Buffy hadn’t slept well, and as if she weren’t tired enough already, the sky was crowded with dark clouds, the air heavy and damp with the threat of rain. It was the kind of day that just made you want to pull the covers over your head and snooze all day. Like a vampire. It was the kind of day when guys and gals too hip to get cancer got all broken up because they couldn’t work on their tans.
Actually, sometimes Buffy thought it would be better if tans hadn’t become as uncool as smoking. It’d be a lot easier to tell the undead from the brain dead.
Resolved to stay awake in first period, she forced her eyes open wider. Backpack over her shoulder, Buffy marched toward school, a little early as always. Well, not always. She was never even on time at her old school, but she was trying to reform. And besides, when she showed early, she got to hang with Willow and Xander for a few minutes before the whole grand delirium of the school day began.
“Happy Halloween!” Xander cried as he caught up from behind.
Buffy smiled slightly as he fell into step with her. “Xander, isn’t Halloween, like, prom night for ghouls? The night when, all over the world, the forces of darkness are set free for their annual block party?”
“Well, yeah, but it’s all costumes and parties and trick-or-treat and—,” Xander began, but Buffy cut him off.
“And where do we live?” she prodded.
“Okay, I get the point,” he surrendered. “But things have been pretty quiet lately, so I figured, why not be a little festive during my used-to-be-favorite-before-I-knew-all-this-stuff-was-real holiday?”
Buffy gave up. “Happy Halloween to you, too, Xander.” She winced inside. The last person she’d offered season’s greetings to had called her a thundering psycho.
Xander Harris offered her a charming, crooked smile and pushed his somebody-get-me-a-comb hair away from his forehead. It seemed as if he wanted to say something more, but by then they had reached the bench where they met each morning. Willow was already there, her nose in a huge, dusty old book. The title was something about arcane rituals.
Xander peered over her shoulder. “Willow, dear Willow, you used to read such wholesome things.” He feigned almost parental disapproval. “Now you’ve just fallen in with the wrong crowd.”
Willow closed her book. “Giles loaned it to me,” she said. “Fascinating stuff, actually. Apparently, there was this sixteenth-century alchemist who—and you guys really don’t want to hear this, anyway.”
Buffy and Xander exchanged innocent looks—Who, us? Not enraptured? But it would be a cold day in a place like, well, here, when they could put anything over on her. She tutored both of them in different subjects, was an Internet commando, and once in a while had to serve as Giles’s translator, when the stuffy British librarian forgot he was speaking to people who hadn’t spent their entire lives locked up in the Twilight Zone library.
“Happy Halloween, Willow,” Buffy said warmly.
“Yeah, trick or treat, chica,” Xander added.
With her long, straight chestnut hair and sad eyes, Willow Rosenberg was every bit as sweet yet, um, inelegant as her name might suggest. But she and Xander were the best friends Buffy had ever had. They knew everything about her, about her being the Slayer, and they stuck by her. In fact, time and again, Willow and Xander put their lives on the line for her, and for the town.
Buffy was the Chosen One. Slaying was her job. Willow and Xander did all the crazy stuff by choice. As far as Buffy was concerned, her friends were a lot braver than they ever gave themselves credit for.
“I don’t know,” Willow said as Buffy and Xander sat on the bench on either side of her. “Halloween isn’t a big deal anymore. I mean, when we were kids, we got to dress up and go trick-or-treating. Once you’re in the double digits, it’s so over. I think I’m in mourning for my childhood, and I’m only sixteen.”
“Clone that,” Buffy said.
“Remember bobbing for apples at those killer Halloween parties your mom used to throw?” Xander asked Willow, and she smiled at him.
The two had known each other their whole lives, and Buffy had only come along this year. But they never made her feel left out, even when they talked about things they’d shared in the past.
“I remember you trying to drown me while I was bobbing for apples,” Willow replied, then turned to Buffy. “It’s amazing the selective memory guys have.”
“Well, you know guys only tease girls when they’re trying to get noticed,” Buffy said, and raised an eyebrow.
“I noticed him when I was, like, five years old,” Willow said under her breath. “I’m waiting for him to notice I noticed.”
“I loved those parties,” Xander went on, oblivious to Willow’s comments. “I always used to win the pumpkin-carving contest. Big fun.”
He sighed. “You’re right. Halloween sucks now. Even the horror movies on cable aren’t as fun anymore, even since . . .” He hesitated. “Ah, ever since—”
“I know,” Buffy said, sighing. “Ever since I came to town. I feel the same way. My mother and I used to watch all the classic fright flicks together and gorge ourselves on popcorn and leftover Halloween candy. Somehow I’ve lost interest in the movies. Now we just gorge ourselves.”
Buffy felt a drop of rain on her arm and was about to mention it when Willow tapped her leg.
“Wicked witch and winged monkey at ten o’clock,” she murmured.
Buffy looked up to see Cordelia and her fan club about to pass by. Cordelia paid no attention to them, but Aphrodesia Kingsbury was with her, and Buffy glanced away as the girl spotted her.
“Well, if it isn’t my stalker,” Aphrodesia sneered. “I told them all about it, Buffy, so don’t try to deny your after-hours bipolar wig out to anyone on campus.” She glared at her. “Isn’t there some kind of medication you’re forgetting to take?”
Before Buffy could respond, Xander snapped angrily, “Careful, Miss Twenty-Five-Watt. I wouldn’t make Buffy mad if I were you.”
“Xander,” Buffy hissed, and Willow elbowed him in the stomach.
“Excuse me? Are you threatening me?” Aphrodesia said, zooming in like a heat-seeking missile on Xander. “Because my sister’s fiancé is in law school, and, like, he told me he would serve anybody I asked him to.”
“You know, I’d love it if he served me. I can’t seem to get my own waiter’s attention and we don’t even have menus yet,” Xander mocked. “Good help. Hard to find. So.”
“Oh, you people are so . . . not,” Aphrodesia said, wrinkling her nose as if she’d smelled something nasty. “You two.” She nodded toward Xander and Willow. “It’s like Cordelia says. You’re just run-of-the-mill losers. With a lot of effort, you might actually evolve into primates. But not if you loiter with Buffy. Her weirdness is like some brain-eating virus, and it’s seriously infected your chances for a normal social life.”
By then, Cordelia and the rest of her crew had moved on, and Aphrodesia spun in a huff to follow.
The three of them were quiet until the others were out of earshot. Then Willow turned to Xander with her eyebrows raised.
“What?” Xander asked.
“Well, Aphrodesia’s not very bright,” Xander explained. “Twenty-five-watt. Get it?”
“Got it,” Buffy and Willow said simultaneously.
“Who writes your stuff?” Buffy asked, and the girls laughed together.
“Well, I thought it was funny,” Xander mumbled snippily.
“We’re just kidding, Xander,” Willow said. “You know we love you.”
“Good thing, or you’d both be in deep can’t-say-that-on-television,” he replied menacingly.
“Witness our trembling,” Buffy drawled.
“I have that effect on women,” Xander announced.
“So,” Willow said, “you guys both coming to the Bronze tonight?”
“The masquerade! Wouldn’t miss it!” Xander said excitedly. “I’m going as Indiana Jones.”
“Oh, I’m so not surprised,” Willow said. “You’ve dressed in that stupid hat every Halloween since you were nine.”
Xander stared at her, horrified, and Buffy stifled a laugh to save him from further embarrassment.
“If adventure has a name, my dear, it’s Xander Harris,” he said proudly. “Well, actually, it’s Harrison Ford, but women confuse the two of us all the time.”
They stared at him.
“Okay, it’s happened a couple of times . . . once . . . okay, never, but we have kind of the same hair color,” Xander explained. “Brown. And my mom thinks I look like him. I suppose you two have a better costume idea for me?”
“I’ve got one, but I’ll tell you later,” Willow said cryptically. “It’s a surprise for Buffy.”
“For me? I’m an extreme no-show tonight,” Buffy protested. “It’s the Slayer Super Bowl.”
Willow and Xander both frowned at her. For once, no snappy retorts. She was almost insulted, but then realized their silence was skeptical comment enough. Both of them knew that she’d been bored out of her mind the past few weeks.
“Okay, I am majorly sorry to have to blink and miss the masquerade, and I know you fun seekers think I’m so wasting my time, but it’s Halloween night,” Buffy explained. “I mean, so business has been a little slow—”
“Way slow,” Willow corrected.
“Way slow,” Buffy agreed. “But it’s got to pick up tonight.”
