Shirley perches on the gravestone, holding her purse on her lap. Her stomach gurgles lightly as she pulls a neatly-wrapped brownie from its depths. It’s one of her favorites, peanut butter and chocolate swirl, but she just nibbles at it. No telling how long she’ll be here.
The nights when she just has to wait are both terrible and wonderful. On one hand, it’s boring, there’s really no light to see to do homework, and she’s away from Andre and her boys. On the other hand, it’s just nice to have a calm evening, rather than racing to put out one supernatural fire after another. But hey, when you live on the Hellmouth, you deal with whatever comes.
Maybe she should bring along one of those e-readers? It would fit in the purse, and she’s really been wanting to catch up on her Karen Kingsbury.
The dirt stirs at her feet, finally. “‘Bout time, honey.” She hastily puts the brownie away, retrieves her trusty stake, Alpha, from an inside pocket and slings the bag over her shoulder.
His hands poke out of the grave first, pale and pasty (not that they were any less pale before his death), pushing chunks of earth away with great heaves. When his face pokes out, mud and grit cover his no-longer-needed glasses. Garrett looks around his plot in the dark cemetery with alarm. “What is going on?”
She doesn’t hop down from the gravestone. “Sweetie, you died.”
“I d–I died?!”
She shakes her head sadly. “Terrible thing, too. You were walking home after your night class and one of the Twilighters got to you.” She says the name with distaste, but what better could you expect from a vampire coven led by an elderly man?
He shudders dramatically, though for different reasons, and mud and grass fall from his shoulders. “Vampires? I’m allergic to vampires!” He levers himself up out of the grave with both hands, and then pulls his feet free.
Shirley slips down off of the gravestone at last, giving her crucifix a kiss for luck. “That’s a shame.” She squats in front of him. “Since you’re a vamp now.”
“I’m a wha–?”
He doesn’t finish his thought, because Shirley is already arcing her stake downward toward his heart. “Too bad you can’t enjoy it,” she snarks in a low tone.
He catches the stake millimeters from his heart. “Hey! I’m also allergic to wood!”
“I bet you are,” she says, pushing it forward, but it doesn’t budge. That was sometimes the way. The weaker they were as humans the stronger they were as vampires, even newly made. Whatever hellish force created vampires had a sense of humor.
Luckily she has her other stake, Omega, stashed in the waistband of her skirt. She whips it around and through his back before he can bleat another protest. The dust showers back down into his open grave.
A dry voice sounds behind her. “You don’t even give them a chance to taste blood, do you?”
Shirley doesn’t bother to turn. “Good evening, Jeffrey.” She kicks the dirt back over the grave and pats it with her boot to make it look undisturbed.
“What a cruel woman.” She can hear Jeff take a couple of steps toward her. “I like that in a Slayer.”
“I’m sure you do,” she drawls, turning to face him. His spiky hair shines in the dim light. Even in un-death, he’s the vainest person she’s ever known. “You haven’t met one you wouldn’t like to taste, either, I bet.”
He’s pressed against her in an instant. “Slayer blood is the sweetest.” He licks his lengthened incisors. “And low carb, too.”
She doesn’t fear him, not Jeff Winger. He likes to play at fighting with her, but he is more of an annoyance than a threat. She’s wondered more than once why he even bothers.
“You’re lucky I have homework to do,” she says, without moving out of his reach, “or I’d end this stupid cat-and-mouse game we play with a little dusting.”
He smiles, a languid show of teeth. “Ah, but you’d miss me.”
“Like hell I would.” She doesn’t know why she just doesn’t turn and walk away.
A bored female voice calls from the edge of the cemetery. “Are you done yet, Jeff? I’m hungry.”
Shirley’s eyebrows raise with surprise as she realizes who it is. Michelle Slater, missing for a couple of years. Everyone thought the vamps got her. Clearly they had. Shirley takes several steps in her direction, stake raising.
Jeff stops her with an arm. “Not tonight, Slayer. You can’t take everyone’s fun.” He races off with Michelle and a tossed off, “Say ‘hi’ to your ‘Study Group!’”
She shakes her head. What a godforsaken pain in the ass. As she walks to her car, she texts Abed with a quick, “Done. Maybe the vamps will let me get my bio paper in on time for once.”
