Jeff Mariotte The Xander Years, Volume 2

ISBN 13: 9780671039202

The Xander Years, Volume 2

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9780671039202: The Xander Years, Volume 2
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"But I mean, what is it? How do you get it?Who doesn't have it? And who decides who doesn't have it? What is the essence of'cool'?" Most teens have trouble finding themselves now and then, but when you're living on a hellmouth, "trouble" is an understatement -- especially if you're Xander Harris. He has never been very popular, and has never had much luck with women, but he is uniquely Xander. After a Sunnydale High field trip to the zoo, Xander becomes obnoxious and aggressive. Giles thinks it's typical adolescent male behavior, but Buffy knows better. And when he finally scores "cool" points by making the Sunnydale High swim team, he's thrown into the middle of something, well...fishy. Still, once Xander is excluded from the Slayer's most recent anti-apocalyptic campaign, he finds himself battling his own private evil -- and saving Sunnydale High from a fate it never imagined.

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Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Buffy Summers strolled through the Sunnydale Zoo, enjoying the way the sun warmed her cheeks on this cool spring day. She walked alone, intent on the zoo map, comparing points on it to the posted signs. Maybe there was something here they didn't have in Los Angeles. Although, this being Sunnydale, she thought, it would probably be some mythical killer beast, a Kraken or a Wendigo or something.

"Oh, look."

The familiar voice caught her attention and she looked up. Kyle DuFours. Creepy Kyle, Willow called him sometimes. He came toward her, accompanied by the kids he was always with: Rhonda Kelley, Tor Hauer, and Heidi Barrie. Always together, always annoying. Well, she'd just make a point of avoiding them for the rest of the day. Shouldn't be hard -- Kyle's shirt was a yellow so bright she'd be able to spot him from a distance. Like, say, Kansas.

"It's Buffy," Kyle said. "And all her friends."

"That's witty," Buffy said. She'd known some kind of obnoxious line was coming. After all, his lips had been starting to move. But she also knew it wasn't over. These guys never let up.

Tor fixed his gaze on her. "Do you ever wonder why nobody cool ever wants to hang out with you?" he asked.

"I'm just thankful," she replied.

"Were you this popular at your old school?" Rhonda asked, getting in on the action. "Before you got kicked out?"

They all resumed walking, almost as one. Rhonda moved past Buffy, nudging her aside with one shoulder. Buffy let it go. They're just punks, she thought. Rude, but harmless.

"Careful," Tor told Rhonda as he passed Buffy. He stared at Buffy, turning his head as he went by. She wondered, briefly, if he thought he looked cool, or worse, attractive. "She might beat you up."

They all laughed at that knee-slapper, and then they were gone. Relatively brief and painless, Buffy thought. The best kind of encounter to have with them.

She moved on, stopping to read a display outside the elephant enclosure. Another voice called out to her. Also familiar, but more friendly. "Hey! Buffy!"

She looked up to see Xander Harris and Willow Rosenberg, her two best friends in the world, running toward her. They looked happy, like they were truly enjoying this little escapade. Maybe they were. They both seemed to have a knack, sometimes, for looking on the bright side.

"You missed it!" Willow said. Enthusiastic. Her usual state of being.

"Missed what?"

"We saw the zebras mating," Xander said. "Thank you, very exciting."

"It looked like the Heimlich. With stripes," Willow added. Her wide smile was usually infectious, but it didn't spread to Buffy this time.

"And I missed it," Buffy said, with mock sadness. "Yet, somehow I'll find the courage to live on."

They started walking, headed nowhere in particular.

"Where were you?" Willow asked her.

"I was looking at the fishes."

"Was it cool?"

Buffy thought about that for a moment. "It was fishes."

"I'm feeling that you're not in the field trip spirit here," Xander said, as if picking up on her decided lack of excitement.

"Well, it...it's nothing." She couldn't quite summon the energy to shrug. "Anyway, we did the same zoo trip at my old school every year. Same old, same old."

"Buffy, this is not just about looking at a bunch of animals," Xander explained. "This is about not being in class."

This time, Buffy did smile. He has a point, she supposed. Good old Xander, finding the silver lining to every cloud of gloom. "You know, you're right. Suddenly the animals look shiny and new."

"Gotta have perspective," Xander said.


The chimpanzee enclosure looked like a granite cliff. On a rocky shelf, three chimps -- mother, father, and baby -- shared lunch. Or, the mother and father did. The young one shrieked and grabbed, but the adults managed to keep their food to themselves.

Lance Lincoln leaned on the rail at the enclosure's edge, spiral notebook open, scribbling down his observations on the chimp family's meal. For him, a field trip wasn't about being away from school, it was about having an opportunity for some good solid insight into primate behavior. He was so involved in his research that he didn't hear the four pairs of footsteps approaching him from behind.

"Lance!"

He turned around. Kyle and his friends, bearing down on him. Swell, he thought. Victim, thy name is Lance.

"How's it going?" Kyle asked. Like we're old buddies or something.

"Hey, Kyle," he replied evenly.

Kyle leaned on the railing next to him, glanced at the chimps. "So this is like a, um, family reunion?"

"No." Well -- from an evolutionary perspective, maybe. But to go there with Kyle? He didn't think so.

Kyle went on as if Lance hadn't said anything. "I think it's a family reunion. It's so touching. Doesn't anybody have a camera?" He mimicked whipping one out, snapping a picture.

Lance flashed back to grade school, when his love for reruns of the old TV show "Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp" had become common knowledge. Given his name, it would have been hard for him not to be drawn to the show, and it was probably what kick-started his interest in primatology. But the flack he'd taken from schoolmates calling him Lance Link, or Sir Lancelot, had almost driven him away from that calling.

Compared to these bullies, those kids were nothing, he thought.

Rhonda came up behind Lance and started tugging at the hairs on the back of his head. "Hey, does your mom still pick out your lice?" she asked. "Or are you old enough to do that yourself now?"

"Quit it," Lance demanded. He jerked his head away from her.

And in doing so, turned just enough that Tor was able to snatch his notebook from his hand. "Hey! Guys, come on," Lance said, grabbing for the notebook. "I've got all my notes in there!" But Tor held it over his head, out of Lance's reach. Only in the back of his mind, where he catalogued such things, did he vaguely realize that the whole scene duplicated the chimp behavior, with the larger chimps holding food away from the little one.

Terrific. I'm the little monkey, he thought.

The group's laughter was interrupted by the voice of Mr. Flutie, Sunnydale High's principal. "What's going on here?" he asked.

Lance watched him approach. He was no fashion expert, but even he knew Mr. Flutie's plaid sports coat was just wrong. It hung open in front, as if both his belly and his sense of self-importance were too swollen to allow it to button. A shock of dark hair sat atop his head like an afterthought, or a small furry mammal abandoned there by some predator.

"I have had it up to here with you four," Mr. Flutie said. "What are you doing?"

"Nothing," Kyle insisted.

Flutie planted himself in front of Kyle. "Did I ask you to speak? Okay, I guess I did. But I want the truth." He looked at Lance. "Lance?"

Tell the truth -- or survive? No real contest. "They weren't doing anything. Really," Lance went along. He even forced a chuckle. "We were just playing around." Like I'd play around with these guys.

And yet, Mr. Flutie bought it. "All right." Mr. Flutie started to go, then stopped, swiveled, and raked a finger like a machine gun across the chests of the four troublemakers. "I'll be watching you," he said, then turned again and headed down the path.

"You," Kyle said, pointing at Lance's face. Lance didn't like the sound of that -- or that finger in his eyes. Now what? "Came through big time," Kyle went on.

"Way to go, Lance," Rhonda added, patting him on the arm like an old friend.

"Flutie's been looking for a reason to come down on us," Tor said.

Whew. "It's okay," Lance said, trying not to sound too relieved.

Kyle reached out, gripped Lance's collarbone, somewhere between a pal and a prison warden. "Come on. We're gonna check out the hyena house."

Lance hesitated. "But -- I think it's off limits."

"And therein, my friend, lies the fun."

Lance chuckled again, but to him it sounded even less real than the one he'd given Mr. Flutie. He didn't quite know how to extricate himself -- that had been a bonding moment of some kind, he figured, and now they were a unit. He went along.

The pathway to the hyena house was blocked off by yellow caution tape, and signs on easels read "Positively No Admittance." Yet another sign said "Closed." Orange lights flashed on the warning signs. The meaning was pretty clear, Lance figured. The zoo officials didn't want anyone wandering into the hyena exhibit.

Which, according to Kyle, was the "fun part." Lance couldn't quite figure, but he was willing to go along. After all, they were being nice to him, which was a first. And besides, they had him more or less surrounded. Rhonda lifted the caution tape and they ducked under, headed down the path.

Hyenas, here we come.


Xander, Willow, and Buffy weren't far behind. They saw Lance go under the tape and disappear down the path. There was something very wrong about this picture, and it was as obvious as Lance's bright red sweater -- he would never be part of that crowd. Xander knew Lance was no more likely to hang with Kyle and those guys than Willow was. Or himself, even. Like, not at all.

"What are Kyle and his buds doing with Lance?" Willow asked.

To Xander, the answer was clear. "Playing with him, as the cat plays with the mouse."

"What is it with those guys?" Buffy asked. They stopped at the tape, looking down the path. Lance and the others were gone from sight.

"They're obnoxious," Willow said. "Professionally."

"Every school has 'em," Xander explained. "You start a school, you get desks, some blackboards, and some mean kids."

Buffy started toward the tape. "Yeah, well, I better extract Lance before -- "

But Xander raised a hand to her, stopping her in her tracks. "I'll handle it," he offered. "This job doesn't require actual slaying." I hope. He ducked under the tape and headed for the hyenas, fully aware that the two girls behind him were watching him go. A small display of bravery, tiny, really, compared to some of Buffy's. But, hey -- you take what you can get.

Buffy wasn't convinced. "You don't think we should follow?"

"Kyle and those guys are jerks, but they're all talk." Willow had lived in Sunnydale her whole life and knew the kids better than Buffy. Buffy was inclined to trust her, until Willow added, "Mostly."

"Why don't we -- "

Willow agreed with a nod. "Yeah, why don't we -- "

They hadn't made it two steps beyond the tape when a zookeeper appeared. "Whoa, hold it, hold it," he said. What hair he had was blond, long in back but mostly dome-like on top. He had a neat blond beard and glasses, an almost professorial demeanor. His voice was gentle, but firm. "Are you blind, or are you just illiterate? Because hyenas are quick to prey on the weak."

"We were just -- " Buffy started.

He cut her off mid-sentence. "You're not going in there. Anyone that does is in a world of trouble." He raised the tape for them to slink back out.

Willow, always the peacemaker, chimed in. "No, no one's going in there." She led the way back under the tape.

Buffy wasn't so willing to let it go. "Why is it off limits?" she asked.

"It's a quarantine. These hyenas just came from Africa. So keep out." His voice indicated that he would accept no response other than obedience. But he raised a single eyebrow, giving his face a slightly friendlier aspect. Then he said something that Buffy found very strange. "Even if they call your name."

"What're you talking about?" she asked.

The zookeeper looked even more like a professor as he launched into lecture mode. "A Masai tribesman once told me that hyenas can understand human speech. They follow humans around by day, learning their names." His voice lowered. Now he sounded like a man telling a ghost story. "At night, when the campfire dies, they call out to the person. And once they separate him" -- he snapped his fingers -- "the pack devours him."


There was more caution tape at the actual entrance to the hyena enclosure. Kyle just ripped it down as he passed through it, so that he was festooned in it for a moment, yellow against his yellow shirt. It was dark in here, shaded, and cooler than outside. The walls were artificial rock, a man-made cave with cutaways for illuminated displays, and a larger one for the hyenas themselves, up a couple of steps, chest-high bars across the front.

Kyle looked around, turning slowly. "Cool."

"I don't see any hyenas," Lance said. He was having second thoughts now. Fifth or sixth thoughts, really. He was ready to go.

Almost as if on cue, a hyena stepped forward from the gloom of its pen, revealing a dark, almost black muzzle, full of large, pointed teeth. It growled. It didn't sound friendly. Now Lance was more than ready to be gone. "Okay," he said. "Now we've seen it." He turned to go, but Tor was standing right behind him, blocking his way.

And the others hadn't had enough, it seemed. "It looks cute," Rhonda said.

"I think it looks hungry," Kyle said. He stepped away from the bars. He and Tor grabbed Lance, muscled him up the steps toward the cage.

"Come on, Spot!" Tor growled as they dragged Lance forward. "Suppertime!" They held him in front of the bars -- which now seemed considerably shorter and less substantial than they had just a minute ago. The hyena growled again, deep in its throat. Someone had a hand on the back of Lance's head, pushing his face into the cage. Everyone laughed -- except Lance.

"Ow!" he complained. "Stop it! That's not funny!"


Xander heard that last part, and had to agree -- despite the raucous laughter coming from the Kyle Brigade, none of it sounded terribly humorous. He leapt up the stairs and into the thick of it, yanking people's arms away from Lance. He shoved Lance out of their reach, down the stairs. When Lance was safely away, Xander found himself eyeball to eyeball with Kyle.

"Why don't you pick on someone your own species?" he asked.

Kyle glared back, not giving an inch. "What, are you gonna get in my face?"

The hyena interrupted the stare-down with another long, low growl. It raised its head into the light again, growling more, and then they were all looking at it. The thing was not lovely, but its eyes held a mesmerizing quality, and the five of them found themselves staring into those eyes.

Barely noticing when the eyes flashed with an eerie green glow.

And, of course, they couldn't see their own eyes. Flashing an answering green.

Nor did they, at this moment, notice the bizarre red design painted on the enclosure's floor. The design on which they all stood. Their attention was riveted on the hyena, growling and moving in its cage.

* * *


Lance took advantage of their distraction t...

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