“We’re trying to slay Big Bird?” Tracy, the youngest Slayer and just shy of being 11 years old, blurted out horrified.
“Well, yes—” Andrew said blankly only to get a whack on the head by Faith who glared at him and tried to reassure the now tearful girl. “Not the Sesame Street character!” Faith said hastily to stave off a fit of bawling.
“Oh right! That Big Bird!” Andrew exclaimed in understanding. “No, no, no,” he shook his head and hands frantically. “I meant that this demonic entity merely resembles a… a humanoid avian type. Feathers, bill, webbed feet, that sort of thing,” he babbled rather Willow-like.
Faith flicked her eyes to Andrew and was gratified to see him flinch slightly under her gaze and immediately shut up. After a moment of silence as the other Slayer trainees absorbed that, she continued. “Any ideas just what sort of bird demon this is?” she demanded.
Andrew cleared his throat. “Ah, well … there are a number of possibilities ranging from the Tengu, Poukai, the Avalerion, Yangwu, Rocs, Samjokgo, Chamrosh…”
Faith rolled her eyes, recognizing the beginning of another long-winded lecture and cut him off once more. “OK, basically we don’t know,” she snapped, irritated. She used to think it was some sort of British thing that made Wesley, Giles, and Diana give rather tedious and wordy speeches but apparently it was something genetic to all Watchers that a simple yes or no answer wouldn’t do.
Andrew pressed a remote and several sketches flashed onto the blank wall screen. “As you can see, it’s most definitely not Big Bird! It’s rather short in comparison to a normal sized human but big—er—larger than an ordinary bird,” Andrew hastily corrected himself.
“Right, we got only eyewitnesses and second-hand accounts and sightings for this bird thingee,” Faith drawled, rolling her eyes. “So keep in mind that witnesses are not very reliable so don’t trust ‘em entirely. We do got some reports that indicate that it’s not exactly friendly but as far as hostile goes, we haven’t had any intelligence of this thing attacking or eating people so it’s been given a low threat index rating. But don’t count on it!”
“That is correct!” Andrew cut in, eager to contribute. “It’s reputed to be a bit surly and antisocial—”
Faith resisted the urge to slap him and was amazed that no one had done so before. “Whatever. This is just strictly recon and observation. We keep an eye out for this thing but don’t try to take it on yet. As I said, we don’t know what kind of demon it is, it might even be the harmless kind. We also don’t know just what sort of powers or vulnerabilities Birdy here has got.”
Many of the Trainee Slayers began muttering to themselves, clearly not happy at the idea of simply letting the thing live instead of killing it.
“Hey!” Faith roared. “I’m not kidding here! Some demons are invulnerable to normal weapons! Hell, B. faced a demon that couldn’t be killed by any weapon forged by man. Another bunch of demons are invulnerable to anything except a woman’s screaming. So don’t fuck around! Be smart! Don’t try to take this thing on until we know what we’re dealing with!” she glared at each and every Slayer in the eye.
It was clear that they all thought that a mere Recon was beneath them and she had to hammer that arrogance out of them. Hopefully without them paying for it too badly, as she suddenly remembered how such a “simple” mission ended with she and her first Watcher, Diana running into Kakistos and being captured and Diana killed—of course, the fucking bastard made sure that she had really suffered before death. In the end, Faith had been left praying that Diana would die; simply to ease the pain and agony the female Watcher had been enduring for far too long. Up until that point, Faith had never before realized that dying was a lot easier than living.
Faith hoped she didn’t appear too nervous. Wouldn’t do for the rookies to see her sweat after all. She wasn’t too comfortable with this job of training Slayers. The only reason why she had even accepted this gig was because B. had asked and added it was just a two week temp job.
Apparently, the normal Slayer Trainer, Grace had suffered a bad fall during a chase and misjudged the sudden drop, sustaining a broken foot and dislocated hip. Even Slayer healing had its limits and so Grace was taken off duty for to recuperate and had taken the opportunity to go home and visit her family. So Faith decided to start off with a low-risk training exercise, to get her feet wet.
