Sunnydale, CA, 1998

I was Steven Dirken.

That was DARKen or DORKen, depending on which social group you belonged to at Sunnydale High. To the lower classes, I was Darken, because I had this really prominent brow. No matter how much I tried to smile, all people ever saw when I looked at them was a scowl. Didn't make me many friends, in case you were wondering. To the upper classes, I was Dorken. The elite never talked to me, so they never got much scowl-action. Too bad that—some of them could really have used a good scowling. I was Dorken because I was a member of the Physics club, and the Math club and the Chemistry club as well. But physics was my passion. When ninety-nine percent of the other students were struggling to decipher their textbooks, those formulas just made sense to me. E=mc2? Kid's play to me. And I'm not trying to brag or anything, say that I was some kind of genius. I really wasn't—languages, for instance, were all Greek to me. To the teachers, I was Mr Dirken. There were only a few people who simply called me Stevie. My parents, of course, and my sister. The other kids from the clubs. A few others from Computer Science. I did okay there too.

In fact, that's where I was on the day that I died. The Computer Science classroom. I was toying around with a new software program that the school had bought. The program was a 3-D image simulator. It was a typical program that no one had really figured out what it was useful for, at least in a high school context, but that showed off what computers were capable of ever so nicely. It was a wonder that they'd got the purchase past principal Snyder. Anyway, I was just tinkering around, and I started to input data from Physics formulas. It was a revelation. I had always been able to visualise such things in my mind fairly well, but to actually be able to work with it and shift all the variables! Amazing. Time flew by.

I stayed after class. That was never a problem with Computer science. It was the last class of the day on Tuesdays, and those of us who knew what we were doing could just use the computers if we wanted to. Our teacher—actually it was a fellow student. Willow. One of the few that called me Stevie. She had the major computer-smarts, and she was filling in for the remainder of the school year after our regular teacher was murdered. It was a thing.

Our teacher was supposed to keep an eye on us while we were there, but no one took that rule too seriously. What were we going to do—take a computer under each arm and make a run for it? What was the worst that could happen? So when one of Willow's friends came by to get her, all four of us who were still working just told her to go, that we'd be fine.

It was that little blonde girl… Oh yeah, Buffy. How can you forget a name like that? I didn't really know her. Well, everybody knew her, only just enough to know to keep a safe distance. Creepy stuff happened with that girl around. "Will," she said, "we could really use your help in the library. Some thing…" She looked around, aware that we could all hear her and apparently not very pleased with it. "… something's up."

"Is it, you know, a now something, or a something that could be Some Thing later, or something? 'Cause I really shouldn't—" Willow asked. It was clear that she didn't want to break the rules and leaves her students here all by themselves—even though I think Clarissa was the only one of us there who wasn't as least as old as she was.

"Go on, Willow," Tobey said then, not looking up from his game of Doom. "We'll be fine, really."

"Okay, I guess," Willow said hesitantly. "I'll just be back later then to lock the classroom." And she took her bag and her firend and left. It must have been a 'now something' that Buffy needed help with, because Willow didn't get around to locking the classroom for quite some time. Unfortunately for me.

I suppose Tobey and the others must have left eventually. I honestly didn't notice. Once I was in my science mind, I became dead to the world. It started to get darker—that I noticed, eventually. I didn't give it much thought, though. It was that time of the year halfway through winter when it seems like the daylight lasts about an hour. The thing that finally managed to get my full attention away from the computer was a garbage can. It was pretty hard to miss, seeing as how it came flying through the window.

I'm afraid that I just sat there, frozen in shock. I didn't even get up to see who had decided to vandalise the school. As it turned out, I didn't need to. A few moments later, he came climbing in through the broken window. Still, I didn't move a muscle. For this bit, I can be excused though, I think. He wasn't human.

There had been rumours for years, all over Sunnydale, about a gang of troublemakers on PCP who mutilated their faces. No one had ever seemed to be able to get a clear look at them, though. The descriptions were always exasperatingly vague. I had a front row seat, and I could see what others apparently couldn't. He wasn't human. And did I mention that he wasn't human!?

The next few minutes there are a bit blurry in my mind. Your mind is supposed to be clear in those final moments right before you die? Not nearly true.

I think I remember most of my death, but it's all in fragments. You can barely reconstruct it into a linear whole. I remember how my murderer looked around and noticed me. I remember him saying something about there always being snacks available in the computer room. I think that was a joke. I didn't get it. I remember how he was on top of me from one moment to the next, and I would not have had a chance in hell even if I had been able to move my legs.

I remember his teeth in my neck. I remember his hand over my mouth, preventing me from calling for help. I remember the most terrible slurping noise which I didn't so much hear as feel as my veins drained dry. I remember the blinding pain, throughout the whole thing.

After that, the first thing I remember is lying on a heap on the floor while my murderer wiped my blood from his mouth. I've never considered myself to be particularly brave, nor thought myself to have any particular need to be, but I was still strangely disappointed with myself when I begged for my life. "Please," I said. "Please, I don't want to die." I think it was mostly the fact that begging for anything seemed so completely nonsensical at this point. I might not have had much use for bravery, but I'd always prided myself on my sense of logic.

And, against all logic, my begging was not for nothing. When I made my plea, my murderer shrugged and grinned. "Why not?" he said, and he picked up a glass shard and cut open his own wrist with it, carefully positioning the bleeding cut over my mouth. As disgusting as that sounds—I drank it all up, not spilling a drop. I was pretty far gone by then, and the whole thing seemed to me like the weirdest blood transfusion you've ever seen. It was like my murderer was pouring my own blood right back into me.

But it wasn't. Drinking blood wasn't going to keep my faltering heart beating.

Then, for a while, I remember nothing.

I was dead, you see.

Eventually, slowly, sensory impressions began leaking back into my brain. Hearing came first—I think it came some time before full awareness, but since there was nothing to hear at first, I can't be certain.

People walked by outside the classroom. I heard them talk.

"… should have killed him!"

"What did it look like I was trying to do, Xander?"

"Xander, Buffy. Bickering is not going to help. Believe me, I have as much reason to want Angelus dead as any of you—but right now, I'm more concerned with what he wanted with Fury's Daemonicae. Any single one of the creatures described in those pages could level this town."

"Ah, Angel's probably just trying to mess with our heads. I bet he took that book because he knew it would put the fear of Jeeves in you."

"Xan—"

"Guys! Look here!"

"What? Willow?"

I'd managed to identify all four of them by then. There were Willow and Buffy, and Xander Harris, which made sense, because the three of them were always hanging together. And finally there was Mr Giles, the librarian. Which kind of made sense, too, since they had been in the library earlier, but I couldn't think of a single reason for two teenage girls to be alone with that stuffy Brit this time of night that wasn't gross and wouldn't totally get him fired and deported.

"The computer room. Looks like Angelus came in here. Oh my god! I forgot to lock the classroom!" I had my first coherent thought since being dead then. It was: NOW she remembers. I heard Willow scuttling into the room.

"Willow, wait!" Buffy cautioned her.

"You don't understand… I mean…"

"Whoah. Check out the glasswork." Xander's sarcastic tone.

"Ooh. God." It seemed like Willow had discovered that I had never left and found my body.

"What!? Oh god," Buffy agreed.

"Oh dear."

"Is he… well, obviously," Xander finished lamely. "He was in you computer class, wasn't he?"

"He was. His name was Stevie Dirken." Well. At least she got my name right. I suddenly realised that Willow must be really near by me—because I could smell her. She smelled great. Not great like the hair of a girl you like can can smell, or even like the ocean smells. Great like a jelly donut. Strawberry jelly. You know what I mean, like the best food you've ever been about to taste.

Willow held out a hand to close my half-lidded eyes, and that's when I realised that I could see again. I opened wide my eyes and sat up. Willow screamed, and everyone looked at me. For the moment, I only had eyes for Willow. She was closest, and I could hear the beat of her heart, hear the blood pulsing through her body. The hunger was nearly overwhelming. I reached out to grab the girl and bare her neck for me to drink. More than simply the hunger, I knew I would take pleasure in her death—especially since I knew her and hjad rather liked her, not in spite of it. If I was still hungry after Willow, I'd have the others as well. Otherwise, maybe I could leave them to bleed to death slowly.

But Willow was not as shocked by the dead rising as she should have been, and as I leaned in, she ducked back to safety. "Buffy!" she shrieked. I discovered a new pleasure—like they say about certain animals, predators, I could smell fear.