“You sound like you want it to pick up tonight,” Xander said. “I know compared to LA raves, a masquerade is tiny potatoes. But trust us, it’s the most fun you can have in this agonizingly lame town.”
“Come on, Buffy,” Willow pleaded. “At least you can start out at the Bronze. If there’s a gory emergency, you can always book.”
Buffy thought about it, but not for long. If she didn’t start hanging with her friends more, they might adopt a new Slayer as their bud. Or not, since there weren’t any others. One in every generation, that was Giles’s favorite part of the Big Book of Slayage. But she still liked the idea of a quiet night at the Bronze.
“I’ll talk to Giles,” Buffy decided. “He still thinks this is all just the calm before the storm.”
“Tell him we’ll take care of you,” Xander suggested.
“Yeah, I’ll carry your bag o’ holy water and Xander will gas up the Batmobile,” Willow said.
As soon as the freedom bell rang, announcing that school was mercifully over for another day, Buffy was up and fighting through the swarm. In the hall, lockers clanged, gossip raged, girls shrieked, and guys laughed. She heard snippets of conversation, mostly about what people were wearing to the masquerade. There was mischief in the air, and a sense that anyone could burst into a fit of the giggles at any time. Halloween was such a kids’ holiday.
But it hadn’t always been that way. Giles was up on all the wicked history, but Buffy knew enough of it to know Halloween was made up to replace some kind of ancient death ritual or something. She’d have to ask him. Actually, come to think of it, she probably wouldn’t have to ask him. Giles didn’t usually need to be asked to start lecturing. He just did.
The hall traffic had started to thin. Buffy blew off her locker; she had everything she needed for the weekend in her backpack. Instead, she headed for the library to check in with Giles.
Buffy was passing by the science lab when powerful hands with matted fur and yellow claws flashed out and snagged her by the shoulders. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the open jaws of the werewolf and reacted: a hard elbow to the ribs met with a satisfying grunt from behind. There was a roar in front of her, and Buffy looked up to see a second werewolf approaching. She straight-armed this one with the flat of her hand, knocking him on his butt, leaping high into an aerial roundhouse kick while her brain struggled frantically to send her a message: Cease. Desist. Remember the cemetery, Buffy?
Buffy pulled back on the kick and landed ungracefully on her behind. She glanced at the two “werewolves,” who she now realized were just big guys in full costume.
“Way to go, Jackie Chan,” a short guy with thick glasses and a leaning tower of books cried happily. “Those guys have been defining obnoxious with their bad-hair-scare tactics.”
“Uh, sorry,” she mumbled to the nearer one, who was trying to get to his knees. The other one was using all the words that were forbidden on sitcoms. “Your costumes are, ah, really there. I guess I’m just a little jumpy.”
Buffy looked up in time to see the gathering crowd of vultures part for their queen, Cordelia, and her entourage. Before the other girl swooped down for the attack, Buffy winced and tiredly rolled her eyes.
“Jumpy?” Cordelia parroted. “Just a little psycho, more like. Guys, take note, a major body lingo signal from Buffy here. Don’t invade her personal space or she’ll go all, like, special forces on you. Or maybe you thought they were real werewolves, huh, Summers?”
“Never know what’s going to pop its ugly monster Pez-head up out of hell on Halloween, Cordelia. Witness your sudden arrival,” Buffy snapped, then spun and stalked away toward the library. She could almost hear the anger building inside Cordelia Chase.
“Bye-bye, Buffy the walking X-File,” Cordelia called after her, followed by a chorus of laughter from kids without the guts to make fun of her to her face.
If she cared about fitting in, if she allowed her feelings to be hurt by someone as deep as the kiddie pool, she might have been upset. But Buffy was so above it all. She was the Slayer. Normal teen angst didn’t stack up to fangs at your throat.
Sometimes, it was worse.
Sure, she was the Slayer, but Buffy’s face was flushed and she couldn’t have forced a smile onto her face with a Neiman Marcus shopping spree. Well, maybe that. She did need black boots. And a few other things.
When she pulled open the door to the library, Buffy was smiling again and thinking cashmere. Winter was coming, after all. Cordelia’s tongue was a weapon, but her hack-and-slash approach was clumsy enough that the wounds were never deep.
