I've changed Kendra's origin back to Jamaica — when I say "changed back" what I mean is I was hard-pressed to figure out where that accent actually came from. Hunh. Guess I should've listened to the commentary.
S'okay. It was only a minor point and can be fixed. It's annoying, but it can be fixed. Thanks to learnedhand_djand rowaninfinity for pointing it out my error before I did a stupid thing.
For the Scatterlings and Orphanages Africander Fiction Challenge by ludditerobot
For all previous parts, go here.
Continued from Part 26.
“Goddamn it, Dave!” Mr. Harris shouted. “Don’t you get it? Something changed. Something somewhere got broken.”
“If it ain’t the Council that got broken, then I ain’t interested,” Dave said. There was a harsh scrape of wood. “They’re still around, so I don’t think—”
“That’s just it,” Mr. Harris harshly interrupted. “Giles thinks the Watcher bloodlines are broken, and with it Council’s hold over the Slayers.”
Once more I startled in surprise. How could one “break” what has been unbroken since before written history began? I wondered.
“But the Council still exists, so what do you—” Dave began.
“That’s what trying to tell you,” Mr. Harris desperately interrupted. “I was there when we cast the spell that gave all the potential Slayers the Slayer power. The thing is, Giles thinks we opened up the Watcher line while we were at it. Don’t you get it? You, me, Balinda, Jamina, Akella, the others. All over the world, Dave. We’re something completely new.”
“What do you mean completely new?” Dave asked. “And hold on, what do you mean you were there when—”
When Mr. Harris again interrupted, what he said was perhaps the most mystifying thing I had ever heard up to that point in my life.
“What I mean is that as far as the Council is concerned,” Mr. Harris said, “what we are and who we are shouldn’t even exist at all.”
There was a ringing silence after this pronouncement, probably because Dave was as confused as I was by Mr. Harris’s nonsense statement.
“Dave, sit down. Please,” Mr. Harris said quietly.
There was more silence, not even the sound of movement.
“Fine. Stand,” Mr. Harris said wearily. “At least hear me out, okay?”
“This better be worth listening to,” Dave warned.
“Here’s the thing,” Mr. Harris cautiously began, “there was a battle, a bad one, one we weren’t sure we were going to win. The old Council had been blown to smithereens and the survivors were in hiding. Except for Giles, because he was trying to salvage something out of the mess. Potential Slayers were getting hunted and killed, so he was bringing as many as he could to where we were for protection. The whole thing finally came to a head and it was crunch time. We had to fight this enemy or we were in for a world of trouble.”
“I’m listening,” Dave said warily.
“Now, the Slayer in charge, she came up with the idea of opening up the power so every potential Slayer would become a Slayer,” Mr. Harris said. “We had a dozen-and-a-half, maybe two dozen potential Slayers with us. They agreed to it, maybe because they thought they’d have a better chance at getting out this mess alive, or maybe because they just wanted it. I don‘t know. But the upshot was that if they got it, every girl who was a potential Slayer got it, too. So, Willow cast the spell. Me, Giles, a few others, we protected the area around Willow so she could do what she needed to do without getting attacked. The enemy blinked, we survived, and that’s why all those girls are now Slayers. There’s more to it than that. There‘s a lot more, but that’s just the Slayer bit you need to know.”
There was movement followed by a scrape of wood. The creaking sound told me that someone had sat down.
“You?” Dave asked. “This was all you?”
“No,” Mr. Harris said. “I was there when the plan was discussed. I agreed to it. I did a little fighting so it could get done. It wasn’t just me. It was all of us. We did this. All of us.”
I grimaced in anger. At least Mr. Harris was willing to accept some blame for what happened. I was rather surprised he didn’t place the whole blame at Miss Summers’s and Miss Rosenberg’s feet.
“What are you?” Dave breathed.
“What?” Mr. Harris’s voice had become a near-whisper.
“You heard me,” Dave said. “What are you?”
“What do you mean?” Mr. Harris sounded almost hurt by Dave’s question. “I’m just me.”
“And who are you, really?” Dave asked.
“Xander Harris?” To be honest, even Mr. Harris sounded unsure that he had given the right answer.
“That tells me nothing,” Dave said. “That tells me nothing at all.”
“What do you want me to say?” Mr. Harris quietly asked.
In truth, dear reader, Mr. Harris sounded rather lost when he posed the question. He obviously saw what I had heard: if he had once considered Dave a friend, he could no longer safely do so. He may have even lost Dave as an ally. If he had, Mr. Harris had it coming to him for feeding Dave a pack of lies.
“That’s why you didn’t say anything,” Dave said in a dead voice.
“Can you blame me?” Mr. Harris quietly asked. “Can you?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t,” Dave said.
There was movement and the scrape of wood. Another sound of creaking told me that the other person in the hut had finally taken his seat.
“There are maybe couple of girls in this village who’d kill me if they knew,” Mr. Harris admitted. “Getting the Slayer power didn’t do them any favors. There are a few others, like Kavitha, who really wouldn’t care. Some shaman somewhere told them or their families that they had a great destiny and becoming Slayers just fulfilled that prophecy as far as they’re concerned. The how and why doesn’t really matter to them.”
“If you’ve got a point, make it,” Dave flatly said.
“Most of the girls — most of them as in 90% of them — Dave, you know their lives pretty much sucked and were going to continue sucking,” Mr. Harris said. “Becoming Slayers was the best thing that ever happened to them. It gave them the right — no, the strength, because they should’ve always had the right — to say, ‘fuck this shit’ and choose what they wanted to do.”
This statement was followed by silence.
“I told you,” Mr. Harris finally added. “There’s only one thing worse than an angry Slayer.”
“A grateful one,” Dave finished for him.
“Exactly,” Mr. Harris said.
“You’re afraid that if they find out they’ll be so grateful that they’ll be willing to follow you even more than they already do,” Dave remarked.
I sat up. One fear had been inadvertently confirmed. The Slayers in the village were loyal to Mr. Harris. I wondered if perhaps Mr. Harris was leading Dave down the primrose path. He could simply tell Dave that he was honestly trying to allow the Slayers some semblance of independence, when in reality he was holding the information in reserve so he could play that card at a crucial time. Yes, as Mr. Harris admitted, some would be angry, but most would fall at his feet and worship him as the man who gave them their freedom and perhaps their very lives.
I wanted to cry. By planting the seeds of doubt in Dave’s mind, I may have already set this course of action in motion. Dave had challenged Mr. Harris’s authority; therefore, Mr. Harris had to win it back, at least until I had been dealt with to his satisfaction. If Mr. Harris managed to do it, he would be free to play the ace up his sleeve at a suitably dramatic moment. Dave would naturally support this action should it happen since Mr. Harris had shown him great reluctance to do so during a private conversation.
Clever, Mr. Harris, I thought, but not so clever that I can’t see right through your scheme.
“Dave, this is the only home I’ve got left.” Mr. Harris sounded like he was pleading with Dave to understand. “It’s the only place in the world where I can go to. Everywhere else I’m just passing through and that’s it. I don’t have anywhere else.” There was a pause. “I know I’m not here a lot and I know my hut looks like it’s a warehouse the Salvation Army’s rejects and I know that it’s kind of hard to look at that cot and go, ‘Home sweet home,’ but it’s the truth.”
I pursed my lips and imagined a very small, very squeaky violin as Mr. Harris said this. He was piling it on rather thick, I thought.
“If anyone found out—” Mr. Harris began. He cleared his throat. “I’m seriously, seriously trying to avoid an Apocalypse Now Colonel Kurtz situation.”
“You realize that makes no sense,” Dave said.
“Yeah?” Mr. Harris asked. “You saw what happened with Liwaza. You saw what happened in Gao. Can you look me right in the eye and tell me that it’s not at all possible? Because you know what? It really is. It’s way easier than you think.”
“Unh-hunh,” Dave deadpanned. “I guess that explains why Sister Ig, Doc, Sue, Bunmi, and Moms is living here. Explains why anyone from the surrounding area can drop in any time for a visit. Explains why you kick it back with me down in Banani whenever you get the chance. Completely explains you and Ally arguing when she thinks you’re off your rocker.”
“Yes, yes that’s it exactly.” Mr. Harris sounded unaccountably pleased. “See, I need you guys to tell me when I’m stepping over the line. That old gut check thing, right? Sometimes I don’t think things through and next thing you know, problems. Big problems. So, I figure if you’re all telling me that I’m out of my mind, I’m probably out of my mind. See?”
I had to admit, Mr. Harris was rather good. He had me almost convinced that he was sincere.
“Unh-hunh,” Dave said cynically. “So, you go out of your way to find a bunch of smart people who have a habit of not following orders or doing what’s expected of them and invite them to help you out in the middle-of-nowhere Mali. You expect all these people to poke holes in whatever scheme you want to try this time. Then you get annoyed with us if we all agree with you that the color of the sky just might be the color blue. Then you have the nerve to tell me, to my face by the way, that you’re afraid of turning into Marlon Brando.”
“Unh, well, yeah?” Mr. Harris suddenly sounded unsure.
There was a pause. “You’re completely insane. You know that, right?” Dave asked.
“But—” Mr. Harris began.
“Bullshit walks, Xander.” Dave said this in an almost friendly manner, which caused my heart to sink. Mr. Harris had managed to win Dave back into his corner, even if for a moment. “I know bullshit when I smell it, and this worry of yours is complete bullshit.”
“Didn’t you hear a word I—” Mr. Harris began.
“Heard it, can’t believe I heard it, but I know you said it because your lips are still flapping about it,” Dave said. “If it makes you feel any better, I promise that if you shave your head, put on 200 pounds, begin sweating like a son of a bitch, and start sounding like a doped-up Buddha, I’ll shoot you myself. Hell, if Dennis Hopper shows up, I’ll shoot you just in case.”
Mr. Harris began giggling. The sound startled me, partly because the man sounded positively relieved that his closest ally in Mali had threatened to kill him.
“Ally’s right,” Dave said with exasperation. “You can be very, very strange.”
Mr. Harris’s nerve-grating giggles finally died down, although he continued to hiccup as if he were fighting back more of the same.
“Don’t think this whole thing about you being involved with turning one Slayer into multiple Slayers is over and done,” Dave warned. “But I get the feeling that if I get on you now about it I’m going to get ‘it’s a long story,’ so I’ll let it slide. For now. Besides, I want you to get back to the Council because these are the cats I’m worried about. Explain to me why you think the Council is ‘broken’ and maybe I won’t end up going medieval on someone in London.”
I heard Mr. Harris sigh. “Fair enough,” he agreed.
“Let’s hear it.”
There was no answer.
“Xander,” Dave threatened.
“I’m thinking,” Mr. Harris said.
“I know that. I can smell the hamster wheel in your head burning it’s spinning so fast,” Dave remarked.
No doubt because Mr. Harris was attempting to come up with a plausible lie to cement Dave’s position as an ally, I thought.
“All right,” Mr. Harris said. “The first sign that something had gone wrong — well, maybe not wrong, more like strange was the day we cast the spell.”
“Go on,” Dave prompted.
“You have to understand, I pretty much lost everything and everyone that mattered to me,” Mr. Harris said quietly. “Well, not everyone. A someone. An important someone.”
“I — oh,” Dave said.
I noticed that Mr. Harris had not mentioned Anyanka’s name.
“I was kinda in shock,” Mr. Harris said. “I can’t even tell you what I said or didn’t say or any of that. I was walking around feeling numb but my brain was like, ‘Okay, self. We need to get Robin to the hospital. Then we need to find a hotel. Then we need to sleep. We’ve got to get organized here. Wrangle the survivors, get them on a bus, and let’s get to the closest town.’ It was all one foot in front of the other stuff.”
Understandable, I thought, especially since his hometown had just disappeared off the face of the earth and his lover had been destroyed once and for all. Much as I didn’t approve of his liaison, it had been a long-term affair. He most likely felt something for the despicable creature.
“That night, I had my first dream,” Mr. Harris continued.
“About Ally,” Dave said.
I frowned in concentration. It appeared that Mr. Harris had the same strange experiences as Dave. I knew I had to listen carefully.
“Yeah, but I didn’t know that at the time,” Mr. Harris admitted.
“Wait. You didn’t know?” Dave sounded surprised.
“Clueless on the Ally front,” Mr. Harris said. “The dream wasn’t anything. Just this girl standing on a street corner and just this sense I was supposed to meet her there, not that I had a clue where ‘there’ was. It wasn’t anything spectacular. Just like you. When I woke up, I just, I dunno, fluffed it off I guess. I was just happy I wasn’t having nightmares. Creepy dream about a strange girl standing on a random street corner? Weird, but a hell of lot better than what I thought I deserved.”
“Deserved?” Dave sounded puzzled.
I agreed with Dave. It was a rather odd word to use, and I actually knew the story behind the story, so to speak.
“Anyway, the next day Giles wrangles us plane tickets to Cleveland. He figured driving cross-country with a school bus full of newly minted and hyper Slayers wasn’t the way to go. He had the Council credit card and he wasn’t afraid to wield it like Jackie Chan with a pair of nunchucks.”
“Why Cleveland?” Dave asked.
“Short answer?” Mr. Harris asked. “There was a Council safe house there. It had been abandoned after the attack on the Council headquarters in London because what few Watchers were there figured they were next and headed for the hills. It was still Council property and still intact. The long answer? That’s going to take awhile to explain.”
“I’ll take the short answer. For now,” Dave responded. “I want the long answer later.”
“I’ll have to tell you anyway, so not a problem,” Mr. Harris said.
I wondered how Dave would react to the idea of Hellmouths.
“We were in Cleveland by the end of the week,” Mr. Harris said. “Meantime, I’m still getting the creepy girl dream. It was steady. Just the same thing over and over. Girl on corner. I should be there to meet her. She’s waiting for me to show. No changes at all.”
“Sounds familiar,” Dave agreed.
“So, we’re in Cleveland and everyone’s making plans. Except me. I don’t see any future for me at all. Not with this crowd, and definitely not doing anything Slayer-ish or Watcher-ish. I was barely capable of choosing my breakfast cereal at that point, let alone making any long-term plans,” Mr. Harris continued. “Someone in our group kinda noticed I was quiet on the excited front. She was planning to head to Rome with her sister and take time off and do a little wound-licking coupled with a round of self-discovery. She invited me to come along. I honestly didn’t want to go hang with her because I was on the ‘I hate you all’ kick, but since I didn’t have an elsewhere to be I agreed. It was easier to go along with it than just telling her no. If I told her no, I would’ve had to actually think about what I wanted to do next and I was too exhausted to think that much.”
Interesting, I thought. Miss Summers and her sister were now currently residing in Rome. What’s more, it appeared that Mr. Giles was well aware of her plans even before the group traipsed off to Europe. Well, well, well, I thought, Mr. Harris had told me a little fib and I believed it. I would not make that mistake again.
“The plans of mice and men and Slayers,” Dave sing-songed.
There was silence.
“Slayer being Ally?” Dave prompted.
“Oh. Yeah. Right,” Mr. Harris quickly agreed.
I bit my lip to keep from laughing. Mr. Harris was doing everything in his power to not only avoid mentioning Miss Summers’s name, but to avoid even the threat giving her a smidgeon of credit for showing compassion for his reduced circumstances.
“That night, my dream changes,” Mr. Harris continued. “She was still on the street corner. She was still waiting for me. Only this time, there were these shadows I didn’t particularly like closing in.”
“Because you weren’t going where you were supposed to go,” Dave said with a certainty that surprised me.
“Still wasn’t clued to that,” Mr. Harris said. “Again, the big yawner from me, only now I was getting pissed because, one, this dream pretty much interrupted every single try for a full night’s sleep since day one, and two, it wasn’t really the kind of nightmare or dream I expected to be having. I was expecting the guilty conscience gore-o-rama of nightmares, and instead I get something right out of The Ring.”
“Are you seriously telling me that you were upset because your dreams weren’t frightening enough?” Dave asked with disbelief.
“No. Because I wasn’t having nightmares about the person I should’ve been having nightmares about,” Mr. Harris quietly said. “This creepy girl dream seemed to push everything else out of my head and it didn’t leave room for what I should have—” Mr. Harris stopped.
“Look, not that you’ve actually told me anything about what happened, but if it’s as bad as the expression on your face right now and if you were under that kind of stress, you’re being just a little too hard on yourself. People react in crazy ways when their lives get turned upside down. There isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here,” Dave said. “Besides, it’s not like you even had a choice. You know that.”
I frowned. Although what Dave said was true on the surface, the business about Mr. Harris simply not having a choice confused me. He made it sound as if something had been imposed on the man. After all, Mr. Harris told me himself that he didn’t believe in ‘no choices,’ yet here was Dave disagreeing with Mr. Harris’s vaunted Hyde Park philosophy without any challenge.
“I know that now,” Mr. Harris corrected him. “Didn’t know it then and I resented the hell out of creepy girl and her creepy street corner.” There was a pause. “Maybe part of me still kinda does, because I really kinda needed the other nightmares, the ones I wasn’t having. I was starting to really doubt if I ever — well I was turning into the doubtmeister about everything anyway. I just didn’t want to get all doubt-y about this one thing, because then I’d have to start believing that I was a colossal ass with neediness issues.”
Much as Mr. Harris’s word salad was difficult for me to interpret, I could heartily toast his description of himself as a ‘colossal ass.’ I also noticed that his ‘no choice’ philosophy didn’t apply to himself.
“Unh, what?” Dave asked. Clearly he was as confused as I was.
“Forget it. Not really important,” Mr. Harris said. “The night before a few of us were going to head to London, Giles was on the phone with Robson, one of his rebel Watcher buddies from the old days, and there are these maps spread out all over the table. Giles is going on and on about what they could do about finding all the new Slayers without the Council’s global network and Willow’s bending over the maps trying to decide where she ultimately wanted to go.
“So I wander into the middle of this and I’m just looking over her shoulder,” Mr. Harris continued. “Then I see Africa. I mean, really see it and everything just kind of stops. I guess I might’ve made some kind of sound or something because next thing I know, Willow’s shaking me to get my attention and Giles has pulled the phone away from his ear and he’s glaring at me like I just made a fart joke in front of his mother. I’m so close to passing out that it’s not even funny. Next thing I know, I’m pointing at this map of Africa and I’m saying, ‘I have to go here. I have to go here right now.’”
Despite my overriding dislike of Mr. Harris, and the fact that I took much of what he said with a very large grain of salt, I was positively riveted by his story. Perhaps the fact that Dave had told me a similar tale allowed me to open my ears and truly hear what Mr. Harris was saying.
Lord knows if I hadn’t, I would’ve been disinclined to accept the conclusions. Frankly, dear reader, as devastating to me as those conclusions were at the time, in the end they gave me…
Odd, I know, to bring this up at this point in my tale, but as has been pointed out many, many times so far, Mr. Harris is, indeed, a very strange man. I had mistakenly applied this statement to Mr. Harris’s character. I would have been more correct if I had applied it to how he tends to affect the people around him.
Truth to tell, there are days that I believe that Mr. Harris is so insane, that he has crossed all boundaries to become the most sane man on the planet. Contradictory? Yes. If there is one thing that Mr. Harris shares in common with his fellow townsfolk is that his contradictions are rather extreme and often make little sense, yet somehow he manages to those contradictions work for him as opposed to against him.
The civilian Sunnydale survivors were right about one thing. If there’s trouble, you can be certain that Mr. Harris is somewhere in the vicinity, if not right in the very heart of it. The problem is that if you are in arm’s reach, he tends to drag you into the maelstrom with him.
It’s irritating, it’s bothersome, it’s noisy, it’s disruptive, and it’s never conducive to a peaceful life of books and comfortable chairs. Remain in his orbit for too long, and you discover that you’ve somehow accepted that this was simply part and parcel of the man and that you best learn to live with it because fighting it is rather like fighting a raging typhoon.
I would never admit this to Mr. Harris — as he would no doubt be far too pleased to hear it — but it’s not an entirely unpleasant state of affairs. Life, I have discovered, would’ve been far too boring and far too sedentary otherwise. I still remain unsure whether I should credit or blame Mr. Harris for my descent into becoming an accidental troublemaker. After all, I got here almost entirely because of the company I’ve kept for these many years.
The root of it rests here and in this conversation. It rests in the fertile soil of doubt that had been prepared by Dave, and in the seed planted by Mr. Harris in the course of this conversation.
Forgive me, dear reader. I will now return to this aforementioned conversation now in progress.
“Right after my big announcement that I had to go to Africa, everyone’s staring at me like I’ve gone nuts, which, you know, was totally justified since I actually had gone nuts,” Mr. Harris continued.
“I hear that,” Dave agreed.
It was at that point that I decided that Mr. Harris and Dave were using a secret language where the deeper meaning was hidden from me.
“Willow’s giving me the what-the-hell look. Giles looks exasperated because he totally doesn’t have time for my crap. The girl who invited me to Rome took it as me seriously needing a demon-free vacation. The sister was all, ‘Forget it buster. You promised you were coming with us,’” Mr. Harris said.
“They didn’t take you seriously?” Dave asked with surprise.
“I didn’t take me seriously,” Mr. Harris said. “Once everyone pointed out that the whole Africa thing came out of nowhere and that I was obviously stressed out, I, unh, let them convince me that the brainfart didn’t amount to anything.” He paused. “Plus, Rome-bound girl yanked me aside and gave me the heart-to-heart about me running away from my problems, which, y’know, not a completely unjustified talk considering I’d done it once or twice before.”
“You actually went against your own instincts,” Dave said.
“And how,” Mr. Harris agreed. “My reward? Corner girl’s situation gets that much worse that night.” There was another pause. “That was the beginning of the long downward spiral on the dream front,” he guiltily added.
“Don’t look at me. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that you had no idea what was going on,” Dave responded.
“It was weird,” Mr. Harris continued as if Dave hadn’t spoken. “I said I agreed that maybe this whole Africa thing was crazy. I even believed it. But the second I was off the plane at Heathrow, I turned into obsessive, stalker boy. Giles let us stay at his place and he’s got this huge library. I would go to the room I was sleeping in, have my progressively getting-worse creepy corner girl dream, and wake up in his library with no idea how I got there. I was ripping every book off the shelf that he had about Africa. I was sneaking around to find out what paperwork I needed to get on a plane and just go. I even broke into Giles’s locked desk to get names of doctors that specialized in the overseas medicine thing. I wasn’t even there three days and I was calling up and making appointments for shots.”
“No one said anything?” Dave asked.
“No one even knew,” Mr. Harris answered. “I’d try to get Giles or Willow or someone else aside and go, ‘Hey, that crazy thing? It might be worse than we thought.’ But it seemed like I couldn’t get the words out, that is if I could even get anyone alone to talk to them. But that’s not the weird part. The weird part was that I was doing it all.”
It sounded to me like Mr. Harris was making excuses for his behavior. A real man, I knew, would take full responsibility for going against the wishes of others and would own his actions regardless of the consequences. Why Dave didn’t call him on this, I had no idea.
“I know you guys joke that I’m Xan-Xan-the-Man-With-the-Plan all the time, and I know this thing I’m talking about sounds exactly like more of the same,” Mr. Harris said. “You’ve got to understand, that this isn’t me at all. I’m totally slacker boy. Me not-so-hot on the research. Me not-so-hot on the plans, long or short term. Plus, my plans when I even had them tended to go on the wrong side back then.”
