A Good Motto
“I’ve got a story.”
That announcement from one of their number in the circle resulted in everybody else staring in absolute shock at this woman placidly regarding them in turn. There was a very good reason for this dumbfoundment shown by the other Slayers at the reunion, and it had to do with Joleah Masters’ serene personality that she was currently manifesting toward the others. This lady was one of the original Potentials who’d fled to Sunnydale when the First Evil had sent out its murderous Bringers worldwide to destroy the Slayer line, and she’d survived it all in that demon-infested California town, winding up one of the newly-created Slayers that had escaped the spreading sinkhole in the famous school bus.
However, even the other Sunnydale survivors who’d lived to tell this tale often totally forgot about her when recounting the whole story to fascinated listeners. True, Joleah had been there with them in their life-threatening situations with that intangible monster, its Turok-Han vampires, Caleb, and everything else, and she’d fought on with the best of them, both before and after becoming a Slayer. Unfortunately, during all that, Joleah had been the most modest and unassuming girl possible, the exact kind of quiet person that could disappear among any crowd greater than two people inside a phone booth.
The mild-mannered woman had afterwards continued her Slayer vocation in that exact same low-key style, providing faithful, steady, and composed service to whatever Council team she was absently assigned by her superiors. She didn’t even mind at all the fact that if she hadn’t come on her own, nobody would have even remembered to invite this lady to the reunion. The faint twinkle in Joleah’s eyes at seeing the sudden guilty looks on the others’ faces indicated she knew quite well her unmemorable persona, and this Slayer was now really enjoying how everyone was at this moment paying the closest attention possible to herself.
A tranquil smile on her lips, the woman leaned back in her chair and she began….
“Dessert, I can smell you, and you’re sooooo delicious! Bet you’ll melt in my mouth and not in my fingers!”
As she heard that voice with its tone of gleeful sadism gaily carry through the deserted, run-down mall, a freshman high-school student huddled further back in the corner of the arcade where she’d fled, crouching down among the dark game machines surrounding herself.
Desperately trying to hold back her sobs, Joleah Masters just wanted to go home.
Even if she didn’t have a real one anymore, not after her parents had died in a fire six years ago and she’d been in several foster homes since, any one of those places for orphans would do absolutely fine now!
Not for the first time tonight, the fourteen-year-old bitterly regretted having sneaked out after curfew from her current residence, on her way to the latest rave. From what the placards tacked up on her neighborhood’s telephone poles said, this sounded interesting and a lot more exciting than another night stuck in the foster home, so she’d hooked up with a so-so friend who was old enough to have an actual driver’s license and access to a car. They’d gotten separated after arriving at the rave, set in an outbuilding in the nearby aged mall that was about to be torn down and replaced next year.
Nobody at the rave’s entrance had even batted an eye at an underaged kid paying for her admittance ticket; they’d just taken her money and jerked an inwards impatient thumb as a signal to get a move on in making room for the next customer. Frankly, that had been pretty much the high point of Joleah’s night. The rave’s music and DJ had been mostly crap, but at least it was loud, and the youthful crowd was willing to dance to anything with a beat. Joleah herself had joined in enthusiastically enough, until she’d become tired and thirsty, both which contributed to her unthinkingly accepting from someone in the crowd a plastic cup of some kind of over-sweetened grape drink.
A few minutes later, during the next number, Joleah had started feeling dizzy and sick, leading to a frantic search for a bathroom. She’d gotten turned around in the dark of the dimly-lit rave, pushing through whatever doors the teenager found, until she finally arrived in a deserted corridor, where Joleah had totally mortified herself by bringing up everything in her stomach, depositing it all on the floor. After that, barely conscious of anything but her aching head, Joleah had staggered forward in the darkness of an immense space, until she located a bench and collapsed onto this, at once falling asleep.
Waking up hours later, with a clearer mind and a really horrible taste in her mouth, Joleah had been shocked to find herself somehow inside the mall proper, with most of the spaces for shops either completely deserted or closed off with sliding steel shutters. After getting off the bench and finding a drinking fountain to have a desperately-needed gulp of water, Joleah glumly contemplated her few options.
From what the main mall clock high up on the building wall said in the dim after-hours emergency lighting, the rave had to have already ended, and after waiting a few impatient minutes, her friend wouldn’t have been all that concerned about taking off in the car without her, figuring that Joleah had just gotten a ride home with someone else. So, she had to get out of the mall and then walk a couple of miles back to the foster home, since no buses would be running at this time of the night. Or, she might not be able to leave here at all until the mall opened the next morning. In any case, she was going to be in really big trouble at the home when she finally showed up there.
Sighing, Joleah went off to find a restroom, which she might as well use before she started her search for a way out. After following the direction signs, the girl pushed open the swinging door bearing the ladies’ symbol, and peering into the utter darkness there. Groping at the inner left side of the doorway, Joleah felt a light switch under her fingers, and she thankfully pushed this.
In the abrupt illumination that now filled the facilities, a being with a ridged face, glowing yellow eyes, and fangs covered with blood looked up from where it was kneeling by the dead body on the floor, a elderly man wearing some kind of security uniform and having his throat torn out. Grinning, as red fluid dripped from gory lips, the monster chuckled, “What took you so long, honey? I heard you wake up out there a full five minutes ago. Still, this guy here took the edge off my appetite, so now I can take my time with dessert!”
A quarter-hour later that consisted of a cat-and-mouse game throughout the entire mall, where a terrified girl learned that there was indeed no escape from an amused demon enjoying the chase that could only end in one final way. In her corner inside the arcade, Joleah frantically looked around the gloomy room, trying to remember all the horror movies she’d seen that showed how to fight a real-life vampire. Regrettably, she couldn‘t find a single thing here to actually use as a weapon. The game machines were far too heavy for her to tip over onto her pursuer, and as for something wooden to use as a stake, that wouldn’t work, either. Everything inside this mall space was made out of plastic, glass, metal, and concrete. There wasn’t even any wood veneer around.
As for a cross, much less holy water…. Get real. In the arcade, the only thing worshipped in there was the highest score.
Desperately peering around once more, Joleah almost missed a dark space against the far wall. Staring at this, Joleah quickly identified it as a door, and without actually thinking about her actions, she got up from her crouch and dashed towards this panel, pushing it open and then slamming it shut, as she leaned back against the door, and tried again for the room lights.
Out in the main mall corridor, a vampire strolling along snickered to himself, as his sensitive ears heard the hopeless whimper of his prey finding herself in the arcade manager’s tiny office, having in it only a desk, a chair, a cheap computer, some wall cupboards, and a Pac-Man poster pinned up on the side wall. He’d previously gone through that room himself before, while waiting for the girl to wake up, checking it out to make sure there was nothing inside that could actually harm him. There wasn’t even a gun in the locked cupboards. Not that he’d actually bothered to search there, since he trusted his nose that hadn’t scented any trace of gun oil inside the storage compart--
From the direction of the arcade, sounds of frantic banging and crunching came, causing the vampire to lift an eyebrow in mild amusement. It looked as if his latest meal was going to be doomed to disappointment, which frankly would add a most piquant flavor to her blood. Well, time to get down to the delightful business of torture and murder, making all demonkind proud tonight.
A few moments later, the vampire stood before the closed office door, tilting his head slightly as he listened to the rapid beating of the heart inside the room. It’d be interesting to see if she actually tried a last-ditch attempt in either attacking or escaping, or if she’d accepted her fate and was merely shaking in her shoes. The monster confidently pushed the door open (really, not even uselessly barring it by shoving the office furniture against the door? What were humans coming to these days?), and he strode inside the lighted room.
Standing on the top of the chest-high wall cupboards, Joleah used all of her height above the floor in addition to her arms stretched straight up that had the full bag of coins gripped in both hands nearly touching the room ceiling. Assisted by every bit of her strength plus gravity, the girl hurled with all her might the heavy bag directly downwards right at the vampire’s head.
With blinding speed, the fanged monster slapped away the oncoming projectile that had been found inside the locked cupboard the girl had broken open. Hitting the far wall with a heavy thud, the bag dropped to the floor, the sound of the jingling contents mixing together with the vampire’s irritated snarl, “All right, you’ve had your fun! Now, just give up, like you ever had any chance at all--”
Not bothering to listen, Joleah hastily bent over to grab the second bag of coins resting between her feet. However, when she began to straighten up again, all while praying to somebody, anybody, for an actual miracle, what next happened was a total surprise for both the girl and the advancing vampire.
As Joleah lifted up the bag by the bottom of this, the drawstring of the canvas container came loose, allowing the neck of the bag to fall open, and causing the coins inside to start spraying out, most of them aimed directly at the vampire now almost within arm’s reach. The exasperated demon didn’t even bother to shield himself against this monetary bombardment that struck him in the chest at very close range, and then, something truly incredible happened.
The instant every single loose coin from the bag touched the vampire, these small metal disks burst into pure, glowing light that continued even when the coins sank into the monster’s undead flesh, as if disappearing into something so intangible as a vapor cloud. It all occurred too fast for the vampire to react in any coherent way, save for the beginnings of an expression of absolute agony appearing on this demon’s face, until the vampire then puffed into ashes, which gently drifted to the office floor.
An unknown amount of time later, Joleah found herself leaning against the door of the mall’s main entrance, as far as she could get away from the arcade, her entire body shaking and her arms wrapped around herself. Her right hand was also feeling really painful, as the dazed girl then pulled that part of herself away and lifted it before her eyes, seeing that it was now a tightly clenched fist gripping something inside there. Joleah had to actually use the fingers of her left hand to pry open her right fist, until she bewilderedly stared at what was there, sunk deep enough in the flesh of the palm so that the teenage girl was sure she’d have a permanent tattoo caused by the imprint of the quarter coin resting there.
Again faintly smiling as she looked around the slack-jawed other Slayers, Joleah reached up to unbutton the top fastener of her blouse, and as she worked away, the woman commented, “Mr. McDougal from Edinburgh, my first Watcher--” (a quick flash of pain on the woman’s features revealed to all there what must have happened to that person) “--was really surprised when I wasn’t all that shocked about Slayers and Potentials and even vampires. On the other hand, he
was the one to be shocked when I told him about what happened a few months ago, though being from Scotland with their different money, he didn’t really understand, until I showed him what I’ve always kept.”
With those last words, Joleah Masters pulled out her necklace that had a shiny coin attached to the end of these silver links. Holding it out so they could all see with their superhuman vision, Joleah then pointed with a free fingernail at a specific part of the American quarter coin, the spot next to the neck of George Washington, where the Slayers could easily read four simple words: IN GOD WE TRUST.