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FIC: The Monsters Are Due in Washington Square, Part 3/5

Title:  The Monsters Are Due in Washington Square
Author:  Lizbeth Marcs
Summary:  Nothing’s the same after the monsters come to town.

Genre:  Gen; Apoca-fic, dark fic, future fic
Rating:  PG-13
Series: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel the Series
Characters:  Xander, Faith, Willow, Angel, original characters
Pairings:  Xander/OC; Xander/Faith (referred to in the past tense)




Prior to getting into Mrs. Ellington’s car after school, Moira had been pretty sure that she had scaled the heights of Mount Bizarre and that it just wasn’t humanly possible for things to get any stranger.

She was quickly disabused of that notion.

When she got in the Ellingtons’ minivan, both Missy and Mrs. Ellington politely welcomed her and asked if she was comfortable, and asked if she had a good day, and checked to make sure she had her seat belt on, and asked if she was ready for the party. The words all sounded like the kind of thing anyone would say to someone who was Missy’s designed bestest buddy ever, which Moira most certainly wasn’t.

But that wasn’t the weirdest part about the polite chit-chat.

It was the way they said it, almost robotically as if they were repeating a series of phrases that they had been programmed to say. The robotic nature of the conversation was further enhanced by the somewhat glassy, blank stares on their faces whenever they looked at her.

Niceties complete, Mrs. Ellington set off. It seemed to Moira that neither Missy nor Mrs. Ellington even noticed her presence in the backseat. It was during these times of invisibility that Missy and Mrs. Ellington seemed to act and talk in a completely normal fashion. However, whenever they were forced to acknowledge Moira’s existence, something that happened a couple of times during the ride, an expression of faint surprise crossed their faces as if they seemed to suddenly remember she was there before they responded in a stilted parody of a conversation.

As soon as the latest verbal exchange was complete, both Missy and her mother seemed to forget that Moira was even there as they returned back to normal.

The birthday party for Missy’s grandmother was more of the same, times 17 more people, spread out over several hours instead of 35 minutes, and involved an actual sit-down meal.

By the time the birthday cake came out and Missy’s grandmother blew out the candles, Moira was so freaked by the whole thing that she retreated to a corner and willed herself into invisibility.

It helped only somewhat, since every once in a while someone in Missy’s extended family would suddenly notice her presence. Cue the faint surprise, the descent into being a robot, and the stilted conversation. As soon as the painful exchange was complete the other person would wander away, seemingly forgetting that they had spoken to her only seconds before.

By the time 8 p.m. rolled around and Mrs. Ellington hollowly asked Moira if she was ready to go, Moira was ready to bolt out the door and take her chances on finding her own way home, even if it meant walking across the entire length and breadth of the city in the dark.

The car ride with just herself and Mrs. Ellington was even more goosepimply. 

After Moira told Mrs. Ellington where she lived, the two of the fell into a strained silence. Moira was at first grateful to be spared the trial of a conversation where the other person wasn’t quite present and accounted for; until she realized that Mrs. Ellington had gone from “robot” to “puppet.” Mrs. Ellington’s glassy-eyed stare was fixed on the road ahead, and her hands seemed to jerkily move as she turned the steering wheel or hit the directional.

By the time they reached home, Moira was so anxious to get away that she flung open the passenger door just as the minivan rolled to a stop in front of her house. She grabbed her book bag, jumped out onto the sidewalk, and ran up the front walk without bothering to look back. She was just about to put her key into the lock when the front door jerked open.

Mom didn’t say a word. She just grabbed Moira up into a tight hug.

Suddenly, Mom let her go.

“Jean,” Mom said.

Moira turned around and let out a small, startled scream.

Mrs. Ellington was standing right behind her. Worse, she still had that far-away, glassy stare.

Mom put a hand on Moira’s shoulder. “Jean?” she repeated, sounding far less sure of herself.

“Moira and Missy had a wonderful time building a flamethrower in the garage,” Mrs. Ellington said.

Moira was shocked. “Wait. What?”

Mom’s hand squeezed her shoulder. “Shush, honey.”

“I don’t even know what she’s—” Moira began.

Shush. Later,” Mom ordered.

“We plan to use it at our barbeque tomorrow,” Mrs. Ellington said in an emotionless voice. “We’re going to use it on my mother-in-law.”

Moira’s mouth dropped open. What was going on?

“That’s wonderful!” Mom chirpily said in a strained voice. “Good night!”

Without a word, Mrs. Ellington turned away and jerkily walked back to her minivan.

“Mom! There was no flamethrower!” Moira protested. “I wouldn’t even know how to build—”

“I know,” Mom cut her off as she dragged Moira into the house.

“She’s lying,” Moira protested.

Mom slammed the door shut, turned around, and leaned against it. “I know.”

Moira was outraged. “You know, then why didn’t you say something. Isn’t it in the Mom contract to defend your kids against something like that when you know it’s a lie? Especially when it’s a lie!”

“She’s not going to remember you were there anyway,” Mom said.

Moira had the overwhelming urge to stamp her foot out of sheer frustration. None of this is making any sense. “What are you talking about?”

“The only way to explain is to show you.” Mom held out her hand.

As Moira stared at her mother, it suddenly struck her that Mom looked terrified. “Okay,” she cautiously said as she took her mother’s outstretched hand. It was then that she realized that Mom was shaking.

When they entered the living room, a red-headed woman in loose-fitting, flowing, hippie-like clothes stood up from the couch. “You must be Moira,” she said.

Moira could only openly stare. Here she was, the redhead she saw hugging Chris a million years ago, standing close enough to touch.

“Moira, this is…this is…” Mom’s voice faded and she shivered.

The redhead’s smile was a little too bright. “I’m Willow. I’m a very old friend of your stepfather’s,” she chirped.

Moira swallowed. The redhead wasn’t fooling her for a second. Now that she could see the woman — Willow — up close, something wasn’t adding up. Yeah, she looked like someone who was soft and squishy, but there was something about her that telegraphed a don’t-mess-with-me vibe.

It took everything that Moira had not to run screaming from the house.

“She’s…she’s…well, she’s explained a lot,” Mom said in a shaky voice. “About Chris, and about what happened before we met him, and why everything is falling apart.”

Willow’s eyes narrowed very slightly, even though her too-bright smile didn’t dim one jot. “And was able to prove I was telling the truth, I hope.”

“Yes,” Mom said.

“Good.” Willow’s smile disappeared and her expression became business-like. “So I can count on you packing your bags and leaving town?”

“We’ll do it tonight,” Mom promised.

“We’re leaving?” Moira asked.

“Yes,” Mom said. She hesitantly looked back at Willow. “It turns out that Chris isn’t paranoid and he hasn’t gone crazy.”

“Glad I convinced you,” Willow said.

Now Moira began to shake. “All that stuff about monsters and darkness is true? Really?”

“I’m afraid so,” Willow said.

Moira wasn’t entirely sold on the idea that monsters were real or that day was going to turn into pitch black night, but when she looked up at her mother for some sign about the truth she saw from Mom’s expression that whatever was really going on was either just as bad or worse.

“We’re just going to pack enough to last us a few days and we’ll get going to…” Mom cleared her throat. “Is Philadelphia far enough?”

“Only if we manage to keep a lid on things here,” Willow said.

“Philadelphia it is,” Mom said.

“Just one thing. Don’t leave while it’s still dark out. Wait until dawn,” Willow warned. “There are things in the dark just waiting for you guys to make a run for it. We’re all scrambling to prepare, so we don’t have the people to escort you out of state.”

“Dawn,” Mom repeated. “We’ll be safe at dawn?”

“You should be,” Willow said as she picked up her coat from the arm of the couch. “But I’d get all the packing done tonight so you can leave as soon as the sun starts its pink-time peek over the horizon.”

As Willow put on her coat, Mom cleared her throat.

Willow actually smiled as she refocused her attention on them. “Another question?”

“If you could do what you did to the Ellingtons, why didn’t you just do the same thing to us?” Mom asked. “Why not do it to everyone in the city if we’re all in so much danger?”

Willow’s smile became dazzling, although it could be because this time it seemed genuine. “I can see why he fell for you.”

Mom and Moira exchanged glances.

“Ummm, thanks?” Mom hazarded.

Willow suddenly looked away, as if she was silently wishing that she could just snap her fingers and get everyone who was in danger out of danger. “It’s not that easy. There’s too many people for us to bespell them into running. We could pull it off with maybe a couple of hundred people, and it would take all our resources to do that much.” Willow looked up at them. “Then there’s the whole time-plus-distance problem. We could get you and all those other people into their cars, and get all of you to start driving out of town, but within hours you’d be wondering where you were going and why and you’d all just turn around and come back home.”