Rigor mortis had started to set in in my legs, but it broke with a sharp but short twang when I jumped to my feet. I grinned wildly at the panic surrounding me, and once again reached for Willow. The girl was crawling backward in a sitting position, but her situation was clearly hopeless.

Then a hand suddenly grabbed my scalp from behind. The pain when that grip tore me off my feet and flung me across the room was quite something, but not nearly what it would have been had I still been alive.

Snarling, I got back to my feet, looking for whatever creature had been strong enough to manhandle me so, but all I found was Buffy helping Willow back up. For the first time, I noticed that the entire bunch was pretty battered. Buffy was clutching her stomach with one arm, and Willow's face showed the beginnings of a black eye. Apparently, my sire had given them quite the beating, too. I loved it. Xander's nose was bleeding, and the smell of it re-awakened my hunger. As luck would have it, he was coming right for me, holding something I couldn't quite make out. I knocked him to the ground. Licking my lips, I crouched over the boy to finally take my first meal.

Faster than I'd ever seen clumsy Xander move, he brought up the object he'd been holding, and—probably more by chance than by intent—jammed it into my mouth. It burned. Oh, how it burned.

Howling, I backed away. Immediately, Buffy was there. Her fist in my stomach nearly doubled me over despite all my strength, and not an instant later her foot as good as broke my face, sending me sprawling to the floor once more. Anger spurred me on, and I scrambled up to teach that damn girl the lesson she deserved.

"Buffy!" Xander shouted, and threw something at the girl. Buffy snatched it out of the air andheld it between us. I recognised it as a wooden crucifix. The crucufix's longest end had been sharpened to a point. In spite of myself, I recoiled from the object with an animal fear. Buffy took advantage of my hesitation and kicked my legs out from under me. The floor and I were beginning to get very well acquainted.

The next thing I saw was the pointy end of Buffy's stake crashing down at me. I only barely managed to roll out from under the blow. More than ever, I wanted to kill the lot of them, but fortunately, my logic was reasserting itself, overriding my terrible hunger. Xander and the librarian were coming forward to help Buffy, the one holding what looked to be a broken off leg of a chair, the other a small axe, of all things. I was outnumbered, and there was obviously more to Buffy than met the eye.

Besides, I knew instinctively, I had all the time in the world to kill them later. Someone else might have had some snappy remark, by I'm more a getting on with the program kind of guy myself. In two steps, I launched myself out of the window.

Dead or not, an impact like that can really knock the wind out of you. I managed to roll when I hit the ground, but that didn't help me with the tree that was standing in my way. Fortunately, nothing broke, so I was able to get back up to my feet and take off. I looked back once, from the dark shadows. Buffy was hanging out from the broken window, looking for me. There was no way she could spot me in the dark of night. Unconsciously, I began to growl. She and her friends had got the better of me because they had taken me by surprise. That would not happen again. In fact, Buffy, Willow and the others would never take anyone by surprise again. I'd kill them all, possibly before the night was out.

For a while I wandered aimlessly through the night, collecting my thoughts. When given some logical consideration, my death and resurrection did not make much sense. For the first time, though, I came to the conclusion that there were more important things in life than sense. Death, for one. Not so much my death as everybody else's.

I could feel the hunger coming back. I still hadn't fed. But this time I was prepared for the urge to feed to overpower my brain. Three streets from the Bronze there's a twenty-four hour snack bar. I'd figured out pretty quickly that though snack bars didn't serve my brand new preferred beverage, the beverage was nice enough to drop by on its own.

I hadn't been waiting long before someone dropped by for a late night burger. I had considered feeding on the guy behind the counter, but he looked kind of stringy, and besides—even in Sunnydale, there was always the chance he'd have a shotgun back there with him. It wouldn't kill me, but it would smart more than it was worth.

My meal was a man a few years older than me. I didn't know him. He—let's call him Butch, 'cause that was him all right—couldn't be in the habit of late-night snacks, because there wasn't an ounce of fat on him. Unless, of course, that had something to do with major steroid use. Butch had probably been the star quarterback of the football team when he was in high school. He was perfect. Butch was exactly the kind of guy who had never had the time of day for me when I was alive.