A quick look through the Watcher Files showed reports dating back years about the Cleveland Bird Demon. But as Andrew had remarked; it didn’t seem involved in anything dangerous. Low-level violence at the most; no permanent or crippling injuries. Nor was it apparently involved in any murders, sacrifices, or rituals. Thus it was considered a low priority … or so it stated in Threat Assessment; ‘Mostly harmless’.
That had gotten a brief snort of amusement from Faith. Clearly the geek who wrote this file was a Douglas Adams fan.
He also apparently had a sense of humor as it was more interesting than most of the other reports that she had been forced to read. It lacked the indecipherable prose and endless pontificating that some of the older records she had skimmed.
Or the Star Trek and other geek references that Andrew’s reports contained or the comic book notations that Xander favored. She desperately needed someone like this to summarize the files she had to read. Clear, concise, and that pun involving the ‘Fowl Demon’ had her snickering for the rest of the report.
All in all, Birdy sounded perfect.
The next few nights of scouting proved boring as hell. Faith was actually itching for some action. The biggest excitement was that the group ran into a vamp who looked like a fashion reject from the 80’s. Faith had stepped back and let the trainees get some experience while she kept a careful eye on them. The Slayerettes made quick work on the vamp; they weren’t too bad although she did note some points during the fight where vamp could have nailed at least two of them had he been a little quicker or more experienced.
Fortunately, few vamps were in Angel’s or Spike’s caliber in hand to hand combat. They quickly got used to being stronger and faster than everyone else and got a bit lazy at refining their combat skills. Not to mention that they were practically immortal and invulnerable as long as they avoided getting staked or their heads getting chopped off, it was no wonder that so many of their egos bloated and they became arrogant or careless. Or both.
After a week of fruitless patrols, Faith had enough. She started sending the girls to start asking around for the damn thing through the tried and true Slayer method of “you answer my questions or my fist goes through your skull.”
Or maybe it was just the Faith method.
Surprisingly, the mini-Slayers got little to no response to their queries. And she had been keeping an eye on their questioning technique—and it was surprisingly decent. Not up to her levels of course. She made a note to hold an additional training class in torturing—er—interrogation for the trainees.
She winced as Debbie cranked one of the V’aargorsh’s arms too hard and snapped it, resulting in the yellow-skinned demon to start shrieking—and instinctively releasing the V’aargorsh’s instinctive response when harmed. Which was remarkably similar to a small mammal known as a number of names such as the wood pussy, polecats, or more popularly—skunks.
The V’aargorsh’s stench spray however was several orders stronger, more pervasive, long lasting, and near impossible to remove by even magic. Certain chemicals were effective on it—but they tended to corrode metal and blister and melt skin tissue.
Those exposed to the stench spray remarked that it bore some similarities to pepper spray or mace—only much more intense. Even vampires avoided it like crosses or holy water. Spike had once remarked that given a choice between splashed with holy water and suffering a V’aargorsh’s stink spray—he’d prefer getting dunked in a vat of holy water. Naked.
She scuttled away—windward—to avoid the foul cloud and the outraged shrieks and gagging of her Slayers. She watched as several of the Slayers and demons started projectile vomiting.
She also made a note to add a Recognition Class of what demonic species to avoid in the future.
Faith chuckled as she vaulted the last three steps of the Cleveland’s House for Wayward Girls—the official cover for the Slayers HQ—and made a perfect landing on the sidewalk. The waiting cab that she had called to take her to the airport honked again as she waved and jogged for it.
It had been a rather fun two weeks—even if the other trainees would probably curse her name for the rest of their lives. Of course—the fact that she had forbidden them from re-entering the House for fear of contaminating the place with their odor probably helped too.
Instead they had set up a little decontamination shower and burned all of their clothes too. But they still stunk to high heaven. It was so bad that Faith had authorized a temporary shelter in a rented warehouse while the trainees all tried multiple showers to try and rid themselves of the V’aargorsh’s stench on them. That had been four days ago and they still hadn’t managed to return to Slayer HQ without one of the unmarked girls starting to gag within twenty feet of the odorrific-Slayerettes.