“Oh.” Mom’s voice sounded very small, as if the explanation made perfect sense to her.

Well, it didn’t to Moira. “Then if there’s some kind of danger coming, why not just tell people that it’s coming?” she asked.

Willow’s smile seemed kind of sad. “You don’t even believe me, and it took hours, a show-and-tell, and some serious rabbits-out-of-hats action to convince your mother that I was telling the truth. What makes you think random people are going to believe me if I just walk up to them on the street and start shouting at them about demons preparing to go all rampage-y?”

“But—” Moira began.

“Just trust her,” Mom cut in. “There’s no way you can believe it unless you’ve seen it for yourself.”

Moira sharply looked up at her mother.

“I can show myself out,” Willow said. “Just get out of here as soon as you can, and you’ll be fine.”

“Wait!” Mom dated forward, as if she expected Willow to simply wink out of existence instead of walk to the door. “Chris! You’ll take care of Chris, right? You’ll keep him safe?”

Willow looked away again. “I’ll try. He put the hurt on them back in the day, and they’re not the most forgiving creatures in the universe. They’re specifically gunning for him. Someone will be in contact with you one way or the other when this is over. That’s the best I can do.”

Mom’s shoulders slumped. “I don’t have a choice, do I?”

“I wish I could do better.” Willow said. “It was nice meeting you. Both of you.”

And just like that, Willow was gone.

Moira jumped out of surprise before backing up a few steps. “What happened? Where did she go?”

“Away.” Mom spun around. “Time to pack. And honey, pack only the bare minimum. All you get is whatever can fit in your book bag and that’s it. We need to look like we’re following our normal routine just in case anyone’s watching us.”

“Leaving at dawn is the normal routine? And who will be watching us?” Moira demanded. “Mom, you’re scaring me.”

Mom hugged herself. “Good. Well, not good, but I need you to know just how serious this. As for the rest of it,” here she paused and fixed her gaze on Moira, “everything Chris told you is true.”

Moira shook her head as she backed up a few more steps. This couldn’t be happening. It just couldn’t be happening. Mom had caught whatever infected Chris. “What? Monsters? Darkness? You’re telling me that’s real?”

“Real enough,” Mom said as she marched for the stairs.

“You’re telling me that it’s all true? Even the fact that Chris copped to murdering someone?” Moira demanded.

Mom paused on the first step. “Oh. Oh, no. That was a lie. Chris didn’t murder anyone.”

“But he said—” Moira began.

“He told you that because he wanted to be sure that you’d tell me everything about your conversation,” Mom interrupted. “Apparently you promised to hide the fact that you and he went for a Del’s.”

Moira hunched her shoulders. As crazy as her life was getting, and as much as all signs were pointing to it getting even crazier, she didn’t feel like the hammer had come down until Mom let her know that she’d been busted but good.

“He told you he murdered someone to scare you into talking to me,” Mom unnecessarily added.

Moira shook her head. Things were making less and less sense. “If he didn’t murder this Alexander guy, then why would calling the FBI and mentioning that name get Chris into trouble?”

“Oh honey, Alexander Harris isn’t dead,” Mom said. “That’s Chris’s real name.”

*****

She’s still staring at the brown stain on the wall above her bed when she hears the bathroom door close again. She keeps it there even after she sees Faith sit back down on the other bed out of the corner of her eye.

“Nice,” Faith says in a flat voice. “He saved your ass, and you look at him like he’s dog shit.”

He saved her? Really? Because that’s not the way she sees it at all.

“You realize that he just bought you a first class ticket out of this dimension when it all falls to shit, right?” Faith asks.

She screws up her face as she glances at Faith.

“Oh, yeah. World’s coming to an end for sure.” Faith nods. “Maybe not tomorrow, or next week, but it’s about to go up in fire and brimstone. You can make book on that. Too bad no one’ll get a chance to collect.”

This time when she looks at Faith, her disbelieving gaze stays there.

Faith looks like she’s licking her chops over the prospect that the world is about to go boom.

She shivers.

“What happened to your hometown? That was just a taste, get me? A taste. A test-run to see if their little set-up worked,” Faith says. “As it stands right now, half of Newport’s still on fire, the other half is dead. And we actually won that battle.”

“That’s a lie,” she hisses. “My house got attacked, my neighbors got killed, my mother is dead, but that’s because of him. There’s no way the entire city got nuked.”