I didn't waste much time on him either. All in all, my first kill didn't really live up to my expectations. Don't get me wrong—it was amazing, feeling his lifeblood flowing into me. I'd just thought that I'd feel different after. All that had changed was that I was a little giddy and a little less hungry.

After I took what I needed from Butch, I left him where I had dropped him. A regular murderer would have had to take care to hide the body. I was way beyond that.

Suddenly I realised why I was still feeling so unfulfilled. Butch had just been a stranger I'd picked up off the street. The full experience required more than that. it required someone I knew, someone I was close to. Obviously, my parents topped the list, and my baby sister, too. I had loved them all very dearly. Yes. I found that I was unconsciously licking my lips. My family would make great victims. I could almost taste them already. I turned around and started in the direction of my old home.

On my way there, I crossed through one of Sunnydale's numerous cemeteries. It felt strangely like home. And why shouldn't it? I was among all the other dead things there. Except of course that I was in a lot better state than all of the dead things that were gathered on the cemetery grounds.

Or perhaps not. With my perfect night vision I spotted a group of people sitting together on the gravestones. For a minute, I was ready to feed on them, but then I suddenly realised that these weren't people at all. They were as dead as I was.

I approached them uncertainly. I wasn't certain our kind really had much cause to be together. Still, these others were talking, and I had only risen that night, so I was still pretty new at this.

One of the others noticed me coming. "Hey look, guys! A newbie!" I wondered how he could tell.

"Yeah," one of the others agreed. "Hasn't even figured out how to put his face on!" instinctively, I started raising a hand, but I dropped it back before it touched my face. I understood what the guy meant. My face was still contorted with the prominent brow, the teeth and the eyes that had come with my new life. I hadn't noticed that this bunch all looked human, hadn't even considered yet that I could put my old face back on. The new look had seemed so natural that I'd barely noticed it at all. I morphed back, looking like Steven Dirken once more.

"Quick study," the first guy commented. "So, Newbie—who did it?"

"What?" I didn't understand.

"Who turned you? Who's your sire? Who gave you the almighty livegiving blood transfusion? Who yo Daddy?"

"I wouldn't know his name," I said. I was ready to give them a description from what I had seen of the guy, but the graveyard club all began chuckling like I'd said something funny. "What?"

"You're what we call an orphan. That means that no one particularly wants you as a vampire. You aren't even minion material. The only reason you're standing here is because someone thought, 'Hey, why the hell not.'"

That, as you can imagine, didn't go over well with me at all. "And what?" I said. "We're all obsessed with where we came from? You want to try me?" That produced another round of chuckling. I found I still disliked being amusing without intending to as much as I had when I was alive.

"How old are you, exactly?"

I almost told him how long I'd been alive before I got his full meaning. "A few hours," I admitted.

"Come back in a week, Newbie. You can find us here around midnight most nights. You make it a week in this town, and we'll introduce you to master Angelus. Then we'll all see how much respect you are worth."

After that, they all ignored me. After a little consideration, I decided not to take issue with that. There were nearly a dozen of them, against the single one of me. I was dead, not stupid. I knew I could use the support of my peers, though. I hadn't known to put my face back on—who knew what other vital information I still lacked?

I watched the graveyard club for a little bit after that, from the shadows, but I learned nothing from them. They just sat there talking. Not hunting, not feeding. Watching them, I was strangely reminded of little children huddling together, seeking safety in numbers.

You make it a week in this town… What had that supposed to mean? With all the power I had, who could stop me? I knew I wasn't completely impervious to harm—the cross had hurt me, Buffy had tried for me with the wooden stake, and I was continuously sub consciously aware of the time I had till dawn—but quite frankly, it was close enough to make no difference at all. Bunch of idiots, I decided. They were probably too stupid to realise the power they possessed. I continued on my way to the house. It wasn't far at all from the cemetery. Which, I reflected helpfully, would come in handy when they found my family's bodies.

The house was dark, only the porch light left on—probably for me. Everybody else must already have gone to bed. Well, I supposed that I had told my mother I might be home late. Still, a little worry on my behalf would have been nice… Especially since they wouldn't ever get another chance to worry at all.

I was standing at the front door when I realised that I didn't have my key damn. I must have lost it during the scuffle at school—or even before that, when I was being killed. I tried the bell, but as I had expected, no one came to the door. My family had always been sound sleepers. You wouldn't believe how many notes my mother had written for school after all of us slept through yet another alarm and she figured it was her fault I was going to be late. Nor would you believe the looks Snyder gave me for that.

Not that any of it mattered, of course. I put my foot to the door, swung it back once and bam! I was free to go inside. Or so I thought.

I tried to step forward and… I was about to say, I ran into a wall, but that's not really true. There was no colission. It was just, I was moving forward, and then I was not.

Angrily, I smashed my fists against the invisible barrier again and again. Still there was a complete lack of impact or moving forward. A low snarl sounded from my throat. I didn't know what this was, but it wouldn't stop me—I would just have to climb up to my bedroom window.

Then I heard laughter from somewhere behind me. "Slayer's spit, man! You really still are wet behind your ears."

With a growl, I turned around. It was one of the guys I'd met in the cemetery.

"Your fangs are showing," he said. I'd realised already that my face had gone feral again. I changed back.

"What are you doing here?" I said. "I thought the big kahuna said I was persona non grata until after my first week?"

"What, Bruiser? He's not the big bad. He wish. Bruiser's just been getting more and more full of himself now that Spike isn't coming around to break his legs anymore. Gonna do something stupid and get himself killed, soon." He sounded not entirely unhappy with the idea.

"What are you doing here?" I said again.

"Pfff. Relax, will you man? Just here to help." He shrugged. "No offense, but I figure you can use all the help you can get. I've been the new guy in the gang for almost two months, now. With all the heat going on, none of the freshmen have managed to hang on very long. But I'm getting sick an tired of being the butt of all the 'There's the Slayer'-jokes. It's your turn, buddy. That is, if you live that long—and you will if I can help it."

I didn't let the guy in on the fact that I was pretty confident about my chance of survival on my own, or that I had no intention of ever joining his little gang, not after watching them sitting around like scaredy-cats. Because this kid still knew things about being dead that I didn't.

"Great. So why can't I go inside?"

"You haven't figured it out yet?" he said. "Our kind can't go into people's homes without invitations, or into any other private place, for that matter. Well, not unless your guy who lives there is one of us, of course, or a demon of some sort. Public places are fine, though. The Bronze is our prime hunting ground. Though you always have to keep an eye out while you're there in case the—"

"What else don't I know?" How did this whole afterlife-on-Earth thing get so mystical? So much for damn science. I'd have liked to see Stephen-frikking-Hawking superstring his way out of this one. And then I'd kill him, of course, but that was beside the point.

Unfortunately, my guide to the wonderful, screwed-up world of the undead stopped being helpful right there. "Oh, I don't know," he said. "I mean, I know, but I don't know what you don't know. After a while, it all comes as naturally as breathing used to. Yeah, there's a thing—I can see you're still breathing. It's just a habit. You don't need to anymore, and your brain and body'll catch up with reality in a bit."

Ignoring the blabbermouth, I walked away from the house. How the hell was I supposed to get an invitation if no one was going to wake up before dawn? I hated giving up on my family massacre—even if it was just for the night—but not as much as going the rest of my first night without a kill. Maybe it was even for the best if I held off for a bit, I rationalised it to myself. After all, you can only kill anyone once, and wasting my parents and my baby sister before I got the hang of painful deaths simply wouldn't do.

My brain was churning. I was getting jittery. I just had to kill some more people tonight. Not strangers. People I knew, if not intimately at least by name. But who would still be out and about this time of night?

Ah… Naturally. Who else? My course was clear. I'd known I wanted revenge on Buffy, Willow, Xander and Mr Giles. I just hadn't realised I would be getting it so soon.

Though I didn't have a clue where librarians lived, or Buffy, I knew the general area that Willow and Xander's homes were in. Not like there was a whole lot of area to choose from in Sunnydale, but anyway, I had seen them occasionally on my way to Sunnydale High, so I could figure out where they came from. With any luck, I would catch one or both of them before they got home. It had been, well, maybe two or three hours since the fight in the computer room, but I figured the police must have kept that bunch busy at least that long. They had to have called the police.

So many acts of vandalism were left unreported in and around the high school, because no one could do much anyway, but this was more. They had to have called the police—I'd been murdered, for Christ's sake!

