Xander contemplated what he had created with the now gore covered knife. It was good, but not quite what he had in mind. That was the problem with carving things off of something though; once it was removed it was very difficult to reattach it if you didn't like what you did later.
"I don't know, I was going for traditionally scary, but it seems more sardonic to me," said Xander as he casually wiped the knife on some old newspaper.
"It does seem to be mocking you with its eye sockets," agreed Willow after she studied it for a moment.
"The nose hole seems sad and full of self loathing," said Oz, enjoying this game, even if his tone didn't change from its normal pitch.
"What do you think Buff?" asked Xander as he turned the Jack-O-Lantern towards where she was laying on the bed.
"Scary is overdone, and if you think about it sad is much more appropriate. I mean think of it from the pumpkins point of view. You grow up in the sun with all your pumpkin friends, then someone comes along, cuts you open, and rips out your guts. I say the pumpkin has a right to be sad."
"Well some pumpkins are smart enough to make friends with carnivorous animals and the dreaded sniper plants, who once again offer to kill, or better yet brutally maim the person who ripped out the guts of their pumpkin friend," said Xander.
"No Xander, I'm not letting you kill Parker," said Buffy with a slight smile on her face.
"Drat, foiled again," said Xander as he picked up a plastic bag. "And on that disappointing note, let me introduce the feature for tomorrow night's second annual Halloween screening. People prepare to have your spines tingled, your gooses bumped, by the terrifying Fantasia!"
"Maybe it's because of all the horrific things we've seen, but hippos wearing tutus don't unnerve me the way they used to," said Oz.
"Then you are a sick and jaded man my friend," said Xander with a perfectly straight face, one he held for a few moments before it fell. "Honestly I reserved Phantasm, but the stupid video store put this one away instead, and this was the closest thing they had to a horror movie they had left in stock."
"I thought we were doing that Alpha Delta thing?" asked Willow as she turned towards Buffy and Oz.
"What thing?" asked Xander; completely lost at the turn the conversation had taken.
"The scary house? Sounds kinda lame," said Buffy.
"It actually borders on fun. You have to go through the scary house maze to get to the party; which is usually worth getting to. Those guys go all out."
"As witnessed last Friday," said Willow, backing up her boyfriend's statement.
"There was a party last Friday?" asked Xander, a bit of hurt creeping into his voice.
"We didn't tell you?" asked Willow.
"No, I understand. You guys are doing the college thing, with the college party pack included for no extra fees, while I'm doing the soul crushing job thing."
"You can come if you want," said Willow with a slight smile on her face because of Xander's antics. He had always been able to make her smile when she was feeling sad or guilty, and it was nice to know that some things didn't change.
"Oh thank god," said Xander in exaggerated relief. "I need party time with my friends, because there is only so much soul crushing job stuff that I can do before my soul gets, well you know."
"Into a cube, like a car, to possibly be used as a paperweight at some point in the future," said Xander with an affirmative nod.
"Well I'm going to get going," said Buffy as she got up to leave.
"Now? Come on Buff, the nights still… Wow, okay it's getting a bit mature, but still," said Xander after taking a glance at his watch.
"I'm sleepy. You guys have fun," said Buffy.
"You want me to come with?" offered Willow.
Already mostly out the door Buffy simply said, "No thanks, I'm fine."
"I get the feeling that she may still be suffering from Post-Parker depression," said Oz.
"Yeah, the sad pumpkin thoughts are a dead giveaway," said Willow.
"Still, we must also feel sorry for Parker," said Xander in a serious voice.
"We do?" asked Willow, quickly building herself to outrage, while her boyfriend raised both his eyebrows at this statement.
"We do," confirmed Xander. "From what I've heard he's had some problems of the spooky kind. It seems like every night this great big dog chases him around while snapping at his crotch. I imagine something like that kills any romantic vibe he gets going."
"This dog wouldn't happen to have spots would it?" asked Oz.
"There may be some spots involved; it even makes this creepy laughing sound on occasion."
"Didn't Buffy just tell you that you couldn't kill or maim Parker?" asked Willow, though there wasn't any disapproval in her tone.
"Yes she did, and if you'll notice Parker won't have one mark caused by either SB or Fido. This falls directly in the psychological warfare department, and messing with his head is the least I could do after he messed with Buffy's heart."
"You know me and Buffy have this psyche paper coming up, and behavior modification through negative feedback would be a good subject for it," said Willow with a smile.