“Wish it was a lie, but it ain’t.” Faith shrugs like she doesn’t care that she’s just been called a liar. “Don’t believe me? We can turn on the crappy TV right there in the corner and you’ll be able to see for yourself. It’s all over the news, 24-7.”

She takes Faith up on her dare. She pushes herself off the bed, pauses just long enough to put what’s left of her sub down on the wrapping paper, and makes her way to a small TV in the corner.

She’s surprised that Faith lets her actually reach her goal. “I’m turning it on,” she announces as she reaches for the on button.

“Don’t let me stop you.”

She pauses and looks over her shoulder. Faith’s butt is not only firmly seated on the bed, but she’s not even looking in her general direction.

Maybe Faith is telling the truth.

The she remembers how fast Faith was able to move when she saw him stumble out of the bathroom. It’s just as likely that Faith is playing with her and at the last minute will move at the speed of light to stop her from turning on the TV.

She hears the shower start in the bathroom

It’s like a signal.

She reaches for the on button.

*****

First there was the rush of packing and installing Mom’s gym bag and Moira’s backpack next to the door.

This was followed by Moira finally pitching a fit and insisting that Mom tell her everything, the whole truth and nothing but.

Mom seemed to sense that Moira had reached the end of her rope and wasn’t going to budge one inch more. She miraculously gave in to Moira’s demands.

What followed was a very long conversation — interspersed with a million questions, and not a little screaming and crying — that lasted until the wee hours of the morning where Moira got exactly what she demanded.

Even after collapsing into bed, Moira mind was racing so much that she couldn’t fall asleep.

It isn’t real. It can’t be real, she mentally insisted.

And yet, Mom had verbally insisted that it was.

The last thing she remembered as she tossed and turned was looking at the clock and seeing that it read 3:15 a.m.

Next thing she knew, she was being shaken awake.

“Honey! Get up! Get up now!”

Moira jerked away and sleepily insisted, “G’way. Tired.”

“Moira! We have to go now! Get dressed!”

Moira slit open an eye. The bright sunlight was streaming through her bedroom window.

She jerked upright. “I’m late for school!”

“Late yes, but not for school,” Mom said as she dragged Moira out of bed.

Oh. Yeah. The monsters are due in Washington Square.

The sleepy thought jolted Moira awake. “The monsters! We overslept! By a lot!”

“That’s right. Get dressed,” Mom ordered as she bolted for the bedroom door, ripping off her housecoat as she went.

Moira stripped out of her pajamas and yanked on the clothes she set out the night before. Oh God, oh God, oh God…

She bolted for the bathroom to pee, brush her teeth, and splash water on her face. Then she raced down the stairs for the front door. “Mom! Hurry!” she yelled.

“In a sec!” Mom yelled back. “Wait by the bags! Don’t go outside without me!”

As Moira reached the front door, the doorbell rang. She froze and wondered what she should do.

The sun was still out, and that Willow person said they’d be pretty safe if it was daylight.

Moira stole over to the window next to the front door and peeked out.

It was Chris.

She threw the door open with a happy cry, and flung her arms around his waist before he could even get a word out of his mouth.

“Why are you still here?” Chris demanded as he hugged her back. “You both should be long gone by now.”

“We overslept,” Mom breathlessly said.

Moira looked over her shoulder to see Mom come barreling down the stairs with her coat in her arms.

Chris released Moira and caught Mom up in a hug. “Thank God. I was afraid you’d both been attacked.”

Mom pulled back. “But your friend said we’d be okay if we stayed inside until the sun was out.”

“Yeah, but not for much longer,” Chris said as he scooped up the bags.

“It’s happening today?” Mom asked.

Chris looked down at Moira before looking back at Mom. He looked like he was ready to cry. “Yeah. It’s starting soon.”

Mom grabbed Moira by the wrist. “We’re leaving now.”

“Hope now’s soon enough,” Chris said as he turned on his heel and raced for their car, leaving Moira and her mother to follow.

“Are you coming with us?” Moira asked.

“I wish I could, but I can’t,” Chris said as Mom struggled to get her shaking hand to insert the key into the trunk’s lock.

“Why not?” Moira asked. “Why do you have to stay?”

“She’s right,” Mom said as the trunk popped open. “That isn’t your life any more. It hasn’t been your life for years. Let your friends handle it and come with us.”

Chris placed their bags in the trunk, and slammed it shut.  Then he leaned forward, holding himself up with his hands splayed on the surface of the trunk’s hood.