“I’ve put some preliminary statistics together, and I think there’s a pattern emerging.” Annie slides a printed page with a color-coded map to the center of the study room table. “The Twilighters’ attacks seem to be closing in on one point, as well as increasing exponentially in frequency.”
“Good catch, Annie,” Abed says, and she gives him a small, proud grin. “There’s definitely a pattern. They are trying to grow their numbers. And if these are correct, which I’m sure they are,” he gestures at Annie, “something big is going down...”
“...tomorrow night.” Shirley finishes. Annie and Abed nod their agreement.
The others in the group have various reactions to the news. Pierce rolls his eyes. Britta rubs her hands together with relish. Troy drops his head to the table in despair. But she wouldn’t trade a one of them – they’ve proven themselves over and over in the two plus years they’ve been together. In the weeks after Abed had come to her with the news that she was the new Slayer, as Watcher, he formed this group around her. Now they are all her loyal friends.
Troy lifts his head suddenly. “Wait,” he pulls the map toward him and points at the probable site of the coming battle. “Isn’t that the gym?”
Annie nods. “Yes, though I’m not sure w–”
Pierce interrupts, “Is this going to be much longer? I’m going to be late to cheerleading practice.” It was odd how proud Pierce was of his status as a cheerleader. Especially since it had started as part of a vampire hunting mission within the Greendale cheerleading squad.
“Then go if it’s so important to you,” Britta says with a glare. “You clearly want to be eaten alive tomorrow night.”
“I wouldn’t mind,” he says flippantly, “if a hot lady vamp had her way with me.”
The table groans. Britta sticks out her tongue at him, then turns to Shirley. “Are you sure I can’t unleash a little vengeance and be rid of him once and for all?”
Shirley shakes her head, and Troy places a gentle hand on Britta’s forearm. “No, babe. It’s not nice to wield your demony powers against members of the Study Group, as much as you might want to.”
“Besides,” Troy says, a touch gleefully, “knowing his luck, it’ll be Leonard that gets him instead.”
Pierce’s face crumples in comically. “Screw cheerleading, I’m staying here.”
Dean Pelton chooses that moment to pop in on them, sticking his head into the door frame. “Dean Dong! The Dutch Are Dead!” he sings, coming into the room all the way. He’s wearing a sort of stylish Grim Reaper outfit – with hose, heels and the tattered hemline ending above the knee. “At least they will be after our basketball team kicks their butts!” As he circles the table, giving each of them a flier, he goes on, “Support our Human Beings!” He breezes out as easily as he came in.
The group reads the flier and a worried look passes between them. Annie frowns. “I was going to say I wasn’t sure why the gym was important, but now...”
The flier reads, Big Game Tomorrow Night! Join our cheerleading squad as they root for Greendale’s basketball team in their match against the Flying Dutchmen of Central College!
Pierce sits back with a huff. “Aw, nuts.”
Shirley has her team stationed all around the gym. Troy’s working concessions, Annie managed to finagle her way into being a substitute trainer for the team, Britta is locking down all of the exits but one, and Pierce is on the floor with the cheerleading squad. He looks a little nervous, and if she’s honest, she doesn’t mind that a bit. He’ll do his job when it comes to it, however freaked out he is right now.
She is up in the top row of the bleachers, where she has an eagle eye on the whole gym. Abed is on the other side. Every so often, he flashes her a signal, their private Morse code, with his laser pointer. So far, nothing. She’s not getting the feeling that any of the screaming fans around her are vampires, but that doesn’t mean anything. No sign of Leonard anywhere.
One quarter passes. Two. The cheerleaders take center court at halftime, and they run their routine without incident. Annie looks up at Shirley, catches her eye. She’s got that worried look she gets when she’s second-guessing herself. Shirley gives her a little sign, a ‘don’t worry’ gesture. Shirley used to do the same thing, back when she first became the Slayer. Hell, she still does it. But hey, if she’s the only who can send those demons back to Hell, she’s more than willing to do the Lord’s work.
The others don’t see it that way, and that’s fine. But it’s not named the ‘Hellmouth’ for no reason. Shirley calls a spade a spade.
The third quarter passes. Greendale is up by six points. The other team must really suck. No wonder the dean was promoting this game. He knew they had a shot at winning.
