier, Brian Redfield pulled his eighteen-wheeler into the parking lot of a truck stop near the state line. He still hadnt stopped thinking about the blonde girl that had shared his cab for those two hundred miles. He still hadnt stopping thinking about leaving that girl alone in such a dangerous place. Why, it was practically suicide. Even worse, it was more like murder. I mean, what is it if you give someone the gun they use to shoot themselves with? If thats not murder, its the next worst thing. In the approaching darkness, his recollections about how she carried herself and what kind of self-confident girl she was seemed insubstantial and frivolous.
More like you were making excuses for her, Brian. Like you were tellin yourself, ah, its all right, shell be fine, because she can take care of herself. All the while you knew it wasnt true at all.
The shadows were getting really long now, and as Brian pulled his truck in between two other parked rigs, the milky black completely covered his vehicle.
He turned off the engine and sat there, indecisive. What should he do? Should he go back and try to save her? Maybe shes already dead.
What a happy thought.
Maybe she doesnt want any help, she said as much just before she got out of the cab.
Just because a person doesnt want help doesnt mean they dont need it.
Maybe those stories are true.
Do you want to risk your life for someone you barely know?
A hand tapped on his window. He rolled it down. A man, dressed in black, wearing shades, was standing on something Brian couldnt see. He was smiling toothily.
Could I come in? Ive got the most amazing thing to show you.
The dark mans words made Brian feel dizzy. And his eyes So deep and colourless.
His mouth felt like it was stuffed with cotton. Sure. What is it?
The dark mans smile grew wider. Were those teeth bigger?
The dark man fell on Brian.
* * *
Across the vacant little town of Salems Lot, there was a stirring. Things long dead shook off their rusty shackles and rose up to take a look around. The endless dream of the undead began to focus, lose its fuzziness. Under Hank Pruetts old trailer, where a deep hole had been dug years before, and the worms still squirmed out of the dirt on rainy nights, something inhuman rolled over, pulled itself up, crawled out from underneath, and stared east, towards the silhouette of the Marsten House. It felt a calling, a summons that could not be ignored, and it began to walk. A half-mile away, in a bomb shelter built in the days when Cuba wasnt just a place to get great cigars, the combination lock in the door spun back and forth, tinkling like a party favour, coming to a stop on the number 66. The heavy metal door swung slowly open, and two creatures, barely recognizable as former members of the human race, shambled out into the moonlight. They, too, felt a calling. Their gazes locked upon the light in the upper window of the Marsten House, and feet started moving. Across Salems Lot, a half-dozen vampires found their way out of their various hiding places to shuffle down village streets, all heading for the same destination, where a man wearing a pastors robe and a twisted cross stood on the balcony overlooking the town, his arms spread out in welcome, his harsh laughter echoing, echoing, echoing
* * *
Whatevers going down, its going down tonight. We may not have until sunrise.
Buffy watched Mark fill a packsack with stakes and vials of holy water.
But they cant come in unless theyre invited.
Mark stopped what he was doing and gave her a sardonic grin. That doesnt stop them from burning this house down.
Oh. It seems like Ive heard similar logic before, but my memory and I have a seriously dysfunctional relationship.
He looked at her then, top to bottom, assessing something in his mind. There was a nugget of fear in his eyes that she didnt like. Buffy, are you really a Vampire Slayer? Youre not playing with me, here, right?
She took a stake out of the packsack, whirled around, and threw it at the far wall. It thunked into the drywall, the point imbedded deep enough to start a crack that stretched up to the ceiling.
Mark grunted. You didnt have to wreck my wall just to make a point.
Sorry. But she wasnt. It felt so good, throwing that stake. She was looking forward to whatever they were going to face. I need this chance to stretch my legs. So to speak.
He finished packing his stuff, and then he turned to her, his face deadly serious.
Okay, Buffy, heres the deal. Theyve all got to be staked, no matter how many there are. I dont think there will be many, maybe four or five, but none of them gets to leave. Understand?
She smiled. Dont worry. I dont plan on giving any vampires a get out of jail free card.
Cool. Lets go.
* * *
The Marsten House stood near the top of a hill, looking down upon the town that it owned, a fat and pompous ruler on its comfortable throne. It was born of shadows, and would always be a familiar home for darkness. Standing outside its front door, with the full moon shining its glassy light down, you could swear that you could hear the faint sounds of screaming coming from the second floor, and youd want to dismiss those sounds, thinking, ah, its the wind rattling the old timbers. And then you remember that there is no wind, not on this night, not on any nights. The boarded-up windows were like eyes closed to the world, not because it didnt want to see outwards, but because it wanted to look inwards. What danced in the black was fun to watch.
And then, thought Buffy, it gets spooky.
