DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fanfiction and serves no commercial purpose. I neither possess nor claim any rights to BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER or anything connected with it that is under copyright protection.
When I wrote this story, I tried not to contradict established Buffyverse canon. Any inconsistencies have to be judged under the first rule of Whedonites: "Joss is boss." ;-)
--- Maine, 1966 ---
You fool, Julie, how could you let them lure you into a trap? – Goddamn vamps! Julie cursed herself, while she slowly felt the dizziness from the hard blow to her head disappear and her vision recover. Dizziness and blurred vision were not really of help while she struggled to fight off the two vampires that had pounced on her immediately after sending her down with a thwack. The dimly lit barn rotated before her eyes, even though she was lying on the floor. She found that her eyes would probably betray her more than help her right now, so she forced herself to close them. It was not easy, since her instincts told her to watch her enemies. But there were other instincts that she had to trust right now – those instincts of hers that were not human in origin. She let them take effect, allowed them just so much time as she could reasonably afford, with the two creatures over her, ready to tear her apart. Then her right elbow jumped up, punching into the throat of the vampire that had just moved forward towards her neck with his fangs extended. Glad that vamps are so predictable, she thought as the creature recoiled, emitting a smothered coughing sound. Even if vampires don’t breathe, they don’t take it lightly when their windpipes are smashed. Hurts them too. Buys time…
She was not so sure on which part of her body the other one was going to strike. But she had a notion that should not betray her. Again she waited for the blink of an eye, until a hand touching the cloth of her skirt just above the left knee gave her the final confirmation. The hand was moving swiftly, but Julie was prepared and knew what to do. She would not let this animal remove her dress and sink his fangs into her thigh. With a quick, forceful movement she tried to roll back over her shoulder. She clamped the head of the vampire, who was just getting low to bite, between her leg and her belly and spun the attacker around. The vampire cried out angrily, more out of surprise and frustration than pain. But the sound of his cry changed immediately into a deafening shriek of pain when Julie, who was now half lying with her shoulder on the dirty wooden floor, half above her enemy, got a grip of his head and turned it around violently. Julie felt the body under her leg go limp and returned her concentration to the other vampire.
She managed to disentangle from the immobilized opponent and get onto her feet. Though still impaired by the dizziness, Julie was somehow able to use her eyes again without embarking on a merry-go-round-trip. She made out the shape of the first attacker who had likewise recovered and was rising to his feet. Hastily she gazed around in the darkness of the barn. It was only lit by moonlight and by the dim glow of a lonely street lamp in the distance. She knew that the bad lighting was to the advantage of the vampire. Yet all she needed to find was... there! A small shadow hardly more than a yard from where she had gone down. She moved two steps forward and grabbed after the object, hoping intensely that she was not a victim of wishful thinking, but really discerning the shape of what she needed to find. A smile crossed her face when she felt her hand closing around the familiar form of her stake. The vampire with his superior sight noticed from his position that his enemy was now up and armed. She was as dangerous as she had been before the fight had started. The only difference was that now he was on his own, while his crony still lay motionless. For an instant he hesitated, and then he bolted out of the door.
Julie headed after the creature. She was not willing to let a vampire escape, much less one who had knocked her down and had been within inches of sinking his fangs into her neck. But again, darkness was to her disadvantage. After just two steps, she stumbled over something heavy. Julie realized that it probably was the same piece of steel that had sent her down before when it nearly cracked her head. She avoided the fall, but could no longer catch up to the fleeing enemy. When she left the barn, she saw the shape of the vampire melt into the blackness of the forest. Julie cussed. She knew well that further pursuit would be useless at best.
She found her torch light where she had dropped it. It lay on the lawn, close to the gravel path that led to the barn, on the spot where she had been patrolling when the first vampire had attacked. Then Julie returned into the barn to check on the other vampire. He still lay on the floor, his neck unhealthily contorted. She directed the torch light at his face, which had now become human-like again. He looked almost attractive. That was a cute young guy before he was sired, she thought regretfully. But she reminded herself that this was no human anymore, and that the handsome man he had once been was dead. He had been the first victim of the demon that had taken possession of his murdered, soulless body.
"Get that light out of my eyes! You bitch broke my neck!" the vampire exclaimed among moans of pain.
"Watch your tongue, buddy!" Julie replied unsympathetically, "and it's not broken, only strongly dislocated. The braking of a neck is much noisier, you now. More like a cracking sound. And either way, it would heal. You abominable creatures have an enviable ability of regeneration. Within a couple of weeks or maybe just days you would be jumping around like a puppy in the sun - or well, not in the sun, probably... But for sure you would be eager to move on with your favourite pastime of slaughtering women and children. But you see, I have a bit of a problem with that outlook. On the other hand, it seems somehow not sportsmanlike to terminate you while you’re immobile. Fortunately for you though, there is no need to stake you." She walked to the door, looked out into the full moon, then turned around and walked back to the vampire’s side. She squatted beside him and looked into his face that showed a mixture of despise, fear and confusion.
“You see”, she continued, “this is the barn of Charles Frederiksson. Very nice family, the Frederikssons. When I was a child, their daughter Anne and I were very close. I often came over to visit her. We played in the hay, had lots of fun… And every now and then, when there was a really warm summer night - very much like this night actually - we slept here out in the barn. Oh, we really loved that! It was an adventure for us nine year olds. I remember we liked to tell each other spooky stories about ghosts and monsters. Gee, back than I had no idea how many real life monster stories would be in store for me later in my life.”
Julie sighed. Her voice changed.
“Since my calling, Anne has somehow withdrawn from me. I guess she sensed that I kept secrets from her. Or maybe the calling has changed me. In fact I know it has. She was not the only one that started to feel uneasy…” She looked into the darkness in front of her, saying nothing for some seconds. Even the vampire, baffled and unsure about what the slayer was up to, but vaguely hopeful due to her comment about not staking him, kept silent.
“Anyway”, she said with a sudden change of tone, “whenever we had one of our sleepovers in the barn, we placed our blankets almost directly here, where you are lying now. Isn’t that a funny coincidence? And do you know what was so special about this spot? See, as the barn is facing east, it was always so wonderful to be woken up by the first light of the sun entering through the doorway. To this day I remember the beauty of that shining ball over the lake and the dark forested hills in the background. And how the sunlight used to tickle our noses! Well, you’ll experience it pretty soon. Just maybe you won’t enjoy the tickling as much as we did.” With those words, she gave a last cold look to the vampire whose eyes were now wide open in horror. Unaffected, Julie rose and walked out the door, leaving the helpless creature to its fate.
Reporting to her watcher didn’t cease to be among the most unpleasant of the young slayer’s responsibilities. For twenty minutes already he had been giving her a telling-off about the stupidity of pursuing her first attacker into the barn without checking for potential accomplices luring inside, and how stepping into this trap and being beaten down with a massive piece of steel could have gotten her killed. It was not that Julie would not have agreed on the stupidity part – she had had enough time to dwell on that subject during the last hours while she felt the bruise on the back of her head become bigger and more painful to touch. Also the nausea on the way back home after sunrise brought the same message home. Yet she was annoyed by the way Mr. Northcutt kept rubbing it in. As on many occasions before when he was unsatisfied with her performance – and he was unsatisfied all too many times, and surely more often than it seemed justified in her eyes – she felt that he insistently wanted her to humiliate herself by admitting that she was a fool and a disgrace who never proved worthy of his tireless efforts to make her a capable slayer. In turn she got angry and defensive; even started to justify her mistakes, against her own better judgement. That reaction seemed to affirm his opinion that she was a failure, and their conversation got ever more tense and aggressive. Julie felt tired. This situation was recurring again and again and it unnerved her more every time.
Finally Northcutt let go of his reproaches for bad fighting tactics and moved on to other complaints.
“What silly game was that about letting the paralyzed vampire be burnt by the rising sun? Forget your sadistic impulses, and don’t play with your enemies like a cat would do with a mouse! When you have a vampire immobile at your feet, you stake him instantly! Fooling around can be your downfall. What if he had just feigned and attacked you again?”
“He would have had better chances to do that while I was concentrating on his pal. And it was quite obvious from the way he lay there that he was not feigning. I’m not an idiot.”
The watcher seemed not convinced about any of those points.
“I told you again and again that you should never be too sure. Vampires are treacherous creatures. They love to attack and butcher head on when they have superior strength than their opponent, but they can also use every kind of deception if they meet a strong enemy. The bruise on your head should tell you that!
And did it even cross your mind that a burning vampire could have torched the whole barn? If someone saw you patrolling in the area, you might have had police interrogating you for arson in the morning.”
Julie felt uneasy. She had assured herself that the vampire lay on a clean piece of floor, far away from straw or anything easily inflammable. Yet it was true that she would not have been able to do very much about it if the whole building had gone up in flames, and the potential consequences of being brought into connection with the destruction of Gunnar Frederiksson’s barn would have been very unpleasant. But she was not willing to concede any misgivings to Northcutt.
“Did it cross YOUR mind”, she replied in a huffy voice, “that I may have had a good reason for not staking him, but letting the sun finish him off? I really didn’t feel too well after the fight, but I waited for two hours close to the barn to see if the second vampire would come back to look after his crony. I certainly felt more like going home and falling into bed, but I waited until the sun came up. Just wanted to be sure that I would not let the opportunity slip to finish the fight and take out another vampire.”
He seemed taken aback. Julie felt she was winning an argument. That didn’t happen too often. She could not resist capping it all off. “It’s a good slayer’s duty!” she remarked.
Northcutt didn’t seem as impressed as she had hoped for.
“And did he come back?” he asked.
“No, he didn’t”, Julie had to admit.
“Or he did, but spotted you much earlier than you could have seen him. Lying in wait for a vampire in the night is quite a futile exercise.”
So much for wining an argument, Julie thought. It just was no use. The watcher always had to rub it in that she was not playing by the book – or probably some ancient council’s scrolls for that matter.
Two hours of training in chilly atmosphere and a not much warmer good-bye later, Julie was on her way home. She walked the familiar path along the lake where Northcutt lived, and then along the road that led to the small center of her North Maine hometown and further to her parents’ house. Like on many occasions when she followed that way, the slayer mused about her unpleasant conversations with Northcutt. It had been two years since she knew him, yet their original antipathy had never really died away. He had moved to Greenfall only days after her nightmares had started. She had been in fear and confusion at that time, so when the townspeople talked about the close-lipped biologist from England, who had moved into an old wooden house at Lake Sapins in order to study a rare species of frogs for a perennial science project, she had hardly taken note. That was, of course, until the strange man had approached her on the way home from school. She had walked faster initially, until he had asked her bluntly if she had had bad dreams recently. That was the day she learned about her calling. The day she learned she was a vampire slayer. THE vampire slayer.
In order to perform her training and instruction, Northcutt and Julie had agreed that she would volunteer to assist him in his frog studies as a cover up. That way she could explain why she spent so many hours after school at his house at the lake. They had even invented a series of experiments about nocturnal behaviour of frogs, which would oblige her to help out after sunset, when in reality she had faced her first real vampires. Julie always expected that sooner rather than later townspeople would start gossiping about her spending so much time alone at a single man’s house, hidden in the woods, half a mile away from the road. As much as she was disgusted by the thought of having an affair with the grouchy old man, it would have been absolutely no surprise if some bored people had come up with the most raunchy tales. But, much to her relief, nothing of the sort ever occurred. Perhaps the mutual dislike between Northcutt and her was too obvious to everyone, so nobody could ever assume that the two of them would be attracted to each other in any way. Probably people just wondered why she did not quit her science volunteering and still kept visiting the biologist. She let the word spread that she worked mostly on her own when she was at the lake, seeing to the experiments, while Northcutt followed some other tasks, and that they did not interact very much. So somehow she had managed to make everyone swallow her story, although most people were very astonished by Julie´s intense fascination of frogs.
Those nightmares… They still haunted her and made her wake up sweating many nights. But she had understood their meaning when Northcutt had told her that they sprang from the memories of all the slayers that had come before her. Night after night she lived their fights, felt their victories and their defeats. And sometimes she felt their deaths…
The memories were always blurred; faces and events intermingled and became vague. But the feelings were intense. And beside the anxiety, thrill and pain of the fights, occasionally she ‘remembered’ also the emotions for people that had crossed the slayers’ path and, in most cases, were now equally dead and gone – many of them only remembered in Julie’s dreams. Through the eyes of the previous slayers, she also saw their watchers and experienced the girls’ sentiments towards them. Mostly those were sentiments of deep respect and trust, sometimes feelings like one would have for a father, occasionally even romantic feelings – although she was sure that they were not appropriate. But neither was it fitting, the dreams told her, that a watcher should scorn his trainee, bashing her every action or decision. Many watchers had been tough on the slayers they were assigned to, but still they had always managed to prod them to become better fighters, to follow their missions with determination and prudence – until, eventually, they all found their end, Julie added to her thoughts with a shiver.
Not exploring the last concern any further – she had decided not to go there long ago – she returned to thinking about herself and Northcutt. She felt pity for herself for not having the same kind of trustful relationship with her watcher like all these other girls had. It was not fair. Being the slayer was hard enough; why did this additional hardness hit her of all slayers? Admittedly, she could not really argue that Northcutt was not training her well. He had taught her a lot about demons, vampires, had explained to her how she had to fight them and that she had to follow her instincts during the encounters with the nocturnal creatures. His instructions and drill had helped her keeping the upper hand on quite a number of occasions. Yet, as for emotional and moral support, he failed. Maybe he thought that his criticism could motivate her, maybe he even thought that it worked. Yet ultimately, Julie knew, she had to fight alone.
Lost in her reflections, the slayer had come close to her parents’ house. She saw warm light coming out of the kitchen window. For a moment, Julie was tempted to walk inside, collect some friendly words from her mother, maybe spend the night. But then she changed her mind and walked by the large house to the smaller one-storey wooden building that lay 200 yards further down the lakeside. Not very much more than a hut by modern standards of the 1960’s, that house was her place of refuge. It had been her family’s home for more than a century until her father had built the new comfortable house closer to the road. But her grandmother had chosen to stay in the old place, and Julie, who loved her granny immensely, had spent most of her childhood days there with her. Later, after she had been called, she had practically moved in. Julie had been isolating herself not only from her friends, but to a degree also from her parents and her little brother. For some time she had felt that her granny was the only person she could stand – or had it been the other way around? Had Madeleine Blanchard in fact been the only person who could stand her granddaughter?
Either way, granny had meant very much to her, and when the old lady had suddenly died from a stroke last winter, Julie had been devastated. She had decided to stay in her grandmothers little house, the place which gave her comfort and consolation. Her father, seeking to support his daughter even if she dissociated from the remaining family, had even signed the old family home over to her for her 18th birthday. That had been six weeks ago, and since then Julie was the owner of the little house that, in her mind, still was her grandmother’s.
After preparing some food in the little kitchen and heating up some water for washing, the slayer sat down on the bench on the small wooden terrace. For some time she let her troubled mind wander again, while she observed the dragonflies hunting over the pond in front of the old house. Those insects were delicate creatures, yet fierce hunters. Not so unlike me, Julie mused. At least they had the sense to pick only on prey that was smaller than them. Unlike me, Julie added in her thoughts. Then she returned inside and prepared for bed. The afternoon was getting late and she had to recover before she would go out on her night patrol. The slayer slipped under her sheet and closed her eyes, waiting for sleep, waiting for the nightmares.