Halfway into the fourth quarter, Shirley gets impatient. If the Twilighters want to turn an army, they need to strike while they have everyone held captive. Once the game is over, people will disperse. The vamps have to strike soon.
Abed signals her again, Plan B? She signals back. Yes. Directing the beam to where Annie can see it, she signals, Go for reveal.
Annie slips away from the team then and crouches down beside the water cooler. To anyone else, it would look like she’s getting a drink of water for someone. Shirley and her Study Group know Annie’s working a spell to reveal the vampires in the room.
Slowly but steadily, a bluish glow comes over the faces of various people throughout the gym. There’s a woman there, a man over there, quite a few sprinkled throughout the bleachers. With a stifled gasp, she realizes that the whole Central College team is glowing... as well as several of the Greendale players.
People in the crowd start to murmur as well, but before panic can spread, the Study Group springs into action. Troy, having gone ‘on break,’ is now in the control room. Any second now, the lights should cut out...
With an audible foom, the whole gym goes dark. That is, except for the vampires, who are helpfully glowing. People all around start to shout in fear, but Shirley is already in motion. Like an avenging angel, she floats through the crowd, dusting vamps with both hands. The bluish light sparkles in the air like fairy dust before fading away.
At her next turn, a young vampire looms before her. Lifting two glowing hands to the air, he cries, “Pop, P–!” He’s dust before the second word emerges.
She can see other lights going out around the gym. Troy stands on the stairwell, protecting the booth with a multi-faceted stake tool, like a Leatherman of Slayer weapons. He’s been their fix-it guy since he dressed up as a handyman for Halloween and a spell gave him those powers for real. Annie is levitating a sheath full of wooden arrows into any vamp that gets near her. Pierce is taking out most of the vamped-out basketball team with his combination stake-pom-poms, and some well-timed pratfalls. Abed is an amazing shot with wooden bullets - Watcher training, undoubtedly.
Britta runs by, screaming bloody murder. She isn’t chasing anyone, or being chased. “Britta!” Shirley yells, grabbing her arm. “What’s wrong?”
“The worst! I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure the Twilighters are using...” she shudders, “...bunnies.”
Shirley rolls her eyes. “Get back to the door, girl,” she orders. “Or I may suddenly decide to adopt a Study Group mascot.”
Britta is horrified. She races back to her station.
Near her, another light explodes and fades, and Shirley can’t tell who’s responsible. She dashes toward them to help, and then sees it’s Chang. “Got your back, Slayer!” he shouts and then raises his sharpened billy clubs to go back into the fray.
“Huh,” she says.
But there’s no time to waste thinking about that. There are still far too many vamps in the gym. Britta is starting to get the humans out the one open exit, and dusting the non-humans, but the utter chaos is making it harder. They were prepared for that, at least.
Suddenly she’s choking. She drops Alpha and Omega from nerveless fingers and recovers enough to pull at the garrote cutting off her air. She sinks to the wooden floor, as she fights to remain conscious. She smells Leonard’s fetid breath before she hears his raspy voice talking in her ear. “Good try, Slayer. But my minions are many, and Greendale is only the first step...”
“Shut up, Leonard!” someone yells, and Leonard disintegrates all over her back. She coughs as vamp-dust-filled air rushes back into her lungs and turns to see the glowing visage of Jeff standing over her. He looks down at the stake he’s holding, and tosses it away with a sneer. “And thanks for ruining a perfectly good stake!”
She can’t believe what she’s seeing. It must be obvious on her face, because Jeff says, holding out a hand to her, “I wouldn’t want anyone else to have the honor of killing the Slayer before I get a chance myself.”
She doesn’t take his hand, but pushes herself to her feet. “Thanks, Jeffrey. That was... nice,” she says, rubbing at her neck. It’s a good thing the gift comes with quick healing.
With a mock bow, he says, “My pleasure,” and then he’s off into the dark again.
Ten minutes later it’s all over. Troy turns the lights back on and the Study Group gathers under the score board to catch their breath. No real injuries, though Pierce’s pom-poms have seen better days. Greendale stands to see another school day.
As they leave together, they pass by Dean Pelton, who is muttering to himself. “They have to give us this one. We were ahead, and the other team forfeited, right?” He slaps a hand to his bald forehead. “But what am I gonna do for a new basketball team?!”