My new best friend trailed along. "I remember my first night," he said. "You're going to kill somebody, aren't you? That's cool. I can tell you've fed already, but you don't know nothing until you've gutted your first victim just for the heck of it. "I had this ex, you see, and I…" I tuned him out.

My plan, as plans went, was pretty weak in the way that it could only succeed with a whole bunch of luck. However, unless I was imagining it, I also had a hunter's instincts now. I had a good feeling about this—it was like death was in the air tonight. Maybe it always had been, and I was simply more attuned to it now that I was a part of it.

Soon we passed another cemetery, and I paused to orient myself. I didn't think I'd ever actually seen Xander on his own on my way to school, only Willow or the two of them together. So Xander probably just swung by sometimes to pick up Willow. Pity. But one death was still a death, and I was pretty confident I knew what street Willow lived on.

I found a spot on the end of the street closest to the school where the dark of night mingled with the shadow of a tree to hide me completely, and settled down to wait.

"Is your victim gonna come by here?" Nosey asked as he dropped to his haunches beside me. I nodded, wishing he'd shut up.

It wasn't that long before my unlikely plan paid off, but it seemed like it. By then I had been regaled with the tale of Nosey's first kill, and those of all his friends. He had a lot more friends than I would have given him credit for.

So I was doubly pleased when I spotted Willow and Buffy walking by across the street. "Two of them." I grinned, looking forward to all the blood. "Let's get this show on the road."

"Huh?" I'd interrupted one of Nosey's stories, and started forward quickly, before he could decide that finishing the unlikely tale was more important than a good spot of torture and death. Who was I kidding? His stories were torture. "Hold on! You crazy?" Nosey grabbed my arm roughly.

Snarling, I turned to glare at him. "Hands. Off."

He was smart enough to follow my advice, and held his hands up apologetically. "Easy, man. I'm just saying, that chick might not be your best choice for a kill, y'know?" Now, I hadn't really been planning to listen to what Nosey was going to say anyway, but this just pissed me off. I had had a pretty lowsy night, what with being brutally murdered and then getting my ass kicked and everything, but I'd like to think I handled it all pretty well. Until now. I was going to have my payback, and that was that. I grabbed Nosey by his throat and squeezed.

"Now, listen up," I told him. "I'm going to kill those to girls, and if you, or anyone, has a problem with that, you can take it up with me. After I'm done eviscerating their bloody carcasses."

Angrily, Nosey slapped aside my hand. "Watch it, Newboy. I thought I'd help you out on your first night out of the kindness of my unbeating heart. But don't give me no crap, or I'll gut you myself. It was simply friendly advice. That girl over there—"

"Is as good as dead," I finished for him.

Nosey threw his hands up in the air. "Fine! If you're so eager, go and get yourself killed. Again. See if I care!" He stalked away like a petulant child, but still he vanished into the dark with the grace that came naturally to our kind. I fought to overcome the urge to respond in kind to Nosey's childish outburst and stick out my tongue.

But I had bloodier pursuits.

Buffy and Willow had got a good lead on me while Nosey was distracting me, but they weren't hurrying, so I caught up with them easily enough. I stuck to the shadows, though, content to observe the two of them for a little while before brutally butchering them. A few hours till dawn yet. Buffy looked around, frowning, though I'm certain I didn't make a sound. She didn't spot me, anyway.

Willow drew away her attention with a quiet but long yawn.

"I hear you," Buffy said. "First period tomorrow morning is going to be nine kinds of hell. I have Math from Mr Carey, too, so no chance of a quick snooze. You?"

"English. Mrs Bendis." Willow sounded as if she might fall over and go to sleep right there on the sidewalk any minute.

"Ooh, way better. English class—where napping isn't just allowed, but actively encouraged." Buffy yawned herself. "Now you've got me started, Will. So, will your parents give you a hard time for being out all night? You know you can tell them to call me if you need back-up, but we'd better coordinate stories first. I think we were somewhere in the second half of the Z in the Big Teenage Encyclopaedia of excuses."

"'s OK. Dad's out of town till the end of the week, n'if I'm real quiet, mom won't hear me come in and tomorrow she'll think I was just in bed all night. Maybe the black eye will fade a little—I think I'll be able to cover it up."

"Cool. Knew I'd get you to start putting on heavy make-up eventually. Well, we're here."

