I know, I know. I only posted Part 18 a few hours ago and already here's the new part.
I mean, I have to see Arrested Development. I have to. The squick factor should be awesome. Justine Bateman is going to be playing a girl that Michael (Justin Bateman) is romantically interested in, but finds out later that the new hottie in his life just might be his half-sister.
I definitely don't have an incest kink, but damn! This I gotta see. Real life squicky-ness meets one of my fanfic "don't go there" in a massive collision for the ages. This should be very entertaining.
Plus, the Bluths got to Iraq to clear the family name. Yay! Because we all know that'll go really well.
I watched Arrested Development almost from the beginning, so I have to see the show out in its last hours on FOX. (Damn you, FOX!) If Showtime picks it up (oh please oh please oh please) I will get down on my knees and thank the Netflix gods in advance for making the DVDs available, because I'm too damn cheap to pay for Showtime.
Will I be going anywhere near my computer tomorrow night? Will I even come close to my computer tomorrow night? Hell, no.
Plus, I have a very packed weekened ahead, so I'll be very scarce on the computer front then, too.
So, I figure: Part 19 is scrubbed and ready to go, I might as well post it now.
I'll try to get to answering comments for Facing the Heart in Darknes Sunday night, but rest assured that I am reading them and correcting whatever people point out to me.
But I do want to to take the time to send out a general "thank you" to everyone who's reading and especially to people leaving FB.
I'm trying to stick to my regular posting schedule, but sometimes I have to scrub parts and sometimes I have to fill things out before the parts are ready to go (but everything is written and the story is done, which is new for me). So if I'm being scarce at times while putting up Facing the Heart in Darkness, it's because I'm handling a "behind the scenes" writing problem with the story.
For those of you who are impatient to get back to Water Hold Me Down, it hasn't been forgotten or lost (it damn well better not!), but I'm shoving up Facing the Heart in Darkness as fast as I can. Personally, I'll be kind of shocked if I'm still putting up Facing the Heart in Darkness beyond March 1. I certainly don't expect it to run beyond the end of the month.
Hopefully, I'll be able to get up another part of Water Hold Me Down before my remix story goes up. I've got my assignment and I've picked the story. So I'm almost ready to go for that one, too.
Algeria is kind of on the backburner for awhile because I have to rethink the plot for that one. I do plan to get to it eventually. (Sorry ludditerobot!)
Just FYI, Dave's part is long, but he's laying down a lot of information about the bigger issues Xander's facing. Issues that, ironically enough, neither he nor Eva are completely aware of.
“Yeah, I know,” Dave agreed. “But I didn’t want to lose the opportunity, see? I thought I had to strike while the iron was hot and people were still willing to talk. Everyone was so squirrelly about the beheading issue, I thought for sure that come the morning they’d try freezing me out again. Anyway, it gets dark before I’m halfway back to where I was staying and suddenly, lo and behold, the spirits of the dead themselves show up and they are hungry.”
I held my breath. This was obviously when Mr. Harris, Alexanrienne, and whatever Slayers were in their company descended upon the scene and saved Dave from a most unpleasant fate.
“Let me tell you something, Eva,” Dave said quietly. “Do you know what happens to your brain the first time you see a vampire? I mean, to the brains of people like me who had never seen a vampire in full scrunch-face with yellow eyes before? You say, ‘Hey, those guys are wearing rubber masks!’ Never mind that you’re in a country where all the masks are made of wood. Or you say, ‘Hey! Where’d they get the yellow contact lenses?’ Never mind you’re in a country where eyeglasses are in short supply, let alone contact lenses. The fact is, your brain tells you that you can’t possibly be seeing what you’re seeing.”
Dave stared off into the distance, but I knew that he wasn’t seeing anything in the village.
“Vampires,” he continued, “are Bela Lugosi. They’re Christopher Lee. They’re Lon Cheney Jr. They’re William Marshall. They’re Frank Langella. They’re Gary Oldman. Hell, they can even be George Hamilton even with that tan of his.
