Nothing happens on Halloween.
Creatures of the night shy away from Halloween. They find it all much too crass.
Giles, Fear Itself
Tradition says that the Veil between the worlds is thinnest at [Samhain], making possible communication with the dead.
DJ Conway, Wicca: The Complete Craft
Philadelphia is probably the most overlooked urban center on the east coast.
Regardless its role in the founding of the nation as well as being a major educational and arts center, Philly is continually disregarded by tourists, meeting planners and national weather maps alike. This despite boasting not only Independence National Park and the new Constitution Center, but also two major science museums, a world class orchestra, eighty-three colleges and universities and half a dozen major art museums, including one of the only ones in the country dedicated to the works of Auguste Rodin.
Threading through the middle of the city, straddling both banks of the Schuylkill River, lies Fairmount Park, thirty square miles of public use greenspace that makes New York’s Central Park look like a playground. And within the boundaries of the park lies Laurel Hill Cemetary. It is here that the remains of Sarah Hale, founder of the Thanksgiving holiday, Henry Deringer,inventor of the famous gun, and George Meade, the Union general at Gettysburg, all lie in peace, waiting for the final judgment.
And this is where the Slayer had chosen to patrol her first Halloween on the job. India McDaniels was, at the moment, the only living soul in the cemetery. She passed between the gravestones, looking around haphazardly as she went. Indy was in a sort of costume herself, what she called her Slayer gear. Her auburn hair, normally worn teased up six inches above her head, was now tied down in tight French ponytails against her scalp. Her usual wardrobe of color, lace and denim was replaced by heavy black jeans and a black t-shirt, with a heavyweight motorcycle jacket (sans chains) over the top. She wore black cross-trainers, and around her neck hung an intricately cut gold cross suspended midway between the hollow of her throat and the swell of her breast. The whole outfit was comfortable, functional, and covered as much of her fish belly white Irish-American skin as possible without getting in her way.
Indy scuffed her feet through the fallen leaves. She knew she should be quieter, but her heart just wasn’t in the hunt tonight. She could hear the sounds of the annual Halloween brouhaha echoing into the cemetery from the neighborhoods surrounding it. Children laughing and shouting, odd spooky noises playing from stereo speakers pointed out windows, the occasional sound of orange vegetable matter meeting asphalt followed by whoops of delight. But she wasn’t a part of that, alone here in this in-between space. She’d been invited to tonight’s Samhain ritual by the coven that sponsored her, and to a costume party over in University City by her researcher, but she’d turned them both down. They were all nice people, and Indy was sure each gathering would have its own entertainments. But she just didn’t feel connected to them. She hadn’t felt very connected to anything since this whole thing had started.
She spun in the direction of the warm tenor voice and saw only gravestones and crypts. Until she looked up. Sitting there on top of the Caldwell family crypt was a young man, roughly Indy’s own age. He looked to be about six feet tall, and lean without being lanky. His black hair hung long but was pulled back into a neat ponytail to reveal his features. Square face with a sleek, aquiline nose over his full mouth and strong chin. She imagined rather than saw that his eyes were blue, but in the darkness they could have been any color.
Her senses warned her, though, that this was no ordinary man. Every nerve in her screamed “Vampire!”
“What are you doing out here?” he went on, his warm voice sounding almost petulant.
“My job, dumbass.” She cocked back her stake arm. “Come on down and let’s do this.”
“Oh yeah, cuz that’s likely to go so well for me. You forget what day this is?”
That threw her off. “No . . .?”
He sighed. “It’s Halloween. Or didn’t all the ankle biters in horror drag clue you in?”
“Hello? Truce night? We stay out of trouble and you leave us alone for the night?”
She shifted her stance uncomfortably, lowering her stake to her side. “Really?”
“Yes, really.” He took a swig from the beer in his hand. “Didn’t your Watcher tell you?”
“Haven’t got one.”
“Oh.” He looked down at the bottle in his hand. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s not like that. I never had one. I’ve only been doing this for about six months.”
He looked interested. “Sounds like a story.”
He turned to reach behind him, then turned back. “You want a beer?” he asked, offering her a bottle.
She cocked an eyebrow at him.
She studied him for a moment before deciding. “What the hell.” She tucked the stake in her waistband, then leapt up on the nearest tombstone to jump neatly up on top of the crypt next to him.
“Nice,” he said, handing her the beer.
She plopped down next to him. “Thanks.” She twisted the top off the bottle and took a long swallow. “So, you got a name?”
“Yeah? Not a big scary vamp name.”
“Well, my sire didn’t get around to re-christening me. How about you?”
He grinned. “Like in Jones?”
She rolled her eyes. “I wish. My mom had a hard-on for all things Gone With the Wind. She didn’t want to be obvious about it, so she named me after Ashley’s sister, India. You know, the one who was supposed to marry Scarlett’s first husband?” He thought a moment, then nodded. “Anyway, it’s too obscure a reference for most people, especially since I’ve been called Indy almost since I was born.”
“I like it. It’s . . . different.”
“That it is.”
They sat quietly, staring out across the Schuylkill at the lights of the cars going by on the expressway. Finally he looked back at her. “So, no Watcher, huh? How’d that happen?”
“There weren’t enough for all the new girls. They figured I was old enough, I and didn’t need as much supervision.”
“All the . . .?” He looked confused.
“Oh, you haven’t heard? Long story, but the short of it is that it’s a hell of a lot more than one girl in all the world now, and you and your friends should keep your noses down from now on.”
He snorted. “Yeah, that’ll happen. Most of my kind aren’t too bright.”
“Yeah, I kind of noticed that.” She took another pull from the bottle.
“So anyway, they set me up with kind of a Watcher committee. I’ve got a sensei up in Chinatown who’s working with me on my fighting and weapons skills, and a local coven is helping me out with the magic stuff. And there’s a grad student in the Folklore Department, over at Penn? She’s helping me with the research. I think they bribed her with some previously undiscovered documents to help her with her dissertation. But she’s cool. And if I get into anything way crucial, I’ve got Council HQ on my speed dial."
“Seems kind of lonely.”
She fingered the bottle thoughtfully. “Yeah, it has its downside.” After a moment she shook off the melancholy and finished the beer. “So what’s your story? You’re obviously not from around here.”
“Well, the thermal shirt and blue jeans just don’t scream Urban Goth Vamp.”
He laughed. “Well, I look terrible in black. Washes out all my skin color.”
She snickered. “Seriously. Tell me about yourself.”
“Not much to tell.” It was his turn to fiddle with his beer.
“Well, how long have you . . .”
He seemed to understand what she was asking. He looked up, counting the years off in his head. “Twenty-three years. This year I’ve officially been dead longer than I was alive.”
She thought about that. “Wow.”
“Yeah.” He stared off into the dark. Suddenly he turned back to her. “You want another?”
“Another beer. Want one?”
“Sure. Why not?” She accepted the bottle from him, toying with the cap.
“So, what were you like when you were alive?”
“Me? Oh, I was a rock god.” He smiled around the mouth of his beer bottle at her incredulous look. “Okay, aspiring rock god. And international studies major.”
“Those seem like bipolar interests.”
“Not really. They both had the same goal. Making sure I never had to go back to Wisconsin.”
“Wis . . . ?”
“Oh, crap.” He tossed the empty bottle out into the darkness. “Okay, so now you know my secret. Big scary vampire hails from America’s Dairy Heartland, that hotbed of supernatural activity. Ever since the witches came, things just haven’t been the same.”
She tried not to giggle. But the more she held it back, the bigger it grew until with the embarrassed look in his eye and the ridiculousness of the situation, it overcame her and she found herself flat on her back on top of the crypt, laughing hysterically.
“Oh, knock it off!” he protested. “Come on, it’s not that funny!” But his indignant look turned sheepish, and soon he was chuckling along with her. “You know, you haven’t truly seen the face of terror until you’ve stood eye to eye with a rabid were-cow . . .” She rolled over in fresh gales of laughter, holding her sides painfully. He rescued her beer from being knocked off thecrypt, shaking his head and rolling his eyes with a smile as she fought to pull herself together. Finally she sat up, wiping her eyes and gasping for breath, still smiling brilliantly. “I’m really, really sorry.” She snorted. “Really.”
“Yeah, whatever, Slayer.” He handed her back her bottle.
“No, really. I shouldn’t have . . . So you were trying to get out of Wisconsin,” her face spasmed but she held it together. “So, what happened? Some demon dairy maid get her fangs into you?”