Hours later, after the sun had gone down over Greenfall, Julie combed the area around Frederiksson’s barn, searching for clues to the vampire that had escaped from the encounter in the previous night. Not that she expected that he would confront her again at the same site, but it was as good an activity as any on her patrol. After searching the surroundings of the farm in vain, the slayer pondered where she should proceed with her investigations. She walked out to the country road that went past Frederiksson’s estate. From a small crest Julie overlooked the dark area that extended northwards. Gossamer Forest – a blur of black under the moonlight. Those woods were the densest and most impenetrable in the whole county. In most parts, they remained primeval. Some attempts at logging there had run into various difficulties. Lumberjacks had suffered unexplainable accidents or had even disappeared mysteriously. Every resident of Greenfall and the surrounding towns would assert that Gossamer Forest was haunted, especially when asked about it by gullible tourists. But only Julie knew that it was actually true.
Deep inside, the forest harboured some kind of rift, or a spot where the fabric that kept the world apart from other dimensions was weaker than in most other places. Regularly, black magical energy from some demon world spilled over and dispersed into Gossamer Forest. That unpleasant phenomenon attracted all kinds of demonic creatures. They traveled to Greenfall to soak in that energy or have a bath in it, or whatever such bloody creatures would do for a wellness treatment. The dimensional leek had made Julie’s town a goddamn demon holiday resort!
Maybe, Julie used to think, that was the reason why a girl from out here in the boondocks would be called to be the slayer. As she could infer from her dreams, however blurred they were, many of her predecessors lived in large centers of population and commerce, where people had lots of opportunities to hunt after happiness and fortune, while demons and vampires had equally good opportunities to hunt after people. Those other girls had had the same hard job as she did, but at least they had pursued it in a more exciting place. In a place where fights over live and death were not the only thrills.
Most nights the slayer was wary to enter Gossamer Forest. It meant to seek out her prey directly at the spot where it could draw additional force from the black energy that filled the woods. Usually she was busy enough hunting down those evil creatures who ventured into town and tried to complement their holiday experiences with some taste of local food in the form of one or two townspeople or campers. Due to Julie’s vigilance, most of these endeavours ended lethally for the attackers. Sometimes she wondered, with a grin, if somewhere a demonic travel agency existed, where those who survived those fights could file complaints about spoiled holidays. Was there a regulation as to how much reimbursement a demon tourist would get if he ran into the slayer?
This night, Julie decided, she would enter the haunted woods, if only for reconnaissance in the outer parts. The vampire had fled into that direction and maybe the surroundings filled with demonic energy gave him the courage to confront her. Her tactics were somehow risky, and she knew beforehand that Northcutt would scold her again, but she preferred to force a fast resolution over enduring a long, frustrating impasse.
With her crossbow raised and ready to shoot, the slayer stepped into the forest. She advanced slowly, both to avoid making noise and falling over the thick underwood. She concentrated on the sound of the night-time wilderness, attentive for any kind of noise that was different from the common repertoire of animal shouts and wind in the trees. For ten or twenty minutes Julie advanced into the ever denser forest. The light of the nearly full moon hardly penetrated the thick crowns of the old trees, and she could not even see her feet anymore. Regretfully she concluded that there was a point in Northcutt’s observation that it was rather useless to try to sneak up on a vampire in a pitch-black surrounding.
Ahead, she noticed a small clearing where the moonlight reached the ground. She decided to walk to that spot and consider the further course of action. Once she arrived there, Julie kept silent and stood listening. The only sounds she could hear, apart from the wind above her in the crowns, were some croaks, obviously coming from one of the shallow ponds and swamps that were scattered around the forest. Rana clamitans melanota, Julie remembered. Her cover as an assistant in frog research had compelled her to become something like an expert on amphibians. After all, it would have been difficult to explain if she were not even able to tell one species from the other after two years of alleged studies.
