Year of the Spectre - Episode III:
"Harvest Dusk"
Page 5
IV.  "The European Theatre"

      “Kicked out?”

     “You heard me correctly.”

     GAVAL stared from behind folded arms at Jude, meeting the angry youth’s indignant glare.  The room was small and stifling, the words that passed seeming to drown in the unspoken abyss of mutual distrust and bitterness that had been building up between them for months.

     “How the hell can you kick me out?  You need me, goddammit!  I’m the oldest!  They look up to me!”

     “Ah’ll…reserve comment on`na accuracy of dat last comment,” GAVAL said from behind clenched teeth.  His face was red enough to have been a boiled ham.  He wasn’t just struggling to control his anger.  He was having to fight hard to hold back the anger, the insatiable rage that constantly set him upon edge, whispering dark thoughts into his ear…dark thoughts about launching himself into a Rush and destroying things for little or no reason…

     Only the ridiculous comment itself helped GAVAL to hold himself back.

     “Just because I don’t get along with some of them -”

     “It’s more like all of ‘em,” interrupted Lothos, who was standing about a foot and a half behind the seething GAVAL. “Y’see, we were hoping that by this point some sort of group dynamic would have formed, and we’re pretty sure it has: they would all rather land you a swift kick to the gonads than let you watch their backs again.”

     “An’ after what you pulled, Ah’m thinkin’ that trusting you in the first place was our mistake,” GAVAL said.

     “What happened in the Catacombs was an accident!” Jude shouted. “You were the one who dragged us down there in the first place, and you blame me because the operation got reamed?”

     “No, ah blame you because you’ve been an ass toward us since we brought you on board a few mont’s ago, and in bein’ an ass down there in the Catacombs you damn near got Sasha liquidated!” GAVAL thrust a finger at the younger Slayer. “Dis has gone way beyond a personality clash, Jude!  This is as real as it gets, an’ someone nearly died because of this horseshit problem of yours!”

     Jude didn’t back down.  To his way of thinking, he couldn’t.  “Oh, I nearly got someone killed, huh?  What about you, GAVAL?  What about the last bunch of recruits you took off on some crazy mission?”

     Several years in CWAL meant that Lothos has a particularly well-tuned sense of when a situation was about to go from ‘bad’ to ‘someone go get a stretcher and a mop’, and he instinctively tried to step between the two of them. “Not a good thing to bring up, mate…”

     “You shut the hell up you…you fucking lapdog!” Jude snapped, looking past the hulking Death Knight to look GAVAL straight in the face. “I read the report, ‘boss’!  About what happened up in Canada last year!  You an’ that lame idiot Redneck friend of yours sacrificed them all to the Zerg!  Was that just an accident too?  Huh?  C’mon, answer me, you…”

     Before he could even flinch GAVAL had sprung across the room, his eyes ablaze with a lavender light.  Jude’s weight smashed against the wall as a grip more powerful than he could ever have imagined pressed against his throat.  He gagged in vain for breath.

     In GAVAL’s mind, the whispers grew to shouts as the dark Rush threatened to consume him.  Do it!  Snap his neck and be done with it! No, I can’t do that, he’s one of us.  He’s nothing like us!  We would all be dead if it were up to him!  That’s not true!  He’s already proven he doesn’t understand what we’re trying to do!  Maybe, but still…

     He deserves it!

     What?

     He DESERVES it!  DO IT NOW!

     A bead of sweat trickled down GAVAL’s forehead as his enraged grip tightened.

     A hand clamped down on his shoulder.

     “Comrade,” Lothos’ voice rose up over the din and rage, a flush of tranquillity. “Don’t do it.  This isn’t the way.”

     And some part of GAVAL knew that he was right.  It wasn’t the way.

     He released the grip on the terrified Jude’s throat, the anger funnelling out of him and taking all of his strength with it.  GAVAL put out a hand and braced himself against the wall as the telltale light within his eyes faded.

     “Get out…” he said, breathing heavily. “Get de hell outta here and don’t come back.  Sooner or later even de ASG will be fed up wit yer crap and you’ll be no one’s problem but yer own.

