WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE
When two strangers entered the coffee shop, a startled Kara realized one of them wore an eye patch. Did anybody still use those, outside of pirate movies? He treated the other, a girl some ten years or so younger, like a complete equal, and Kara immediately sensed there was some story behind them.
They took seats at one of the tiny tables near the front of the small shop, and even though it was a warm evening the girl ordered hot chocolate, while the man took coffee with cream. Kara served them with the required smile, taking care not to accidentally crush the cups, then stepped behind the counter, creeping as close to the front as she could. From there she could hear the two talk, as long as no other costumer came in to provide background noise.
“What is it about men and asking directions?” the girl demanded, after sipping her chocolate and finding it still too hot.
“Hey, we’re here now, aren’t we? Besides, I wasn’t lost -- I was just taking the scenic route.”
“We drove around Indianapolis twice. It was not a scenic route.”
Travelers, obviously. And coming here? For the state park, maybe, or the history. Kara forgot about them for a moment, when she realized the cooler motor had kicked on. She should not be able to hear them now, but as long as she concentrated on the couple they were as clear as if she sat beside them. Another strange new ability to add to the list -- should she get a costume? Cape or tights?
“It’s true, Dawny,” the man was saying. “There are different kinds of corn.”
“Yeah, some you eat and some are in your jokes.”
Kara glanced back to make sure her coworker -- Jason Quinn, the owner’s son -- was still occupied with the electrical wiring in the back room. He was constantly trying to correct his father’s wiring attempts, which had led to such things as what she and Jason called the “Spiraling Ceiling Fan of Doom” that hung unused above the two customers. Jason’s dad may know all about shooting and blowing things up after fifteen years in special forces, but he couldn’t do home improvement worth crap.
Seeing the coast was clear, she chanced a quick glance through the counter glass. The girl -- Dawny, more likely Dawn -- was well dressed, with a burgundy long sleeved velvet blouse and dark jeans that featured a wild swirl design down the side. Kara envied her auburn hair, which flowed straight down to the small of her back. The dark haired guy was handsome, in a goofy sort of way, and showed lots of muscle through a gray t-shirt that sported the logo “Sunnydale Girl Watcher Team”.
Sunnydale. Why did that name seem so familiar?
Dawn glanced toward her, so Kara busied herself cleaning an already spotless counter. The other girl lowered her voice, but Kara could still hear her clearly:
“Okay, so we made it to Madison, and we’ve been prowling around town for an hour. Now, how are we going to go about finding a slayer and watcher?”
“Well, it’s a small town.”
“Compared to Sunnydale, yes, but --”
“Actually, Sunnydale’s population is much smaller now that it’s a hole in the ground.”
Sunnydale. Kara dropped her cloth on the floor and kneeled down to grab it, her heart pounding. The news about Sunnydale came at the exact moment --
“Xander, we can’t exactly go around holding interviews.”
“Hey, no arguments there. But all we have to do is snoop around and listen for stories about girls who suddenly develop special abilities.”
Kara, still on hands and knees, froze.
“I guess it would be hard for stories not to get out,” Dawn mused. “If a teenager girl suddenly started beating up the school bullies or rescuing kids from burning buildings . . .”
“Exactly. The real challenge will be convincing her that she has to leave her life behind. No more friends, no more family, no home -- just training to kill creatures of the night.”
“Just like us.” Dawn sounded melancholy. “I mean, not creatures of the night --”
“Hey, we're a family ourselves, now. Pretty soon there’ll be a battalion of slayers, watchers, a witch or two, Andrew, and us. All jammed together into a compound, waiting for the next apocalypse.”
So -- it was a doomsday cult, then, just like the one Jason’s dad tried to start before the zoning board denied his variance. She was going to be kidnapped by a cult because of her special powers. This was all way too M. Night Shyamalan, and she wanted no part of it. Kara spun around and began crawling toward the end of the counter, but before she reached it she spied a pair of Nike clad feet, and followed them up to see Jason, who had been the first victim of her new power during the martial arts meet. Rumor had it his dad had been so upset at him losing to a girl that Jason spent the night disassembling and reassembling an M16, blindfolded.