Without any sign of a supernatural creature around, she decided to leave the forest. She would find the hiding vampire eventually, but here and now it seemed to be a futile endeavour. Julie turned around – and froze. On the other side of the clearing, still in the shades, but at least dimly lit by the moonlight, somebody was standing and looking into her direction. A moment later, the phantom started to talk.
“So are you going back now? I am fine with that”, a female voice said cheerfully, “I just stubbed my toe on a root. It is really easier to follow you on the road.”
Julie felt her heart racing, but with the instinct of the slayer she lifted her crossbow and aimed at the figure.
“Whoa-ho!” the stranger responded to the gesture. “Be careful with that instrument! Sorry if I frightened you, but if your fingers are shaking, better direct that thing somewhere else, if you would be so nice.”
Julie forced herself to stay calm and focused. Her fingers were shaking indeed, but she had no intention to lower her weapon. She kept her eyes fixed at the woman who was now coming closer, in a tentative but confident way. As she stepped out of the shadow, Julie was able to see her better in the moonlight, although her face stayed obscured. She was very tall, towering half a foot or even more over Julie, who was not a short person herself. She seemed to be athletic too, although she appeared rather slender due to her body height. Still her movements were smooth and juvenile. She wore some kind of wide dress, which seemed impractical out in the woods.
Was that woman a vampire? Julie doubted that a human could have been following her unnoticed, but then again, even a vampire should not have been that silent. In any case, she could not kill the stranger on mere suspicion, not even out here in this demon-infested Forest.
“If you’re not up for being shot, girl, you should not sneak up on me. I tend to become rather short-tempered if someone messes with me”, Julie warned her.
“Oh yes, I know that”, the woman answered with the same annoying cheerfulness like before, “I saw how you fought those vampires who tried to outsmart you last night. That was pretty impressive!”
Julie could not believe what she had heard. Who was that strange person? Had she really witnessed the confrontation? Why hadn’t Julie noticed her? And if the tall stranger really was a vampire, what had kept her from joining the fight? For some moments back then, the situation had been quite critical for the slayer. A third attacker could have meant Julie’s defeat, she thought with a shudder.
“What are you even talking about?” she tried to bluff, but against her will, it sounded more evasive than assertive.
“I was there and watched the fight”, the woman explained, “although unfortunately only through a crack in the barn from outside. I could hardly see what was going on, but obviously they had set a trap. I was worried for a moment when you went down, but of course you kept the upper hand in the end. I was sure you would.”
“And why would that be?”
“Because it takes more than such dimwits to overwhelm a slayer, is it not so?”
Julie’s uneasiness deepened. There was this strange woman – or female human-like creature for all she knew – who had obviously – no, admittedly – been following her around and who knew about her nature. What did it all mean?
“Look, I’m tired of your beating around the bush”, Julie hissed after a moment of recollecting her composure. “You have been shadowing me, obviously even before tonight, and I want to know at once what you are up to! Remember that there’s still a weapon aimed at your chest!”
“I understand”, the stranger said, in a voice that finally was not so jolly anymore. “You have the right to be angered. But I was not really planning to tail you. In fact I wanted to approach you already yesterday, but then the fight broke out and I was intrigued by watching your style. So I was curious to observe your further strategy. That is why I did not contact you earlier. I apologize if that was inappropriate.”
“It certainly is inappropriate, even if I wouldn’t feel this rather legitimate urge to pin you onto a tree right now. So you’ve been studying me? To what purpose? I am still not any closer to knowing who you are and what you want from me. Besides, this forest is the worst possible place for sneaking around. It’s…”
“…haunted, I know. And you have come here to hunt the vampire that escaped yesterday, am I right?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but yes. Anything else you would like to chat about before you finally come clean?”
“Oh, no no! It’s just that you can call off the search. The creature is dust.”
“I followed him yesterday when he ran into the woods. Strong fighter, but inexperienced. It did not take me too long to finish him off.”
“You killed him? But how could you…”
“Because you and I, we are the same.”
Julie opened her eyes in disbelief.
“Yes,” the tall woman said, “I am a vampire slayer.”