For a moment, Moira was sure he was going to agree and jump in the car with them.

Chris suddenly stood and looked at them, his mind made up. “I can’t. I’m partially at fault for them getting away 12 years ago. Plus, they’re here because I’m here, which makes me completely responsible for whatever happens next. I can’t just walk away.”

Mom grabbed Chris by the arm. “Change your mind,” she begged.

“Please,” Moira added.

Chris just shook his head and drew them both in a hug. “Go be safe,” he whispered. “I’ll find you as soon as this is over.”

“I just want you to know that when this is over I want you to come back.” Mom’s voice was muffled.

Chris let them both go with a frown. “It might not be that easy. I have a bad feeling that now that the Council knows I’m alive, they’re going to reinstate me on the payroll whether I want to or not.”

“Couldn’t you just hide again?” Moira asked. “You could take us with you.”

“As someone who did that for almost three years, trust me when I tell you that it’s not much of life,” Chris said. “Actually, living on the Council’s dime isn’t much of a life either. If you guys stick with me, you’re looking at really crappy choices either way.”

“We’ll work it out. Whatever happens, we’ll work it out,” Mom said. “Besides, I’d like to get to know the real you.”

Chris actually smiled. “You always had the real me. You just didn’t have my real name.”

Mom was smiling, too. “Well, now I do.”

Chris looked up and his smile disappeared. “Fuck.

Mom was immediately on alert. “What is it?” she asked.

Moira spun around.

The sky.

As soon as she noticed the gathering clouds, the light began to leech away and the landscape fade into a dark, crawling mist that seemed to seep out of the ground.

“Get into the house!” Chris shouted.

Mom grabbed Moira by the hand and bolted for the front door. The only reason why Moira dragged along behind her was because Mom had longer legs and could run faster.

“Hurry, hurry,” Chris said behind them as Mom struggled to unlock the front door.

The world looked like it had been plunged into nighttime within a matter of seconds, and it was getting even darker.

The front door swung open, and Moira felt a shove from behind that propelled her over the threshold into the house.

“Chris,” Mom began.

“Get inside. I’ll be fine.” Chris glanced once more at the darkening sky before looking back at them. “And remember, lock everything down, pull the shades, and don’t let anyone in until you see sunlight. Understand?”

“And use only the white candles in your desk for light, and if something gets into the house go upstairs to our bedroom closet and close the door behind us,” Mom answered. “Yes, I remember.”

Chris grabbed Mom by the head and kissed her forehead. “I love you both. Be careful.”

“You, too,” Mom said.

Before Moira could wish Chris luck, he turned, ran off the front porch, and disappeared into the darkness.

*****

On her mother’s orders, Moira ran up to the second floor. By the time she reached the top of the stairs the power had gone out and the pitch black had seeped into the house and left her blind. She held her hand up to her face and let out a small scream when she realized she couldn’t even see it.

“Moira!” Mom shouted from the first floor.

“I’m fine…I just…I can’t see anything,” Moira shouted back.

“Shut the shades and get into the closet!” Mom yelled up at her.

That’s when the deafening noise began. It almost sounded like a fierce windstorm mixed with the sound of an onrushing train, but there was another sound underneath that sounded like high-pitched and babbling nonsense.

Moira tightly shut her eyes, and willed herself to do as Mom asked, even as her head began to pound from the noise. She held her hands out in front of her body so she’d be able to feel walls or pieces of furniture before she crashed into it with her awkwardly shuffling body, and edged forward. Her method really didn’t help all that much. It seemed that no matter what she tried — whether it was moving her outstretched hands around or slowing the gait of her shuffle — she was constantly running into walls, tripping over door jams, and smacking against the sharp corners of the furniture. Her shins came in for further abuse as they came into unexpected, painful contact with hidden corners and sharp edges.

She was pretty sure that there was no way the house was this cluttered before everything went dark.

Yet as blind and stumbling as she was, she was able to spot every uncovered window in every area she traveled because each one looked like a floating black square that was only slightly darker than the area around it. The strange sight sent a chill up her spine whenever she saw it. The only way to get rid of those dark squares, along with the unease they caused, was to fumble around until she found the shade and pulled it down.

As the windows slowly but steadily disappeared from sight behind the drawn shades, something in her chest began to loosen. Were it not for the increasing volume of the roaring with its high-pitched babbling undercurrent that seemed to put increasing pressure on her temples, she’d almost call that loosening in her chest a feeling of relief.

Despite her halting, stumbling progress, she managed to shut the shades for the windows at the end of the hall, the bathroom, her bedroom, and the guest bedroom. As she fumbled her way to the door of Mom’s and Chris’s room, she was grateful that she was unable to see anything in the blackness outside, not that she was all that eager to see anything that might be capable of contributing the cacophony she was hearing.

Heck, a monster could be standing right in front of me and I wouldn’t know it was there unless I tripped over it.

The thought forced her to a halt and resulted in a small panic attack as she gulped down sobbing breaths. Her ears ached and her head pounded from trying to hear any sound that might be out of place over the deafening incessant noise. Her muscles tensed like wires as she spun in place and flailed her arms on the off-chance that she might hit and hurt anything that might be in the hallway with her.

“Moira!” Mom shouted up to her from somewhere on the first floor.

Moira stopped flailing as she mentally grabbed the sound of Mom’s voice like it was a lifeline. “I’m fine! I’m good! It’s j-j-j-ust a little slow going!” she shouted back.

“Why aren’t you in the closet?” Mom demanded.

“I-I-I still have your bedroom to go!” Moira shouted back.

“Hurry!” Mom yelled. This was followed by a loud crash.

“Mom!” Moira screamed.

“I’m okay! I tripped!” Mom shouted back. “Keep going! I’ll be up there in a little bit!”

Moira took a deep breath and let it out. Strangely enough, Mom’s assurances that she was okay gave her a little boost of courage.

Moira took that final step into Mom’s bedroom to pull the shades over the last two uncovered windows on the second floor.

Blocking out the first window to her immediate right was a piece of cake, relatively speaking. There was nothing in her way, so she didn’t stumble into anything. Now it was only a matter of turning around, circumnavigating the bed and the cedar chest at its foot, and then getting to the window on the opposite side of the room.

The whole process was about as arduous as she expected, complete with running into the bed — which didn’t hurt — and slamming into a corner of the cedar chest with her right shin — which did. Still, she managed to reach the dark floating square signifying the presence of the window with relatively little trauma, all things considered.

With a sigh of relief, she reached out to feel for the shade.

A blood red distorted face with yellow eyes, a gaping mouth, a lolling pink tongue, and teeth as long as her hand popped into existence on the other side of the glass from seemingly nowhere. Moira let out a blood-curdling scream as the face pressed itself against the glass as if it were trying to get a better look at her.

Let me iiiiiiinnnnnn. Let me iiiiinnnnnn, something sing-songed in Moira’s head.

She screamed again, even as she drew closer to the window.

Two clawed hands appeared on either side of the face and began to push against the glass.

Little giiiiirrrllll, do you like kisses and sweeeeetsssss? Let me iiiiinnnnn and all will be sweeeeet and sssssaaaaafe, the voice in Moira’s head sang.

Moira’s mouth remained open even as the screaming died in her throat. She reached for the window to open it up and let in the singer.

The thing on the other side of the window rubbed its face back and forth against the glass and sung of the beautiful place it would take her and all the wonderful things they’d do together once she let it in.

Moira yanked the window upward, but it remained stubbornly closed despite her best effort. It must be locked, then. She would have to unlock it.

“Moira!” Mom screamed from behind her.

Moira snapped out of her trance.

The face on the other side of the windowpane twisted into a hateful snarl as it uselessly beat its fists against the glass.

Moira screamed again as she threw herself backwards to get away from the awful sight.

Something brushed by her, prompting another loud scream out of her as she landed butt-first on the bed. As her upper body fell backwards on to the mattress, she saw the shadow of an arm obscure part of that horrible monster-face and begin pulling down the shade.

Moira curled into the fetal position and began to sob uncontrollably into the comforter.

A soft touch on her shoulder caused her to scream again, and try to scramble away.

“Honey! It’s me! It’s me!” Mom shouted.

Moira’s sobbing picked up in intensity and volume as she felt her mother’s arms gather her up in a hug.

“Shhhhhh, it’s okay. We’re safe now. It’s okay.” Mom sounded like she was crying, too. “We’re going to be fine. We’ve shut them out. We’re safe now. We’re okay. We’re going to be okay.”

*****

Even after Faith shuts off the television, she stares in disbelief at the blank screen.

She still wants to call it all a lie, despite the horrible news reports on multiple channels showing the burning ruin that used to be home.

Now it’s not anything. Now it’s just some place where something horrible happened and a whole lot of people got killed and a whole lot of people are dying.

People she knew.

People she knew yesterday.

At least it’s not a hole in the ground, right? As long as something was still standing, people could rebuild and start over, right?

Right?

“The shit thing about this is that we won,” Faith repeats. This time she sounds angry.

“Won,” she stupidly repeats as she finally tears her eyes away from the empty screen and looks up at Faith.

Faith holds out a hand. “I think staying on the floor is a fast ticket to getting some nasty disease. Let’s at least get you to a chair. Or back to bed.”

She ignores Faith’s hand as she gets to her feet and stumbles toward her bed. “This is his fault, isn’t it?”

“Not gonna lie, Newport got targeted ’cause they found out he lived there.” Faith’s voice sounds like she’s following from close behind. “As for whose fault it is that it got to this point? It’s everyone’s, which is basically the same as saying that it’s no one’s. Sucks, but when you’ve got everyone fucking up from beginning to end that’s what you’re left with.”

“Still sounds like his fault that Newport got attacked,” she mumbles as she collapses on the bed.

She feels numb. She can’t even feel angry like she should. Or upset, or sad, or anything. She doesn’t even have the urge to scream or cry or throw things. She feels all hollowed-out, like there’s nothing inside. It’s like someone yanked her brain, heart, and stomach out of her body while she wasn’t paying attention.

That can’t be good. It’s definitely not normal.

Faith settles back down on the other bed. “Yeah, they were going for a two-fer when they decided to hit Newport. They figured they could run their little test, and kill his ass dead while they were at it. Too bad for them we found out and got there first.”

“So that’s winning.” She stares down at the disgusting carpet, but doesn’t really see it. “He gets saved, and the heck with everyone else.”

She hears Faith sigh.

“No. Winning is we stopped it from spreading outside the city limits,” Faith says. “Once they set up their mystical nuclear bomb, Newport was as good as gone.”

She stares at Faith utterly lost. She can’t begin to make sense of this.

“But now that they know they can do it? The war’s over.” Faith picks at the bread of her sub. “Now we’re just fighting rearguard action to buy time and save whoever we can before the world goes up in a puff of demons and smoke.”

“That’s not true,” she says. “I know that’s a lie. That man, the one who said we had to go to London, he said that—”

Faith snorts. “I swear to Christ that Angel lives on hope and moonbeams.”

“But he said—”

“I can guess what he said. He said that we were all facing a big, tough war, the biggest and the toughest of all. He said that if we were going to ride off into Happy Sunset Land where unicorns shit rainbows, kittens, and puppies we needed all hands on deck, especially the guy who saw this all coming way back in the beginning.” Faith snorts again.

She realizes that Faith looks bitterly amused, like she’s listening to a really sick joke that she doesn’t like hearing.

“Fact is, me and Daddy-o,” here Faith jerks her head toward the bathroom door, “live in what we call the reality-based world. They can fire up their doomsday machine anywhere at any time. And every time they do, every time they think about doing it, we have to find out and get all our people in the right place at the right time before they pull the trigger. And, like I said, even then we gotta kiss that town good-bye. All we’re doing is making sure the shit don’t spread too far outside the city limits.”

She’s clutching the edge of the bed as she openly stares at Faith. If she hadn’t seen that face outside the window, if she hadn’t seen the blood splashed all over her house, it she hadn’t seen the body parts littering her front yard,  if she hadn’t seen the news reports, she could convince herself that it couldn’t possibly be real.

But she did see all of that, and that right there is the problem.

“The thing is they can keep trying over and over again, and we have to keep catching them over and over again,” Faith continues. “They only have to get lucky once. We only have to guess wrong once. Then it’s over.”

“So find them,” she says through numb lips.

Faith looks at her a long time before she says, “Kid? Why the fuck do you think we’re dragging Harris’s officially dead ass back to London? He’s the best shot we got at finding them, and his information is 12 years out of date.”

She knows that a lot of things could change in 12 years. The heck with that. Everything could change in a single day.

Faith picks up her abandoned sub and begins unwrapping it. “Glad you finally get just how screwed we all are,” she says. “But no worries. Daddy-o fixed it so that whatever happens, you’ll survive all nice and safe. Odds are that it won’t be in this dimension, let alone good ol’ planet earth, but beggars can’t be choosers. Am I right?”

*****

Moira absolutely, positively wouldn’t go into the closet.

Despite Chris’s assurances that nothing could get through the closet door once it was closed, the thought that Chris could be wrong got stuck in Moira’s head and refused to leave. She didn’t care how safe it supposedly was, and she didn’t care that it supposedly could keep the monsters out. It was too dark in there, too small, and a dead-end trap if Chris turned out to be wrong.

She only felt reasonably calm when one of Chris’s special white candles was lit and she was inside the bright circle of its flickering light.

Mom had brought several up with her, one of which had been lit when she first entered the room, and a lighter. She had dropped the lit candle and its unlit clones when she saw the monster-face in the window. Thankfully the flame on the candle extinguished when it hit the floor, otherwise they’d have been forced to choose between burning to death and running out into the monster-filled darkness.

Moira knew that she’d probably take her chances with an out-of-control fire rather than face anything that might be lurking outside in the dark.

Mom didn’t put up much argument when Moira pleaded to stay outside with the candle. Mom even went so far as to admit that she actually agreed with Moira’s worries, especially since the closet was just about big enough to hold the two of them with very little legroom left over.

As they stared into the open door of the closet with candle held out before them, they both agreed that if they could bring a lit candle with them inside they’d probably feel more comfortable with the idea. However, the closet was too full of flammable things, ranging from hanging clothes, to shoes, to boxes on the shelves. They debated emptying the closet, but realized that keeping a candle lit while inside was still out of the question since there was always a risk that the cedar walls could catch fire if they were careless or managed to fall asleep and kick over the candle.

Besides, they had proof that the monsters couldn’t enter the house unless they were invited in, and now that all of the shades were drawn the likelihood of another incident was nonexistent. Furthermore, the deafening sound from the outside was now muffled enough that they could at least hear each other talk over the noise. It was still loud, but not loud enough to drown out even rational thought.

In the end, they both agreed.  Shutting themselves up in the closet seemed just a little bit beyond what they could handle, especially when they could keep their candlelight if they stayed out.

Moira let out a relieved breath when Mom suggested a better idea: a camp-out in the middle of living room. At least if they were down there were there instead of in the closet, they’d be able to see any hint of sunlight right away and know that the whole ordeal was over.

You mean if the sun comes back, Moira thought, remembering what Chris told her.

She forced herself to shake off the traitorous idea as she grabbed the blankets and pillows off all of the beds and tossed them down the stairs while Mom followed her with the candle from room to room.

The sun would come back. Of course it would.

Chris and his mysterious friends, whoever and whatever they were, would win the day.

If she believed it was true, it would become true.

As they set up their nest of blankets and pillows in the middle of the living room, Moira happened to glance up and spy the dim outline of the fireplace just at the edge of the flickering light cast by the candle in its holder on the coffee table. She whimpered and shook as she backed up several steps.

Mom was by her side like a shot. “What is it?” she sharply asked. “Did you see something?”

“Can they come down the chimney?” Moira asked.

Mom let out a relieved breath as she put her arm around Moira’s shoulders. “No. I closed the flue first thing.”

“Maybe we should light a fire for little extra protection, just in case,” Moira said.

“I can’t.”

“Why not?” Moira desperately asked.

“I tried it. I couldn’t get the tinder to catch,” Mom said.

Moira looked up into Mom’s face.

Mom looked down at Moira, her face drawn tight with worry. “I couldn’t light the tinder, and the wicks on the regular candles wouldn’t light either. The only thing that would even light was the white candles I got from Chris’s desk.”

Moira’s eyes were drawn to the lit candle. “Mom?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you know what Chris actually is?” Moira asked.

“I think you mean ‘who’, honey,” Mom said. “And I told you. His real name is—”

“No. I mean what,” Moira insisted. “He built a closet that can supposedly keep people safe from monster attacks if they get inside and close the door, and he’s got the only candles in the whole house that you can actually light. It’s like…it’s like…he’s some kind of secret wizard.”

Mom’s tight grip around her shoulders got tighter. “When you put it like that…” her voice trailed off. She cleared her throat. “Let’s hope that if he’s a wizard, he’s more Harry Potter than Servus Snape.

“I’m hoping for something more like Gandalf,” Moira quickly said. “Gandalf is a lot more powerful.”

Mom actually giggled at that. “You hope for Gandalf, and I’ll hope Harry Dresden.”

 

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