The sight that greeted them as Faith kicked in the door to The Master’s chambers was not at all what they were expecting. The Master was there, as were his minions, each reverted to their skeletal forms, armed with their steely knives, and in the centre of the room was the beast. That much was as expected. It stood on four legs and was over 9ft tall, with a thick, dark brown hide that was armoured with large interlocking scales. Unlike most natural animals, its short neck grew vertically from the centre of its back, rather than being at the front. It supported a large bony head which had four separate faces, each of which contained a mouth with more than enough teeth to give a great white a run for its money. A ring of tentacles grew around the base of the neck, stretching to around 15 feet, and whipping through the air with both the speed and strength to necessary provide a dangerous attack as well as a formidable defence. Despite the clues in the lyrics, the part that caught the Scoobies by surprise was that the ghosts weren’t in league with the beast: they were fighting it.
The Scoobies, who were expecting to take on a combined force, were suddenly faced with the problem of which side to help. It was quickly solved for them when a tentacle struck out at Oz, catching him on the side of the head and sending him sprawling to the floor. His sight grew dim as he lost consciousness. Ghosts and Scoobies versus Beast it was then. Xander lit a torch ready to ward off any tentacles that headed his way while Faith, with a 14-inch butcher’s knife in each hand, advanced toward the beast, looking for an opening. Dawn rushed over to Oz to drag him away from the danger area, while around him the ghosts stabbed ineffectually at the beast; they would lash out at the tentacles, and occasionally one would get close enough for a strike at its torso, but they were not strong enough to pierce the thick hide. Occasionally a knife would become embedded in the skin, and was ripped from the hand of its wielder as the tentacle swung through the air, but when it dropped free no blood would spill from the wound. The ghost’s numbers were dwindling: as had been demonstrated downstairs, it wasn’t too difficult to detach their heads from their bodies, and the beast seemed well aware of this, striking a tentacle out at their necks whenever it had an opportunity. As the lyrics prophesied, they just couldn’t kill the beast. Fortunately, the Scoobies knew that prophecy never told the whole story.
Xander grabbed a discarded knife from the floor, and attempted to throw it at one of the eight eyes of the beast, but its reactions were too quick, and the knife was quickly batted to one side by a tentacle. Faith, however, was making far better progress; she was the only one who to date who had been able to inflict any significant damage upon the demon. Four detached tentacles now lay on the floor, still wriggling around, as testament to her work.
Dawn felt the weight lighten a little and looked up to find the skeletal ghost of The Master, still recognisable from the clothing he had been wearing in the courtyard, pulling Oz’s other hand. She looked at him with hatred.
“Why the charade? Why do you call innocent travellers into this place, and trick them into coming up here to face that monster?” she asked.
“It’s not us that calls people into the hotel, it’s this monster. I won’t apologise for our methods: we entice them upstairs because it’s the only way to release us all from this existence. If we can get enough people to attack it, we may be able to finally kill the beast. Do you think they would come if we told them what really awaited them?”
“They have the right to decide – you can’t just trick them to their deaths.”
“What lives would they lead otherwise? Sit in the bar for evermore watching the dancers like the Armitages? We need them to fight.”
“And what happens to those it kills?”
“They wake up in the morning in their hotel beds. Tomorrow, and every day until we put it to its death.”
“Something wakes up in their beds, but it’s no longer a person. So why are you helping me save Oz – don’t you want another solider for tomorrow’s battle?”
“Because, I don’t think there will be another battle tomorrow,” he responded, gesturing towards Faith and the growing numbers of detached tentacles littering the floor of the chamber. Their conversation came to an abrupt end at that point; a tentacle slammed into the side of his skull sending it flying from his body. Dawn barely had time to duck in order to avoid a similar fate. Fortunately it only took another foot of dragging to take her outside their range, allowing her to pull Oz to safety without having to worry about further attacks.
Xander, meanwhile, having had the torch knocked from his hand, and deciding the stakes would be of no use, had grabbed a bottle of vodka from the private bar at the side of the room, and was using the chemical-soaked cloth from the second torch to make a Molotov Cocktail. “Faith, hit the deck,” he yelled as he threw the bottle at the beast. To give it a better chance of reaching its target, he aimed towards the side of its head where she’d cleared away most of the tentacles. Sure enough, the bottle sailed across the room to explode against the bony skull. The scream that emerged from all four mouths was deafening, and was all the distraction Faith needed to pick herself up from the floor and go in for the kill, her twin knives ripping into the flesh of its body between the charred scales. Burnt and blinded on one side from the explosion, and with most of its tentacles truncated it was in no position to defend itself, and soon fell to the slayer’s assault.
“We still here?” Oz asked, the ornately decorated ceiling of the foyer being the first thing he saw on regaining consciousness. “Last thing I remember, we were about to make demon kibble. Did something go wrong?”
“No,” answered Dawn, as she applied a bandage to a burn on Faith’s arm where she had not quite avoided the blast from Xander’s home-made explosive. “The demon was not only kibblified, we even cooked it first. However, it didn’t help – we’re still stuck here.”
“And the ghosts?” he asked.
“Those that didn’t get ripped to pieces by the demon are still on the dance floor, living it up at the Hotel California,” Xander replied as he sat dejected next to Faith. “I don’t understand why we’re still here: the demon’s dead, so why can’t we leave?”
“Well, The Master said the ghosts get resurrected every morning – maybe the same applies to the demon. It could be a victim of the spell, stuck here just like the rest of us,” suggested Dawn.
“So if killing the beast isn’t the answer, how do we get out? How do we find that passage back to the place we were before?”
“It couldn’t be Sweet again, could it?” asked Faith.
“I don’t think so,” answered Xander. “I’m pretty sure we took him out of the picture. Besides, when I was being held back in his dimension, I think I heard him say he hated this song – something about it getting stuck in his head whenever he heard it, and never end...” He stopped, an idea springing into his mind. “That’s it: it’s us! We’re the reason we’re stuck here.”
“How? The Armitages were trapped long before we got here; how can it be us?” Dawn asked.
“No, not just us four, all of us – the Armitages, the ghosts, hell maybe even the demon. We all have the song stuck in our heads, and when it plays in our heads it goes on and on forever. We have to make it stop – not just for us, but for all of them too,” he said waving his arm in the direction of the dance floor. “That’s how we get out.”
“That’s pretty far-fetched,” Faith commented, but Xander wasn’t to be deterred.
“Look, it’s there in the words staring out at us: We’re all just prisoners here, of our own device – our own device – it’s our own subconscious feeding the song that’s trapping us here . If we can make the song end for everyone, we’ll be out of here. I’m sure of it.”
“So what do you propose,” asked Faith sarcastically, “kill everyone then commit suicide? Because, apart from the usual reasons against that plan, in case you haven’t noticed, around here people don’t tend to stay dead.”
“No, we just need an ending to the song,” he answered, looking towards Oz.
It was seven hours of scribbling on paper taken from the reception desk later when Xander interrupted the band between songs, handing the piano and double bass players handwritten sheet music whilst Oz took the guitar from the third member. “We have something special – the first performance of a brand new composition to try,” he explained. Oz began the familiar introduction...
“On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair.” He didn’t usually sing the lead, but then this wasn’t exactly ordinary circumstances. At the end of the lyrics, he went into the lengthy solo, which was slightly hampered by the lack of electricity, but after passable acoustic tribute to the original, he continued with a soft refrain:
“And now the party is over,
Our feasting is done.
We’ve danced, we’ve drunk, we’ve lived, we’ve loved,
We’ve had our fun.”
He glanced across at Faith on that line, who grinned.
“So now we must leave here,
Time to hit the road,
Time to bid our friends goodbye,
For our... tale... is... told.”
He broke with the original melody during the last two lines, slowing the tempo and transposing the B minor key into its relative major of D, which had the effect of bringing the tune home to definite conclusion in the mind of each listener. This was accentuated by a crescendo on the guitar of which Metallica would have been proud; the drummer despite being more used to playing jazz even picked up the vibe, and joined in providing the necessary drum rolls and crashing cymbals. As the sound faded, so did the ghosts, the candles, and everything else that was part of the glamour of the song’s spell. Overhead, the sky brightened, the sun shining into what was now revealed to be a derelict courtyard for the first time in decades. The Armitages and the Jacksons stood from their ruined tables, and gingerly looked around; Xander could recognise the signs of shock on their faces. Mrs. Tullet cautiously made her way into the courtyard from the remains of the foyer, looking as if she was handling things better than the two couples.
“Wow,” said Dawn looking around her, “I wonder how long ago it really closed?”
Mrs. Tullet looked up at her and answered with a wry smile, “There hasn’t been no spirit here, since nineteen sixty-nine.”Epilogue:
So as our heroes continue their journey back to L.A., and Mr. Armitage tries to remember how to drive, consider the derelict shell that was once the Hotel California, slowly surrendering itself to the desert. But don’t think about it for too long – for those voices are still calling, from far away; they might wake you up in the middle of the night, just to hear them say...