Road Trip - Prologue
Disclaimer: I own nothing. All Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters and any other crossover characters from whatever public media presented here are the property of their original owners.
Author's Note: In the following chapters, the timelines of these same mentioned film and television media will often bear no relation to reality (i.e., they occurred much earlier or far later than the canon BtVS timeline when Xander started on his cross-country tour after graduation which reached only as far as Oxnard in the middle of 1999). Hey, it's summertime and the livin' is easy, fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high-- In any case, Xander won't particularly care or even wonder about things like that during his entirely different road trip, so why should you either?
Tears streaming down his cheeks from the heavy smoke blowing past the open driver’s window, Xander kept his head stuck out this opening, frantically scanning for where he could safely pull off the road. Except, this rural highway running through the desert east of his hometown was at present built a couple feet off the barren ground, with a safety barrier on the right-hand side blocking any chance of getting out of the way from other vehicles following Xander’s smoldering automobile.
It was true that right now it was the middle of the night, and furthermore he hadn’t seen any lights in the car’s mirror for maybe the last half hour, but this meant absolutely nothing. The way his luck was going, two seconds after stopping in the road, Xander Harris would be rear-ended by a convent school bus holding its full contingent of two dozen nuns. Next would come his appearance in court being sued by those religious ladies all wearing neck braces like penguins with whiplash. Obviously, being dead broke and unable to pay for their medical care would result in Xander being ordered by submit to a few million whacks upon his knuckles by the most muscular nun there fiercely wielding the heaviest ruler in existence.
Directly after all those absurd thoughts flashed through his mind, Xander saw with joy a road sign indicating a turn-off was just ahead--
With a soft whump!
sound, flames burst upwards from along the cracks of this-piece-of-crap car’s hood. Just when his windshield began melting, Xander yanked on the steering wheel towards the exit road.
There was an actual second or two of going airborne by taking the downgrade much too fast. When the car’s tires hit asphalt again, Xander slammed on the brakes. These gave out with disturbing finality, indicating his troubles weren’t over yet. Still moving with impressive speed, the car ran off the road onto the bare ground by the highway slope. With no other recourse, Xander grabbed his backpack lying on the passenger seat, shoved open the driver’s door, and abandoned his ride with alacrity.
His panicky leap sideways ended with Xander landing onto his backpack thankfully crammed with clothes. Holding onto this throughout the next multiple rollovers meant he suffered nothing worse than full-body bruising until his impetus finally ran out into a skidding halt only inches from crashing into a particularly vicious-looking cactus patch.
Xander paid no attention to the spines he’d narrowly escaped, preferring to instead suck needed air back into his panting lungs. Still face-down on the ground, this young man also ignored the loud noises beyond his stretched form of several thousand pounds of metal, rubber, and glass being abruptly compacted into something far shorter than they’d been a moment ago when his merrily blazing car then fell comet-fashion into a drainage ditch with very hard concrete walls.
Not yet aware of anything but his continued survival (and the physical agony now announcing itself everywhere), Xander was finally diverted from this by an appreciative voice from behind declaring, “That was pretty good. What’s your next performance gonna have, the Wheel of Death?”
Staggering up onto his feet, Xander lurched around. He squinted through the darkness of a cloudy night sky, barely seeing another guy standing on the side road leading from the highway. Backlit by a few dim lights perhaps a hundred yards before inside some kind of structure at the end of a gravel lane perpendicular to the side road, Xander gaped at whoever had just addressed him in such an offhand manner.
Wincing at how much his head and the rest of him hurt, Xander glanced sideways at where a diminishing pyre was indicating the end of his road trip after only a couple hours
after leaving Sunnydale! He shakily waved the other hand not holding onto his backpack into that direction. “Hey, better call the fire department--”
“Were you the only one in your car?” interrupted the stranger.
Xander blinked. He nodded before realizing this probably couldn’t be seen. “Yeah. Everything was fine until a minute ago, then it all went to hell. I was driving along, smelled smoke, saw a lot more, and it finished with my car imitating The Towering Inferno. Now, about the call--”
Another interruption followed. “No point, mister. The nearest fire engine’s in town, and that’s thirty miles up the road. By the time they get here, it’ll be over and done with. Don’t worry, there’s nothing else in the ditch there to burn. How’re you doing personally?”
Putting down his backpack on the ground, Xander carefully patted himself all over. He sighed with real gratitude at the end of this. “Just bumps and bruises, I think. Nothing feels like it’s broken.”
“Good. C’mon, follow me to my place. You can check yourself again there, and if it’s anything serious, we’ll get an ambulance for you.” With those last words, the stranger turned around and started walking away, down the gravel path.
Shouldering his backpack, Xander went after this other man. Fortunately, his aching body stopped protesting after the first few steps. Xander even managed to shortly catch up with the Good Samaritan offering their help, ending up walking side by side with him. Looking over with natural curiosity, Xander was soon able to make out exactly whom he was accompanying the closer they got to the lights ahead.
His companion was a much-older man maybe seventy years old, or even more elderly. A very wrinkled and deeply tanned face had a snow-white short beard with matching cropped hair crowned by a battered brown Stetson hat which was tilted so far back on the rear of this man’s head it looked like it’d fall off any second. This didn’t occur, even with the rolling stride caused by a set of cowboy boots with faded jeans neatly tucked into the tops of this footwear. A blue, long-sleeved mechanic’s shirt with a namepatch of BOB embroidered on the front pocket completed the ensemble.
Stopping in front of the structure in time with the other man, Xander stared at what could be nothing but an old-style combination gas station and garage. Though, the rusted skeletons of the gas pumps out in front indicated they’d dispensed their last drop of gasoline perhaps decades ago. Just as old looked to be the wooden fence extending into the distance from both of the garage’s sides. Xander could see protruding everywhere over the top of the fence columns of stacked cars in this junkyard, many of them stripped of all their spare parts down to the metal frames.
Bob (if that was indeed his name) went ahead, entering and holding open the building’s front door for Xander. Collecting himself, Xander went inside, only to stop short and gawk at what was revealed to his wondering gaze.
This was evidently the front office of a place for working on, fixing up, repairing, and otherwise bringing back to service the transportation machine known as the automobile. However, the oddest part of it all was that as far as Xander could see, nothing here looked less than fifty years old. Boxes and cartons filled with replacement components from car companies which had been outdated since the 1940’s were piled high up against the walls. Magazines such as LIFE, Look, and the Saturday Evening Post were crammed into various bookshelves. Even more paper such as bills, receipts, and bureaucratic forms, all with a heavy layer of dust on these, rested upon a wooden desk in the middle of the room.
On the wall directly behind the desk, there was a framed poster with an overalled woman wearing a polka-dotted bandanna rolling up a sleeve to expose a trim bicep. In a speech balloon, this pretty but serious-faced woman was vowing, “We Can Do It!”
Xander had the weirdest thought that the poster looked like an original--
“You a Coke or Pepsi man?”
Flinching from the voice which had spoken almost directly into one ear by the man standing next to him, a bewildered Xander replied, “What?”
“Coke or Pepsi?” patiently repeated Bob, jerking a thumb at what was on either side of the room’s desk. There, two small coolers stood, painted in their respective soft drink company’s famous colors.
“Uh, Coke,” managed Xander.
Nodding, Bob went over to the red and white cooler, lifted the lid of this, and took out a iconic wasp-shaped bottle. Letting the lid drop, Bob brought the bottle over to the cooler’s side where an attached steel opener awaited him. A quick tug removed the bottle cap, and then Bob came back to casually hand over to Xander a chilled bottle with wisps of icy vapor already rising from the brown liquid inside.
Xander eagerly gulped half the whole bottle in one swallow, savoring the nectar of the gods. Exhaling a contented huff, the young man then held the bottle against his forehead, soothing the minor lump arising from the skin there which was surprisingly the worse souvenir of his recent stunt.
This self-treatment was cut short by Bob sitting down behind his desk and waving Xander to another nearby chair with the least amount of clutter. Dropping his backpack to the floor, Xander carefully cleared off his indicated seat. At last taking a load off his feet, Xander finished off the Coke he’d been holding throughout all this. He then met Bob’s amused gaze, so Xander wasn’t caught off guard by this man asking, “Well, what’s your story, kid?”
Feeling his host did indeed deserve some kind of explanation, Xander introduced himself and then recounted how after his high school graduation only a week or so ago, he’d gotten ready for the road trip planned for years by Xander and his now-deceased friend Jesse. Despite saving for as long as he could remember for his jaunt to as much of the entire United States as he could cram into a single summer, Xander simply couldn’t afford any better car than what had just crashed and burned (or burned and crashed, if you prefer) close by their garage.
“Uh-huh,” nodded Bob understandingly. “Count your lucky stars, Xander. Things could’ve turned out a lot worse, right? Anyway, what’re you gonna do next?”
Glumly, Xander answered, “Go home, I guess. There just isn’t enough money for another car. I was planning to work at odd jobs along the way to pay for the trip. Best I can hope for is that my parents didn’t rent out my room yet if they noticed I’ve been gone.”
Bob frowned at this, only for his expression to slowly become quite calculating. He eyed Xander so thoughtfully that the teenager soon became uncomfortable in the total silence which had now fallen throughout the room.
This quietude was broken by Bob abruptly rising from his chair and gesturing for a startled Xander to follow him. “Let me show you something, okay? After that, you might not have to head back home, but we’ll see. Oh, yeah!”
This odd announcement was accompanied by Bob enthusiastically whirling around to bustle off through a short hallway at the left rear of the room. A bemused Xander couldn’t help but be drawn along, putting down his now-empty Coke on the floor, getting out of his chair, and going after Bob. All this was done while inwardly marveling how the older man’s barely-affixed Stetson had still stayed on throughout everything.
Waiting for Xander at the end of the hallway, Bob opened the door there into utter blackness. Reaching inside and to the left of the inner wall, this produced a burst of brilliant illumination. Stepping forward into the large expanse there currently lit up like a hospital’s operation room, this allowed Xander to also enter. A few steps inside, Xander halted in his tracks to stare in complete shock at what he had just been allowed to make his acquaintance.
“Wow. Wow. Wow.
The garage’s main room where all the magic was performed now contained a magnificent white convertible automobile, a wee bit smaller than an iceberg, as pure as snow, and with every bit of chrome glittering brightly under the lights. The top was now down, sending Xander’s eyes sliding along the graceful curves from front to rear, culminating in the most insane display of tail fins ever known to man.
Bob said with genuine reverence in his tone, “A restored 1959 Cadillac Eldorado, with everything the real McCoy. Go ahead, get behind the wheel.”
Snapping his head around in astonishment, Xander protested, “I can’t! It’s too beautiful, I might ruin something--”
Grinning, Bob chuckled, “Oh, that’s what I was hoping for! Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be careful. Do it, all right?”
With all the delicacy he could manage, Xander took hold of the gleaming door handle. After pausing to mentally promise to wipe off his fingerprints later, Xander opened the door and gingerly slid into the car’s interior which seemed bigger than the entire state of Texas. Feeling himself sink into a luxurious leather seat, the teenager put his hands on top of the steering wheel. Staring ahead while imaging how unbelievable it’d be to have the wind in his hair, riding down the road in an actual Cadillac--
“How’d you like to have this car, Xander?”
Next to one of Detroit’s most incredible machines, Bob was standing with both arms folded across his chest and smirking into the flabbergasted expression Xander Harris was presently showing. Bob’s wicked smile only increased at the sputtering he then heard, “Don’t tease me like that! There’s no way I could afford it, not ever! This thing must be worth a mint!”
“Oh, at least six figures at any good auction,” cheerfully announced Bob, paying no mind to how slack-jawed Xander went at this nonchalant remark. Instead, Bob then became serious.
“Look, Xander, the whole reason I restore cars is for the sheer fun of it. I love turning junk cars back into perfection, but once that’s over, all I want to do is to go onto the next one. To tell you the truth, I really don’t need the money. My cars are usually turned over to charities around the country, who raffle them off to the public, classic collectors, and museums. It doesn’t bother me who gets what I worked on, as long as they treat them respectfully. So, here’s the deal.”
Xander watched in growing disbelief how Bob then produced a coin from his front shirt pocket. It was too far away to see it in detail, but this coin looked the size and color of a silver dollar. Xander then heard from Bob, “I’ll flip this, and you call it in the air. If you win, the Caddy’s yours, free and clear.”
Now convinced something was seriously wacky in Denny’s (to paraphrase Buffy), Xander wanted to know in his most suspicious voice, “And if I lose?”
“Oh, it isn’t exactly losing if you guess wrong. You just don’t get the car, that’s all. If you want, you can also forget about betting for it, and just phone tomorrow -- nobody’s open now -- for a taxi ride back home or to the nearest bus station. There’s another alternative, though.” Bob looked with twinkling eyes at a wary Xander, before continuing.
“I’ve been meaning the last couple of years to find an assistant and teach them what I know about restoration. If the coin says otherwise, you can be my apprentice. There’s reasons why it’s not as good as winning the car, however. Weeks from now, it’ll get hot enough here to pan-fry the rattlesnakes. Also, I’m one cranky bastard before my morning coffee. What do you say? Need more time to think it over?”
Xander did find it necessary to take a moment for contemplation before he again regarded where Bob was steadily watching him in turn. “I can decide the last two choices anytime, right?”
“But I can also gamble for the car?”
With an accepting shrug, Xander decided, “Let ’er rip, Bob.”
Now looking positively gleeful, Bob adjusted the silver dollar upon a clenched thumb. Keeping his eyes fixed on the coin, he asked, “Ready?”
Bob’s thumb snapped up, sending the coin spinning into the air. When the silver dollar reached its apex, Xander opened his mouth and said…
Giving a final handshake to the teenager in his new convertible with the top still down, Bob told Xander, “There’s one more thing. Now that the Caddy’s yours, I hope you’ll carry on one of my little traditions. Just before I send away a restoration, I give them a name. You see, I put so much work in them, it’s kind of like they’re my kids. Now, I haven’t done it for this one yet,” finished Bob, pointing at the Eldorado now glowing milky-white under the light of the half-moon overhead perfectly balanced between light and dark where the earlier clouds had since cleared.
His backpack tucked away in the car trunk, Xander looked over the windshield at the vast spread of the pale hood. His gaze then fell on the glove compartment where the new registration and title in the name of Alexander L. Harris had been placed inside a few minutes ago. Turning back to where Bob was by a purring automobile, Xander answered with a wide grin on his face, “Marilyn.”
Bob laughed with sincere delight. “Ah, nobody else but Norma Jeane herself. It’s perfect. Well, goodbye, Xander. Hope to see you again someday. In the meantime, have fun on your road trip!”
“I will, Bob. Thanks for everything!” said Xander just as happily. Waving goodbye, Xander next shifted into forward, released the brake and with both hands on the wheel, he drove ahead. A last glance into the rear-view mirror had Xander seeing Bob also waving farewell. After that, the teenager still congratulating himself over such a stroke of fabulous luck took the entrance to the highway, and Xander again started his tour of the country. Only this time, he was doing it in style.
Bob watched until the very last gleam of the brake lights faded away into the distance. Only then did his Stetson detach itself from the rear of his skull and fall to the road asphalt, revealing the other face shown there scrunching up in evident exasperation. Making several spitting grimaces, this face then complained, “It took long enough! I need a Pepsi!”
Rattling sounds came from inside the garage. The front door slammed open, and two opened bottles floated through the air until they reached where Bob was standing in the road. Snatching his Coke hovering at head level, Bob drained the container all while ignoring the glugging sounds coming from behind himself.
A casual wave of Bob’s hand vanished everything in his presence: the pair of bottles, the side road and its highway exit and entrance, the remnants of Xander’s burned car, and finally the entire garage and junkyard. All that was left was a presumed man in his mortal clothing, who then removed a silver dollar from his front shirt pocket and held it out in the moonlight to admire it with absolute satisfaction.
This approval wasn’t shared by the voice of his other self. “Are you really sure we can get away with this? The Powers That Be aren’t any deities to be crossed lightly.”
Bob brought to his mouth the silver dollar and gently breathed upon it. He then polished the disk against his shirt, all while sneering, “Those
idiots? They’re so obsessed with their vampire champion and the Slayer and the Hellmouth that even before Halloween our little prophecy-breaker was mostly ignored by them all. Why else would Ethan Rayne have been able to perform his Chaos magic there in the first place? That’s all it took for us to get the merest foothold in there after so many millennia of trying, and you know it! Yet, once Mr. Harris showed he was a natural leader and brought down Mayor Wilkins in his demon form while keeping human casualties lower than ever thought possible, the Powers were still perfectly happy to pay no heed to a hero going on their vision quest! All right, it’s called something entirely different now than in olden times, but a road trip fits the bill just as nicely!”
“Fine, fine,” grumbled the rear voice. “I have to admit, getting the defender of man to head east instead of south was a masterstroke. Why in the nine hells would anyone want him to spend his summer as a stripper, anyway?”
Bob shrugged his shoulders in honest bafflement. “You expect me to understand them? All I need to know is how to shake up things a bit so as to give Mr. Harris and his friends a potentially happier future. Considering just what the Powers have planned for those ill-fated warriors in the upcoming years, a little sand in the gears of destiny is something we owe Xander, Buffy, Giles, Willow, and all the rest to come.”
The other voice nastily chuckled, “Only sand? More like the biggest wrench in the universe, jammed far up the Powers’--”
“Don’t be crude,” rebuked Bob, casually tossing the coin up and catching it, to repeat this process all over again.
This resulted in a jeering, “Crude, me? You’re
the one who used something so simple as a coin bet!”
“Oh, not quite,” smiled Bob, who was know by many other names including that of Janus. This god of beginning and transitions then caught the descending coin one more time, before hurling it up with all his might.
of a silver dollar breaking the sound barrier overrode the lesser noise of Janus vanishing from the otherwise empty desert. It took only a few more moments for the coin to escape Earth’s gravity, spinning on its axis all the way to where it disappeared into the cosmos. Should anyone still have managed to find this magical disk, they would’ve witnessed something very unusual: how at every spin the coin would show two sets of heads on both faces, and then at the next spin another set of two tails on the changed faces.
Further Author’s Note: I wrote this several months ago as a prologue for the August Fic-A-Day challenge on LiveJournal, then put it away to think about some actual crossovers for Xander’s road trip through America. RL interfered, and I also became busy with other stories. Now, I’ve decided not to enter the contest this year, but I didn’t want to waste this prologue. So, here it is! I may or may not add to it, but don’t hold your breath since I already have too many other unfinished stories.
Oh, by the way, here’s a link to what I think Xander’s new car looks like: