Honestly, I'm glad I couldn't speak, though I use the word "speak" loosely; I suppose the more accurate thing to say is that I'm glad I couldn't vocalize, because the panic surging through me would have surely made a sound more utterly disappointing than my stammering attempt to speak up in the circle earlier that day. No. I'm sorry. The clique. But never mind that. I'm losing focus. And yesterday was, amongst so many other things, a day of focus I've never experienced before. Everything that mattered took place in five seconds, but for the sake of context, I'll give you two hundred and thirty-five more. And though it's not exactly my proudest moment, we'll start the timer with me running for my life.
The rattling of buckles chased me, but it was what I couldn't hear that had my heart jogging quicker than my legs could run. Suspended inches from the ground by a power I can only assume they drew from the depths beneath us were these . . . men. These men in suits. Except they weren't men. They were monsters. Grotesque mockeries of the human form. Dehydrated skin clinging to bone and muscle, hairless and gray, with . . . with teeth of silver protruding from ruby gums. I almost wish those teeth had gnashed at me, or that their paper-thin lips curled in a snarl, but I'm almost certain both acts were physically impossible. It was as if every muscle in their faces were petrified, giving each well-dressed fiend the widest, most unsettling smile of which was as unrelenting as they seemed to be in their slow, but undeterred pursuit.
I imagine most people would have high-tailed it for the nearest police department, but besides knowing I could never make it that far, I also knew somewhere in my gut that a bullet wasn't going to rid Sunnydale of these things. Otherworldly beasts called for otherworldly solutions and the only witch I knew of was Willow Rosenberg. Finding her had become much more detrimental. Even though I had scoured the campus map and found her room number in the housing registry, I could only vaguely remember the building number, let alone the floor and wing. Panic does that. Makes your brain wonky.
Stumbling into Willow's building, the closed doors of every resident taunted me. If I could only get into the safety of a barred room for five minutes to catch my breath and get my bearings . . . well, I guess the two hundred and forty seconds of this story would be a lot less heart-pounding. Fret not, though, because there was pounding aplenty. On doors. Seeing how close the fiends were getting, I forgot all about my heroic plan of casting a protection ward with the brave redhead and was all about throwing myself into someone's bed and huddling under the covers. It was my go-to tactic as a kid and I didn't feel like much else stripped down to my fear. No one answered. I guess they were already bundled in their blankets, having the sense to stay indoors in the wake of a silent murder spree. I tried to call for help, but you can guess how that turned out.
With the baddies advancing steadily at my back, the only place to run was up. Busting into the stairwell, I took the stairs by two, sometimes even three, in a step, clutching to the handrail and pulling myself forward when I felt my trembling legs start to give out. I must have climbed three flights before throwing myself into another hallway and then it was the same routine as before – start busting on doors and pray that someone's childhood had included tying sheets around their necks as capes instead of hiding beneath them.
Just as I was about to give up hope on the first door of floor might've-been-four, I heard the knob click and saw the beginnings of the door swinging inward. Before I could even begin to blubber with happiness – which again, in retrospect, it was probably best I couldn't vocalize – I was face to face with a silver smile and the freshly-harvested heart of someone I probably sat behind and could've at least guessed the first letter of their name correctly. I recoiled in horror just in time to catch my earlier pursuers rounding the corner I had just come in from.
If whatever these things were had already made it to this floor, how could I know what was waiting for me further down the hall? Would smiling faces be waiting to greet me in the stairwells or at the exits? Trying to come to grips with possibly having to scale down the side of a completely vertical wall, I pushed myself toward the nearest set of unobstructed stairwell doors. I wasn't anticipating colliding into the very person I had left the safety of my room to seek. As I recovered, pushing myself back up, the terrifying sight behind me – in front of her – caught Willow up to our now mutually shared situation. Without wasting another second, Willow grabbed me by the elbow and spirited us both to our feet. I followed up behind her. One, because I figured she knew her building better than I and two, if anyone could do something to help Sunnydale out of the two of us, it was her. Better I be taken down first if they caught up.