     Jude, terrified and feeling like a frightened child, didn’t argue.  “You….Rushed….on command….and it wasn’t blue.”  He turned away as GAVAL seemed to grow even more fierce at his words.  The door slammed violently, sending a shudder through the old walls of the abandoned school.

     “Ah…I didn’t know that they knew about that…” GAVAL murmured, slowly sliding down the wall until he was seated on the floor.  Lothos leaned down at a safe but companionable distance as well.

     “The Zerg raid?”

     The Slayer nodded wearily, his Cajun accent coming out thick in the sudden fatigue. “Only a couple of `em died dat day.  Ah thought the report woulda been buried what wit’ all of de casualties from the Great Holy War.”  He buried his head. “Ah led a bunch’a recruits against a superior enemy just because they were gullible enough to follow me.  Dat day dey got slaughtered by Ravil’s bunch…” GAVAL looked up at his friend. “They were just kids, Lothos.  Kids!  Just like our bunch here, an’ ah led `em to dere deaths!  What’s to stop me from doing it again?

     “Gav, you’ve got to get a grip on yourself,” Lothos said, grabbing him by the shoulders. “That’s ages behind you!  We’ve got to focus on what’s going on around us heah and now!”  GAVAL remained silent, swamped by the waves of horrified memory.  Lothos took a deep breath. “Remember what you told me when we first stahted hunting Plague-Sever?  You said that somebody had to do this, had to hunt this monster down, and that it was going to be you, because this all stahted with it following you.  You care about these kids, Gav, and that makes the difference.  You may have a responsibility to them, but they aren’t being duped into anything.  They know what we’re up against.”

     “Do they really?” GAVAL asked from behind haunted eyes. “This time it’s worse than de Zerg, Lothos.  The Spectre won’t just kill you…it’ll strip you of who you were, who you thought you were.  Dat’s worse than anything a Canuckalisk could do.  Dey call Diablo the Lord of Terror, but this thing...this ghast is terror.”

     “And that,” Lothos said quietly, a hint of danger reinforcing him, “is why we have to stop it.”

     Silence slowly drizzled its way through the room, dispersing the clouds of anger that had been coalescing for so long.  From the next room came indistinct, angry voices as Jude exchanged some final words with the other recruits.  Then another door slammed, and it was done.

     The Ragin’ Cajun sighed. “I almost killed him, didn’t I?  Jude.”

     “I know you well enough.  You wouldn’t have, even if I hadn’t been here.”

     “Maybe, maybe not.  But the scary thing…”

     “Hm?”

     “…The scary thing is that I thought about it.”

     Lothos rose solemnly and extended a hand to his friend. “Come on, comrade.  We’ve got a spook to catch.  And we don’t know where this floor has been.”

     GAVAL snorted and clasped the Death Knight’s hand, rising back up to his feet and brushing himself off out of habit.  The back of his jeans were dirtier than if he had been standing next to a Chimneysweep. “You’re right.  De Spectre won’t wait for us to stop twiddlin’ our thumbs.  And now with Jude gone ah think we’re ready.”

     “Couldn’t agree with you more.”

     There was a hollow knock on the door.  A second later Garland stuck his head inside, the sounds of several excited young Slayers and the television drifting in from the larger adjacent room.

     “Um…sorry to interrupt whatever you were shouting about, but there’s something we think you should take a look at.”

     “What’s that?”

     “A few hours ago there was a…a plane crash in Switzerland,” Garland said, a combination of dread and excitement etched into his words. “Flight originally came from Los Angeles.”

     “Damn!  Not bloody terrorists again?”

     “Doesn’t seem like it…” he replied. “But…it doesn’t look like it was an accident, either…”

     GAVAL and Lothos looked at one another, then followed Garland out the door.

--------

"MIB OPEN"

     “Switzerland!”

     GAVAL plunged a finger down on the map of Europe that had been hastily laid down over the coffee table, nearly covering the small landlocked state with his pointer.  The Spectre recruits stood around the table, watching with expressions that ranged from confused to bored.  Garland had been the first to make the mental connection, but the others had mixed responses to what they had seen on the television.