“Kara? Are you okay?”
So much for quick escapes. Climbing to her feet, Kara dusted off her jeans and glanced backward, where Dawn and Xander remained deep in conversation. “I am so not okay.”
“What’s the matter? Beat up another schoolyard bully today?” Jason was not renown for his discretion, and his voice seemed to boom off the shop’s high ceiling.
“This is not a good time for this discussion,” Kara hissed, but Jason went on as if he hadn’t even noticed they had customers -- which, being Jason, he probably hadn’t.
“C’mon, I know you didn’t throw me across the room without some supernatural assistance.” He grinned. “I saw you picking up your dad’s riding lawn mower the other night.”
In the mirror behind Jason, Kara saw the couple at the table had frozen in mid conversation. “Jason, would you please --”
“Hey, it’s okay! You know I’ll always be your friend. But I was just wondering if you were bitten by a radioactive spider, or bombarded with cosmic rays, or --”
Kara grabbed his arm and squeezed. “Does the term secret identity mean anything to you?”
“Ow.” Looking past her, Jason turned pale. “Oh.”
Kara whirled around to find Dawn and Xander standing right by the counter, staring at her. “Um, hi,” Dawn said.
“Kara, is it?” Xander asked, with a somewhat shaky smile. “I think we’ve been looking for you.”
“I don’t think so.” But Xander anticipated her attempt to flee around the counter, and blocked her way when she reached the end. “Look, I don’t want to be a part of your cult --”
“Cult?” Xander looked bewildered. “What cult?”
“I heard you talking. Your watcher/slayer/witch cult. I’m not using my powers for evil, so forget it.”
“Cult?” Jason repeated.
“Oh, no, it’s not like that,” Dawn protested. “You’d be using your powers for the greater good.”
“Powers?” Jason said.
“Oh, sure.” Kara pushed past Xander, but then found Dawn blocking her way. “Greater good, right. Then it’s wearing the same clothes, and massacring nuns, and pretty soon we’re all drinking poisoned Kool-aid on a remote island while waiting for the comet to come.”
“What comet?” Jason demanded.
“There’s no comet,” Dawn protested, holding her hands up. “Look, it’s like this: Into every generation a girl is born as a slayer, and for this generation it was my sister.”
“Buffy,” Xander added.
“Buffy?” Kara shook her head. “If you want me to believe this tall tale you’d better do a better job with your character names.”
“Hey, I didn’t name her.” Shaking her head, Dawn continued. “The slayer is trained and prepared by a Watcher’s Council, but the Council was wiped out by an ancient evil that wanted to kill all the potential slayers.”
“You were a potential slayer,” Xander said.
“Potential --” Jason closed his mouth when Kara held a hand up. Despite herself, she wanted to know where they were going with this story.
“Buffy couldn’t battle this evil by herself, so her friend Willow, who’s a witch, cast a spell that turned all the potential slayers into full fledged slayers, and the slayers who were with Buffy won the battle.”
“I helped.” Xander traded looks with Dawn. “Well, we both did. Anyway, now you’re a slayer, and we want to help you develop your skills so you can battle evil.”
Kara stared at them.
“So . . .” Jason shook his head. “It’s like Star Wars?”
“Without the light sabers,” Xander told him. “Or Darth Vader. Which is good.” He turned to Dawn. “Should we have said all that in front of this guy?”
She shrugged. “That’s how you got involved.”
“That’s my point.”
Taking a deep breath, Kara tried to calm her shattered nerves. Their story made just a little too much sense -- sort of -- to ignore, but she desperately wanted them to leave her alone. “So, there are monsters, and slayers, and watchers -- and a witch named Willow?”
Xander nodded. “She’s a good witch -- she’s even dating a slayer.”
“I thought you said all the slayers are girls?”
“Well . . .” Xander hung his head. “She’s a good witch, but sometimes she can be a bad girl.”
“She’s a lesbian witch,” Jason supplied. “I’m up with that.”
But Kara pointed to the visitors. “So, then, who are you?”
“Oh.” Xander thought for a moment. “Well, I guess we’re watchers.”
Looking startled, Dawn turned to him. “We are?”
“Well, we’re not slayers, and we’re helping to find and train the new ones, so . . .” He appeared at once pleased and upset at the idea.
“A watcher. Huh. Maybe I could finally tell Buffy what to do.” Dawn also seemed to have mixed feelings, but she shrugged it off and turned back to Kara. “We think there’s a potential new watcher somewhere in this town, too, so we’re hoping to collect him before we head back to Chicago.”
“Hey, maybe I’m a watcher,” Jason said.
“You’re a dork,” Kara told him, but her thoughts were on someone else. Someone who was once a teacher, still an expert on self defense, and who had developed an odd interest in the supernatural, lately.
“Look, we don’t really have much time,” Xander told them. “We’re trying to collect all the slayers and watchers together, so they can train and develop their powers. There shouldn’t be a rush, but trouble tends to collect around them.”
“So it’s dangerous,” Kara said, wondering how she felt about that. Had she always avoided danger because she didn’t like it, or because her father didn’t like it?
“Well --” Xander cleared his throat. “No, not that terribly dangerous, not really.”
“Uh huh. And how did you lose your eye?”
Xander gave her a deer in the headlights look and cleared his throat again. But before anyone could speak, a new voice interrupted from the front door.
“Maybe someone had it for a snack.”
Four people filed through the door, three men and a woman. The one who had spoken was unusually tall and burly, and wore a long leather trench coat. Behind him came a rather thin black teen, then a balding middle aged man in a business suit, and finally a woman whose blonde hair had been spiked. The four couldn't be any different, but were obviously traveling together.
“Can I help you?” Kara said automatically, but her nerves were screaming that this was even worse news than the last two strangers who walked through the door.
The tall man grinned, and threw himself into the chair where Xander had been sitting, while the other three spread out. “We just got in from Cleveland . . . and we’re thirsty.”
“Okay.” Sizing them up, Kara realized that ordinarily she could take them, while at the same time wondering why she was thinking that. Clearly, this was not ordinary, a thought that was confirmed when she saw Xander and Dawn backing away, toward the back room. “What would you like?”
“Something hot.” Unfortunately, that came from the door to the back room, and Xander spun around to see an exotic looking asian woman standing there. She wore a leather jacket and miniskirt, mesh stockings, and -- fangs. Not to mention a weirdly bumpy forehead. “Something hot and red. By the way, you left your back door unlocked.”
Turning to Jason, Kara saw that, although he looked terrified, her friend had already set himself into an attack position. Xander and Dawn stood back to back, and she noticed each had reached a hand beneath their clothing. Whatever they had, it had better be good, because it looked like they wouldn’t make it through this without a fight. Still . . . “What do you want?”
The tall man lazily pointed. “Dawn Summers.”
“Me?” Dawn squeaked.
“Yeah. Come quietly, and we’ll make your friends’ deaths quick and relatively pain free.”
Kara’s gaze darted around the counter. Let’s see -- vampires. Wooden stake, cross, holy water, sunlight . . . Her eyes fell on a glass of wooden spoons on the counter. Well, any port in a storm. She edged toward them.
“What is it with you vamps and the weird choices?” Xander was saying. “Die quick or die slow, we’ll take your eye or an ear -- and you think we’re not going to fight? Why don’t you offer us death or a ticket to Disneyworld? I’d really have to think about that one.”
Growling, the middle aged man put on his vamp face and headed toward Xander.
Kara grabbed the pile of spoons and flipped one toward Jason, who automatically caught it. “Stake one!” she yelled, then vaulted over the counter.
“Steak?” He stared at the spoon.
It all happened very quickly after that.
Dawn’s hand emerged from her jean pocket with a small vial of water that she dashed into the face of the advancing vamp. Screaming, the blinded vampire clutched his smoking face and fell back, but except for their leader the others advanced. The leader just smiled, clearly confident the battle would be a short one.
The asian girl grabbed at Dawn but then fell back, with a cross burned into her forehead. Xander’s victory was temporary, as the black vamp kicked the cross out of his hand and the two grappled at each other.
Kara jabbed the end of the spoon at the other female, who blocked it and swung a fist at her. Kara blocked that, spun around, and aimed the spoon again, but her action had taken her close to the leader and he swept his foot out, knocking her to the ground.
Laying there, Kara could see only the unmoving ceiling fan above her, and hear the sound of someone crashing into the counter. Jason’s dad, who had just remodeled the place, was going to kill anyone who survived this.
Hey, wait a minute. Leaping to her feet, Kara looked for Jason and found him still standing in the corner, spoon in hand. “Jason!” she screamed. “Fan on high! Now! Then use your spoon!” She dodged Spike Girl and gave her a shove that sent her flying into the blinded middle age guy. “Hurry!”
Shaken into action, Jason, flipped a switch next to him and then shoved the black vamp off Xander before trying to stab the demon in the eye. Above them, the burnished aluminum ceiling fan -- which Jason’s mechanically deficient dad had thankfully not yet fixed -- sent up a hurricane as it spun with the speed of an airplane propeller.
For the first time the vampire leader looked worried, and started climbing to his feet.
“Not the eyes, kid!” Xander climbed back to his feet and grabbed the spoon from Jason. “Stay away from the eyes!” The black vamp was just regaining his feet when Xander shoved the spoon handle into his chest with all his strength, making the monster explode into dust.
Spike Girl was coming for Kara again, but she had a plan now. Instead of dodging, she crouched down, grabbed the advancing woman around the thighs, and lifted her into the air.
Vamp neck met miswired ceiling fan, and suddenly Kara was holding nothing but dust.
“What was that?” the blinded vampire demanded. Not the most memorable last words, but instead of waiting for the guy to come up with something original Kara threw him into the air, where he undoubtedly didn’t see the end coming.
Before Kara could move again the asian girl slammed into her, shoving her to the floor. But a moment later she, too, was dust, and Kara looked up to see Dawn, triumphantly holding Kara’s dropped spoon. “They really should put warning labels on these things.” She held out a hand, and pulled Kara to her feet.
Let’s see, that left -- Kara looked around, but the vampire leader had fled. “See? Not so bad,” said Xander, as he pulled bits of countertop glass from his arm. Dawn brushed dust from her clothes while Jason, looking practically catatonic, hovered near the back room as if ready to run.
“You did pretty good for your first time,” Dawn told Kara.
“First and last.” Kara ignored the rush, the flood of adrenaline, the pounding of the blood in her veins -- the fact that she’d liked it. This was not her. She’d never looked for a fight, hadn’t even wanted to get into martial arts until Jason and her father insisted. “We have a quiet town, nothing happens -- you brought that here.”
Xander stared at her. “You haven’t been having any mysterious deaths?”
“Bodies drained of blood?”
“No!” She pointed a shaking finger at Dawn. “Have you forgotten that the -- thing said it was here for her?”
“Oh, yeah.” Xander turned to Dawn, who already had a stubborn set to her face. “We’ve got to get you back to Chicago.”
“No way. The mission’s not done.”
“Dawn, we didn’t come here expecting any kind of activity. We’re not prepared for this, and not protected.”
“Bull.” Dawn pointed at Kara. “We’ve got her.”
“Hey, wait a minute --”
But Dawn shook her head. “You’re a slayer, Kara. You saw what just happened -- the strength, the skill, the brains. You’ve got it all. And once you become a slayer, the bad guys just show up, whether you like it or not. If you’re not trained, if you don’t have someone to watch your back, everything you love is in danger. You have a family?”
Dad. “Oh, no.” She headed for the door, but Xander grabbed her arm.
“Don’t worry, vampires can’t come into a home unless they’re invited.”
“Dad invites everybody in.”
“Well, then, let’s take the van. We have weapons in there.”
They dashed out the door, leaving the wrecked coffee shop empty. Suddenly, finishing her shift seemed the least of Kara’s problems. By the time they were halfway home Kara realized there would be no monsters at her house -- they hadn’t come here for her, after all -- but a much, much more frightening prospect lay ahead of her. No matter what she decided to do, how would she explain all this to her father?
Even worse -- what if her father was part of it?