It was Tuesday.
And Buffy Summers the Vampire Slayer was out on patrol instead of at the Bronze with Willow and Xander (and hopefully Angel) because Giles had figured out that tonight was the Rising.
The Rising of what, Buffy’s Watcher did not know, but it was easy to guess that it probably meant vampires. Maybe zombies. Something that rose from graves, anyway.
Something that kept her from the fun other sixteen-year-olds were having.
Sighing, Buffy trailed her fingers over the lowered head of a weeping cherub statue and waved her flashlight in an arc.
“Here, rising guys,” she called plaintively. “Ready to play when you are.”
She had on her black knitted cap and Angel’s black leather jacket, but she was still a little chilly. Maybe it was just because she was walking through Blessed Memories, the graveyard that contained the du Lac tomb, famed in the annals of Buffy’s diary as the graveyard out of which Spike and Dru had stolen a fancy decoding cross called, amazingly enough, the du Lac Cross. They had used it to nearly kill Angel. Since then, it was not her favorite cemetery ever.
Blessed Memories also contained a pet cemetery, a little square of plots with miniature headstones that tugged at Buffy’s heart. TOBY MY PUP RIP 1898. R KITTIE LUCY 1931. She had no time for pets, not even zombie cats freshly risen from the grave. She had hardly any time for anything, what with the slayage and the studying, okay, not the studying; but still and all, it was Sunnydale that was the problem, with all its death and monsters and standard normal-teenage-girl pressures, like having friends and not getting kicked out of school. …
If my best buds and I could be anywhere but here, that would be … She thought for a moment. She and Willow were really good at that game. Anywhere But Here was created for high school kids, especially those who had to live in Sunnydale.
… in Maui, with Angel. … Okay, not. Too much sun for a boyfriend who would burst into flames if he stepped into the tropical rays. So …
… in Paris, with Angel … and Willow could be with James Spader—I officially give him to her because I’m with Angel now—and we’re so not eating snails, but oh, I know! French pastries. And we are shopping …
… for rings …
Buffy stopped and cocked her head. Did she just hear something? Snap of a twig, maybe? A cough?
She listened eagerly for a replay so she could head toward it. She waited. Waited yet more. Heard nothing. Turned off her flashlight. More waiting.
Behold the sounds of silence.
She tried to pick up the Paris thread again. French pastries, okay, maybe too early in the relationship to shop for rings, then for shoes. … Truth was, she really would be happy to be just about anywhere but here. If only she could just run away, join in the fun-having of other kids her age. Join the circus, even.
Except she didn’t like circuses. Never had. What was with those clowns, anyway? She shivered. She was with Xander on that one: They gave her a wiggins.
Send in the clowns.
Six miles away, just past the outbuildings of Crest College, the trees shivered. The clouds fled and the moon trailed after them, desperate to hide.
Sunnydale, loaded with souls ripe for the plucking …
Five miles away.
The clowns materialized first, big feet flapping, overstuffed bottoms wiggling, in polka dots and rainbow stripes, and white gloves hiding fingers that no one should ever see.
A jag of lightning:
A parade of trucks, wagons, lorries. A maroon wagon, its panels festooned with golden Harlequins and bird women plucking lyres, shimmered and stayed solid. Behind it, a Gypsy cart with a Conestoga-style bonnet jangled with painted cowbells, and beneath the overhanging roof, black-and-silver ribbons swayed. Behind the wagon, a forties-era freight truck blew diesel exhaust into the velvet layers of moonlight. A jagged line, creaking back into shadows, disappearing. Maybe the entire apparition was just a dream.
Thunder rolled, and they reappeared.
Maybe they were just a nightmare.
Spectral horses whinnied and chuffed; it began to rain, and through the murky veil of downpour and fog, the horses’ heads were skulls; their heads were … heads. They breathed fire; they didn’t breathe at all.
They began to rot in slow motion.
The clowns ran up and down the advancing line, applauding and laughing at the flicker-show, the black magick lantern extravaganza.
Skeletons and corpses hunkered inside truck and wagon cabs and buckboard seats. Whipcracks sparked. Eyes lolled. Mouths hung open, snapped shut. Teeth fell out. Eyes bobbed from optic nerves.
Things … reassembled.
A creak, and then nothing.
Two ebony steeds pulled the last vehicle—the thirteenth wagon in the cortege. It was an old Victorian traveling-medicine-show wagon, maybe something that had crisscrossed the prairies and the badlands, promising remedies for rheumatism and the gout when the only ingredients in the jug were castor oil, a dead rattlesnake, and wood alcohol.
Where their hooves touched, the earth smoked. Black feathers bobbing in their harnesses, black feathers waving from the four corners of the ornate, ebony wagon, the horses were skeletons were horse flesh were demon stallions ridden by misshapen, leathery creatures with sagging shoulder blades, flared ears, and pencil-stub fingers. And as the moon shied away from the grotesquerie, the angle of light revealed words emblazoned on each of the thirteen vehicles that snuck toward Sunnydale, home to hundreds of thousands of souls determined to ignore the peril they were in:
PROFESSOR CALIGARI’S TRAVELING CARNIVAL
The wind howled through the trees—or was it the ghostly dirge of a calliope?
Too soon to tell.
Too late to do anything about it.
© 1998 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.