Even then, Andrew had monitored a report filed about “a sewer backed up” around the warehouse so right now, the gang had packed up their showers and tents and were shuttling it off to another warehouse in a different area while they let the other place air out.
She was sure that they were going to have to burn those tents afterwards as well as sure that Giles was going to call to complain about “unnecessary expenses”. It wasn’t his nose that was assaulted by the V’aargorsh.
She opened the door and slid in, about to address the cabbie and froze at the sight.
The cabbie swiveled in his seat, his arm resting on the back of the driver’s seat and casually asked, “Where to toots?”
Birdy. She instantly recognized the distinctive wide bill, the feathers, and the rather largish eyes looking at her.
Somehow the suddenness of it all, the abrupt utter banality of coming face to face with the Fowl Demon in a cab—A CAB of all things!—had never even crossed her mind.
The creature snapped his fingers, “Hey! Lady! Where to?”
She was vaguely aware of her mouth working, “Uh … Hopkins International Airport.”
“Righto,” the demon responded, turning back in his seat and fiddled with the meter and they began driving off. He then picked up a handset and clicked it on, “This is Howard in Cab 0829. Got a fare for Hopkins. Over.”
“Oh well done, Howie. Two fares today. That’s a new record,” the dispatched remarked sourly.
Howie—Howard slammed the handset down with a muttered “Bite me dickhead,” that she barely heard with her enhanced Slayer hearing.
Absently, her eyes flicked to the hack license and noticed that the cabbie’s name was indeed Howard. Howard T. Duck. Huh.
“Hey toots,” Howard called out, redirecting her attention. “You mind if I smoke?” he asked.
Faith shook herself alert. “Nah.”
“Hey, you’re alright doll. You believe how many people are on this freakin’ health kick thing,” Howard remarked as he extracted a cigar from a pocket and lit a match by scratching it off the underside of his bill and held the flame to a cigar.
Faith raised an eyebrow. Neat trick, she thought to herself. She was reminded of seeing a movie of a cowboy striking a match off his boot heel and trying dozens of times to imitate him and failing when she was younger.
Around his mouthful of cigar that he puffed absently, “Can’t even light up on the streets anymore. ‘Cause it would contaminate the air supply,” he complained tartly even as he stuck the cigar out the window and flicked a bit of ash off before sticking it back into his bill.
“Yeah … uh … don’t take this the wrong way … but you are a duck right?”
Howard cocked an eyebrow at her and puffed away at his cigar for a moment as he craned his neck at her. “That depends. You some sort of Iron Chef who wants to make a revolutionary new duck recipe?”
Howard nodded, apparently satisfied with her answer and turned back around, “Then, yeah I’m a duck.”
“I think most ducks are smaller … don’t dress in clothes … don’t talk…”
The duck turned to sneer at her. “Technically speaking, the rest of you guys are a bunch of barely shaved apes. Most of whom can't count up to twenty without wearing shoes.”
Faith suddenly realized that the damn bird demon wasn’t bothering to look where it was driving. “HEY!” she yelled, pointing frantically in front of them.
Howard jerked back and slammed on the brakes and then the horn repeatedly. “The other pedal moron!” he bawled, “Use it! Not the brake! The freakin’ gas! C’MON!”
After a moment, the cab continued moving again. Howard continued his lecture, “Believe me toots, the world is freakin’ stranger and odder than most people believe. Most people just want to ignore it, stick their heads in the sand and pretend that the abnormal is just a hallucination.”
“And I have seen some pretty weird shit like Dark Overlords of the Universe,” he said as he let loose a stream of smoke. “And—how old are you?” he demanded with a beady look into the rear mirror.
“Huh? Uh—23,” she said, confused at the non sequitur.
“Oh, OK," he relaxed, "That’s another thing—people get freaked out when you say ‘shit’ or start swearing in front of kids,” Howard complained with an eye roll, “Like somehow it’ll destroy their virgin ears or like they’ve never heard it. And this political correctness crap is more ridiculous shit that you apes have come up with.”
“Well, you got a point there,” Faith admitted, scratching her head and then got distracted as the cab started to take a turn, “HEY!” she yelled again, pointing.
Howard jerked the wheel a bit more sharply, avoiding the collision with the parked car. “No one showed you how to park correctly did they stupid!” he snarled at the car.
Faith decided against mentioning that the car—was not only empty—but also correctly parked. She realized that Howard was still speaking.
“—and you’d think that they—oh damn—HOLD ON!” Howard broke off his monologuing to cut across five lanes of traffic. Faith closed her eyes as she heard screeching and more horns as they barely made the turnoff towards the airport. She wondered if she had survived Kakistos, a coma, prison, avoiding strangling Andrew, Caleb and his little Bringers and Turok-Han, and the collapse of Sunnydale—to only meet her ignoble end in a traffic accident.
The battered yellow cab wove in and out of traffic with screeching tires and accompanied with blaring horns before it finally reached the terminal and came a rubber burning stop. Then reversed rapidly, neatly parallel parking and almost colliding into another cab that was on the verge of sliding into the space.
As Faith practically flew out of the car and considered if it wasn’t beneath her dignity to kiss the ground—she wondered if she shouldn’t mention that a duck could parallel park to B. From what she had heard, B.’s driving skills were a bit on the flakey side and that she was still struggling to master the whole parallel parking thing. The fact that a duck could do it might cause the Chief Slayer to lose it big time.
She shakily extended the fare to Howard who tucked it into a folder.
“Thanks for the lift,” she said. And for not killing us, she added mentally.
She then got practically run over by some irritated bozo. “Watch out idiot!” he snarled as he jogged to Howard’s idling cab, banged on the roof, and hopped in. “I’m in a hurry! I have an important meeting and—are you a duck?” she heard the man blurt out as he got a good look at his cab driver.
“Nah, I’m just a little guy who likes to dress up in feathers. Where to pal?”
“Ummm … the Renaissance Hotel.”
“No sweat,” Howard reached out and flipped the meter. “You mind if I smoke pal?”
Faith watched as the cab pulled out and nearly rammed into another one pulling out. She heard a lot of cursing and cussing along with horns to punctuate them and smirked at the terror that Howard was going to inflict on the rude jerk.
Once clear, the cab accelerated hard and then suddenly cut across with two lanes of oncoming traffic, causing them to frantically slam on the brakes.
The cab completed it’s hard turn, precariously balanced on two wheels momentarily before slamming down on all fours with a thump. She heard over the shrieks of fear, Howard screaming, “Where’d you apes learn how to freakin’ DRIVE?!”
She pulled open her cellphone and tapped a number. “Cleveland’s House of Wayward Girls,” a familiar irritating voice proclaimed brightly.
“Hey Andrew,” Faith said. “You know that profile about Big Bird? Yeah. Look under the Threat Assessment.”
She heard the clattering of computer keys and then Andrew reported, “Mostly Harmless.”
“Uh huh. I want you to add in … Except behind the wheel,” she said and closed the phone to cut off his sputtering as she strolled into the airport to leave Cleveland behind her.
Disclaimer: Faith and the other characters, concepts, and stories referred to herein are drawn from the television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer which belongs to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy Productions. This takes place after the 7th Season of Buffy and probably after the 5th Season of Angel—which is also owned by Joss Whedon.
Howard the Duck on the other hand is owned by Marvel Comics—which is now run by Walt Disney. Howard was created waaay back in 1973 by writer Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik. I’m basing most of him on the Howard the Duck movie that came out in 1986 by George Lucas and is widely panned as the worst movie ever made. I agree that it was fairly bad—but I have also seen some appalling crap and dreck that I personally think was much, much worse and I thought that it had some genuinely funny moments.
I got this idea a few years ago when I realized that Howard lives in Cleveland—which is also the home of the Hellmouth that the Slayers moved to after the destruction of the Sunnydale one and considered a brief encounter between the two. He's also been featured as a cab driver in the past few comics I've seen him in which is why he's currently working as a hack. Anyways, I've never read the original comic book series so I based most of his personality and background on the movie version of Howard.