“Nah, didn’t happen there. Happened in Chicago. My friends and I had a hair band, played around campus, clubs, frat parties, that sort of thing. But we got our first real gig at a hole in the wall place down in the city, opening for someone up and coming. I don’t even remember who now. So I let myself get picked up by a groupie after the show. She turned me for kicks, then left me in an alley on the other side of town. Bitch even stole my wallet, so when the cops found me I was John Doe-d and sent to the morgue. Spent three weeks in one of those body lockers until someone came looking for a missing person matching my description.” He studied the bottle label intently. “You know those things don’t have handles on the inside? And for some reason, they’re very soundproof.”
“Yeah.” He took a deep, unneeded breath. “So, when I got out, I ate my way through the morgue staff and headed out to find my sire. No one knew where she was, but some of the vamps knew her and figured she’d just turned me to see if she could do it, but didn’t want the responsibility of training me. They took me in, passed me around and trained me up. I traveled some and eventually ended up here in Philly four years ago. Liked it here, so I stayed.”
She sat silently, reflecting on his story. Finally she said, “Hair band, huh?”
“Oh yeah. Spandex and hairspray.”
She looked him up and down, picturing it. “Nice. What did you play?”
“Keyboards. Pathetic, huh?”
“You still play?”
“Sometimes. A couple of the bars have my number if they need someone to fill in.”
She just nodded, staring back out into the darkness.
“What about you?” he asked. “What do you do when you aren’t being the Slayer?”
“Nothing exciting. I was two days away from graduation when I got Chosen. Communications: The degree for people who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. I had planned to spend the summer mooching off my parents and spending a lot of time at the shore, but that changed pretty quick. The Council found me right away. Gave me the spiel, told me about my destiny.” She accented the word with air quotes. “It was too hard to hide what I was doing from my folks, so I moved out. Council stipend pays the rent on a nice little trinity down near the Italian Market, and I temp to pay the rest of the bills. Saved the landlady from a vamp attack, so she feeds me a couple of nights a week. And when I’m not working, I go to the movies.”
“Yeah? What have you seen recently?”
“Saw 28 Days Later. Weird fucking movie.”
“Yeah, it’s too bad they jerked around with the ending.”
“You saw it?”
“Hey, I like movies as much as the next dead guy!”
She laughed. “Did you see Thirteen?”
He shook his head.
“Great movie. Not your usual coming of age schmaltz.” She thought for a minute. “Oh, and I rented Secretary a couple of weeks ago. God, was that hot!” She blushed, looking sidelong at him. “I mean, gaining power by submitting. It’s kind of a zen thing. And, well, guh!”
He studied her curiously. “You into dominance and submission?”
“No! I mean . . . I don’t know. I’ve never . . . but that’s not my point. I had just never thought about surrendering like that. I guess I never really thought I had any power to give up.”
“And now you do.”
They sat in companionable silence as they watched the lights on the river. She looked at her watch finally. “You know, it’s late. And you’re almost out of beer. So I should get going. Make sure things are quiet before I head home.”
She slid down off the top of the crypt to land catlike among the fall leaves. “So. Maybe I’ll see you here next year? You know, if you don’t get staked or something.”
He smiled. “Yeah, I’d like that.”
“Kay. Great.” She dusted her hands off. “Thanks for the beer.”
She turned and started down the hill. She hadn’t gone ten feet when she stopped. Making a decision, she turned back to him. “Look, I . . . you . . . The new Matrix movie opens next week. You want to go?”
He raised his eyebrows. “You asking me on a date, Slayer?”
She chuffed. “I’m not that hard up.” She paused, then rolled her eyes. “Okay, yes, I am. But no, not a date, just . . . Well, not friends. Cuz there are probably a million rules against Slayers and vampires being friends. Or dating. So how about . . . movie-going acquaintances?”
He tipped his head, puzzled. “Why would you want to?”
“Because. My world got really weird six months ago. Nobody gets just how weird. But I think you might.”
“Yeah.” He continued to study her. “You sure you’d feel safe alone in a dark theatre with me?”
She grinned wickedly. “I’ve got a collection of crosses and a whoooole stack of wooden pointy things that guarantee that you’ll be a perfect gentleman.”
He laughed. “Okay then, if you’re sure.”
“Great! Then I’ll meet you at the Riverview at nine on Thursday. Oh, and don’t let me catch you doing anything I’d have to dust you for between now and then, okay?”
It was his turn to look wicked. “You won’t catch me.”
She touched her nose with her index finger and pointed at him. “Good night, Michael,” she said, heading again towards the cemetery entrance, this time with a bounce in her step. “Happy Halloween!”
“Happy Halloween,” his voice floated back to her. “India.”