- ISBN: 9780671027506 | 0671027506
- Cover: Trade Paper
- Copyright: 5/1/1999
The editor of the Bram Stoker Award-winning book of criticism CUT!: Horror Writers on Horror Film, he has written articles for The Boston Herald, Disney Adventures, and Billboard, among others, and was a regular columnist for the worldwide service BPI Entertainment News Wire. He is one of the authors of the recently released book The Watcher's Guide, the official companion to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Golden was born and raised in Massachusetts, where he still lives with his family. He graduated from Tufts University. Please visit him at www.christophergolden.com.
Willow shouted to the ghosts she knew were lingering in the ether around them. "Come back! We need a little help here!"
"You guys!" Cordelia screamed, looking wildly around at the numbingly gray landscape. "You dead guys, where are you guys?"
They were alone on the ghost roads, a place filled with nothingness. Xander's still form dangled between them, and a demon raced toward them from an open breach.
So there was nothing to do but fight it.
Willow tried to lower Xander gently to the ground, but his ankles slipped through her fingers and his feet hit pretty hard. She sucked in her breath and said, "Oh, Xander, I'm sorry."
The demon lunged. "Cordelia, look out!" Willow cried.
"Oh, my God!" Cordelia shrieked. She let go of Xander's wrists and his head whapped the ground very hard. Then she arced around in a circle like a shotput thrower with her hand in a fist, and smacked the end of the nearest tentacle.
To Willow's complete amazement, the piece broke off and whirled away like a Frisbee.
"Willow," Cordelia said, with a look of shock, "Willow, this thing is like, defective!"
Cordelia hit it again, and another tentacle broke off and shattered as it fell to the ground.
"Wow!" Willow said excitedly. She raised her fists and ran up to the demon. "Come on, monster thingie! We're ready for you!"
They both shouted with disappointment as it whirled around and hastily retreated.
"Willow!" Cordelia's eyes shone. "That was incredible!"
"Yeah," Willow said, shaking a little. Now that the battle was over, she couldn't believe how brave Cordelia had been. "It was."
Cordelia picked up Xander's hands. Willow looked down at him. He looked terrible. The blood on his chest from the gunshot wound had dried, but there was so much of it. They had to get him to Boston, to the Gatehouse and the Cauldron of Bran the Blessed, as soon as possible. Which was why they were on the ghost roads.
Giles had not been positive that regular humans -- those not touched by the supernatural -- could walk the ghost roads and live. Was simply being here killing Xander? Was that why the ghosts had already tried to lay claim to him?
Were she and Cordelia going to die here as well?
Cordy murmured, "Sorry about the bump, sweetie." To Willow, she added, "Let's get out of here. I hate this place."
Then, like the chickens they were, the phantom walkers of the ghost roads reappeared. Now that the demon was gone, their translucent faces and bodies blurred and flickered as they swarmed around the three friends.
Almost hungrily, the dead tugged at Xander's body.
"God, Willow, stop them!" Cordelia shrieked. She turned her attention to the spirits who harried her boyfriend's still form, pulling at his clothes, lifting his limp hands, and she screamed. "Leave him alone! He's not dead yet! Not yet!"
Willow felt hysteria begin to swirl up inside her, thought she might throw up, wiped away hot tears that had begun to spill down her cheeks. And then she stood her ground.
"Back off! We have safe passage! Leave us alone!"
Around them, all was gray light, as though it were permanent dusk. The featureless landscape of the ghost roads stretched out forever, and yet they could only see their immediate surroundings, as though some invisible fog blotted out all else.
But their immediate surroundings were bad enough. The faces of the traveling spirits -- many of whom were lost here on the ghost roads -- coalesced around them, some into full-bodied form. One, who in life had been a very old man with a bushy beard, drifted close to Willow.
"We are giving you safe passage, girl," he said, in a voice that came from everywhere and nowhere, from all the mouths of the traveling dead. "Or shall we simply stand aside for the creatures who even now tear these walls down around us?"
Willow swallowed. She knew what it meant. What he meant. Below her feet was solid ground, or what passed for solid ground here. She had done enough research to form a hypothesis about that, about the ghost roads existing so close to the real world, shimmering with energy an eyeblink out of reality, that oftentimes the ground beneath their feet was real. If that was so, then the farther one went into the fog on either side of the road, the farther one drifted into the limbo nothingness between the ghost roads and what waited for those traveling or lost souls at their final destination.
Deep in the fog, Willow could see ghosts battling demons. It was surreal, a mist-enshrouded ballet between the dead and the undying that made her feel like a tiny girl again, staring into the black abyss of her closet. She tried not to look.
The dead were protecting themselves, of course, but they were also giving Willow and Cordelia safe passage.
"He's one of us, now," the old man's ghost said, pointing at Xander. "He must stay."
"Dammit, I said he's not dead!" Cordelia shouted, before Willow could respond. "What? Are all ghosts deaf, or just you?"
Willow glanced at her. Now Cordelia, was dragging Xander by his arms, as best she could. Her muscles were straining from the effort, and Willow wanted to help, but it was up to her to make sure they weren't stopped. That was more important right now.
"Move, Cordy," she said in a low voice. "Get him out of here."
"What does it look like I'm doing?" she snapped, eyes wide, on the verge of crying or laughing or screaming, but -- Willow observed -- on the verge of something.
"He is ours," the old man's ghost whispered.
The last thing Amy Madison wanted to be doing that night was standing in an alley across the street from the entrance to the Fish Tank, which was just about the sleaziest bar in Sunnydale. But the past couple of weeks had been ones of terrible fluctuations in magickal energy in the area, with monsters of every shape and kind flooding the town.
She'd done her part. While she didn't really hang out with the Slayer and her friends -- in fact, she kept to herself mostly -- and she wasn't about to start dedicating her life to protecting the innocent like Batgirl or something, well, it was her world, too.
So instead of trying to link up with Buffy and the others, all of whom had plenty on their minds, she was sure, Amy decided to just back them up. To keep her mind and her power as a witch magickally attuned to Sunnydale, and step in if it seemed the Slayer and her Watcher had overlooked anything.
With all that had been going on, how could they not?
And there had been plenty going on. In fact, Amy was certain that she didn't even know the half of it. Frankly, she didn't want to. It was enough to just do what she could, and leave saving the world to the one who actually had the job. She had a hard enough time getting her homework in on time and giving her dad the kind of quality time he liked. Well, and she liked, too.
Now it had started to drizzle a little, and the salty smell of the ocean not far away was pungent on the breeze. It helped cover the urine and garbage smell of the alley. Pretty much the old trademark alley smell, as far as she was concerned.
Her magickal searches had located something the others had not encountered, something lurking in disguise, keeping a low profile. Something inhuman. She didn't know if it was a demon or a monster, but she'd used her power to track it here, to the Fish Tank. The thing was inside.
Problem was, Amy wasn't old enough to go in, and the bouncer sure wasn't going to let her by.
She was pondering what to do about that problem when the screaming started inside the bar. A woman crashed through the blacked-out windows of the bar and landed in the street. Her face had been torn off and her abdomen ripped open through the trampy dress she wore.
The bouncer ran screaming from the bar, then turned down the street and booked it, not even looking back.
So much for not having ID, Amy thought.
Then she hesitated. This wasn't her gig. She wasn't brave. Not really. But somebody had to do something.
As Amy was sprinting across the street toward the entrance to the Fish Tank, a dead man flew through the window and landed in a broken heap. It slowed her slightly, and she thought about turning back. Then there came a long, chilling hiss, and Amy looked up to see it standing there, inside the open door, holding another corpse behind it. Its fingers were thrust into the eye sockets of the dead man, dragging the body behind it like a little red wagon. Vitreous fluid dripped from its hand.
The creature stopped when it saw Amy.
Eight feet tall, it was dark green and brown, covered with scales and gills and spikes that dripped poison. A stinger-like tail swung in the air behind it. It was like nothing Amy had ever seen before, not even in her arcane texts.
When it laughed, it sounded as though it had phlegm in its throat.
It dropped the eyeless corpse, which hit the damp pavement with a wet slap. The rain continued to fall, ran down Amy's forehead, flattened her hair. The monster flicked out a long, forked tongue like it was a New Year's Eve party horn.
Then it came for her.
"Goddess Hecate, work thy will!" she shouted, raising her hands, contorting her fingers to form the powerful spell. Magickal energy crackled between them. "Mistress of creatures great and small, confine this beast to its -- "
With a savage backhand, spiny knuckles slicing into her cheek, the monster knocked Amy back against the Fish Tank. Her head struck the brick, and she collapsed to the pavement. She could feel something warm dripping down the back of her neck now, not like the cold rain. It was blood. She smelled it.
So did the monster.
Its guttural, sickening laughter increased as it strode toward her, muscles rippling, scales shining in the rain and the light of the full moon.
Blackness closed in on her vision, and she knew she was slipping into unconsciousness. She would be defenseless then, and just as dead as all of the people inside the Fish Tank.
"Confine this beast," she whispered, her lips numb, mumbling. "Confine...to its distant lair."
Amy fell unconscious just as the laughter stopped. Her eyes flickered open several minutes later at the sound of approaching sirens and she realized she wasn't dead.
Where her cheek touched the pavement, it slid in something sticky. Her own pooling blood. She could taste it on her lips.
It occurred to her that she had a calculus test in the morning. Before she fell unconscious again, Amy smiled thinly, or thought she did. She couldn't be sure because she couldn't feel her face.
At least she'd have a good excuse for missing school.
Copyright © 1999 by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.