Chapter One - Prologue
I make no claim to any rights of ownership as far as Buffy the Vampire Slayer is concerned, nor any elements, characters, et cetera, thereof. I make no profit from this. The events depicted herein are as fictional as the universe in which it resides...Please don't sue me, Joss?Gratuitous Self-InsertThe ExiledChapter One – Prologue
It is said that when a door closes, a window opens. That having been said, I had eventually cut all ties with everyone I had ever known in Texas. I had deleted my Facebook account, drained and closed all my bank accounts and headed out west, not knowing what lay ahead of me and ever reminded of what I was leaving behind.
Was I running away? Was I abandoning everything and everyone that had ever loved or cared for me? Perhaps. But I had been forced by the courts to sever all ties with my children, unceremoniously and finally. My son and daughter were now permanently in the custody of their mother and grandparents, who considered it their ultimate victory against me. Without them, my life as it stood no longer held any meaning, and so I could no longer stay in Texas. I sure as hell would not stay in Lake Jackson or Brazoria, or anywhere near where I grew up or anyplace that would remind me of my life before.
I headed out one day toward San Antonio on I-10. After cleaning out all my accounts (The only reason I was ever thankful for my child support obligation ending upon the involuntary termination of my parental rights, as I would have gladly paid it in the name of my children, rights or no) I purchased a used car, into which I loaded the remnant of my meager possessions. Nobody minded, as no one was under any delusions that I could have had any sort of life anymore that didn’t fill me with painful memory. They all understood, really. My mom, even as I was not welcome in her house due to a difference of faith, myself being agnostic and she a Catholic Christian, cried her heart out as I said my last goodbyes to what was left of my family. My grandma had already passed on, so I couldn’t break her heart; at least she was finally at peace, something I knew was no longer meant for me.
I kept only a few things that could identify me personally. Credit cards? Nuh-uh. It was cash all the way for me; I didn’t want anyone knowing where I had gone or would go. I wanted to disappear from their lives altogether. Ten years of probation and the termination of my parental rights, and my obligation to the State of Texas had been discharged in full. I no longer had any reason or mandate to remain in the state, so as soon as I was satisfied that the car was in good order, and the administrative crap was out of the way, I jumped in and hauled ass as far and as fast as I could go without attracting the attention of the DPS. I eventually arrived in San Antonio about five hours from when I started on my journey of exile. I went on, blowing through that city in about half an hour like a lonesome wind through a ghost town. Only I was the ghost, and all else was fleeting and ephemeral to me as I passed through.
I was always on the move, never stopping for more than five minutes for any reason, whether it was to eat, to eliminate, or to refuel the car and check the fluids. I liked it that way; I made no friends, remembered nobody, and nobody remembered a face that was not worth remembering, a point I made sure to emphasize to everyone. When the need came to sleep, I had a bed roll tucked away in the trunk of the car, just a comforter and a pillow being my sole want for comfort during rest times. I pulled off the road where I thought I could best conceal myself and my conveyance at night-time, I rolled out my comforter and set myself an alarm to wake me in no more than an hour from the time I decided to sleep. I would not risk being discovered and identified by anyone, not even the casual passer-by. I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that I would not rest or have any reason whatsoever to stay in any city for any length of time. I kept going like this for several days, through El Paso, Albuquerque, Phoenix and even Los Angeles.
It was only in a small town called Sunnydale, California, where I felt that everything was different, that I had finally outrun my old life and could start anew. Ever since I had left several days ago I had had it in mind to change my whole identity. I was going to change my name somewhat, my social security number most certainly, and everything else would be brand new. I was a virtual unknown, and I preferred that. I felt like I had emerged from a chrysalis fully changed; I was a new creature that was ready to spread its wings and fly away wherever the wind decided to take me. My next pension check was due to post sometime within the next few days, so I had that time to take stock of my new situation and decide where to go from there as far as how to start. I had hit the big Four-Oh several days ago and had been feeling every minute of it. Perhaps that was what the final impetus had been in my decision to leave Texas behind. I had finally reached middle age; the noontime of my soul had long since passed and I was finally in that stage of perpetual twilight that would only deepen as the years crept by, until the final darkness closed over my life, and I could finally accept the death for which I had been yearning ever since the divorce in 2010. I had attempted suicide once before; seeing that great gulf of nothingness, that all-consuming maw turned me around, and I never again contemplated except in fleeting moments the idea of taking my own life. So it was that I had resolved myself to the endurance of the misery that was my existence, and to seal within myself the melancholy aspect that threatened each day to drown me in regret and sorrowful contemplation.
But here, in this new town, I felt freer, more certain of my prospects than ever I had in my life before. I decided that I would immerse myself in the California scene, to assimilate myself, so to speak, completely and finally in the new culture and erase all traces of the old. I still had a few hundred dollars to my name, and I dared not use anything that might point to my old identity unless from absolute necessity, so I resolved myself to parking for several days on the local beach, making do as one of the homeless until I could transform myself to my liking; only then would I dare reveal myself to the local community in my new guise. It was simple, really, except for a few minor points. Upon changing my identity, I would have to inform the local Veterans’ Affairs office in Los Angeles about the change in my address, my social, and my name, so for a while longer I would still be traceable by my old identity, but the great thing about the change was that I would be a new man, with a new life free from the traps and snares of the old.
I had begun checking the want ads from one of those free newspapers that anyone could find at one of those mom-and-pop grocery stores, looking for a place where I could pay cash and not have my identity checked and verified. From my experiences in Texas, I knew not to expect anything ritzy or stylish. Besides, that wasn’t what I needed or cared for, having learned that convenience and luxury were not necessary for comfort; I had been content with much less, so I hardly needed anything as long as I could stretch out and lay flat. I could lay out my comforter and cover myself with a simple sheet in the summer, running a box fan for climate control instead of running up the light bill with central air and heating, and in the winter I could wrap the comforter around me on the floor. I needed no television as long as I could tap into a local unsecured Wi-Fi signal. The World Wide Web was all the television, newspaper and radio that I needed; forget all the niceties of the latest technology and software updates as long as I could protect what I had with the latest antivirus software updates. Back in Texas, I applied this lifestyle and managed to keep the light bill down to less than fifty dollars a month in the summer, and slightly over ten dollars a month in the winter. I was a simple man with simple needs, as I had learned to become with the advent of the internet. As for any roommates, I had neither need nor want for one; as long as the rent was paid on time and I kept up the light bill, I could keep people at a distance. The teeming morass that called itself humanity were nothing to me but a pack of wolves eager for the hunt, and I would be no one’s prey. I skimmed though at least thirty entries before I found the one I wanted. The landlord had a small unit near the docks for just under five hundred a month, a classic definition of a fixer-upper, but as long as the plumbing and the wiring were in working order and I could keep it clean, it was perfect.
I went over to the place as soon as I could confirm that my money had posted; with a simple Google Maps search and a street atlas, I managed to find my way there with only a little fuss. It turned out Sunnydale had a generally simple road layout, so that all that was needed was two simple directions from one’s point of origin to the destination in question. Along the way I stopped at a place called the Double-Meat Palace for a small burger and a drink. The meat smelled a little different, but then again, I never was a finicky eater, so I consumed the lot without much difficulty before I resumed my trek to my newly chosen abode. In the office I met the man, a somewhat scrawny, balding gentleman who called himself Willy (not that I cared overmuch for names anymore, but it paid dividends to know who the landlord was and how to deal with him/her…), and after a brief question-and-answer session, I laid five hundred dollars in twenties on the desk between us, which he counted carefully before recording it in the ledger. Then I got my keys, one for the unit and another for the mailbox, and I was on my way to see the place for myself. I had barely opened the door when I had my first good look inside.
To say it was a fixer-upper was an understatement; the ceiling was caving in from the leaking plumbing in the upstairs unit directly above mine, half the doors were broken or by some unknown means refused to close properly, and most of the drywall in the place was missing, exposing most of the wiring to whatever room for which it provided power. I stepped inside and took the grand tour, noting whatever maintenance issues I felt deserved attention; after five minutes I concluded that the whole apartment was basically on life support. The wiring, I had the ill fortune to discover, was old, providing power in fits and starts to the stove and the refrigerator. I was hesitant thence to plug in my laptop for any length of time, resolving instead for the interim to use the car adaptor to charge it and my mobile device. I was thankful to be able to find any wireless signal at all on which to piggyback until I could acquire the means to affect repairs to the unit, as I had compared the apartment to the rest of the complex and found the environment wanting for a similar degree of attention. I was eventually convinced that the whole place could have stood in for a combat zone. I was later to learn that the landlord hadn’t been getting or keeping tenants for quite some time, and thus was eager to rent out any unit he could for a bottom-dollar deal, if the prospective tenant was none too keen to ask questions or make too many complaints to the maintenance staff. This was fine by me, as I had resolved upon noting the condition of my assigned unit forthwith to procure by my own purchase the equipment and materials with which to refurbish the place myself. I had learned some basic skills toward that end while in Texas, and had even acquired technical manuals from which I could glean the knowledge to make what repairs were needed on a priority basis. It was much like triage in combat. One separated and rated injuries by order of severity and decided if a particular injury rated routine, priority, or urgent care and treatment; the worst off were labelled expectant and were given what little comfort was available as they awaited the end, and I had figured that there were some analogs with residential construction and maintenance in that the worst off of any rooms or buildings were simply condemned and placed on a schedule for demolition, as such as they would have incurred greater costs to rebuild than to simply do away with. Thankfully my living space was in far better shape than anything like that, or I would have been forced to contact the city and bring my issues to public works. At least there were no pests with which to contend…
There was no closet per se; rather it was a small space with a door and a rack for hanging clothes. Not much was expected in the way of storage, but I had not brought much with me, so I was content with what presented itself. I had brought all the clothes with me that I would need, and I was satisfied with communal laundry, and so needed only a basket for throwing in dirty laundry on a daily basis. I had brought no pictures or trinkets, and I only needed a small cushion and a crate to place upside down for every purpose in the room, from eating to browsing the Web. It took me less than half an hour to empty out my car of everything I had stored within it and move it all into the unit. Once that was done, I set myself immediately to the task of prioritizing the repairs to my new abode and scheduling them appropriately, then I counted what little money I had left until the next month’s check posted. I had decided to prioritize based on immediate need. Power needs weren’t as important as structural work was in this case, so I decided to see what the local hardware store had in the way of a hammer, a set of screwdrivers, a tape measure, a torpedo level, and a crosscut saw. I dared not look into power tools until I could fix the electrical grid, so it was hand tools all the way. Compared to my life before, which had been riddled with convenience and privilege despite my sordid state, I figured working with my hands, my mind, and my muscles would be a sort of catharsis for me, so the hand tools served a dual purpose in that regard, sort of a moving meditation, except instead of Tai Ch’i Chuan, it was good old-fashioned hard work.
It took my mind off things. It allowed me to forget, at least for a while. Long enough for me to think ahead and figure things out…Six Months Later…
Gone was the pension, the free medical care, the benefits of being an armed forces veteran. My old life was gone now; I no longer answered to my old name, and I had effectively done away with my old identity. As a matter of practicality, I had ceased to exist, but I was also a new man. I would have to concoct an elaborate deception to explain the years before my move to Sunnydale, but I wasn’t an overly stupid individual. I figured as long as there was nothing to tie my new identity to the old, then anyone who had a mind to look would find themselves frustrated beyond measure and would eventually give up their little private investigation. That was what I had to rely upon, my one strategy for quieting the curious. My old life was too painful to discuss openly, so that was a start. I would weave my web from there…
I had resolved myself to find gainful employment, or at least enough to satisfy my immediate recurring needs. I wasn’t about to worry about trying to build up wealth for myself; I learned long ago that fate had a sick way of throwing people for a loop at the most inconvenient of times, so the less I had to concern myself with, the less worry I had that things would go wrong, for how could Murphy mess with someone who had next to nothing to speak of, nor any need for anything of material importance? Another one of those free papers and a Google search helped me to find a direction in which to pursue my goal of finding work, and it was to my unfortunate irony, which I would not discover until later on in my life, that an immediate need for a maintenance technician existed at the Sunnydale High School. I wasn’t to find out until I was hired that the position was that of a janitor/handyman. In retrospect, I figured that I would have not been hired had the principal, whose first name nobody knew, but everyone called him Principal Snyder, insisted that my credentials were not as important as my willingness to follow orders. It gave me a mild start that any employer would make such an odd statement as that, but the need was there, my need for income had begun to rear its ugly head at last, and the man wished not to know about my background or my previous employment, so it was, at the moment, perfect. I signed the documents with my new name of Doug Bartson, and I was ordered to report for work the next day…********