"Hm?"

"Will. Your house? … Your bed?"

Willow blinked. "Sorry. Think I nodded off for a moment."

"Asleep on your feet. It takes a Willow to take things that literally." Buffy's grin faded, concern suddenly filling her face. "Willow? Are you sure you're all right?"

The other girl nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. But I still feel a little guilty. Poor Stevie. This is the worst part of the whole Slayer/Scooby gig, you know? Stevie's parents are gonna worry themselves sick, and we know they aren't ever going to find a body so they can at least have some closure and we can't say anything. And I should have… The computer room… It was my—" So, thinking of me, were they? And feeling guilty about my death—I liked that. I liked that a lot.

"Will. Repeat after me—no one can control everything. Maybe you should have gone to lock the door, but saving lives through research? Also worth your interest. Fact is, Stevie should have gone home before it was even dark. His death was tragic, but not your fault. Heck, he was killed by Angel. If his death was anyone's fault, it was mine… What?" Buffy demanded. Willow was suddenly smiling sheepishly.

"Repeat after me, Buffy—no one can control everything." Buffy looked peeved for a second, before reluctantly smiling herself. "I guess we both worry too much sometimes."

"Just go inside and go to bed. It's way too early in the morning to be smart."

"Night, Buffy."

"Night, Wills."

Wasn't it just sweet? If they hadn't ended the conversation themselves right there, I would have done it for them, because I honestly don't think I could have taken any more of it. And as fun as stalking was turning out to be, it was about time for some blood. I had snuck up onto the roof of the porch to get close enough to catch their hushed conversation, and when Willow walked towards the door, I leaped off to land right in front of her.

That certainly woke her up. Willow eyes widened to the size of saucers, and she screamed in fear.

"Willow!" Buffy called out from the street.

I grabbed Willow by her throat tightly enough to cut off her sream and lifted her clear off the ground. "Hush, hush," I reminded her, bringing her close. "Don't want to wake up your mom, remember?" The feel of her pulse under my hand was intoxicating. I was still gaining strength after my death earlier that night, and suddenly I hungered for Willow's blood as if I had never fed before. The girl wimpered, trying desperately to loosen my grip so that she could breathe. I smiled and drew her even closer. My fangs had slipped out again as soon as I had leaped off the porch, and I opened my mouth to drink.

Something rammed my stomach with about the force of a speeding locomotive. Doubling over, I dropped my prey. Whatever had smashed into my stomach made a sharp turn upwards and caught me under the chin. I went flying and hit the house.

When the stars faded from my vision, I saw Buffy standing in front of me, holding a heavy branch in her hands. "You," I said, "are really beginning to piss me off!" I struck out at the girl with an involuntary snarl. Buffy dodged aside, and swung down the branch on my shoulder. I yelped in pain.

The pain mixed with fury inside me until an animal bloodthirst bubbled up inside me and overwhelmed my senses. I would have thought I'd hate it if my logic lost to my impulses, but instead it felt strangely liberating. I lunged forward, and we spilled out onto the lawn. Neither of us took long before we were back on our feet, but I was a fraction of a second faster. Buffy had lost her improvised weapon. I knew I'd taste her blood before long. My foot took her right in her chest—that's what she got for being so short; a man would probably have taken the kick in the stomach.

Though she'd had the breath knocked out of her—quite literally—Buffy was ready to fight back. Their was an amazing amount of power behind her right hook, but it all went to waste as I ducked underneath it. I grabbed her coat and slung her into the ground. Another time, I might have found the fight exhilerating. Now, I only yearned for the metallic taste of hot blood in my mouth. I looked back. Willow was still where we'd left her, eyeing the struggle frightenedly. She wouldn't cause such a fuss. If I made quick work of Buffy, I could take my time draining Willow to the last drop. Now all I had to do was calm down enough to be able to consider a little strategy.

Instead, I chose to pounce on Buffy. She pushed herself out of the way a fraction of a second before I hit the ground where she had been face-down. An elbow smashed into my lower spine, and the growl that had been building deep down in my throat rose to a crescendo. I twisted around only to have Buffy straddle me. A rain of punches came down on my face, and I smiled.

There was no enjoyment in that smile, let me tell you that, but still—as painful as Buffy's fists were, they weren't doing any major damage, not with the extra padding my new face had. No, that smile was ninety percent animal wildness. The remaining ten percent was because Buffy had opened up her knuckles on one of my fangs, and the smell of blood was driving me insane.

If I'd been thinking clearly, I would have used that moment when Buffy was distracted, searching for a weapon, to snap her neck while I had the chance. Instead, I took the extra time to half sit up and try to put my teeth in her neck. I got a mouthful of the sleeve of her coat for my effort, but bit down anyway.

Buffy yelped, startled. I managed to kick Buffy off of me, and launched her towards a tree. She hit it head-first and bounced back, falling to the ground with a dazed look on her face.

Almost licking my lips with anticipation, I walked towards her. Rational thought was still buried pretty deeply, but on some level at least, I realised that I'd regain control as soon as I had the girl's blood in me. Meanwhile, I was enjoying it immensely just to sit back and watch the carnage unfold as if on its own.

Then something heavy collided with my shoulder. Puzzled, I watched the book as it fell to the ground, pages fluttering. And then another book flew by. In the wild state my mind was in, this was all incredibly bewildering.

It was Willow, of course. The girl was panicked, but not so much that she was about to abandon her friend. She was digging through her bag, apparently searching for something desperately, and occasionally throwing a book at me. She was trying to distract me from Buffy while she was lying there, helpless. It was obvious. But it worked, too, 'cause man, that was annoying. Buffy was groaning, and though she seemed no more than halfway conscious, she was making half-focused movements. I should of course have finished her off first, if only to finally get this thing finished, but I wasn't about to let any threat to me, however lame and futile, to go unpunished. So, with the snarl that was almost becoming a permanent fixture on my face, I turned towards Willow and started to advance on her slowly but steadily. Now that she had my attention, the books stopped flying. I didn't rush, but enjoyed the look of genuine fear in her eyes as she watched me come, her hands still searching through her bag.

It was because I was watching Willow's eyes that I noticed when the fear changed—not vanished, but certainly changed. I was on Wilow in a rush of two large leaps, just fast enough to clasp her wrist as she brought up whatever she had been searching for. It was a small bottle, containing a clear fluid. What was it? A kind of mace, or acid? No. Holy water. I knew it suddenly, with absolute certainty. So that myth was true as well. I guessed I should have expected it, after how that cross had burnt me. It didn't occur to me to wonder why a high school girl who by the way I knew to be Jewish was carrying a bottle of holy water in her school bag, which, in hindsight, is a pity—do Jews have holy water? Oh, well, one way or another, it should still have registered as weird. Unburdened by such curiosity, I twisted, and Willow lost her grip on the bottle and it broke on the ground, spilling its contents harmlessly into the earth. "No!" she wimpered. There was that wonderful fear again.

With my free hand, I pushed back Willow's head, baring her neck. Some sense I hadn't ever used before found her carotid artery even before my eyes did. The artery was pulsing wildly with Willow's terrified heartbeat. "Whoah, tunnel vision." Everything seemed to fall away around the artery. I leaned in, and I imagined I could already feel the taste of blood on my tongue. I was almost surprised when my fangs touched the girl's neck, surprised because the fantasy had convinced me I was already there.

I was about to bite down…

… when suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my back, in my chest. But the pain was gone in a flash, and then I only felt confusion, and a strange kind of thirst—not for blood necessarily, but like something was draining all of the moisture out of my body.

I staggered back, letting go of Willow, but barely noticing it. Buffy was behind me, still shaky, but with all her wits about her again. I looked down, and a wooden point was sticking out on the left side of my chest.

"What…? But I…?"

Buffy frowned at me through the bruises I'd dealt her, but she looked more amused than anything. "Those are your last words? Where's the comedy, my friend? Where's the poetry? Just so you know, if they put 'What? But I?' on your gravestone, I'm not gonna patrol anywhere near it."

I felt vaguely angry at the glib comment, but my mind was falling apart as quickly as my body, and there wasn't much I could do about it anymore.

For some reason I tried to look at my hands, but they weren't there anymore. Only dust. Dust to dust.

And then I died.

Permanently, this time. It was no fun at all.

fin


Like it? Then why not check out my original fantasy saga FULCRUM, available in e-book on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords, or start reading for free on my website TelltaleProductions dot nl (link in profile).