This had to be a haunted house. The evil that pulsated from the outer walls felt so obvious to her that she wanted to clutch at Marks arm and ask him if he could feel it too, feel the wrongness of this place. Nothing in Sunnydale had ever felt this bad. But when she looked at the older man, she saw a resigned focus in his eyes, and it suddenly occurred to her that she might have had that same look on that final night, when she was approaching the place where Angel was, where she would have to kill him or the world would end. A resigned focus that said, Ill do this, because I have to, but I will hate every moment. She wondered what Mark was expecting to find in this haunted house. Or who he was expecting to meet.
As they approached the front steps, he put out his hand quickly to stop Buffy from moving. He studied the outside of the house for a few moments. Buffy could hear faint sounds coming from inside; stealthy, squishy sounds. Finally her foot wanted to start tapping in impatience.
Maybe we should go in the back door? She took a step towards the back of the house, but his voice, calm and quietly powerful, stopped her.
In an evil place such as this, the only way in is the front door. Thats the way they wouldnt expect us to use. Besides, were invited guests. Guests come in the front door.
Buffy blinked. Invited ? Wont the door be locked?
Mark walked up the steps to the front porch and stood off to the side of the doorway. These kinds of doors are never locked. Now, dont stand in front. He gestured to the other side of the doorway and motioned for her to crouch down. When she did so, he carefully reached over and turned the doorknob. The wooden frame started to swing inwards, and
The sound of the shotgun going off was so loud, the shock of the noise knocked Buffy to the ground. Mark must have been expecting it, she saw, because he never even flinched. She scrambled to her feet and looked in the doorway.
Propped up on a chair was a shotgun, with a complicated series of strings tied up between the inner door handle and the trigger. If we had been standing in front of the doorway She looked back down the driveway and wondered how far the buckshot went before gravity pulled it all to the ground. Mark allowed himself a little smile.
Sorry, I should have said something first.
Like what? Hope you brought your bulletproof vest? I thought we were hunting vampires here.
He looked inside. The house seemed quiet. So far. Someone in this house has a fine sense of tradition. But I think from here on in, itll be stakes to the heart and fangs to the throat. You ready?
When you are.
They walked in together.
Upon entering the Marsten House, they found themselves in a foyer, with a staircase leading upwards, a hallway leading to the rear of the building, a living room to their left, and a dining room to their right. The house was dark, dusty, and seething with menace.
So where should we Buffy began, before Mark cut her off with a gesture to his lips. He pointed upwards. She could just hear the careful footsteps of somebody trying to sneak around upstairs. He pointed downwards. She could just hear the scraping noises of boxes being moved in the basement or perhaps coffins.
Lets split up, he suggested.
Are you sure youre all right by yourself? she asked.
Shouldnt I be asking you that question?
Only if you want to find out the answer the hard, painful way.
Right. Ill take the upstairs, then.
Ooo, the basement, the place to go for all your party needs.
He reached into his backpack and pulled out a flashlight, tossing it to her. He put one foot on the first step and turned towards her. Good luck.
She smiled. Ill meet you upstairs after Ive cleaned up downstairs.
He nodded, and went up the stairs with the grace and wariness of a cat.
* * *
Buffy passed by the back door on her way to the basement stairs, and saw that Mark had been right. There were four huge bars set across the doorway, and even with her strength, it might have taken all night to get in. So they wanted us to come in the front door, hoping to take at least one of us out. It occurred to her that there may be more than one booby-trap set up in this house, and when she looked down the basement steps, she was greeted with total darkness. I cant even see the stairs hmmm. She flicked on the flashlight, and the white light confirmed her sudden suspicion; after the fourth step down, the rest of the staircase had been cut away. If she had simply wandered blithely down these steps, she would fallen and landed not on the basement floor, but on a sheet of plywood with nails poking nicely up through the wood. A painful way to die.
She got down on her haunches and tried to get a look around the basement with the light. The stairs were right in the middle of the house, and the basement looked to be a full one, covering the whole buildings size. So that meant that once she got down there, they could come at her from all directions. The light was shaking. Her hand was shaking. She observed this phenomenon curiously for a moment, trying to figure out what the deal was. She wasnt afraid, not like when she was hunting the Master, or when she was facing down the man she once loved (still loved, thank you very much). No, this was something else, something new
Excitement. Anticipation. She wanted to risk her life. Was it that she craved the adrenaline rush of cheating Death on a nightly basis? Was it that with the love of her life gone forever, she didnt think she had much else to live for? Was it that she had been born for this, and she had gone without following the constraints of her destiny for so long that she was feeling like a junkie on withdrawal, with the chance for another fix just moments away.
I hope this is what the doctor ordered.
