Looking for Hell [SWC][R]
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    Default Looking for Hell [SWC][R]

    On with the show!

    And the thing about the dance is, you never get to stop. Every day you wake up, it's the same bloody question that haunts you: is today the day I die? Death is on your heels, baby, and sooner or later it's gonna catch you. And part of you wants it... not only to stop the fear and uncertainty, but because you're just a little bit in love with it.

    Death is your art. You make it with your hands, day after day. That final gasp. That look of peace. Part of you is desperate to know: What's it like? Where does it lead you? And now you see, that's the secret. Not the punch you didn't throw or the kicks you didn't land. Every Slayer... has a death wish. Even you.

    -Fool for Love

    The night creeps by in the bottoms of whisky glasses and the low murmur of half-drunk trainers and truck drivers. It’s slow in the way that makes you worry—there have been odd folks in town, of late, fields razed to the ground and an unusual rise in body count. (It’s unusual to have a body count at all, in a crossroads town like this; usually there aren’t enough people to have anyone dying.)

    You’re more careful, now, than you have been. Keep a pistol under the counter and an axe behind the bourbon. You’ve even turned down a customer or two (unheard of, when your only income’s mostly from whoever the hell stumbles on through… and, theoretically, the perpetually-on-tab-never-paying-for-their-damned-drinks-more-than-once-a-year workhands of half a dozen near-bankrupt plantations). People say it’s just wanderers, not to worry, but you’re pretty sure that whatever’s happening isn’t “just” the gypsies any more than it’s “just” here or “just” temporary. People also said the drought was “just” a dry spell. Well, people have spent the last century trying to coax Pecha Berries out of dead land.

    And then they stumble in. They’re dazed and exhausted and begging for a room; she’s cradling a useless arm, bleeding so much from her forehead that you can’t see her face. For a moment you think he’s been beating her. Then you see the way he limps and winces but supports her leaning weight, even though they both look like they’re going to collapse any moment.

    Around them, your drunkards and their murmurs dwindle into silence; a bar stool creaks uncomfortably. Someone sets his tankard down too heavily, giving a sheepish look at the hardwood. Even the regulars are less drunk than usual, tonight—you can feel their presence of mind, turning over the strangers’ appearances. Perhaps they’re considering running for their pitchforks, but they’re uncertain, hesitant. Afraid.

    It’s unnatural, to have the alcoholics reacting to anything. That so much of the fear is on such an instinctual level—a level so fundamental that rational thought and clear minds are unnecessary—it’s terrifying. These strangers make you shiver. (Outside in the night, someone’s Mightyena bays, rattling its chains.)

    You know when to be quiet and hold the questions, so you just hand the man a key, look him in the face and say, “That’ll be one thou a night.”

    He nods, smiles awkwardly, and tries to find a way to grab the key without letting her fall over. You think that he’s too old for her until you see her eyes and think that she’s probably too old for her, too. And then they’re gone, so it’s back to polishing the counter-tops and tumblers.

    Pretty soon the Kricketot are silent, and the jukebox’s run down on its nickel supply; time to close up for the night. It’s only later, when you’re attempting to mop up beer—or vomit, it’s rather uncertain—and you realize that one of them bled all the way across your floor, that you give them a bit more consideration. There’s really no reason for them to be bleeding this much. (It takes you two hours to scrub all the blood out of the floorboards.)

    As you empty your dustpan onto the ground outside your door, you stare at the moon and hope, idly, that they don’t lurk about for much longer. It’s a quiet place, all dust in the low howl of the wind and the desert creatures—doesn’t have much excitement, doesn’t need it. Strangers who stay for long never bode well.

    Morning comes in a dull haze of light—no fancy, Joseph’s coat of dreams-type dawns around here, just the slow, foggy glow of cloud-covered sun against the starving brush. You’re up before dawn to ferret a little beastie out of the eaves. Maybe a Rattata, maybe a Sentrent. Doesn’t matter. They’re equally problematic for your drainage system.

    “Hey, you!” The girl is mannerless and savage, and there might be sticks in her copper hair (it burns like fire in the sun), but there’s a power in her voice.

    “Yeah?” You don’t turn, even though part of you twitches to acknowledge her beyond the brief glance.

    “Been any strange stuff happening ‘round here?”

    You shrug. “Dunno. I s’pose. You get a lot of strange in a town like this.” Your arm is stuck up to the shoulder in the insulation fluff. The critter’s squeaking just beyond your fingertips.

    “Yeah, yeah.” There’s a sneer in her voice. “Not hitch-hiker sortof strange.” She’s low, serious, now, edging towards your ladder. “Rumors of horned beasts in the streets, dead men in your bar—dead men walking, making more of their ilk?” A hand on the rung by your foot, and a snicker: “Ilk.” You look her in the eye. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. You know what I’m talking about.” Her eyes seem inhumanly sharp.

    “Maybe.” You’re dangling a Rattata by its tail. “I stay out of it.”

    “Aren’t there, like, health regulations? No corpses in the main bar?”

    She’s not going away any time soon, and you know it, so you give another shrug. “People’ve been saying things about the truck house under the highway.” The vermin seems to be smoking a bit in the light.

    At this, she grins. “Thank you, sir.” The ‘sir’ sounds oddly irreverent. “You may have just won yourself a little free pest extermination.” There’s a violent, anticipatory twist to her mouth. You shiver a little.

    She waves cheerily. You realize, a second later, you just saw the hand that was completely immobile the night before, but is now in pristine condition—just like the forehead that should have some remnants of the gaping injury that oozed enough blood to crust her eyelids together.

    You just shrug. Like you said, you’ve seen a lot of strange.

    As you’re rummaging through your drawers for a spare Poké Ball, the Rattata takes a liking to your forearm in a carnivorous sort of way. That’s what you get for holding it upside down, you think mournfully. Should’ve learned by now.

    So now you’re pawing one-handed through the bar’s drawers for a bandage and a Poké Ball, trying not to get blood on the shot glasses and swearing a little. Must’ve been a Hyper Fang, you think, and then you’re slipping in your own blood.

    Somewhere in the haze of semi-consciousness, they’re creeping down the stairs. After a moment the man is limping towards you, siccing a Vulpix on the Rattata (which is now scratching furiously at your front door).

    He’s at your side, asking for the first aid kit, and you can barely mutter that you don’t have one.

    “Don’t have a first aid kit? Who the hell doesn’t have a first aid kit?” is the girl’s indignant response.

    Normal people, you think.

    “Anne, go get ours,” the man orders. “The special bits. That was a vamp.”

    “I know, I know...” Like this sort of thing happens all the time, and she’s just plain tired of it. “Flamel,” she calls towards the Vulpix. It now advances towards the Rattata in a crouch, teeth bared and crackling with flame, all six tails unfurled. “Incinerate it.”

    The wrong ceiling greets you when you open your eyes; it peels and curls, discolored and forgotten just like the rest of this godforsaken town, but there’s not a hole in sight, so you know it can’t be your bedroom. Then you remember what happened. A moment of disorientation becomes complete bewilderment and begins to border on a mental breakdown of some sort. Rattata bites do not make a man bleed out.

    You remember the man’s face, harsh planes of hunger and accustomed to pain. And the girl’s body, the too-skinny tangle of bones and half-forgotten curves. They held no confusion, no fright. Only precision, resignation. Just moved coldly to your rescue and dumped you in the nearest bed. Didn’t even leave a note, a little bit of something to show the insurance broker the next time he bothers rolling his way on over here. ‘Hey, sorry about that, you got bitten by a demon and we had some voodoo on hand. Patched you right up. But now we gotta run.’

    You snort a little, roll out of the moth-eaten, gray-tinged sheets, and plant your feet on the floor. It creaks.

    The blood rushes to your head; your vision cuts out. You sway.

    God. The hell was that?

    You see the flaking remnants of a Championship Battle poster, adorned with snarling Charizard and a strong-backed trainer, and realize that you’re in their room. It’s not much—a dinky little three-legged stool in the corner, a three-legged table next to it (supposed to be four-legged, but you haven’t gotten around to that yet), two beds with mattresses comparable to sink-holes full of broken springs. And you’re not a nosy man, really, you’re not, but there’s something going on here. You should probably know about it if you don’t want to die a horrible, grisly death. (Later, that’s just another thought you want to sneer at yourself for. Knowing doesn’t protect you. Just makes you more afraid of the dark.)

    So you start going through their stuff. And what a freakshow it is. Bags stuffed with dried Pokémon parts—lolling tongues, glazed unblinking eyes, dried feet and talons and claws—and herbs under the bed next to a stack of what appears to be fence-building equipment and a whittling set. Weapons, makeshift and wicked-sharp, some tarnished, others with handles soaked in blood and oddly-colored goop, still others pristine and violently beautiful. Clothing, ragged and worn and colorless, riddled with vicious tears, patches, awkward stitchings. Pokéballs, engraved with the names of dozens of trainers. (You remember a teacher from years ago. “First sign of a thief is a man with another man’s name on his Pokéballs.”)

    All you can think is, the fuck is this?

    The moon seems just a bit brighter tonight. They come stumbling through your doors, bruised and dirty and blood-soaked and high on adrenaline and exhilaration. You don’t ask where they’ve been (you know)—just hand over some liquor and a washrag.

    The man takes a drag straight from the bottle, adam’s apple doing its bobbing work as sweat cools against his skin. This is the closest (cleanest, rather) look you’ve gotten at him, and you’re pretty sure he’s not made for whatever life this is that they lead. No, not made for this life in the least—not with those pale, thin hands, and definitely not with that remnant of a researcher’s slouch. The haircut is too impractical for vagrancy, and his clothes look like they used to be expensive before they got dragged through mud.

    You’re so busy wondering why he hasn’t shaved his head (the ragged, greasy mess is disgusting and blood-clotted to the point that it offends even you) that their furry companions almost escape your notice. That is, until the giant electric spider decides to climb up the side of your walls. You’re irritated, then.

    “C’mon, man. Pokémon health and safety regulations… you know the drill.”

    He gives her a big, slobbery kiss on the forehead. You remember similar half-drunken love nips from your father. “G’job toooonight,” he sing-songs, grinning a ‘I’m sure you can handle this too’ grin, and wanders off limping with whisky bottle in hand.

    “Thanks, Edmund,” she mutters at his retreating back (literally, because there’s a gaping rip right down the center of his shirt; the rag is already so ratty that you can’t tell if it’s been there for awhile or not). Then her eyes are on you in all their fury, sharp and cold in contrast to the warmth of her pouting smile. “They’ve worked hard,” she pleads, bending to rub a hand through the Vulpix’s russet fur.

    “You get your nasties, then?” You shoo the Vulpix out the door. The pout will get you next time, though, you’re sure of it. And the spider will wait. You’re not going near anything with that many legs. Or eyes. Or creepy fur-spines.

    “Oh, boy, did we get some. Pulled out these babies and burnt ‘em to crispy little piles of dust.” She lifts a wooden stake and makes a gleeful stabbing motion. “But, y’know how it goes. One nest isn’t quite as good as another nest. We got to boil tadpoles, but we’re lookin’ for momma Croagunk.”

    You grunt. Bartenders just aren’t supposed to ask about some things. If people want to talk, they talk. Your job is to let them. This one, you can tell, wants to talk.

    She gives a little sigh. “These things, y’see—they’re called vampires. New to these parts. New to existence, actually. Or so I’m told.” Eyeroll. “We don’t get told much. They just pop in, pop out, ‘oh hi, how’s your hunting going, ours is great’ blah-dee-blah.”

    This is a blink and nod moment.

    “Anyway.” She waves her hand, then twirls a bit of that flaming copper hair around a finger. “Vampires. Soulless. Lifeless. Sortof awkward, misfit creatures—in a completely disgusting, negative way,” she shoves in at the end of the sentence, as if you were getting something positive out of her ramble. “Too human to belong to the demon world, too murderous and vile and blood-sucking—did I mention that? That they drink blood? Because—” Here her tone gets mocking; she’s quoting someone she doesn’t quite like. “—‘blood is life, and right after they feed is as close as they ever get to touching sunlight’. Well, and they die, without it. So, life.”

    You just do your job—nod, listen, pour her another drink (even though she is definitely too young).

    “The point of this all, though. These things are new. People aren’t prepared. They need to die, but what ends up happening is, people die instead. So.” The girl leans forward out of her barstool, brown eyes wide, earnest. “Beheading.” Ticks off one finger. “Stake through the heart.” Ticks off another finger. “Sunlight.” Ticks off a third. “Holy water. Haven’t actually found any of that yet. I’ve got no idea how to make it. Same with churches. They hate churches, whatever those are. ‘House of God.’ God lives in altars behind your bed, these days. We think temples to the Legendaries might do something, but haven’t had a chance to check on it. Also, crosses. Again with the ‘what?’” She makes a vague, wavy hand motion and plops back onto her seat.

    “Also, these things. They like darkness, graves, cemeteries. Smoke in the sunlight. Bumpy foreheads, too. Avoid garlic. Stand in shadows, don’t like rooms with lots of windows. And now—” She’s making another of her exuberant hand motions. “Now, you are prepared. Seen anyone who fits the bill?”

    “That man over there—” You point to Jack, or John, or something (you’re not really sure, but his beard makes him recognizable. Also, he is the resident crazy) “—sees things better than me.”

    She smiles a slow, teasing smile. “Well, it’ll do. I’ll be wanting more from you, you know.” She’ll not just be wanting; she’ll be taking. It’s her way, you can see already (in her cold eyes, her careless gestures, her strange drive, how she gets everything she wants from you even though you don’t give anybody anything but liquor and hangovers)—give give give because something out there in the shadows is making her, then take, just because she’s so tired of giving. “But him, later. Watcher, now.”

    Then she’s off. You watch as she prowls up behind the man—Watcher? Edmund?—her shoulders shifting skeletally when she drapes herself over him, takes his ear lobe into her mouth. You look away, unsettled.

    You decide you’ll get up early in the morning, carve yourself a stake like hers. Just in case. But four minutes later you find yourself leaving the bar to one of the less drunk patrons, rummaging through your back room, pulling out pieces of old bar stools broken in drunken brawls and dusting off your old whittling set.

    You make thirteen stakes. Then you make a fourteenth, just because you’ve seen that anything can happen and maybe some of the smaller lies might be true.

    Fourteen is a good number. Possibly even a bit holy, you hope.

    By three, they’re obscene. He’s behind her, hands on her waist, and she’s pulling at his knees with her nails, making him bend to bring his crotch in line with hers as she takes a shot at a striped pool ball. The cueball bounces off a whole lot of nothing and sails over the side, but it doesn’t matter because she’s dropping the stick to the ground with her mouth slack and her eyes screwed up, pushing into him, running her hands through his hair, panting and grinding, breathing in his ear as she drags tongue over as much neck as she can get, licks off trails of blood and sweat. (His eyes are closed and his mouth hangs open and she’s a fire that burns you both.)

    It’s the kind of cold, empty frotting that always seems like a violation of nature and love and goodness (but she doesn’t care, and you can’t stop watching). You manage to pull your eyes away. When you make the mistake of looking back, she’s lost it, moaned softly into the heady bar air and sagged into him with relief. A few truckers look on, eyes lustful; you’re about to drag their attention away with a well-timed broken glass. Then she slips off of him, drags her nails across his neck, leaves him tense, breathless and hunched with fingers digging into the green.

    You’re not sure whether you’re impressed or horrified by how much of a tease she is.

    The patrons start to cat-call, and you wonder vaguely if changing the décor would attract a better sort. The place is a dive, yeah—lights dim; tables antique with all of the age and none of the value, rickety and low-set and scattered haplessly in all directions; knick-knacks hanging from the ceiling and portraits of trainers and business moguls on the walls; floor vomit-and-alcohol stained, air thick with sweat and must. But you like it. It has character. (You do know that’s just what parents tell themselves for consolation when their children grow up to live on their couches. You’d just rather not admit it.)

    One of your waitress-maids shakes her head. “Two beds and seven noise complaints. What a joke.”

    You just shrug, like you’ve been doing a lot of lately. “I’ll talk to them ‘bout it.”

    After she strings him up, he retreats to one of your place’s many dark, musty corners. He’s found himself a brandy glass; it hangs loosely in his fingers. He slouches and broods; his face is dark. When she sees, there’s a grimace of guilt in her eyes. She kneels before him. There’s an odd, hesitant moment—the kind that probably involves hitched breaths. Then she takes off his shoe and starts working the weak muscles with her fingers.

    At first he’s tense. He turns his face away, twists his mouth into disapproval, tries to pull his foot back. But she’s looking up at him with these huge, pleading eyes and pretty soon he’s giving in, collapsing bonelessly into the back of the couch. Then she licks his toe.

    Something angry and cold passes through his face. In a second he’s leaning over her, fingers bruising her chin, eyes frightening. He pushes his brandy glass to her mouth; she tries to twist away, scramble back, but he pulls her chin towards him and forces her to swallow.

    With one finger, he wipes away the dribble of brandy on her lip.

    Her breath pants, hot and scared. He sets the glass down and grabs her throat. Her eyes widen. He flips her under him, pushes her down, strangles her. Kisses her.

    She struggles. Beats his chest with her hands (but her heart’s not in it). It’s just his broad, strong body over her spindly-stick frame, holding her under him, staring straight at her.

    “Kiss me,” he breathes, hot against her mouth. “Kiss me.

    She doesn’t, not at first. Then he’s stealing her air and biting her lip, and God—

    You start towards them and don’t know what you’re supposed to do, because this is disgusting, but somehow you know it’s not what it looks like: her eyes aren’t telling him to stop—they look straight at you, just for a moment, and tell you to keep your feet right where they are. (And still you can hear him, voice low, angry, hurt, Kiss me, damn you. Kiss. me.)

    Please,” he moans. “God…” And it’s like he’s really crying to someone up there, the way his voice cracks and his eyes close.

    Her fingers clench in his shirt. Her eyes haze over. Her breath is gone.

    And she kisses him.

    They curl around each other.

    “I love you so much.”

    You look away.

    There’s a window behind the bar, so you watch the weeds tumble in the street-lights. Black flashes of fur skulk around the light’s edge, casting shadows in the dust.

    “Hey.” Her hand brushes your shoulder. (This hey is different than the one that day; it’s hesitant, quiet. Ashamed, almost.)

    “Hey.” You try to make your eyes look sympathetic, but your face is more made for stern and apelike. She probably just thinks you have something in your eye. (Her hair looks more like oddly red straw than like fire, and her eyes have lost their edge.)

    “Uh. So, apparently you guys make a lot of noise at night.” (Her tongue on his neck. His handprint on her neck.) “Was wondering if you could, y’know…” (Save it for in public, on my chair—so you only disturb people who aren’t trying to sleep anyway? something in you thinks bitterly.)

    “Oh.” The pause sinks into the air, long and awkward. She bites her lip. “That’s, uh, dreams. Not—We don’t sleep in the same bed.”

    “Whatever.” You don’t want to know. You’re sorry you said anything.

    She’s silent, for a while, running her fingernail against the peeling lacquer. You go back to figuring out which large beast is most likely to eat the next patron out the door. Seems to be a nice Drapion lurking behind a trash bin…

    Then she starts talking again, in a halting, mousy voice. “It’s all for me, you know. He never wanted—but I—it’s always for me. Always. And he never really—it’s just—some of them got away. I can’t take it when they get away.” What the hell is that supposed to mean? You can tell that somewhere in there was a rehearsed speech, but now she’s just stumbling and twitching and eating her words before they leave her tongue.

    You don’t know what to say to her. It’s okay, I understand? (Because you don’t; you can’t make head or tails of this contradiction of protection and love in the way they hate each other.) No always means no? (Because that isn’t right, isn’t what’s going on here. Petty, shallow, missing the point. You keep thinking it, and it’s getting kindof old, but really. The fuck is this mess?)

    “It’s all for me, and he never gets… He had a life, a family. He never… He’s nothing, now. Nothing that people see. Just dust and—” She looks away. “He gets nothing.”

    It’s the morning after all—all that, whatever it was. (You thought you knew, you thought you wanted to know. You just laugh at yourself, now.)

    They’re sneaking out the door, his hand on the small of her back, her hand holding a sharp object that you don’t really want to think about.

    You’ve always been a quiet, out of the way man, but you’ve also always been a dreamer—the kind of kid who fjords through scientific journals in search of the latest rumors about Deoxys and scrounges through foreign newspapers for inexplicably large-scale disasters. This is a once in a hundred lifetime chance, if you’re lucky—maybe even one in a thousand, one in a hundred thousand—and the door could be closing, and something in you knows that if you let it, you’ll always regret it because there will never be a second try.

    So you ask, “Don’t suppose I could come along?”

    They spin, shocked.

    Then her eyes light up. “Can he? Can he please?”

    “You might not come back,” the man says, and grimaces, like he’s embarrassed that this is the kind of cliché his life forces him to consider. He probably should be.


    (You remember a little girl with a gap-toothed grin and crooked suspenders clinging tightly to a squirming Skitty. “Can I keep it, Daddy? Can I please?”)

    Later, you understand that your “if you’re lucky” has been misapplied. More like once in a million, once in a billion, once in more lifetimes than have graced the planet. If you’re lucky. And if you’re really, really lucky, maybe it’s never—not for you, not for anyone. That’s real luck. Just a dream lost in Never Never Land.

    It’s a weird couple of days, clouded by a haze of adrenaline and fear. Every time you turn your back, something’s behind you with claws or fangs or horns (and once, even, antlers—oozing, slimy antlers. Gyagh). You don’t know how they’ve lived like this, on the run, alone, monsters in the corner of their eyes. You don’t know, so you ask. Whenever there’s a spare moment where you’re not running for your life or murdering something that wants to eat you, you just ask. Something, anything—there has to be a reason for the nightmare that is their lives.

    They answer your questions, but they don’t seem to know it any more than you. And it seems, really seems, like they’re asking the same thing every time some snarling, demonic creature slams them up against a wall and breathes hot, rotting breath in their face: Why?

    Hiding in a cleaning closet from an eight foot tall, three-headed, no legged-thing on the prowl in a neighboring—read: three hours away driving eighty—town’s supermarket aisles. (You’re still not quite sure how that works, anatomically. Also, they so owe you gas money after this.)

    One thing, though, that you’re starting—kindof—to understand… their relationship. She loses her prey, she gets testy. He’s the only thing around that doesn’t try to kill her. She’s not his type. He loves her in the ways that matter, so he does what he has to. (Sometimes it makes him angry.)

    “So how’d you…” You gesture helplessly, making a motion with your hands that you hope is properly ‘together’-indicating. “Yeah.”

    “Fate,” he says with a sad, small smile—like he knows something you don’t, but he wishes he didn’t—just as she drawls through the last syllables of the word, “Destiny.”

    She grins. “But mainly it was just an accident.”

    He takes a moment to try to look guilty, but it’s more the sheepish, resigned look of a man who knows he should feel some measure of shame but doesn’t.

    It’s easy, at first. (In retrospect, disturbingly so.) The Vulpix burns a few to a crisp, the Joltik electrocutes all it can, the man distracts the weaker ones, she takes the leader head on. He usually pays more attention to her than himself, and ends up unconscious (but she’s always alive at the end of the day). All of you come home beaten and tired.

    The nights are full of paranoia and bloodshed and so much dust (you have no idea how they’ll ever get themselves clean again). Something in them seems to love it, as much as it drives them mad. There’s a rush—when you drive a stake through an unbeating heart, send a head rolling through the dirt. It’s probably the only thing that keeps them alive.

    The days, though—it’s the days they really live for. The look on their faces when the sun peeks out, when the monsters can’t come out anymore… when they realize they’ve lived just those few hours more, those few crucial hours that make all the difference between damnation and life… it’s beautiful. And then, of course, they limp home, exhausted, and sleep for good few hours less than they should.

    Unless they’ve found a nest, that is. They don’t sleep, then. Not until it’s been razed to the ground. Mid-day, under the grueling, dry heat of the desert sun—it’s the best time. They roll on over to the nest, dried Pokémon bits and loose-leaf magic books close at hand. The Vulpix always starts the fire, but you never thought about what Magmar innards might do to a dilapidated shack if you mixed them with a Flamethrower and some Latin.

    God, the carnage. As soon as the walls start to flame, a few of the vamps always flee right into the sun. When they scream, you’re sure you can hear Hell in their voices. There’s always this split second of horror in their eyes—they see the girl, with her cold smirk and her flaming hair, and her Watcher, staid, silent, eyes to the sun. Something in them understands what she is, who they are, and it sends this fear up their spine. And then—poof. Dust.

    And pretty soon, the roof starts caving in. Anything left cowering in the darkness has been long dead.

    When the Magmar innards finally burn out, there’s always one last wave of flame. That one’s your favorite. The entire husk of the building blows outward, walls and everything. Flies into the air as a mushroom cloud of flame reaches for the sky. And the noise—both of them, they’re usually flattened in the blast, and you can’t hear straight for days. The only way to describe it is fwoom.

    Unlike demons, there’s never a mess to clean up afterwards. They just… walk away.

    At first, you love it. You’re scared, yes, but there’s something magnificent in it all—the grit, the blood, the evil, the adrenaline, the way he puts his arm around her like he’s shielding her from death, and the way she smiles like she has nothing to smile for but the sunlight.

    The horror doesn’t really sink in until your next-door neighbor has fangs and claws and tries to use them on you. You come around a corner, stake in hand; there’s a moment of shocked recognition. Then it’s snarling and on you.

    As its breath is hot on your neck, you wonder, what the hell? What the hell am I doing here? (A knee to its groin.) You’re just like them, the failures in your bar, seeking death in the bottom of a bottle. (Pull its hair to get its fangs away from your neck; scream in panic and pain.) How can you even begin to justify this? (Elbowing, flailing, screaming.) You’re yearning for the escape, chasing the high and the danger and oblivion, hoping, just hoping, for something. (Your hands are pinned above your head. The stake is inches beyond your fingers, but the distance stretches farther than the desert.) What does that make you? (Its jaws begin to clamp into your pulse).

    She’s on the beast the moment she notices. And then, he’s nothing but dust (just like everything else in this world, in the end).

    One day, you ask the question they know some of the answer to. Who are you?

    “At first it’s like opening a Christmas present that showed up at your door in mid-July, and you’re not really sure whether it’s late or early but the wrapping sure looks awesome, and so you open it and you don’t really realize that you’ve been surprised. But pretty soon you’re dropping pant sizes more often than f-bombs, and you accidentally throw that guy who keeps pinching your butt in the lunchline flat on his back—after somehow flipping him all the way over your head by one arm—and you can’t even stand still anymore, you’ve got so much energy and everything feels so…” A moment of clarity, a pause. The intensity of her voice eases. Her next words break the hysteria and the confusion completely, fade into quiet dismay. “I dunno, it’s just not like it used to be.’

    “But then you’ve got this old guy with a funny accent showing up on your doorstep saying things like, ‘You’re screaming for me, inside my head, get out, get out, please’ and you slam the door in his face because you have no idea what he’s talking about. But then you let him in, and you still have no idea why. And out of nowhere—literally fucking nowhere, somehow between spaces in the universe, you don’t even know—there are these people and they’re basically saying ‘Hi, we’re from another universe, how do you take your tea?’ and telling you that you’re a Slayer and he’s your Watcher and you’ve been woken because they went and screwed up some spell or another, and that because you’ve been woken they think the balance of the earth is all wrong, so the mouth of Hell’s going to be opening up pretty soon, so it’s up to you and a bunch of others (maybe, they say—they’re not sure how deep the spell went) to find it and murder everything that comes out of it—but it’s not murder, she adds, because they aren’t people, they’re demons and filth and dust.”

    It seems no one’s really asked before, so everything’s just pouring out, jumbling together, a mass of words and stutters and confusion.

    “And you think that they’re insane, fucking mad, but when you tell them to fuck off you’re pretty sure they’re right, because where else could you get this urge to hurt and kill? (And it screams, in your head, in the silent hours—you are in his head and death is in yours.)”

    (His eyes are sad. Hers are just angry.)

    “So you’re destined, and he tosses around these great big wonderful words like calling and duty and fate, and at first you’re like, ‘Like I haven’t got a choice?’ scoffing and angry, but the look he gives you means that he knows you haven’t.’

    “She—the girl, this peppy little blonde with the weird nose—she looks sad, so, so sad, for just a moment. He offers you—get this—tea. They even go and steep it, but apparently it can’t get through the dimensional planes, or whatever. And then they tell you that you’re supposed to be alone, that you’re destined to be alone, but that you won’t live if you even think about trying that, even for a second, so you should go make friends.’

    “But that’s not going to happen, so not going to happen, you’re figuring out somewhere around the time the seventeenth sucker’s liver hits you in the face. And after a good couple of months of killing and bleeding and nearly dying, sometimes even at the hands of humans—we were stoned, once—you’re pretty sure that it’s not so much a Christmas present as that awful gag gift you leave to your least favorite relative in your will, like the talking parrot that has a century long lifespan and can’t do anything other than sing Mary Had a Little Lamb, or the outhouse.”

    She heaves a deep, ragged breath. He wipes at her tears with his thumb.

    “So here we are, looking for the Hellmouth. We’ve been across half the known world, a few places that definitely aren’t on maps. We were stoned, like I said, and we’ve been beaten, and thrown out of bars and hotels and even fucking hospitals wouldn’t take us in some places. I guess there must be others, somewhere, ahead of us, if that’s how they’re reacting, but God sure hasn’t let us find them. And maybe we haven’t found its mouth, but there’s enough Hell around here for the world. We’re just dust, blowing through place after place on the wind, leaving little literal piles of dust behind us (even though we’re pretty damned figurative). I don’t think anyone really notices. Except for you, and a few others… no one remembers.”

    They’re just like the creatures they slay. Maybe a little less evil—but still powerful, isolated, mythical, half in life and humanity, entirely cut off from it. Even as you sit next to them, never more tangible than the bedtime stories we tell to fill our children with righteous fear.

    “And… that’s who I am, now. That’s…”

    One day you know she will be ground into dust.

    It’s not long before you become just another one of the ones they couldn’t really save.

    When it happens, it’s ghosts, not the demons, that end your journey with them. You’ve always thought about ghosts—thought that if they existed, they’d be in the howl of the wind, the loneliness of the desert around you. Away from people, alone and avoidant. The horror stories of vengeful spirits always made you roll your eyes, a little. Anything stuck here for that long would be tired, not angry. Just tired of it all.

    So when you get smacked right across the face by the burning head-thing of a Litwick that somehow managed to burn your left hand from your wrist, you’re a little shocked (and belatedly embarrassed for mocking all the guys who told the campfire horror stories. Fate sure showed you. Hah hah…). It’s somehow the ghost of a ghost, she tells you later, and, like much of your life right now, you’re not quite sure how that works.

    You’d seen its light in the distance and felt relatively sure of your capabilities. So many demons beheaded, so many of the dirty creatures stuck between death and life returned to dust on the end of your stake. Followed the ethereal light to its den, a dank cave not far from a vamp nest. You should’ve known this world was too big for you to handle. How many it must have lead to their deaths, just in this way…But—your order is scattered. Back to the start.

    So you’re locking up, and you see this thing just a ways outside your doors. It’s been a light night and you’re not too bruised, so you creep after it, trying not to trip over plastic bags and beer cans. The flame flickers in the dry wind; it seems to float on the edge of the world, where endless wasteland meets darkness and starlight at the horizon. There’s a promise deep in its fire—the sort of promise that drew you to the Slayer and her Watcher in the way it’s somehow dark and ancient (but so, so fleeting).

    It bobs away. You bob after it, stake in hand.

    Wild Mightyena howl in the distance; feral eyes glitter in the shadows. Everything is alive. The desert scurries with life, with death, with the wind. If you die here, your flesh will nourish the starving beasts; the birds will scour your organs from beneath your rib cage and pick you until you are only bone. You understand, now, that this is not such a bad thing.

    (Something within you screams. Its voice is cold, metallic, measured. You do not listen.

    Litwick. The Candle Pokémon. While shining a light and pretending to be a guide, it leeches off the life force of any who follow it.”)

    The low brush reaches for you with gnarled fingers, and the skeletons of sun-bleached trees claw at the sky. They merge together, slowly; they seep into the famine-struck land, into the spiderweb cracks of thirsty soil, into—the walls of a cave, jagged, painted with fearsome stick-figures that tear each other to pieces over holy relics and Legendary corpses.

    You reach for the flame with the hand holding the stake.

    (“Don’t play with fire, children.”)

    The candle turns to look at you. It smiles a dripping, cruel smile that melts with the wax. And then your mind flees, because—the fire, you’re in the fire, and the fire has taken your hand and your stake and good God, you don’t have a weapon so how will you defend yourself but no, that’s not the concern here because you don’t have a hand (and at least the wound is cauterized) and some part of you is dust and ash.

    The Litwick glides forward, leisurely. Some part of you is still in its thrall, content to die in this dank cave, deep in this sterile land—but the rest of you is screaming. They will be here.

    Seventeen, she said. Seventeen had died by their side. And here you are, you miserable waste of space, cowering on the ground amidst the ashes of your own flesh. (Seventeen had walked with them; seventeen had died. You are going to die.)

    You’re on the floor, phasing in and out of consciousness, oddly paralyzed and confused. All you know is blood, the stench of it in your nostrils, the bitter taste on your tongue (you must have bitten yourself). The candle flickers at your feet. It’s sucking the life out of you, you know. You can feel your soul seeping out of you with the blood. Leading you to your funeral…

    (You have a perfect view of the stars.)

    Somewhere in your head, you see her arriving, all rags and bones and sharp weapons, with him glaring in her wake. She’s angry, furious (“Why do you all keep dying?” she shrieks), so the Pokémon are ignored and it’s just her feet—one kick, and it’s careening into the cave paintings behind you. The candle flushes in anger; wax drips from it and the fire flares. She’s on it in a blur of firey hair and flying fists (jab, cross, right, left). You’re so out of it by now that your head isn’t on straight, and you’re pretty sure you’re naming constellations. Still, you can hear that every blow sears her flesh and draws a snarl of pain. Something in you hurts for her.

    He throws worried looks in her direction when he’s supposed to be keeping you from bleeding to death. “Don’t be an idiot,” he tells you in this patient, long-suffering voice, like if you die, you’ll cause him a good deal of irritation. You try to say something passively snide in response, but all that comes out is a gurgle and a bubble of blood. She screams in the distance. Triumph, not death, you know, because her Watcher is smiling at her. Everything is so far away—the stars are spinning.

    The flame goes out.

    You’re one-handed, now, and they don’t take you with them anymore. Fewer people die in this town; more people stop on the way through (not enough to make a difference, though).

    You never realized, not really, how isolated you are. You, in your bar in the small town at the crossroads on the edge of the desert—mountainous teeth snarling at the sky behind you, endless, sterile plains of sun-cracked mud and dried weeds. Every one of you, the small, friendless humans in this half-living chunk of land, could die, wither away to nothing and no one would know. You’d just be more driftwood and dust in the desert wind.

    It’s that thought that makes you start to understand their world. They’re nothing—runaways, vagrants. Their lives are not even written in her flesh as scars (her burns healed after two hours. Your hand will be dust in that cave forever). They leave no trace. No names, hardly any faces. All around them, everyone else sees a world that is a lie. They’re looking for something, this mouth of Hell, trying to find it in the lines of faces, the fear in our eyes. But they’ll never find it, no matter how hard they look—Hell is all around them. Its mouth is hidden well.

    Your hand shakes as you lock up for the night.

    It’s time for them to go. Hell isn’t really here, not as much anymore, because they’ve basically killed it and the people are mostly drunks who’re far too lazy to concoct the sorts of crazy schemes the Slayer and her Watcher have witnessed. The town is safe, mostly. Now they have an elsewhere to be.

    You’re leaning against the wall gathering splinters on one side, nursing your arm. They’re loaded with backpacks and trunks and books and water, and you have no idea how they plan on making it farther than the first fork in the road. “So. What’ll you…” Trail off. The desert wind howls in the silence, tossing dust on the air.

    She takes pity on you and answers the question (although you’re not sure what you were going to ask). “We’re still lookin’ for Hell!” Her hair is fire in the wind, her eyes are dull, and her cheesy, upbeat grin is a lie.

    He takes her hand, squeezes, gives her the sort of eye-crinkling smile he doesn't have the energy to give anyone else. Then his face twists. “Hopefully we’ll find it soon.” (You’re pretty sure that they’re not going the right direction. There aren’t any people that way. No blood for the hollow men, no souls for the demons. Nothing for the nightmares to thrive on.)

    For all their—what, heroism? (That’s not the word. They don’t want this. It means nothing. People wouldn’t even notice if they were gone—not until the world collapsed under the weight of its demons, and even then, it wouldn’t know they were missing.) For all their sacrifice, they leave so little behind. You don’t think anyone will remember them. You’re not sure you would’ve, if it weren’t for the confused moments when you reach for something with your missing hand and just meet air.

    What do you say? They haven’t changed you, not really—just made you afraid of the shadows, maybe crippled your bar-tending abilities a little. And you’re not going to miss them. You shift, awkwardly. His eyes meet yours; he nods. She’s smiling at him in a drawn, sad way. And you really don’t know… anything.

    So you say, “Good bye.”

    They smile as they walk into the desert wind.
    Last edited by Scourge of Nemo; 25th September 2011 at 03:37 PM.

  2. #2
    Vampire Grader sorocoroto's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Hell [SWC][R]

    Seems like I'll be the one to take this on. Good thing I like sex Buffy!

    "A vampire with a soul? Oh my God ... how lame is that?" - Buffy Summers [S6x08]

  3. #3
    Vampire Grader sorocoroto's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Hell [SWC][R]

    Grade posted and deleted. Sending to Scourge now.

    EDIT: ReGrade posted and deleted. Sending to Scourge now.
    Last edited by sorocoroto; 24th August 2011 at 11:56 PM.

    "A vampire with a soul? Oh my God ... how lame is that?" - Buffy Summers [S6x08]


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