She led us all the way down to the first floor common area, taking a turn down a hallway before pulling us into a room and slamming the door shut behind us. I locked it before even realizing where we were. One look told me that we were in the laundry room and that we had just come in the only door. Willow was two steps ahead, already sizing up the soda machine before she limped to it, throwing all of her weight against the side. I tried to help; she couldn't get any traction with her twisted ankle, but even if she could, the two of us wouldn't have been able to get it against the door in time. Willow stumbled back, landing roughly on her tailbone and back thudding against a drier. When she made no attempt to push herself back up, I thought, "This is it. Willow the brave, Willow the woman who speaks her thoughts, is giving up. We're going to die in a laundry room".
I didn't want to be another number in a death toll. I didn't want Willow to be just another number in a death toll. Willow was special. I could taste it in the air whenever I was around her. I could feel her presence tingle the entirety of my skin like the faintest electric shock. And when she touched me? Granted at the time we were both running for our lives, I could feel my center of gravity shift from that of the earth's to her. She beckoned me. She had to have. I don't save people. I don't put myself in danger. I stay low. I keep quiet. Except I can't when she's around, or in my head, or . . . or giving up.
But she wasn't. She wasn't giving up. Just as I knelt down, throat dry and heart fluttering therein as my mind raced to think of a rousing speech to restore Willow Rosenberg's will to live, I saw it. It was her eyes, irises so sharply in focus it was as if I were staring at them through a microscope. And they were locked on the soda machine. Controlling her breathing and stilling her body, she funneled everything she had into those determined eyes; despite knowing her from Wiccan Club, it took the rattling of the soda machine to draw my gaze to it and realize that Willow Rosenberg was attempting to move half a ton of metal and plastic with only her will to stay alive.
Just as it looked like it would budge, the soda machine stilled and the air from Willow's lungs evacuated her in frustration and effort. I could tell as I watched her jump right back on the horse that she was one-hundred and ten percent in it, but as the soda machine remained still as the graves we'd soon occupy, it was evident that whatever magicks she had mustered were spent.
The hairs on my arms and the back of my neck rose. Or maybe they had risen as I witnessed Willow's power. I honestly can't place exactly when, but it gave me a thought. Maybe Willow's powers weren't spent. Maybe she just needed a way to channel it, like some sort of conduit. I certainly felt her presence, even long before this night of silent horror. Maybe the reason my body sung when she was around was because I was the silver to her electricity. Maybe I just thought if I were to die in that laundry room, I wanted to die holding her hand . . .
I reached out slowly as to not startle her, my hand palm down, the backs of my fingers brushing against the bottom of hers. Now all of her focus was on me. As I aligned our fingers to lace, our hands slowly magnetized. The contact seemed to fascinate her – or scare her – the way her chest rose and fell. I knew she felt it; the sensation of every element played against our palms, the makeup of our beings twining: The air we breathed to sustain us, the water granting us motion, the minerals that constructed our bodies and the fire that spurred our souls. I practically heard her thoughts as she wondered if I was feeling everything she was. I nodded.
With her power coiling within her like a viper ready to strike, she looked up at me, eyes asking if it was okay that we were doing this. I have never been so sure of anything. My eyes conveyed as such. With our time swiftly dwindling, she finalized our synchronicity, squeezing my hand tightly. I felt her power ricochet through my palm, down to my center, and right back into her, our heads snapping to the soda machine and the soda machine snapping to our will as it crashed into the door.
Even though I knew it would happen the moment our hands touched, I still stared in stunned awe at what we had accomplished. When I turned to meet Willow, I was surprised to find her gazing right at me – even more surprised to find that our hands were still firmly clasped. I released just the slightest, not because I wanted to, but because the danger was over, and maybe it was necessary to save our lives, but I didn't want to overstay a potential imposition. For the pressure I relieved, she compensated by squeezing that much more. Even with everything said and done, the electricity no longer a surge but pops of static between us, Willow Rosenberg beckoned me to stay.
It was no spell that had me speechless then. At least, not the spell that had befallen Sunnydale. Restoring my grasp, we sat together, eyes on the door, listening for anything and hoping that our spell would hold. I should've been scared. I mean, technically we were still barricaded in a room with no other exits and nothing but sugary sodas to sustain us, but . . .but something about being with Willow made me feel safe. Somehow I knew I wouldn't be dying holding her hand that night, though I'll admit, it wouldn't have been a terrible way to go.