“I’m having a hard time seeing this, because this sounds exactly like you,” Dave said. “Don’t look at me like that. Buddy, I’ve known you for almost a year. Slacker is not exactly the adjective I’d apply. Maybe I’ve got some real doubts about your latest con, but if anyone can pull this out their ass, you can. I’ve seen you do it too often.”
I startled to hear the words ‘latest con.’ Mr. Wyndham-Pryce was right. Mr. Harris was planning something untoward. What’s more, Dave knew about it. Although comforting that Dave had his doubts, I was discomforted to know that Dave would back his leader to the very end. The fact that Dave still remained loyal to Mr. Harris, despite ample proof that Mr. Harris had deliberately lied to him, was disheartening to me in the extreme.
“Greeeeeeat. No pressure. No pressure at all. Thanks whole bunches. I love you, too,” Mr. Harris said with exasperation.
“Some people say it with flowers, you say it with the still-beating heart of a grollick demon,” Dave said lightly.
“Can I just say? Ewww,” Mr. Harris said. “And it’s grollonick demon. A grollick demon eats sewer rats. A grollonick demon eats people. Huge difference.” There was a pause. “Or is that the other way around?”
I rolled my eyes and resisted the urge to shout that it was indeed the former and that he had it right the first time.
“I’ve been well and truly schooled in the difference, Yoda,” Dave said with amusement.
“I don’t have to tell you this whole thing all blew up in my face,” Mr. Harris continued with his story. “It actually happened because the creepy girl dreams hit the high end of the unbearable-o-meter.”
“What did you dream?” Dave eagerly asked.
There was a very long pause. “Kinda…it’s…umm…personal,” Mr. Harris mumbled.
“Connected to Ally’s past and you don’t want to say unless she gives the all-clear?” Dave quietly asked.
“Yeah. Thanks for backing off,” Mr. Harris sounded relieved.
To my mind, Mr. Harris was once more exercising his need to control his environment. He obviously wasn’t willing to give details about Alexandrienne as it would give Dave information about the Slayer. Information, as I well knew, was the ultimate power.
“It was…” Mr. Harris’s voice trailed off. “Let’s just go with really bad and leave it there. Bad enough that when I woke up, this time I wasn’t in the library. I had crawled into the corner and had started beating my head against a wall. Willow happened to be walking by on her way to bed, heard me sobbing and heard the thumping and went charging in with her very well-rehearsed yellow crayon speech because she thought I had finally snapped. Hell, I looked like I had finally snapped and gone the fruit loops route.”
“I don’t get it,” Dave said. “Why was it so bad for you? It was bad for me, but nowhere near as bad. Not even a quarter as bad. So what’s the deal?”
Mr. Harris released a harsh breath. “Not sure, but I know I’m not the only one who went through absolute hell,” Mr. Harris admitted. “Maybe it’s because you were dealing with a waking nightmare, so you had the fight-for-your-life thing splitting your attention. Maybe it was because you were physically closer to Kavitha, as in the same area of the country, so you weren’t getting yanked from halfway around the world like I was. Maybe it was because Kavitha wasn’t in as much immediate danger as Ally was. In the cases like me where the whole process hurt — as in physically, mentally, and emotionally laid down the damage to the point where death was looking like an attractive option — I’ve seen a lot of different reasons why. But a definite answer on why? I honestly don’t know.”
My heart froze in my chest as I remembered this: My choice is to submit or die.
That’s what Mr. Harris in my dream had told me. I squeezed my eyes shut and in my mind I cursed. It had been a warning that I would be forced to listen to an obscene perversion: the world of Watchers according to Mr. Harris.
Then it occurred to me that Mr. Harris had mentioned other cases and other names and had said that he, Dave, and these other people were something new, something the Council didn’t believe truly existed. Then I recalled that he said it was happening the all over the world, and not just within his Malian kingdom.
Dear god, I wondered. What have I stumbled upon? I sat transfixed in the dirt with my filthy hands, unable to move, unable to breathe. I knew then that I was wrong. Dave was not the one who would be altered by this conversation. I was. I already had been, thanks to Dave’s suspicions about the First Council’s cavalier treatment of Slayers.
As for what would come next, I could only guess.