     “How can you all be so sure?” asked Sasha. “Sad fact, but plane crashes happen all the time.”

     “It could just as easily have been a fuel leak or a faulty guidance system than some horrible undead creature,” Clint added.

     “Yeah, but dis one has Plague-Sever’s fingerprints all over it!” GAVAL said, his voiced brimming with excitement. “Think about it…Lothos, when wazza last time we heard from the Spectre?”

     The Death Knight considered this. “Weeks, at least.  Maybe a month.  It’s been keeping a low profile.”

     “It could still be hanging around in the ghetto,” the young Chimneysweep named Seth suggested. “It’s done that before, dropped out of site until it got hungry again.  Lots of easy kills, and less attention drawn to it whenever it did kill.  People go missing there all the time.”

     Kysha folded her arms. “But why would it need to lay low?  Nothin’ that anybody has thrown at it has been able to do so much as slow it down.  It’s the predator, not de prey.”  She glanced over at GAVAL.  Cajun solidarity, even if it was from two different generations of Slayers.

     “Exactly!  So maybe Spooky’s low activity is explained by de fact that it’s not here at all anymore!” GAVAL insisted. “That flight dat crashed originated outta Los Angeles…you can hit Los Angeles with a rock from here in Irvine…an’ there were no hints of mechanical trouble at any of its stopovers.  De flight comes in like this…” he traced a finger on the map, remembering the computer projection he had just seen on CNN “…over de Atlantic, bound for Paris, right?  Its flight path deviates about here, they lose contact with the pilot, and twenty minutes later it crashes into de Alps.”

     Lothos stroked his chin thoughtfully. “If it was engine failure, the plane would have just gone down like flapping chicken.  It wouldn’t have kept flying for twenty minutes and tried to find a nice mountain to embed itself into.”

     “…Which means that the plane itself was still okay,” Kysha continued.

     “You’re catching on!” said GAVAL. “So if de problem wasn’t with de plane, it was with de crew.”

     “Terrorists?” suggested Seth. “We know it can happen.”

     “But why would terrorists have driven de plane into a mountain if dey had control over it?  If it was a hijacking it was a failed one, unless dey had some serious grudge against de natural landscape.  An’ there wasn’t one single call for help on de radio for twenty minutes before dat plane crashed.  So either de passengers overwhelmed the ‘terrorists’ but didn’t bother even trying to call for help, or everyone on dat plane was dead before it hit the ground.  Enter Plague-Sever.”

     Nobody spoke for a moment.  All eyes were fixated upon the map.  There was still a glimmer of sincere doubt in the eyes of most of the recruits, however.

     Sasha was the first to speak again. “This is all peachy, but why would it try to go to Europe?”

     “A thousand years ago the last Spectres were wiped out, an’ our ancestors hunted most of ‘em down in Europe.” GAVAL shook his head. “Ah can’t tell you why the Spectre’s skipping out of dis continent, or even why it was here in de first place, because ah don’t know.  Its mind is…totally alien to anything we as humans can understand!” He slammed a fist down onto the table.  Wood creaked uncertainly. “What I know is dat I’ve felt dat mind, and I know that it has some kinda direction to its actions.  It’s not gonna be satisfied with a few random killings inna ghetto, and it doesn’t have to be, either.  Ah’ve been as close to this thing as you can get and still come back alive, and ah can feel dat this is its doing!  We’ve been together for months now…can I ask you all to put aside your doubts an’ trust me on this one?”

     The Ragin’ Cajun looked over the faces of all of his recruits, the young men and women whom he had spent the last few months training from raw material into well-honed Slayers.  For just a moment a hint of sincere pride seemed to rise in his chest…

     It was quickly vanquished, however, by the sense of dire urgency surrounding the situation.  Plague-Sever was on the run, fleeing the country and all of North America.  Part of GAVAL knew damn well that it had nothing to do with anything he had done, but the parts of his mind less accustomed to common sense took a savage pride in all of this.  Plague-Sever was fleeing because it knew that if it stayed here its days were numbered…that soon GAVAL’s team would descend upon it like the butcher’s cleaver.  It was running away from them…it was running away from him.

     And there was nothing in the world he could have savoured more.

     Seth let out a long breath and nervously rubbed his neck. “I’m still not convinced…but if you’re really this sure about it, boss, then I won’t try to talk you out of it.  Gonna have a hell of a time explaining this to my parents though!”

     “Count me in, too,” Sasha said. “I’ve always wanted to travel…and my folks only check up on me once a month.”

     The rest of the recruits gave similar gestures of approval, bringing a broad smile to GAVAL’s face.  He knew that they would come through for him when it counted.

     “All right, everybody pack light,” he instructed. “We leave as soon as possible.”

     The team dispersed to gather their belongings.  As they did, Lothos gave GAVAL’s shoulder a secretive poke. “What about Cabbott?  Or Archangel and Gato?  Shouldn’t we bring them along?”

     “No.” GAVAL was a little surprised at just how quickly and decisively that word had been spoken. “Cabbott’s a good friend, but he’s been…distant lately.  An’ I know what he’s thinking.  He’s wondering whether what we’re doing here is for de best, and if he shouldn’t go to the ASG about us.  Cabbott’s always liked to play by de rules, and ah think it’s about time we cut him loose.”

     Lothos nodded sagely. “And the two CWALers…?”

     “They’re agents for the ASG, Lothos, not agents for us.  We need to be able to trust each other when we’re out there.  Besides, if we need CWAL backup, we can ask em to hang in there...on standby.”

     A menacing grin slid onto Lothos’ face. “You don’t trust the ASG anymore, do you?”

     “Hell no,” again, GAVAL surprised himself slightly. “You remember what happened when Dick showed up.  If the whole ASG isn’t up in arms about us because of dat Chimneysweep, I’ll eat my fedora.  They’ll try to shut us down.  We can’t let that happen.  I won’t let that happen.  An’ dat’s another reason we need to get outta dodge.”

     The Grin broadened exponentially. “Then I guess it’s up to the two outlaws and their band of merry men to save the world this time.”

     “You said it.  C’mon…we’ve got gear to smuggle.”

     As GAVAL turned to leave the room, one last question suddenly appeared in Lothos’ mind.  The Grin dissolved as he considered its ramifications, but he decided against voicing it.  The initiative was theirs…the last thing their leader needed was more doubts tugging at his heels.  So he hesitantly let it go, hoping for the life of him that it would turn out for the best: What about Rachel?

--------

     Two hours later the Spectre Slayers were loading luggage into an old 15-seater van that GAVAL had purchased with the little bit of money had had saved from his spring TV-job.  Each had managed to convince their parents, some with lies and others with words of official Slayer business, that they should be allowed to go with GAVAL.  They had done exactly as asked and returned quickly on bikes and in their college lemons with lightly packed duffel bags containing little more than a change of clothes and items to combat the unholy.

     Smacking down a new piece of sugary spearmint gum GAVAL grimaced.  What had used to be a pack-a-day habit of chewing on gum or something else sweet was becoming less and less satisfying to him.  He dug the pack of gum out of his pocket and inspected it for defects or signs of spoilage.  “Gum don’t spoil, does it?” he asked Wayne who shrugged and continued to move in rhythm to his hip-hop headphones.  All Slayers habitually kept something high in sugar on their person.  Though never proven in a lab they knew it had something to do with the Rush.

     Digging into an old refrigerator in the abandoned school cafeteria GAVAL looked around for something else to snack on.  The youths had stockpiled hordes of junk-food, kool-aid, beer, and sweets of every variety.   GAVAL rummaged through the shelves throwing things over his shoulder that didn’t seem to suit his craving.   He passed on an Almond Joy and a Big Kat bar.  He passed on Jell-O and Pudding cups and on Peach Preserves.  He passed on cookies and rock candy.  Finally he grabbed a carton of Orange Juice and took a long gulp.  This was closer to what he wanted but not quite it.  Glancing on the shelves of the refrigerator door he spied something that oddly caught his eye.  It was a plastic lemon full of lemon-juice that Sasha had bought to make lemonade after the group had worked out.  He grabbed the strange-looking thing and twisted off the cap, testing how quickly the drops of lemon juice would pour out of it so he could spit it out when he realized how stupid it would be to try it.

     Drip.

     His eyes went wide when it hit his tongue.  It tasted like Eden.  He smacked his lips and licked the corners of his mouth looking around to see if anyone was watching.  With a hard squeeze he aimed a stream of the citric acid down his throat and emptied the plastic bottle of its contents greedily.  Disappointed that the bottle was empty he rummaged through the refrigerator a bit more, giving up when all he found that interested him was a bag of Pucker’s lemon drops.  Thinking little of the odd craving for items that would make litmus go crimson, GAVAL stashed the bag in his black leather waistcoat pocket and closed the refrigerator, turning to the door to the old school shop where one final task awaited him before he could lead the Spectre-Hunters to Europe.

     Passing across the parking lot he saw them each preparing for their part in their own way.  Clint was laying back on his duffel bag, legs crossed and whittling a stake out of an oak branch.  He enjoyed making his own weapons and was probably the only one in the group to do so besides GAVAL.  They looked crude, but GAVAL had marked an improvement in his craftmenship over the course of the summer since they had met.  As usual he was procrastinating loading his things into the van, partially because he was a procrastinator and partially because he wanted to be the first to get his things out.

     Sasha was rearranging the bags that were loaded to make room for other bags.

     Cory was sitting in the van already, fingering a Gameboy Advance in hopes of clearing level two of a new game Garland had just received for his birthday.  He wasn’t the type to get into video games but boredom had him trying new things.

     Kin had just arrived, his parents dropping him off.  He paused for a moment when he saw the size of Dwayne’s bag compared to his.  He had over-packed and would have to answer to someone for it.  GAVAL chuckled at his “deer in the headlights” look while his parents told him goodbye in their Korean native tongue.

     Kysha was having a fight with her hair.  She’d put it up and back and let it down four times in the last hour and was now tying up her bright red locks again.  GAVAL knew there was a major haircut in her near future as she sighed and wrapped her tresses expertly while Clint and Marco drove up in an old Nissan pickup truck.
 


"MICKY"

    The shop was dark.  The group had hung old sheets of aluminum or plywood over the major holes of the large, drafty room to accommodate its grim occupant.  Inside the shop was another smaller room.  Its walls were made of plywood with cheap hinged plywood doors jury-rigged onto its one opening.  Dread came to anyone who approached the little room that once housed safety gear for industrial arts students.  For Slayers something much more powerful than dread came to them.

    The recently turned vampire, Kris Binder, was resting deeply in his hand-built coffin within those walls.  His days of dentistry and womanising were long over.  The vampire nation had yet to accept him because he had inadvertently slain his siress.  He was a complete reject on this Earth now...excluding perhaps one man.

    GAVAL had done the unthinkable and taken the vampire into his group.  He used the undead creature to fuel the Rush of his trainees with its negative energy.  He taught them Rush management with Binder’s presence.  He taught them how to manage the pain and how to deal with sudden losses of the Rush.  It was not something to rely on.  A plan “B” was often what saved a Slayer’s life when the Rush couldn’t.

    GAVAL had furthered his indiscretions with the ASG by feeding the vampire human blood.  With cannon fodder like Jolt running around and dying in Operation CWAL on a regular basis, the blood was easy to come by, fresh and warm like Binder liked it.  He didn’t tell his trainees where the creature came from or how he kept it alive.  Their loyalty to him was admirable.  A Slayer with more experience would have subdued GAVAL and had him delivered to the ASG Board for lesser offences.

    But GAVAL knew this could not continue.  Binder had served his purpose.  Moving him with the group would prove too difficult and costly for him to be of any use.  Leaving him locked up without blood would lead to murder or his demise and while GAVAL had little to no feelings for this wretched creature’s well being, having a loyal and trustworthy mole in the vampire community could prove infinitely useful.

    “Doc.”  GAVAL knocked on the coffin.  “Doc Binder, up and at `em.”

    The door to the wooden box opened a crack. A palid, clawed hand emerged.  As if waiting to see if his hand would burn off, Binder paused, then slowly opened the lid to his morbid bed.  It was filled with soil and emitted a musty odour GAVAL found familiar but not pleasant.

    “It’s not dark yet,” he croaked out with dry vocal cords.

    “Well, you’ll be makin’ your own hours soon, so one early call shouldn't kill you.”

    “What are you talking about, asshole?”  Binder sat up in his coffin as GAVAL flicked on a flashlight and shined it on the wooden ceiling to create a bit of reflective light.

    “We’re leaving.  May not be coming back.  If we do it won’t be for a while.  Ah’ve left you off the chains for a week now and you haven’t tried to escape.  You’ve earned my trust, even if you are a worthless dead piece of walking crap.”

    “What do you care?  It’s not like I could go anywhere.  You kept me at arms length each night and by day the buildings surrounded by sunlight so I couldn’t get away if I had tried.”

    “You got a dental degree.  Ah don’t think you’re stupid.  You could have figured a way out if you’d wanted to but you stayed.”

    “Bullshit!  Stayed to be your lousy pet plaything so your freak friends could light up and play super hero?”

    “No, you stayed because you didn’t know what else to do, where to go, how to feed without destroying your still-existent morals.  You see, Doc,  most vampires like you have a sire to teach them how to kill;  how to embrace the darkness, give in to evil; turn their back on their respect for human life.  You, though, have yet to kill a single person for any reason.  Ah caught you stalking a woman once, but I’m willing to bet you couldn’t even approach her with any sense of malice.  I’m sure she was an old girlfriend you were trying to get help from or something like that.  You couldn’t even kill Jolt even though you know he couldn’t really die.”

    “What, do I get a trophy for being the wussiest bloodsucker in Irvine?”

    “No.  You get something better.  You get your freedom.  Ah’m lettin’ you go.”

    Binder wasn’t sure what to say.  To him this was both a good thing and a bad thing.  What would he do now?

    “Here,” GAVAL handed the vampire a purple Post-it note.

    “What’s this?”

    “It’s the name and address of someone who can get you on the road to living a clean `life’ if you can call it that, in the world of the undead.  He’ll show you how to feed without killing; where to get in contact with other vampires; what to do if they approach you.  He’ll get you back on your feet.”

    Binder looked down at the paper and read the name aloud, “Omnicron….that’s a person’s name?”

    “Yeah.  And if a bomb explodes on the front lawn as you approach the door, don’t take it personally.  They blow shit up all the time at this place.  Just let yourself in and find the vampire.”

    “Why would I want to get back in touch with the vampire world?  They already rejected me once.”

    GAVAL nudged his fedora hat up a bit.  “Ah can think of a dozen reasons but I only have time to give you two.   One: If you hold the kind of contempt towards the bitch who made you the thing you are today and her kind, you’ll have a chance at revenge in getting back into their community.  You have a lot of new abilities now you’ve hardly tapped into.  Your power will shock you, but they have the same power, and the experience you lack. Give it time and vengeance is yours.

    “Two:  If you’re not sure of what to do after you’ve gotten her back, think about givin’ me a call.  Most Slayers might have killed you on site.  They’d have found you an easy target and would have put you out of your unholy misery the moment they found you, but ah do things a little differently.  I could use a mole in the vampire community.  Dat’s you, if you want it.  I can provide you with resources and aid in times of crisis.  We can go on helpin' each other.  Give it a thought."  The two stared at each other for a moment before GAVAL patted the creature, one of who's kind was his mortal enemy, on the shoulder.  "Ah'll let ya get back to sleep.  We got a plane to catch.  You know the way out."

    Binder watched the Cajun leave, not sure what to do with his newfound freedom.  He suddenly felt very lonely without GAVAL chained to his ankle.

    "Oh, and one more thing.  What we've done this summer is to be kept a secret.  A mortal secret.  If you tell anyone about our relationship, you'll have lost mah trust and ah'll have to slay you.  Take it to your second grave, Doc.  Later."   With that the Slayer was gone.  Binder wondered if he'd ever see the Slayer again.
 


Year of the Spectre Episode 3 - Page 6