She turned off the flashlight and tucked it in the back of her jeans. Taking a deep breath, she moved down to the last stair, grabbed the wood, flipped up and swung down, her legs flying past the nail-ridden plywood. She let go, and she flew several feet, landing into a cold, cold body with sharp teeth and a ravenous hunger. But Buffys fix had the stronger pull, or so the vampire discovered.
* * *
Mark reached the top step and looked around the landing. Only one door was open. That door. To the room, the fateful room that old Marsten had hung himself, the fateful room that Mark had been tied up in as a kid by the hateful Straker, the fateful room that Mark had worked free from his bonds just in time to surprise his captor. In the back of his mind, the child that had been left behind in that room twenty years before woke up and started gibbering mindlessly. Mark knew who hed find in that room. It was Destiny. It was Salvation. It was
Mark, my boy, how very nice to see you again, after all these years.
Father Callahan smiled at the young vampire slayer. His robes, tattered and faded, hung from his undead body like sheets on a clothesline. His face looked more youthful than Mark remembered, but maybe it was just the eyes, and how they burrowed into your soul and brought out hidden treasures, darker than nightfall on the wrong side of the moon.
Mark brought the cross out from the backpack in a smooth, practiced gesture and held it between them.
The cross glowed.
Somehow I knew it was you, Father.
The vampire priest chuckled. How wonderful. And you brought us a young girl to play with. You always were a conscientious young man.
Mark grimaced. The cross was getting hot. I wouldnt be too sure that the girl is easy pickings, Father. Shes fought vampires before.
Father Callahan started circling the younger man, grinning all the while. The door slammed shut. Im sure our friend Ben will take good care of her. Right now, you have to worry about yourself, I think. Can you feel the evil in this room, Mark? How the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? I feel so at home, here. Tell me How strong is your faith, my boy?
They could hear a loud commotion from downstairs. A scream, then a cry of pain.
Oh, my, said the vampire. I think the fun has started already. Shall we get this over with so I can join my congregation? The undead creature advanced on Mark, and the young man took a couple of wary steps backward, holding the cross out in front of him with a desperation that he had never expected.
Father, only one of us is leaving this room alive tonight. Since youre already dead, that narrows it down some. Marks back was almost against the far wall, and suddenly the glow from the cross flickered and died.
Father Callahan laughed. Im sorry, my boy; has your trinket run out of juice? How unfortunate for you.
Mark looked down and saw that he was standing in the middle of a pentagram drawn into the floor. He fumbled around for his backpack, searching for something, anything to help him out. The vampire drew closer.
Have I told you, young man, how Ben found me, hiding in the New York subways like a cornered rat? How like a hero he was, bravely risking death to face me on a deserted subway platform. Yet he believed the same as you, that faith would keep him safe.
Father Callahan touched Marks cheek tenderly.
But faith is nothing without love.
* * *
Man, am I glad stakes are recyclable. After Buffy had wasted the first vampire she landed on, she found herself backed into a corner, with another half-dozen vampires slowly closing in. Behind them, she could see a man, sitting idly on top of a coffin. He looked bored. But these ones they just looked hungry. Now that was a familiar sight. She set the flashlight on the ledge behind her, so the whole basement was somewhat illuminated.
Silent much? You people arent charter members of the local Glee Club, are you? How am I supposed to banter if Im doing all the talking?
The vampire in the middle, the Herb Tarlek dress-alike with pants two sizes too big and a tie that had seen better days back when its owner could still see days without hiding in basements and freshly-dug graves This vampire growled.
Discovery of the vocal cords is a good first step. Now were at the level of a Stallone flick. Care to upgrade to Bruce Willis status? Buffy raised the stake, bluffed to the right, and spun to the left, her foot coming up in a roundhouse karate kick that sent a vamp flying. With the added maneuvering space, she tackled another vampire at the knees, and before the others could advance, she staked it in the heart. The undead creature exploded in a shower of dust. Rolling quickly away, she jumped to her feet right in front of the vampire she had just kicked and disposed of him in a similarly efficient manner. Now there were four left, including Herb the talkative one, and they were a little stunned by the sudden turn of events. Taking advantage of their uncertainty, she leapt at Herb, bringing the stake down in a finishing arc, but Herb came out of his reverie fast enough to block her blow. They crashed to the floor, and the other vampires jumped on top of them. Buffy felt cold hands grabbing at different body parts
Hey! Do I oof! know you?
and she wiggled around like a snake in an attempt to get them off. One of her fists found an unprotected head, and a vamp staggered back. Her right knee drove into Herbs crotch, causing him to scream like a little girl. Whipping around on her back, the cross on her necklace flew around and caught another vampire, closing in for the bite, right on the cheek. He drew back quickly, crying out in pain. The burning smell made Buffy cough. There was one more vampire, and it had waited for the right moment. The two-by-four that he held in his hands came around for a home-run swing; Buffy caught the movement out of the corner of her eye and ducked, so the wood glanced off her head. The chunk of wood came around for another blow, but this time Buffy grabbed it on the downswing and yanked, pulling the vampire towards her body, where her stake was waiting. Another shower of dust.
She rolled up to the wall and got up on her feet again. Three left, plus that bored guy over there by the coffins.
You know, I really do this better with some background music. Anyone got some Aqua?
They fell on her. Or at least, they tried.
A kick, placed just so in the center of the chest.
Im a Barbie girl
A karate chop, placed just so, crushing an Adams apple.
In a Barbie world
An elbow, placed just so in the side of the head.
Life in plastic
A hard overhand toss of a stake, placed just so directly over the heart.
She grabbed Herb and spun him into the vampire with the new cross tattoo on his cheek. With those two occupied on the dance floor, Buffy dashed over to retrieve her stake. They rushed at her side-by-side, and she came at them, splitting the defense, taking their arms and turning, using centrifugal force to pull them around together, a merry-go-round with one final stop: the cement wall. Cross Tattoo reeled back from the wall, and Buffy drove the stake through his back, shattering his molecular cohesion. Herb was still standing, but was quite dazed. He turned towards the Vampire Slayer and put his arms out in a gesture for help.
I may be a blonde bimbo girl in a fantasy world, she said to him coldly, raising the stake one last time and driving it into the vampires heart.
But Im nobodys darling.
* * *
With a cry, Mark pushed away from the former priest and staggered backwards.
No games, Father. This time it ends. Mark stepped away from the pentagram, and the cross came back to life, but with less heat and light than before.
The vampire smiled. Your faith stutters, my boy. Do you not realize that you require absolute faith to defeat me? Has your God forsaken you? He advanced again.
Stay back! Mark yelled, his voice cracking slightly. Stay back in the name of God!
The cross glowed more brightly for a moment, and Father Callahan shrank back, hissing. Mark felt the power of the cross, the power of his faith, coursing through him like an electric charge that didnt want to die. It was in that second, that infinitesimal moment Mark was closer to God than at any time in his life. He was closer to true faith, to deliverance divine. My Lord, I am your servant, and I shall not want, but this is real, God this is WORKING, can you say Hallelujah? Faith dont fail me now But there was that small little nugget of doubt, wasnt there? After all these years, after all the vigilance and sacrifice, there was something missing, something vital.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Mark began even as the cross dimmed slightly. Father Callahan straightened, grinning toothily.
Your faith is failing you, isnt it, Mark? Oh, yes, just as it failed Ben Mears, just as it failed me.
GET BACK! Mark roared, shoving the cross in the vampires face. Oh, Lord, what is happening? Why isnt it working? What am I doing wrong? What am I missing?
Youll make a good vampire, Mark. So graceful and focused, especially for a human. A born leader. You can help us with our plans.
Mark was willing the cross to grow brighter, for the faith to come back from wherever it was fleeing to. Come on! Lord, why hast thou forsaken me? Plans? What plans? Delay him, get him talking until I can get this thing working again.
Oh, my boy, we have big plans. You didnt think we came back to Salems Lot for the nostalgia, did you?
Mark never saw the vampires hand come up and swat the cross out of his hands, but he felt the stinging aftermath, and he howled in pain. What hurt even more were the Fathers next words:
We came back for you.
* * *
Buffy wiped the vampire dust off the stake, watching the man sitting on the coffin. He got up and stretched, yawning indulgently. She walked carefully to within ten feet of him.
So whats your deal? You like to watch?
The mans face was expressionless, indifferent. His words were delivered in a casual, effortless manner that nevertheless chilled Buffys spine.
Ive heard of you. A Vampire Slayer. I had thought that Mark and I were the only ones, and it turns out that somebody actually has to do this for a living.
She tilted her head slightly to the side. Mark and Her eyes widened. Youre Ben Mears! Marks friend! Great, hes upstairs, and probably needs some help Wait a minute why didnt you help me just now?
He leaned back against the coffin. You said it I like to watch. Besides, in all the confusion, you might have thought I was a vampire, and staked me in the heart.
Buffy drew her eyebrows close. Uh-huh. Well, lets get upstairs and help Mark out. She turned and started for the stairs.
I also wanted to see if the stories were true, he said from behind her. Its one thing to hear about a legend, and quite another to see one in action.
She pushed the nail-studded sheet of plywood out of the way.
Dont sell my story to Hollywood just yet. Still waiting for a killer ending.
Ben took the gun out from where it was tucked into his belt at the small of his back and pointed it at her head.
I think we may have one here.
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