At a long research table in the library was a stack of moldy old books that could only belong to one man. But despite the presence of titles like Archaic Druidry, Celtic Magick, and Shadow Realms, among many others, their owner was nowhere in sight.
“Giles?” Buffy called.
“Hmm?” a mumbled response came from the library’s second-story loft. “Oh, yes, Buffy, up here. Is school over already, or are you cutting class again?”
She looked up at him and realized Giles hadn’t even taken his eyes off the racks of books.
“The school is burning down, Giles,” she said, trying to raise some reaction. Nothing. “You didn’t even hear the bell. What’s got you by the nostrils?”
“Sorry,” he said, distracted. “I’ll be down in a moment.”
Buffy slid her backpack onto the table. She dropped into a chair, leaned back, and planted her feet on the scarred oak. A quick glance around told her something she’d already known: She and Giles were alone in the library.
Of course they were. Even before Rupert Giles left the staff of the British Museum to become school librarian at Sunnydale High—a career move roughly equivalent to an appointment with Dr. Kevorkian—the library wasn’t exactly the place to be seen by people hip enough to look. It was more like a dungeon with books, and barely enough light to read them by.
Still was. Only now, it was Mission: Impossible to find the books kids actually needed for class. Giles had brought in his own collection, so very not the kind of reading material parents wanted their college-bound spawn to lay paws on. The librarian had more important things to worry about. He was the Watcher. His job was to prepare the Slayer for her work, to train and educate her, to teach her what she needed to know to keep breathing.
A bit of a stiff, but Giles was all right in Buffy’s book. His job was keeping her alive, after all. How bad could the guy be? Call a press conference, though, she actually liked him. He was kind of absentminded, and talked way British—she could hardly understand him at times—but he was cool. Handsome, too, in that your-dad’s-pretty-good-looking-for-an-old-guy kind of way.
Buffy just wished he wouldn’t get all overprotective so often. She had a hard enough time getting her mother to let her have a life.
The library door swung open, and Buffy started and spun to face the door. It was only Willow and Xander, though, and she relaxed immediately.
“Not too jumpy, are we?” Xander asked.
“See, that’s what I told Cordelia,” Buffy said, and smiled.
“We heard,” Willow admitted. “Good thing you didn’t try beheading those impostor-monsters.”
“There’s always next time,” Buffy replied with a shrug.
Giles came down the stairs behind them, and they all turned to see him fumbling with a tall stack of books in his arms. Buffy held her breath until he reached the bottom, afraid he was going to trip any second. But Giles made it to the table without disaster.
“Ah,” he said as he glanced around at them. “You’re all here. Excellent. I’m in the middle of an important research project, but I want to give you a bit of preparation for Halloween. Buffy’s heard most of this, but as tonight is Halloween, I thought perhaps this time she might actually pay attention.”
Buffy shot Giles a withering glance, but he went on, totally unwithered. She didn’t argue, though. She hadn’t really paid attention before.
“Whoa, camel,” Xander interrupted. “We’ve got this masquerade at the Bronze tonight. Didn’t Buffy tell you?”
“Tell me?” Giles asked. “Tell me what?”
“I’m off duty tonight,” Buffy declared. “It’s been way dead in the undead department, boss. I figure it can’t hurt to pretend Halloween’s just tricks and treats.”
“First of all, Buffy, I am not your boss,” Giles huffed. “Your mentor, perhaps, if you would do me the honor of considering me such. But not boss. You are the Slayer, and I the Watcher. Secondly, I’m afraid what you propose is impossible.”
“She didn’t propose,” Willow said. “I didn’t hear her proposing.”
“Definite no proposing,” Xander agreed. “More of an announcement. Attention Kmart shoppers, no slaying tonight. That kind of thing.”
Giles sighed deeply.
“You must understand, all of you,” he began. “The recent lull in supernatural activity, vampiric or otherwise, does not necessarily mean that tonight will be as quiet as we would all wish. To understand, you must understand Halloween itself.”
“Here he goes,” Buffy said, and rolled her eyes.
“In Celtic times,” Giles explained, “the year began in February and lasted until late October. The winter months, during which the land would wither and die, weren’t even considered real time, in a sense, but a barren world of shadow and worship of the dark gods, what we call demons, or ancient ones.