“They say cheesy lines like, ‘Look deeply into my eyes.’ Or, ‘I don’t drink…vine.’ They make the ladies swoon because they’re suave and wear tuxes that are the perfect fit just for dinner. They’re filthy rich and live in spooky castles. They’re powerful enough to kill off a minor character or two, but not so powerful that two comedians like Abbott and Costello can’t give them a run for their money.”
Dave looked at me as he shook his head. “Vampires belong in really bad Anne Rice novels. They belong in those Universal monster pictures. They’re another Hammer Horror. Vampires are myth, legend, and folktale. They’re a symbol for forbidden sexual desire back in the bad old days when Bram Stoker had them in his sights and they’re a cautionary tale for this day in AIDS.
“Vampires are blamed by primitive people when a whole lot of friends and family suddenly drop dead for no good reason that anyone can see. Vampirism is a smear against controversial rulers like Vlad Ţepeş or something that’s slapped on a serial killer like Elizabeth Báthory.
“But God help you, Eva, God help you the day you realize that everything you thought you knew about vampires is dead wrong and that they’re real, and they’re here, and there isn’t one silver screen Dracula that would last more than two seconds against these guys.”
I had all my life known that vampires and demons were real and that nightmares can come true. It had never crossed my mind to believe otherwise since it was part and parcel of what being a scion of an old Watcher family was. It had never occurred to me to think about how the uninitiated mind might contort to convince itself to fit what it believes to be irrational and impossible into something that makes sense to the modern man.
Yet, for all that, people like Mr. Harris and Miss Rosenberg were able to get beyond that point when so many others never did. Listening to Dave recount this incident, for the first time I didn’t wonder how anyone could refuse to see what was before their eyes. I instead found myself wondering how anyone living in the post-Enlightenment age could believe in vampires even when the monsters stared them in the face.
“Well, anyway, I take one look at these guys and I take off. There was maybe four or five of them. Something like that. I run to the closest house and start pounding on the door. Lucky me, it just so happens to be one of the village elders. He takes one look at me, sees the gang behind me, and without a word, he yanks me inside,” Dave said. “I see he’s got one of those ceremonial axes that they use to behead the corpses on the wall, so I grab that and start shouting at him to shut the door before these guys run right in and slaughter the pair of us. He holds up his hand like it’s all cool and I should just chill out.”
“He wanted you to see that they couldn’t get in,” I said.
He nodded. “Something the village found out by accident. Anyway, the gang runs right up to the open door and I watch as they bounce off of nothing. It’s like watching someone bounce off one of those invisible forcefield things that crop up in just about every science fiction movie known to man. So, they’re standing on the other side of the threshold yelling threats and swearing their fool heads off. I’m just standing there with my mouth hanging wide open.”
“What did your host say?” I asked.
“He told me that they couldn’t get in no matter what and that he was going to close the door,” Dave said. “Personally, I didn’t like the idea of this frail elder getting anywhere near these guys so I said that I’d do it. I’m shaking like a leaf; so all I can do is kind of inch my way up there. I get to the door and I start to close it. Then, I do the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
“I test the door opening to see if there really was an invisible forcefield.”
I swallowed. “Oh, dear.”
“Oh, dear is the understatement of the century,” Dave said. “I must’ve extended my hand just far enough over the threshold because on of them grabbed me and yanked me into the street outside.”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“I stumble around in circles while these guys start dancing around me and laughing. They even shove me around a little bit. I think they were trying to get me to run.”
“So they could have a little sport,” I agreed.
“Looking back, that’s what I think, too,” Dave said. He shook his head and released a half-laugh of a breath. “One of them gives me a hard punch on the shoulder and I just turn around to throw a punch back and…” his voice trailed off.
“Yes,” I prompted.
“I forgot I had the axe in my right hand,” Dave explained. “My fist is already flying when I realize that I just might kill this guy by accident. Not that I even came close. This guy ducks, and I’m spinning wildly on the follow-through. That axe, as awkwardly as it was angled, must’ve been angled just right because next thing I know I’m slicing through another guy’s neck like it’s soft butter. As soon as I’m out the other side, he just explodes into ash.”
“You mean to say you accidentally destroyed one of the beasts?” I asked.
“Completely by accident,” Dave said distantly. “Well, everyone freezes because I don’t think anyone believed what they just saw. You could hear a pin drop for all of 10 seconds, which is about how long it took me to think, ‘Unh-oh!’ and start running for the elder’s house. The gang behind me lets out this roar and they chase me. Almost caught me, too. I was just stepping over the threshold when I felt a hand grab the back of my shirt. There was a rip and I was home free. I slammed the door shut behind me and went to huddle with the elder in the corner while we listened to the gang screaming outside.”
I wondered at what point Mr. Harris would miraculously arrive in his story. “That was a very near thing.”
Dave didn’t acknowledge my interjection. “After about an hour of this, they finally leave. Me and the elder let out the breath we were holding and he looks at me like I’m Superman.”
”Why?” I asked.
“They didn’t know that you could kill the dead,” Dave answered.
“Nope. See, their ‘vengeance spirits’ came in so fast and furious that no one even had a chance to fight back. It just so happens that these stupid idiots decided they wanted to play with their food first and that’s why I had enough room to maneuver,” Dave said.
“Beheading is not the easiest way to a kill a vampire,” I pointed out. “A lucky shot does not a strategy make.”
“Yup. Which is why I told the elder everything I knew about vampires,” Dave replied.
I could feel myself frown. “How did you make that leap in logic?”
“Eva, I just saw a whole lot of impossible things. People with fangs who couldn’t cross a threshold even though the door was wide open and who turn to ash when you behead them,” Dave answered. “I know I was pretty naïve back then about vampires, and I knew nothing about Slayers, but I had a lot of movie knowledge to fall back on. It’s like the man Sherlock Holmes says, ‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’”
“You have proved yourself far wiser than many who’ve been in your situation,” I said. “But I do feel that I should point out that not all of the movie lore about vampires is accurate.”
“And how,” Dave agreed. “But the village knew zero, and at least half of what I knew was right. So, I go over the whole thing. Beheading. Fire. Sunrise. Holy water. Stakes. No inviting anyone inside your house if you can avoid it after dark. Garlic...”
“Not always true,” I said. “It depends on the constitution and age of the vampire in question and how much the vampire wants to get to you and how much garlic you have on hand.”
“Yeah, and the whole thing about them not crossing running water isn’t true either,” Dave agreed. “And all a cross does is make them hop back a step or two until they can figure out a way around it to attack you from another angle.”
“A cross does buy you time,” I pointed out. “And if you make contact—”
“It’s a good time down at the Sizzler Steakhouse, but first you have to make contact,” Dave finished for me.
“Well, I must say, you acquitted yourself very well during your first confrontation,” I said.
“You’d think that,” Dave said.
I let out a breath. “What happened?”
Dave shook his head a little in response, but it wasn’t clear that he had heard my question.
I reached out to touch his elbow. “Dave?”
“About an hour before sunrise, the guys are back, only this time they brought friends. They hoot and they holler until they see the elder and I looking out the window,” Dave said. “And what do my wondering eyes see? Eight vampires with a struggling female tourist in their filthy mitts.”
“How did they manage to lure a tourist outside?” I asked.
“They didn’t have to,” Dave said. “Some of the families put up tourists for a small fee. It just so happens that it’s cheaper to sleep on the roof than it is to sleep inside on a bed.”
“You can’t be seriously telling me that the village allowed tourists to sleep outside, especially when they knew that only those staying as guests inside a home would be safe,” I said.
“They did tell the tourists that it was safer to sleep inside,” Dave countered. “They knew the tourists wouldn’t believe the ‘vengeance spirit’ story because if there’s anything any self-respecting Dogon knows, it’s tourists. So they told people that there were bandits in the area and strongly advised against sleeping on the roof. Now, a lot of the tourists listened and ponied up the extra CFAs for an indoor bed. Some thought the locals were trying to soak them for more money, and insisted on sleeping on the roof anyway.”
“Of all the bloody stupid—” I angrily began.
“Besides,” Dave interrupted, “tourists had never been attacked before. The vampires seemed to be mostly interested in making their friends, family, and neighbors miserable.”
“Because the emotional trauma of having a familiar face kill you is that much more sweet,” I said.
“Yeah, they do have that sadism streak, don’t they?” Dave replied. “So, thanks to my surprise beheading, the vampires decide to change tactics. They wanted to teach me a lesson and the only people available were the people who were sleeping outside.” He closed his eyes and shook his head as if he were in extreme pain. “And to think they did it just for me.”
“You can’t blame yourself,” I said.
I don’t believe Dave heard me.
“When they knew they had my full attention, they pull the gag off her mouth and she starts screaming and screaming and screaming.” Dave recounted this part of his tale in an almost trace-like voice. “While everyone in the village is opening their windows to find out what’s going on, they rip off the girl’s shirt, and all eight of them dive right on in and start eating.”
“Oh dear God,” I said quietly.
“Took her maybe five minutes to die,” Dave continued in the same tone. “Felt like a 100 years, but it was maybe five minutes. Less than that even. When they were done, they drop the body to the street like she’s a piece of garbage and they tell me that I’m next. Then, just like that, they were gone.”
“Dave, I’m sorry.”
Dave paused to look at me. “Why? You didn’t do anything.” He then looked away. “Anyway, there was this whole commotion over the attack. While everyone’s busy dealing with that, the elder hustles me over to the Hogan’s house and explains the situation. He tells the Hogan that I killed one of the ‘vengeance spirits’ by cutting off its head and that I knew other ways to do it. Then he makes me repeat my list on how to kill vampires.”
“The Hogan must’ve been pleased.”
“Ecstatic,” Dave said. “Much as he wanted me to stick around and give everyone the news that the dead could be killed a second time, he figured it wasn’t safe for me to stay in town. The vampires had threatened me, and since they seemed to like sticking close to home, the Hogan guessed that they probably wouldn’t follow me if I left. So, he tells me to get to a village that’s about a day’s walk away. He’s got a friend there who’ll put me up until the heat’s off. He even sends along one of his sons to show me the way.”
“Why do I think that didn’t help?” I asked.
“Probably because you’ve heard something like this before,” Dave answered.
“You don’t have to finish this,” I offered. Trust me dear reader, I meant it. I suspected this story would get much worse before we arrived at a happy ending.
“Yeah, I do, because you need to understand how I got here.”
I sighed and nodded. Dave was giving me everything I could possibly want and more, yet I felt no triumph in this. All I could feel was sadness that a good man had to endure a trial that I would not wish on anyone.
“Well, the first night, there was nothing. No sign of any vampires, no dead bodies, nada,” Dave said. “I figured I was home free. I thought that all I had to do was lay low for a week and then go back to normal.” He nudged me. “I bet if these vampires just left well enough alone, I could’ve even convinced myself that they really were bandits and that what I thought was a guy turning into dust was just another guy ducking.”
“Perhaps,” I doubtfully agreed.
“That first night I had a dream about my girl again,” Dave said. “This time she was crouching against a wall and the shadows were closing in.”
“The vampires followed you,” I said.
“Yeah. They show up outside the home I’m staying in the middle of the second night,” Dave dully answered. “There was a lot of taunting there. How I couldn’t hide forever. How sooner or later they were going to get me good. How before it was over I was going to beg them to take me.”
“Surely you must’ve recognized their mind games for what they were,” I said.
“Yeah, I know trash-talking psych-out taunting when I hear it,” Dave said. “But when the people doing the trash talking have fangs, yellow eyes, and that face, it’s something else. You can walk away from a human and dub him an idiot for trying to tear you down to his level. How on God’s green earth do you walk away from something this?”
You don’t, I silently agreed. You don’t because you can’t. It ends one of two ways: you fight back and emerge with a pyrrhic victory, or you die. Usually, you die.
And you wonder, dear reader, why I never wanted to walk onto the field of battle.
“Next morning, they left me present, you know,” Dave added. “Another body on the doorstep. Just for me.”
“Dave—” I began, although I had no idea what to say. What could I say? A soothing platitude? A half-remembered tale from a half-forgotten Watcher’s chronicle recounting a similar incident? What on earth can anyone who hasn’t been the same position possibly say? What on earth can anyone who has been in the same position possibly say?
“So I ran,” Dave continued. “Didn’t even take anything with me. Just put on those boots and kept going.”
“If they were tracking you, you had nowhere to go,” I said.
Dave looked to the heavens and shook his head. “I headed for the Séno-Gondo plains. At least it was the end of September, but it was hell on earth because it was in the middle of this hot spell. Not as hot as May, but you’re still talking about moving as fast as you can and as far as you can in heat that’s in the high 90s and baking sunlight.”
“Why would you think the vampires wouldn’t follow you to the ends of the earth if they could?” I asked. I immediately regretted asking the question. After all, prior to his fateful moment with the ‘angry spirits of the dead,’ Dave had no experience with vampires.
“Stupid choice, I know,” Dave agreed. “I guess I figured the escarpment was their home turf and that they wouldn’t follow me into a different neighborhood, so to speak.”
“It was worth a try,” I said sympathetically.
Dave took a deep breath through his nose and released it as he shook his head. His eyes were fixed on the horizon as he said, “Ran for eight days straight. They were on my tail the whole time. I’d run into a new village and I’d pound on doors and beg for a place to stay. I’d score my safe haven for the night and hope like hell they lost me. Never did, though. They’d show up sometime in those wee early morning hours and start taunting, and singing, and telling me to just give it up. Every morning at least one new body on the doorstep. Old, young, men, women, children. All in all, a dozen people. They didn’t do anything wrong. Didn’t deserve it. They got caught because they were between those guys and me.”
I set my bowl aside. I had lost my appetite.
“Through this whole thing, things are getting worse for my dream girl. Shadows turn into people, and people turn into vampires, and she’s fighting and fighting and fighting and losing,” Dave said. “The last dream, man. That’s what did me in, right there.”
I didn’t want to ask, but I felt compelled to do so. “What happened?”
“She’s dead on the ground, bleeding from God only knows how many bites, those big glassy eyes staring at me, and this voice asking, ‘Where are you?’” He looked at me then. “I figured she was going to victim 13, you know. I thought that if I gave up, she’d live. So this time I waited for them. Waited until the showed up outside, hooting and hollering in the moonlight like they were part werewolf. And then…and then…”
“You walked outside,” I finished for him.
“I gave up. Too many dead bodies behind me, and all I could see was a long, unbroken string right in front of me.” Dave bitterly chuckled. “They had it nailed. In the end, I walked out there begging for it.”
I found I couldn’t look at him. I knew how it ended, of course. Dave was here, alive, and Mr. Harris’s man in Dogon country. Yet, for all that, I still couldn’t quite bring myself to offer any comfort for whatever would happen next.
“I must’ve pissed them off more than I thought, because they wanted to play first. There was a lot of shoving, trying to get me to run, telling me they’d give me a head start and if I was still alive when the sun was up they’d let me go,” Dave said. “Didn’t believe them. Couldn’t believe them.”
“It was wise of you not to,” I quietly agreed. “I highly doubt they would’ve kept their word had you managed the miracle of staying alive until sunrise.”
“When one of them realized that I wasn’t going to play that, he yanked me close and opened that ugly mouth of his to take a bite,” Dave said. “Next thing I know, I hear this sound — pfffft — just like that. The vampire explodes and,” he clapped his hands, “just like that and I’m face down in the dirt. I lift my head just enough to see this arrow lying on the ground right in front of my eyes.”
“Mr. Harris,” I muttered.
“My boy sure does know how to make an entrance, doesn’t he? Why shake hands with someone and introduce yourself like any normal person when you can come in swooping in like Robin Hood instead, hunh?” Dave chuckled.
“Seems he makes a habit of it,” I agreed.
Dave’s chuckle took a slightly hysterical turn. “Right, like anyone is going to forget meeting a one-eyed white American in the middle of Africa if he introduced himself the easy way.”
Against my better judgment, I got caught up in the moment. “You might confuse him with a South African mercenary who wants to involve you in a dodgy business deal, and one can’t have that.”
“Or a pirate, except he’s lacking an important piece of equipment.” Dave’s chuckles had turned to barely controlled laughter.
“A talking parrot.”
The stereotypical and not entirely unexpected answer had the two of us leaning on each other in helpless, hysterical laughter. Not because the aside was particularly humorous, you understand. I blame the momentary relief from tension.
When our roaring laughter calmed down to barely-controlled giggling and coughing, Dave continued, “Anyway, at this point I hear sounds of fighting. These vampires are rooooooooaaaarrrring they’re so mad. They’ve got no idea what’s hitting them so hard and fast. I lift my head a little more and what do I see?”
The answer was self-evident. “Alexandrienne.”
Dave drew in a sharp breath as his eyes watched the long-ago fight that saved his life. “There she is and she is dancing. She’s spinning, and pirouetting, and flipping around these guys like they’re pieces of rock. And when she stops for just one moment…and when she stops…there is just one more of them gone ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust.” When Dave looked at me at that moment, his expression was indescribable. “She was the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen, most gorgeous thing I’d ever see. I thought…I thought she was an angel.”
I couldn’t stand to see the light in his eyes or the look on his face. I was partially motivated by guilt, perhaps. It appeared I was more kin to those miserable Sunnydale civilians content to shiver in their beds after nightfall than I would ever be to any of the Slayers or Watchers in the village.
I was more than willing to live with that.
I was willing to fight until I was red in both tooth and claw to hold on to the life I had back in London. The alternative struck too much terror into my heart. I was surely not needed. Others were far better equipped to live in the dark.
Yet, the small doubt inadvertently planted by Dave nagged at me. I wondered how many died because the Slayer who should have been there, or the Watcher capable of guiding her to where she was needed, simply walked away from their duty.
Dave was so lost in his story, that he didn’t notice my uncomfortable silence. “I started getting to my feet. Dumb move, I know. But I wanted to see every detail and… Actually, I don’t think I was even thinking that clearly, so maybe it was instinct or something. Next thing I know, I feel this big hand in the middle of my back and it’s shoving me back into the dirt. I hear this gruff voice in really bad French bark at me to just stay down, and don’t even think about moving if I wanted to get out of this in one piece.”
I nodded, although I highly doubted Dave was looking at me.
“So, I sneak a peek to find the owner of the voice and I spot him,” Dave continued. “Harris is at a slight angle to me, so I can see that eyepatch of his. He’s on one knee and he’s lining up a shot with his compound bow and arrow. He draws and he just holds it there. One minute, maybe five, hell, maybe ten. Hell if I know how long he held it. Steady as a rock. Not a hint of tremor. His face is just stone, all concentration. He’s waiting for his shot like he knows it’s going to come and when it does, the poor bastard at the wrong end of that point doesn’t stand a chance.”
Dave suddenly released a chuckle. “I have to admit, I thought I was in the middle of a real beauty and the beast situation. I couldn’t figure out how the hell a guy that looked like Harris happened to be with a woman that looked like Ally. Talk about your odd couples. I figured it had to be the eyepatch because sometimes girls go for that dangerous look.”
“In the middle of a battle, you were thinking about romance?”
“Eva, I wasn’t thinking at all,” Dave said with a half-grin. “Trust me, no one in that situation is thinking.” He shrugged. “I know. Crazy, but it was a crazy time, man. Just crazy.”
Despite everything, I caught myself smiling. “Sorry. Do continue.”
“Finally, Harris sees his opening and he takes his shot. Pffffft. Like that. For some crazy reason I try to follow the arrow I can’t even see in the dark and catch the tail end of an explosion. Ally does one last spin, and the last vampire is gone — bam.” I jumped as Dave slapped his hands together. “And like that, it was all over. The vampires were gone like they were just another bad dream; like they never existed at all.”
Except for the dozen or so dead bodies they left behind, I thought.
“It was so quiet,” Dave said in whisper. “It so very, very quiet that I thought I had gone deaf. From all that noise to nothing. No evidence that anything happened, except for these two complete strangers staring down at me like they weren’t sure what they were going to do about me.”