"This is me Wills, if you want me to understand you need to downgrade from college talk to townie."
"She wants to watch Fido chase Parker around so she can get a good grade in her class," translated Oz.
"See, he knows how to talk to me, and if that fails; he can just grunt in man speak."
The three friends shared a laugh at the joke, and went back to the pumpkins for another hour before both Oz and Willow called it a night.
The next night Xander smiled as he walked up to Buffy. She was looking a bit happier than last night, though Xander didn't know if this was Buffy being happy or Buffy thinking that Red Riding Hood should look happy.
"So what's in the basket little girl?" asked Xander in a lecherous voice.
"Weapons," said Buffy as she opened up the picnic basket she was carrying just enough to let Xander see the stakes and daggers she had hidden there. "So what are you hiding in your tool belt?"
"Weapons," responded Xander in the exact same tone Buffy had used a few moments earlier, before opening the pouch that was reserved for nails and showing Buffy the slim stakes he had carved. "You know either we're both getting paranoid, or we're starting to think together like an old married couple."
"Or we could both have well developed survival instincts."
"Nice try little missy, but your logical explanations have no hold on me. Either we're both ready for the loony bin or we're destined lovers but don't know it yet."
"I think that you've either had too much coffee or your tie is cutting off the blood to your brain," said Buffy as a small smile crept on to her lips. "And just what are you trying to be with a tool belt and a dress shirt and tie?"
"The true king of cable home-repair shows, Tim 'the Tool Man' Taylor; this guy was great, he was like Bob Vila and the three stooges all rolled into one. This way if we're turned into our costumes again I'll get the skills I need to find a better job."
"That or you'll be turned into one of the Village People."
"Thanks for that image," said Xander with a shudder. "I would have gone as James Bond, but buying a decent shirt and a tie from Wal-Mart is a whole lot cheaper than renting a tux for the night."
It was at that time that the two met up with Willow and Oz. Willow had gone all out, dressing in full armor, while Oz looked like he did every other day of the year.
"Will. Medieval Will," said Buffy as she took in her best friend's appearance.
"Hail, ye old, and any other freaky words you'd only find in Shakespeare or one of Giles' books," said Xander.
"I'm Joan of Arc," explained Willow. "I figured we had a lot in common, seeing as how I was almost burned at the stake, and plus she had that close relationship with God."
"And you are?" Xander asked Oz.
Oz simply opened his jacket revealing a simple nametag with the word God written on it.
"Wow, cheaper but still cooler than my costume, I think I'm jealous," said Xander.
"Envy is a sin," responded Oz.
It was at that moment that two people dressed as commandos and wearing ski masks walked out of the bushes in front of the group. Xander saw the guns and how they were dressed, and began to get nervous, and then he saw how they moved together and broke out in a cold sweat. He couldn't place it on any one thing, but something in the way they moved told him that they had been trained for months to work together as a team, that these were the real things instead of kids in costumes.
Xander simply stood frozen for a couple minutes; a part of him didn't even want to breathe because he was afraid that it would attract the attention of the masked men. He was vaguely aware that his friends were talking, but he couldn't hear them over the thundering of his own heart, so it was a minor miracle that he didn't summon SB and Fido on instinct when Buffy put a hand on his shoulder.
"Are you okay Xander?" asked Buffy.
"Yeah, why wouldn't I be?" responded Xander before quickly buckling under the concerned looks his friends were giving him. "Okay, so it's going to be a while before I can look at soldier or military stuff without having flashbacks of the summer, but that doesn't mean we still can't have a good time scaring ourselves silly."
"If you're sure," said Willow.
"I'm sure. Halloween is the only holiday scheduled off of slaying; it should take more than a panic attack for us to give up having fun together."
"Okay then," said Oz as he stopped in front of a building and opened the doors. "Let the horrors begin."
Once they entered the building Xander saw almost everything you would need for a nice, somewhat cheesy, Halloween party. There were cobwebs, a plastic severed head, snacks, the only thing that was missing were people.
"You know, I can't help but think that you guys may have overplayed how great college parties are," said Xander as he finished looking around as the head in the punch bowl began to laugh.
"Follow the signs," said Oz.
"Terrifying. If I was Abbot and Costello this would send me running," said Buffy as she looked at the room.
"Cobweb!" cried Willow before pulling it off of her costume. "Okay, that part may be too realistic."