“During this dead time, called Samhuinn, the gates between worlds were open; the dead and the living could mingle. There were feasts for the dead, bribes for the evil ones among them, offerings to convince them not to harm the innocent, and rituals to keep them bound.
“Over time, as the faith in such things has waned, the season has shortened so that it now lasts only three days, from today, October thirty-first, to the second of November. But tonight is the night when the Druid priests would hold the ceremony marking the beginning of Samhuinn, and the night when the tribes of the night run free. Without the rituals and offerings to control them, the evil ones are not kept at bay.
“When the English Christians converted the Celts, they changed the names of these days. October thirty-first became All Hallow’s Eve, or Hallowe’en,” Giles concluded, then took a breath and looked at them expectantly.
The three teens stared back.
“So your point would be what?” Xander asked.
Giles pushed his glasses up his nose and looked at the Slayer. “Buffy?” he asked.
Buffy sighed. “His extreme boredom point would be that whatever happened up until tonight meant as much as a political promise,” she explained. “Tonight the dead try to take over the world.”
Xander and Willow stared at Buffy, then glanced at Giles before meeting each other’s gaze. Finally, Xander said, “Willow, are you pondering what I’m pondering?”
“Yes, Xander. Indeed,” Willow replied, then looked at Buffy and Giles as if they’d flunked kindergarten. “Maybe I just haven’t been, y’know, paying attention,” she said. “But why hasn’t this happened before? Okay, since Buffy’s been here, things have gotten weirder, but Sunnydale is at the mouth of hell, remember. If Halloween was all that, wouldn’t the whole town have been dusted decades ago?”
“Well,” Giles replied, “there is that.”
“Wait,” Buffy said. “You just said since nobody believes in these guys anymore, Halloween keeps shrinking, right?”
“Something like that,” Giles admitted.
“I get it,” Xander said. “So, this Samhuinn thing is just . . . over, right?”
“So over,” Buffy agreed. “Which means a quiet night, which means I am going to the masquerade.”
Giles began to clear his throat. The stern expression on his face made it clear he was not with Buffy’s program at all. She decided quickly that a compromise was in order.
“Okay, plea bargain time,” she said. “I’ll only stay for a while, and then I’ll go out and have a look around. If it’s still quiet, I’ll go back to the party. If there’s slaying to be done, well, I’m the Slayer. Deal?”
“What choice do I have?” Giles moaned. “As you say, you are the Slayer.”
“Right,” Buffy said happily. “I keep forgetting that part.”
“Cool,” Xander said. “Just make sure you stay clear of farms and fields, anywhere there’s a scarecrow.”
Buffy frowned. “Or a tin man or a lion?” she asked.
“It’s raining today, duh!” Xander said, then slapped himself in the forehead. “Duh again! You’re not from around here.”
Buffy looked at Willow. “What flight is he on?” she asked with very mild annoyance.
“It’s a local thing, kind of a bogeyman-type legend,” Willow explained. “According to the stories, there’s dark magick in Halloween rain. If it soaks into a scarecrow, and you trespass on the scarecrow’s territory, it will come to life and give you a stern talking to. No, extreme punishment, really.”
“Odd,” Giles said. “I’ve never even heard such a legend, and yet there are many references to a tie between scarecrows and Samhain.”
“Samhuinn again?” Xander asked.
“Not quite the same thing,” Giles explained. “Samhuinn is the season or the night of ritual itself. Samhain is the spirit of Hallowe’en, the king of the dead souls who haunted the land of the living on that night. Apparently, he was one of the demons, one of the ancient ones who inhabited this world before the birth of humanity, and he was sort of adopted by the Celts as one of their gods.”
“So he’s a foster demon, really,” Xander joked.
“Not a laughing matter,” Giles said, turning to the stack of books he’d brought down. “Samhain is one of the most evil creatures ever to walk the earth. Vicious and cunning. I really ought to look into this . . .”
The Watcher’s word trailed off as he lost himself in his books again.
Buffy, Xander, and Willow waited for a few seconds, to see if Giles would continue. He didn’t. The books had possessed him again, and the rest of them had become invisible.
Finally, Buffy shrugged.
“So, see you tonight,” she said to Willow and Xander. “Watch out for wet scarecrows.”
“It’s no joke, Buffy,” Xander said.
“Who’s joking?” Buffy asked.
© 2006 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation