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Something wicked has been preying on Sunnydale students -- and whatever it is, its methods are pretty gruesome. Buffy locates some human bones that have been picked clean, and knows that she's dealing with an unearthly evil. Some help from the Scooby Gang would be ideal, but they've run into trouble of their own. Oz and Xander are literally (perhaps unnaturally) mesmerized by a hottie new chick band headlining at the Bronze, and Willow has been captured by Sunnydale's latest resident carnivores. What they need is the Slayer. But in order to help her friends, Buffy must first dust a vampire -- one that has an urgent interest in Joyce Summers, the unique ability to resist sunlight, and an open invitation to the Summers' house...
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John Passarella lives in Swedesboro, New Jersey, with his wife and two sons. His coauthored debut novel, Wither, won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel of 1999. Wither will soon be a feature film from Columbia Pictures.
Being an avid fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series, John decided the time had come to write his own Buffy novel after the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle commented that Wither "hits the groove that makes TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer such a kick."
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ghoul Trouble, is his second novel. Be sure to visit John at www.passarella.com or e-mail him at email@example.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It started out like an ordinary cemetery patrol -- if there was such a thing -- right up till the moment the hulking vampire wearing the UC Sunnydale football jersey caught Buffy's spin kick mid-spin and pre-kick. He hurled her backward, right into the tombstone. Her head struck the side of the stone with a sickening thud and she went down hard, stunned. While Buffy was still too woozy to put up much of a fight, the vampire advanced on her with a feral glint in his yellow eyes.
Fortunately, she wasn't alone. Xander Harris moved to intercept the vampire, one of Buffy's wooden stakes clutched in his hand. Relative to the vampire's size, the stake felt more like a toothpick. "Okay, Baby Huey," Xander said. "I got something for you. Right here."
The vampire turned toward Xander, and growled in full vampface. Out of the corner of his eye, Xander could see Willow scrambling for the crossbow the vampire had swatted out of Buffy's hands before she'd had a chance to use it. "Let's see," Xander said, backing up slightly, trying to turn the vampire away from Willow's position, "you're wearing number seventy-two, got that big ol' barrel gut...I'm guessing offensive lineman, big fella."
Xander had once earned a spot on the Sunnydale High swim team -- around the same time half the team was turning into carnivorous fish monsters -- and, even though he lacked the element of surprise, he was betting that quick-and-wiry would give him the upper hand over big-and-bulky. Even though big bulky guy has a bloodthirsty demon riding shotgun where his soul used to be.
Before he completely unnerved himself, Xander yelled and drove the stake toward the vampire's heart. In an eye blink, he felt his wrist caught in a crushing grip, the point of the stake inches short of the mark. The vampire laughed and hoisted him bodily into the air. "Okay," Xander said, slightly breathless. "As plans go, I have to admit that lacked in the subtlety department...big-time."
Around his neck, the vampire wore a crude chain from which dangled one of the little metal skulls that marked the bloodsucker as one of Skull John's crew. No big surprise there. The vampire's fetid breath washed over Xander. "I'll suck you dry, runt. Then the girls."
"What? No ladies first? Where's your manners...lard-butt?" He swung an awkward kick at the vampire's shin, with little effect.
The glistening fangs inched closer to Xander's throat. He grimaced and said overly loudly, "Now would be a real good time for that old cavalry horn to sound."
Instead of a bugle, he heard the release of a crossbow bolt. The vampire roared and dropped Xander unceremoniously at his feet. Judging by the lack of dust factor, Xander guessed the bolt had missed the vampire's heart. A guess confirmed when the vampire whirled around to face Willow, revealing the feather-tufted end of the quarrel just below his right shoulder blade.
Willow Rosenberg backed up a step. "Oops."
The vampire was distracted by Buffy at his feet. She moaned, struggling to her hands and knees, but fell again. As the vampire Slayer, the Chosen One, she recovered faster than an ordinary person, healed from wounds incredibly fast, and could generally keep on slaying long after she'd suffered injuries severe enough to land anyone else in the emergency room. Nevertheless, she could be hurt, stunned, even killed -- had been killed once, briefly, until Xander resuscitated her with CPR. She was recovering now, but not fast enough. The vampire went down on one knee beside her, bared his fangs again.
Xander was climbing to his feet, stake in hand, when Angel came charging from the opposite direction, his black duster whipping behind him. The vampire looked up, startled for a moment, before Angel's doubled fist clubbed the side of his head.
"Leave it to Dead Boy to make a dramatic entrance," Xander said softly.
"I heard that," Angel said as he drove his heel into the chest of the lineman vampire, staggering him.
"We had everything under control here, right, Will?" Xander said, looking to Willow for moral support.
"Right! We're, um, masters of control and everything," she said as she awkwardly attempted to reload the crossbow.
Angel had backed the much larger vampire against a tree. "Xander, give me that stake."
"Nothing would please me more," Xander said with a dark glint in his eye. Nonetheless he tossed the stake to Angel, who was now in full vampface, as often happened when he was in battle.
The lineman vampire charged Angel before he could bring the stake to bear. Dropping his shoulder, he bowled Angel over, no mean feat. Angel lost the stake, but rolled with the impact, driving a knee into the bulky vampire's gut and using his momentum against him. With a grunt, the vampire slammed into a leaning tombstone.
Cordelia Chase ran into the clearing, still flushed from trying to keep up with Angel. Ever fashion-conscious in a long-sleeved black V-neck sweater over a leopard-skin print skirt, she looked like she was on a date rather than out patrolling for vampires and other things that went suck in the night. She took one look at the vampire lineman and said, "Eeeuw!"
Xander nodded. "I hear you. Two butt-ugly vampires wrasslin' in the dirt. Disgusting."
"No," she said, "I think I used to date that guy."
"Now, I'm disgusted," Xander said. He ran toward the dropped stake. "Is there anyone you haven't dated?"
"Just seems that way, Xander Harris," she said tartly. "I hit rock bottom with you. I'm much choosier now."
"Hussy, thy name is Cordelia," Willow said innocently.
But the vampire was up, and swiping at Angel with long, meaty arms. With a roar, he rushed Angel, who stood his ground to meet the charge. Xander picked up the stake but Angel wasn't watching for it.
Buffy was back on her hands and knees. Amazingly, she burst into a sprint from that position and launched herself onto the back of the vampire lineman. She caught his heavy neck chain in her left hand and pulled back on it, closing it up in her fist to throttle him. No matter how much the chain dug into his throat, it was hardly more than an inconvenience for the vampire who, being technically dead, would never breathe again anyway. Buffy could not choke him into submission, which left her only one recourse. "Xander! Stake!"
Xander tossed it to her and she snagged it out of the air with her right hand, bringing it down into the vampire's chest with one quick motion. When the vampire exploded into a spray of dust, Buffy fell down from her lofty perch and landed...
...in Angel's arms. She brushed a strand of blond hair from her eyes and said, "We've got to stop meeting like this."
For a moment, she saw the intense longing in his eyes and was afraid it was mirrored in her own. Don't go there, she told herself. There lies pain.
"No promises," he said.
With effort, she broke away from his gaze -- and his embrace. Instead, she held up the chain still clutched in her left hand. The metal skull dangled down between her fingers.
Angel nodded. "Skull John."
"Third one tonight," Buffy remarked. "I'll soon have quite the collection of morbid fashion accessories."
"Lots of Skull John goons," Xander said. "But never the big vamp himself."
Willow joined them but her attention was elsewhere. "Where's Oz?"
Cordelia looked the most startled. She shrugged. "He was right beside me."
There was a new head vampire in town, the elusive Skull John, whose vampire underlings wore the skull chain and had been running rampant of late, while Skull John himself remained a mystery. Dust enough of his troops, Buffy thought, and Skull John will be forced to come out for his very own stake. Well, it was a theory and she was sticking to it. So the Scooby Gang, sometimes known as the Slayerettes, had split into two platonic teams to patrol. Willow and Xander with Buffy on one team, with Angel, Cordelia and Oz on the other. Fewer distractions that way...distractions in the form of actual smoochies or thinking about potential smoochies. Though Xander and Cordelia were not about to get up close and personal anytime soon, it was still a good idea to keep the two of them apart. All business and slayage, but now one of their own was missing.
Oz had been right behind Cordelia until he noticed something gleaming in the moonlight under a bush to his right. After a careful examination, he stooped and picked it up. "Interesting," he said, then hurried to join the others.
In his haste he failed to notice a dark-cloaked woman with wild red hair crouched inhumanly still on the other side of the iron cemetery fence. When Oz moved off with his discovery, she shadowed his progress, staying low and moving quietly, darting from tree to tree.
So intent was she on Oz's movement that she almost ran into another dark-cloaked woman coming along the fence from the opposite direction. This one had a long, white Mohawk haircut that flowed into the semblance of a ponytail. She caught the redhead by her upper arm and cautioned her to silence. In her other hand she clutched a battered leather satchel. "Did you see him?" whispered the redhead.
"That's not all I saw," said the other woman. "Let's get out of here. I'll explain later."
"Oz!" Willow called, a note of alarm entering her voice.
"You rang?" Oz said casually as he stepped up beside her.
"Oh!" Willow gasped, almost jumping out of her skin. "I mean, 'Oh, there you are!' Or, 'Where were you?' As in, we were all worried. Weren't we all?"
The others nodded.
"Guys, I have some bad news," Oz said in his usual mellow tone. Only his eyes gave away his concern.
"Usually your bad news comes gift-wrapped in fur around the full moon," Xander said.
Oz quirked a smile. For three days -- rather, three nights -- out of the month, Oz was a werewolf. The rest of the month he was a cool, laid back kind of guy who dated Willow and played lead guitar for a band called Dingoes Ate My Baby. But now he looked worried.
"What is it, Oz?" Buffy asked.
"This," Oz said and held it up before them.
"What is it?" Cordelia asked. "I mean, besides the obvious."
Not until the next morning in the Sunnydale High School library did they learn the answer. "If I'm not mistaken," Rupert Giles, school librarian and Buffy's official Watcher, said as he absently pushed up his eyeglasses, "that would be a femur."
"One of those cute, fuzzy little monkeys at the zoo?" Xander asked.
"Femur, Xander," Giles corrected. "Not a lemur."
"Oh, so you're saying lady monkey?"
"An adult human leg bone, and rather...gnawed, it would seem."
"Gnawed?" Cordelia's lip curled in disgust. "Like eaten?"
"Can't get enough of that Colonel's Secret Recipe," Xander said.
Giles came out from behind the library's checkout counter, holding the bone in one hand, running the other thoughtfully through his unruly hair. He looked to Oz. "You say you found this in the cemetery?"
Oz nodded. "Under a bush. Near the fence."
Giles turned to Buffy. "And you noticed no freshly disturbed graves?" Buffy shook her head. "I suppose it's possible whatever did this just tossed the bone over the fence. It wouldn't appear to be the work of a vampire."
"Angel didn't think so," Buffy said. Angel was the only member of the patrol absent from the library. As a vampire -- a vampire cursed with a soul and so, a conscience, but a vampire nonetheless -- Angel had to avoid the light of day. While they were taking classes and conferring with Giles, Angel was probably deep in vamp sleep in his mansion.
"So what are we talking about?" Xander asked. "Seeing as how Sunnydale is sitting on top of the Hellmouth, we've got a whole lot of nasty options." The original Spanish settlers knew Sunnydale by a different name, Boca del Infierno, or Hellmouth, and for good reason. Giles had once called it "a center of mystical energy" that attracted all the demons and bogeymen that children are routinely taught not to believe in.
"Well, this doesn't appear to be the work of hellhounds," Giles said. "Hellhounds are rather savage. This bone is in excellent condition."
Willow frowned. "Not as excellent as if, oh, the owner were still attached to it and yelling, 'Ouch, my leg hurts.'"
"Um, quite," Giles said. "I believe we're looking at the handiwork of a demon with cannibalistic tendencies."
"Unlike your garden-variety, soul-sucking demon," Xander said.
"If you discount the severe scoring of the fangs," Giles said, "there's almost a gourmet delicacy about the complete consumption of the flesh and tissue, even going so far as to suck out the marrow."
Cordelia shivered. "Can I be the first to say 'Yuck!'?"
"I've got 'Ick!' covered," Willow added.
"Can Geraldo be far behind with a cafeteria food exposé?" Xander said. "My God, what have they been feeding us?"
"Xander, please," Giles said.
"Oh, right," Xander said, "you Brits and your meat pie. I see where this is going."
"Xander," Buffy said, then looked to Giles. "You're thinking, what? Zombies? Ghouls?"
"Quite possibly," Giles said, laying the bone down on the table.
"I've seen Night of the Living Dead oh, maybe a dozen times, so I'm all clear on the eating habits of zombies," Xander said. "But ghouls are like ghosts or poltergeists, right? Rattle chains, knock on walls in the middle of the night, and screw up cable television reception."
"Despite the similarity in the spelling of their names, ghouls are definitely unrelated to ghosts," Giles explained. "Ghouls are very much physical entities, demons in their own right. As I recall, they are discussed in Arabic folklore as being deceitful and rather fond of the taste of human flesh. But I'll need to research further."
"Deceitful, demon flesh-eaters," Xander noted. "That equals bad guy in my book."
Giles moved on. "Willow, could you search for reports of missing persons in the area? It's quite possible that our flesh-eaters have been operating in the area for quite a while and that we've only now discovered their presence. We need to know the extent of this problem."
"You know me," Willow said, "any excuse to go all cyber and punky."
"You make 'cyber' cute," Oz said.
Willow smiled and sat down in front of the library computer. With a rapid-fire clicking of keys, she began her on-line searches. Giles had come to tolerate and appreciate, if not understand, this one example of modern information technology in the midst of his dusty stacks and old tomes. Before the late Jenny Calendar, a devout techno-pagan, had come into his life, Giles distrusted any scrap of knowledge gleaned electronically. In his old-fashioned -- some would say antiquated -- view, anything important should have been committed to paper.
"Giles," Buffy said, "aren't you forgetting something?"
She nodded. "People tend to go milk carton all the time in Sunnydale."
"For all so...
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