"Frat boys aren't too obsessive with their cleaning. Might not be decoration per se," stated Oz, much to the disgust of the two girls of the group.
A couple seconds after Oz made his observation a plastic skeleton with a knife swung towards Xander, causing him to jump out of the way. A fraction of a second later there was a loud crack, and the skeleton had a new hole in its skull.
Everyone looked at Soldier Boy, and then at Xander, who quickly dismissed the manifestation when he figured out what happened.
"Sorry guys, guess I'm still in fight and flight mode after seeing those guys dressed as soldiers," said Xander with a sheepish grin.
"Isn't that supposed to be fight or flight?" asked Buffy showing that at least some of her Psyche class was sinking in.
"When you can create things to fight for you it can be both," said Xander with a shrug. "The important thing is that I got it out of my system so no more displaying the mutant powers if something jumps out at me tonight."
"If you say so," said Buffy as they begin to walk towards the next room, where Buffy examines a part of the floor.
"What is it?" asked Xander, wanting to know what had grabbed the slayers attention.
"Blood, real blood," said Buffy after smelling the bit she had rubbed on her fingers.
"Okay, either these frat boys have an unhealthy love for the holiday, or this is exhibit A for us to sit at home and watch Fantasia next year," said Xander as he felt the headache form in the back of his head.
"Do you hear something? Like a squeaking noise?" asked Buffy as she stood up.
"I hear it too," said Willow after a few moments of trying to listen to the sound Buffy described. "It kind of sounds like…"
The entire group recognizes the sound at the same time, and look towards the ceiling to find it filled with bats. It seemed that the flying vermin had been waiting for the group to notice their presence because as soon as everyone looked up they dropped from their perches and flew down the hall, causing all four demon hunters to scream and cover their heads.
Soon after the bats depart Oz notices one lying on the floor. Deciding there was something different about it now he simply walks over and pokes it while ignoring Willows warnings.
"It's made of rubber," stated Oz, confusion clear in his voice.
"What the hell is going on here?" yelled Buffy, far less restrained about expressing her confusion.
"I'm guessing Evil Mage on Halloween part two," said Xander as he took out the mini stakes and hammer from his tool belt and summoning Soldier Boy and Fido.
"Release Me!" bellowed a disembodied voice that seemed to shake the walls.
"Or maybe its Trapped Demon part one," said Xander right before the gang began to walk back the way they came.
It didn't take the gang long to retrace their steps towards the front door. However, when they finally arrived in the lobby there was one slight problem.
"Where's the door?" asked Willow.
"This is the way we came in right?" asked Buffy as Oz turned off the haunted house sound track. "Thank the lord!"
"You're welcome," said Oz as he made his way back towards the group.
"Hey I have a great idea, let's get out of here," said Willow, fear and anxiety clearly heard in her voice.
"And you were so anxious to get me to come too," said Buffy.
"Guess it's my turn to ask, but does anyone hear that?" asked Xander.
Buffy cocked her head to one side for a moment before responding, "The 'ssss' noise?"
"That's the one," confirmed Xander as Buffy walked over to a closet and opened it, revealing a frat boy hugging his knees.
"Chaz," said Oz as he crouched down next to the fellow college student.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know," muttered Chaz as he rocked back and forth.
"What's happening?" asked Oz in an even tone, trying to get some information.
"It's…" began Chaz only to trail off and start rocking harder.
"What is it?" demanded Buffy, her patience running out.
"It's alive. It's alive."
"Something tells me that Chaz isn't quoting Frankenstein here," said Xander as he looked around for any props that could hurt them when they came alive, the bats from earlier now fresh in his mind.
He didn't need to bother though. The only threat at the moment was the knife wielding skeleton that had come to life, a threat that Fido was all too happy to deal with.
"Good boy," said Xander as Fido continued to enjoy gnawing on the nice bones that had appeared. The fact that said bones were moving and repeatedly stabbing him didn't seem to bother the manifestation in the slightest.
The relative piece was destroyed when a girl's scream came from somewhere else in the building. This was apparently Chaz's breaking point as he immediately crawled back into the closet they had pulled him from.
"Cowering in a closet is beginning to seem like a reasonable plan," commented Oz.
"What closet?" asked Buffy a moment later; her question was a valid one because as soon as Oz and finished speaking the closet had vanished in the time it took to blink.
"Okay, here's the plan. Me and Xander will make our way upstairs and see if there are any people up there. Willow you and Oz will find a way out of the house and use it," said Buffy as she began to unpack the weapons she had stored in her picnic basket.
"Are you telling us to run away and leave you two behind?" asked Willow.
"We need help. Giles will be able to figure out what's going on here and how to stop it, but only if he knows that something is wrong."
"Buffy's right," chimed in Xander when it looked like Willow was about to argue "Whatever is doing this is throwing around some major mojo Wills. Now I could have SB try and shoot a hole through the wall for hours while Fido tries to dig a tunnel, but if the bad guy can just use magic to repair the wall it won't do any good. Way I see things we need someone to work her own magic to find a way out, and out of all of us you can do magic the best."
It almost looked like Willow would still argue, but Oz putting a hand on her shoulder, took the last bit of fight out of her. Without another word the couple left, trying to find a way out of the building.
"Thanks," said Buffy as she and Xander went up the stairs.
"No problem," said Xander as he followed behind her, furiously beating down fantasies of participating in a Red Riding Hood skit in the bedroom with one of his best female friends. It was amazing what the offer of hot demon sex could do to male hormones, even if he did turn it down.
"Just so we're clear in the future though, I don't like the Hollywood cliché of splitting up so the unspeakable evil can pick us off easier."
"Then why did you agree with me?" asked Buffy, a touch of anger creeping into her voice.
"Because we do need Giles and the fact that you also have a great track record of making us not die, so I decided to back your call; I'm just letting you know I don't like it for future reference."
"Well, this is a nice day isn't it Mark," said a hauntingly familiar voice, a voice that Xander still heard in his nightmares.
"I'd say so Dave, we come to check out some possible genetrash and we run into our old friend Ash here. At worst we get to pay back the bastard for what he did to everyone in the old base, and at best the girl is a freak and we get a nice two for one special," said another voice, one just a cruel and mocking as the other.
"New plan," said Xander as he saw two shapes immerging from the shadows and felt his mouth go dry. "Run like hell. Don't stop, don't slow down, and don't wait for me, just run. Get out of here any way you can, even if that means punching a hole in the roof and climbing down the building."
Xander didn't even wait to see if Buffy had followed his orders before mentally commanding Fido to rip out Dave's throat and for Soldier Boy to shoot Mark.
Dave quickly shifted his body weight and moved to the side to avoid Fido's lunge while pulling a Ka-Bar knife and plunging it into the hyena's skull. Xander had seen the manifestation instantly recover from a number of wounds so wasn't too worried until several seconds passed and the hyena didn't so much as twitch.
A loud noise made Xander turn his attention to Mark, who had just put a bullet into the head of Solder Boy, causing Xander's other protector to fall to the ground in a lifeless heap. Not that the soldier manifestation had hesitated in shooting Mark, but the Kevlar vest the mad was wearing gave him enough time to get off his own fatal shot.
"Looks like the mutant forgot that he was dealing with professionals Dave, let's remind him exactly what that means," said Mark.
Xander didn't wait to hear Dave's reply, he was already running. Questions about why his powers had failed him were pushed to the back of his mind as he devoted all his attention to navigating twisting halls and avoiding obstacles that would slow him down.
He wouldn't allow himself to be captured again. Even if it meant killing himself he wouldn't be sent to a place similar to the one he had escaped in the summer.
"And what makes you think you really escaped in the first place," said yet another familiar voice.
"No way," said Xander as he stopped running and looked down one darkened hallway. "I didn't kill you myself but there were too many people who hated you for you to have made it out alive."
"Indeed," said the albino form of Dr Essex as he calmly stood in front of a door. "I'm sure that if your escape attempt had proceeded I would be quite dead, but because it was all in your mind I am still very much alive and able to continue my work."
"This is something messing with my head; I saw the base buried under a couple hundred tons of dirt."
"No, this is me ending this deception," said Essex. "I let you see what would help lead me to your secrets, and now I have them. I must admit that I'm very eager to have your friends brought in. I've been able to do so much with mutants; I can hardly imagine how much I will be able to advance my studies with a slayer, a witch, and a werewolf. I'm sure that they will all want to thank you for leading me to them once they are brought here."
At the thought of his friends being tortured because he had failed to keep them safe something simply snapped inside of Xander. With a wordless scream of primal rage he leapt toward Essex to try and do some bodily harm, but simply crashed through a door.
Still screaming so hard his throat was beginning to hurt Xander began to turn around, but was stopped by a hand on his shoulder. Feeling that he was being attacked and needing something to direct his anger toward Xander put all of his energy into a right cross, and found himself thrown onto the floor and pinned before it even connected.
"Now are you through being homicidal Xan, or do I need to use the tranquilizers we save in case Oz breaks out of his cage during his special time of the month?" asked Buffy as she looked down at Xander.
"I'm good," said Xander as he took deep breaths because Buffy had knocked most of the air out of his lungs with her take down.
"Good," said Buffy as she got off of him and held out a hand to help him up.
"Sorry about the whole trying to punch you thing, I kinda lost it there."
"Don't think you're the only one," said Buffy as she looked at the other college students cowering and whimpering against the walls.
"Get them off me!" yelled Willow as she ran into the room. Her screams reach one of the students, and he stands up and takes a hold of the hysterical Willow.
"Willow, Willow, what's wrong?" asks Oz as he gently but firmly holds onto his girlfriend.
"I couldn't get them off," said Willow as she came out of the illusion that had trapped her.
"It's okay, we're okay."
"We're not okay, we need to get out of here," said Buffy.
"Right there with you Buff, just not seeing how to make it happen," said Xander as he looked at the windowless room.
"Is anyone else noticing that everyone seemed to make it to this room?" asked Oz as he noticed that he and his friends weren't alone in the room.
"We were brought here," said Buffy. "Everyone got so scared that they were led here, but why?"
"I'm guessing that the way too realistic, evil looking, magic circle may have something to do with it," said Xander, more than a bit angry at himself for geeking out about how cool the fraternity was and not noticing this when he was here with Oz before. "I think the guy said he was copying it out of that book."
"I think it's Gaelic," said Willow as she picked up the book and began to flip through the pages.
"Can you translate it?" asked Buffy right before a rumbling voice demanded that they release it.
"I know I'm the Townie of the group, but something tells me that letting this guy loose would be a bad thing," said Xander, deciding that falling back on jokes would be the best way to retain his sanity until he had something he could hit with his hammer.
"Give me something here Willow."
"Okay," said Willow as she stumbled over the unfamiliar words. "This icon is called the Mark of Gachnar. I think this is a summoning spell to summon Gachnar. Somehow the beginning of the spell must have been triggered, so right now Gachnar is trying to manifest itself."
"How is it doing that?"
"It feeds on fear."
"We're feeding it, we need to stop."
"If we close our eyes and think happy thoughts we're going to get killed, these things are just as real as Fido or Soldier Boy," said Xander.
"Okay, so our fears are feeding it, if we get everyone out of here…"
"Again, good plan, but not seeing how it's going to happen. Everyone else remembers the disappearing front door trick right?"
"Oh, I think I got something!" exclaimed Willow. "It says that there are two ways to stop the summing. Okay so destroying the mark of Gachnar-"
Everyone looked over at the sound of breaking wood to see that Buffy had put her foot through the mark, and the floorboards they were painted on.
"-will summon Gachnar instantly, so isn't something we want to do," finished Willow as she looked at the now glowing mark.
"It's okay, now I just need to kill it, and I'm good at that part," said Buffy.
If Buffy had been expecting a large intimidating fear demon she was rather disappointed when a three inch figure came out of the glowing circle.
"Big overture, little show," stated Xander as he looked at the diminutive form that had caused him to be scared out of his mind for the last hour.
"I am the dark lord of nightmares! The bringer of terror! Tremble before me, fear me!" proclaimed Gachnar, causing amused grins to form on the faces of all of the Scooby Gang.
"He's so cute," said Willow as she laughed.
"Still an evil demon though," said Buffy right before she raised her foot and crushed Gachnar like a bug.
"Happy Hallow… Good Lord, what happened?" asked Giles as he looked at the four young adults standing just in front of his door.
"Explain later, chocolate and hippo's in tutu's now," said Buffy as she, Willow, Oz, and Xander entered his home without an invitation, and the last carrying a VCR.
"I'm sorry, what?" asked Giles.
"Fantasia, and the good tradition of staying inside and watching a movie on Halloween," said Xander as he quickly hooked up the VCR to Giles' TV, popped in the movie and hit play.
"Ah, Night on Bald Mountain, a good choice, this song always sends a chill down my spine."
It would take Giles three hours to learn why everyone glared at him before fast forwarding past the only vaguely frightening song on the entire tape.