Two Men On The Bummel
Summary : Giles and Angel take a trip to round up some baby fire
demons. How hard can it be?
Two Men On The Bummel
(Or, A Man and
A Vampire With Time On Their Hands)
preserve me from amateurs and bloody hocus-pocus merchants!”
expostulation from the study was punctuated by the slamming down of the
phone. And then another expostulation.
lying full-length on the settee, watching ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ for the nth
time, and still sniffling. Angel had
taken himself off to the kitchen, to concentrate on his new-old book of
Cavalier poets. Much to his surprise,
Giles had given it to him, in a clear hint that self-flagellation, self-denial
and self-disgust could only go so far before leading to self-destruction. He was taking the hint.
On the second
‘damn’, they met in the hall outside the study. Angel could hear soft ripping and rustling sounds through the
solid oak door. He slipped his arms
around Buffy’s waist and pressed a kiss into her cheek. His voice was a silky whisper.
“Do you think
it’s safe to go in?”
back, and saw the boyish grin on his face.
It had been far too long since she’d seen that.
worried. I’ll just send you in
first. You’re indestructo guy, after
She put on a
winsome look to go with the innocence of her tone. He gave a laugh, tiny and low, admittedly, but a laugh
nonetheless. She snuggled up to him,
pressing him back to the wall, felt rather than heard his sharp intake of
breath, and reached deftly around him to turn the door handle. Momentarily off-balance, Angel staggered
backwards into the study, his arms full of Buffy.
“And you two
can take your necking somewhere else!”
There was a
moment of astonished silence, and then both Buffy and Angel collapsed onto the
empty chairs, helpless with laughter.
Buffy was the first one to be able to sputter a response.
bad choice of words for a vampire, Giles!”
ex-Watcher, ex-Librarian stood with his hands on his hips, glowering at the
got something better to do?”
“Nope. We’ve done the Dead Turd…”
“… demon – and
that was a big disappointment, let me tell you – and the Loo Lies…”
“… was just
looking for somewhere warm for the winter, so we sent her to the Abbey
Hotel. She’ll live in the basement,
stay out of sight, and keep the place free of rats. Success all round. I was
just getting comfy with tonight’s film, and Angel was cuddling round a nice
rectangular thing, and then you start cussing and here we are.”
correcting his beloved’s recall of names, Angel had sat quietly, enjoying the
sight of her twisting the older man around her little finger. Then something caught his eye, behind
Giles. Without meaning to be silent and
stealthy, but silently and stealthily all the same, he moved to the desk and
picked up the telephone handset.
round, utterly surprised that Angel had moved.
“Did you have
a battle with the bad telephone?”
explanation for the ripping and rustling sounds was now clear, and Angel’s look
was quizzical. The fractured handset
was clumsily sellotaped together. The fight went out of Giles, as he sank into
his chair with a rueful chuckle.
know that we might have work to do. As
well as buy a new telephone, that is.”
looked as though he would relish some more action, and Giles, in sympathy with
that feeling, threw up his hands in surrender.
“Yes, I lost
my temper. I don’t much regret the loss
of the Watchers, other than Benny, but the loss of all the magic users has left
us with a huge gap that’s being filled by half-trained idiots and total
charlatans. Some absolute oik
has tried to tackle a clutch of fire demon eggs, and instead of dealing with
the hatchlings, he’s just managed to break the group up. They’re scattered across half of East Sussex
forward, her professional interest piqued.
to have lots of burny things? A new
Great Fire of London?”
pleased with herself for remembering that.
Life with Angel and Giles was…educational.
It was Angel
who shook his head.
“No. The fire is just an illusion. They’re more of a nuisance than anything
else. A bit like rats. And like rats, they’ve got very sharp teeth
and can bite through electrical cabling.
They feed on the energy, when they can’t get a real fire.”
He paused for
a moment and cast a worried glance at Giles, who answered him after only a tiny
cabling? Yes, perhaps we could have
another Great Fire. Damn!”
at the clock. Angel, without a glance
in that direction, beat him to it.
give or take.”
grunted. Angel’s ability with time was
“It’s a good
three hour run to East Sussex. It’ll be
almost two in the morning before I get there.
I imagine the entire county shuts down in about half an hour. Damn.”
“Do we know
where to start looking?”
didn’t go unnoticed.
“I am going to make a start with this
idiot in Hove.”
quirked an eyebrow. Giles looked as if
he wanted to abuse the telephone again.
Or maybe abuse Angel with the telephone.
alright! You two will do it
He shut his
teeth together with a snap and stood up.
Stalking out of the room was written through every line of his
deportment. Angel turned that quirked
eyebrow to Buffy. They’d fought enough
battles together. They could read each
other like a book.
Giles, I really think I’m just going to curl up here with my hot water
bottle. You know how cranky I get
around now…. Can I just mind the shop
while you two deal?”
Both of Angel’s
eyebrows had climbed towards his hairline at this blatant untruth – not the
cranky bit, he had to admit to himself, but at the timing. He knew perfectly well when to start taking
cover, and it wasn’t for a whole week yet.
Both he and Buffy could see that Giles needed this trip, needed to hit
something, and he’d thought that Buffy would be the one to go with him. He was pretty sure she’d known that he
expected that. Minx! Giles’ expression of hope and yearning told
its own story. Angel covered his
“Well, if this
idiot lives in Hove, there’s almost certain to be a hotel of sorts next door,
in Brighton, that’s prepared to stay open until we get there. He can come and see us tomorrow, and we can
start to plan. If we pack and set off
now, Buffy can be calling hotels while we drive.”
And so it was
decided. By nine forty-five, they were
on their way, their enthusiasm dampened only by Buffy’s parting words.
Giles, you’ve promised to give a talk to the Westbury Methodist Ladies’
Circle. ‘Biblical Monsters’, or
something like that. It’s on 7
November. You’d better be back for
that, because I can’t do it. You’d be
better off sending Aristotle and Zillah than me.”
The thought of
the two cats educating a Methodist Ladies’ Circle on anything at all made the
two men chuckle. Today was 3 November,
for a couple of hours more at least.
They had three days.
back into the house, smug in her knowledge that she had manoeuvred the two men
in her life into taking a much-needed break together. A male-bonding break, she hoped, but a vacation of sorts at the
because, in the darkness, it was faster that way. Giles snoozed, occasionally waking up with a start. Once, in a sleep-befuddled voice, he asked,
“Are you lost yet?”
very model of patience, reassured him.
A27, Brighton. Got it.”
the Discovery as fast as he dared, irritated at the need to slow down for each
speed camera on the way. There was
intermittent drizzly rain, so typical of the month, as weather fronts warred
over this island. November gales had
stripped the deciduous trees bare all along the one hundred and thirty four
miles of the journey, their naked branches seeming to search for each other
under the press of the wind, trying to huddle together for comfort in the cold,
hour, Buffy had found them a Bed and Breakfast, Arundel House, where the
proprietor was already waiting up for late night revellers, and which promised
bedroom curtains that were heavy enough to keep the sun off the lightest of
sleepers. Her directions only got them
turned out to be an elderly, jocular woman who might have had a glass of wine
too many during her late vigil. She
showed them up to the room – the only one still vacant – and then left for her
own accommodations, plunging the rest of the house into darkness behind
her. Giles gaped in horror at the
sleeping arrangements. He’d at least
expected twin beds. This was a double,
and a fairly small-looking double, at that.
He shut his mouth firmly then, wrapped in as much dignity as he could
muster, he stalked into the room’s one main advantage, a tiny en-suite shower
take the side nearest the window. And
you can keep your cold feet to yourself!”
Then the door
slammed shut. When he came back out,
clad in a pair of paisley pyjamas, Angel had squeezed himself into the
under-sized armchair, and was once more reading the verses of the Cavalier
Poets. Peering over his shoulder, Giles
could see that the page was open at Lovelace’s ‘Song. To Amarantha, That she
would dishevel her hair’. He grimaced
when he remembered the cause of all that dishevelment. Sharing a bed with a vampire was one
thing. Sharing a bed with a horny
vampire might well be another. When
Angel looked up at him, Giles could see the wicked gleam in his eyes. Angel always knew what you were
sleep, Giles, I’m okay here.”
sorry, Angel.” Giles sat down on his
chosen side, the bed creaking ominously.
“I’m… I’m just grumpy. We’re
going to be busy in the morning, and you’ll probably be driving us around the
entire county after sunset. You need
your sleep.” His tone became a little
sharper. “Just don’t wake me up!”
settled himself onto the surprisingly comfortable mattress, Angel took a last
look at the page that he had really been reading, before he decided to tease
Giles. It was still Lovelace, ‘Song. To
Lucasta, Going to the Wars’. It seemed
to be the story of his life in recent years, and he drew comfort from the fact
that, in some things at least, he wasn’t alone.
“…I could not
much, lov’d I not honour more.”
laid aside the book, and started to strip, casually, down to his boxers. Hurriedly, Giles turned over to face the
window, and pulled the bedding up around his ears. His voice was a little muffled.
“We can make
an early start in the afternoon. There
are some advantages to November. And
fire demons generally sleep during the day, anyway.”
“Yeah. Sunset’s about 4.30, and we’ll have until
about 7.00 in the morning.”
into the bed, careful not to cause Giles to roll towards his greater weight.
“Do you snore?”
As it turned
out, neither of them did. And the
curtains were, indeed, adequate to the job.
morning was an affair of sleight of hand, at which Angel was very good indeed,
even though he was never at his best in the mornings. He’d already drunk his meal in the privacy of the bathroom, but
joined Giles in placing what seemed to be a minimal order in this establishment
of big eaters – cereals and scrambled eggs on toast for Giles; orange juice,
bacon, sausage and tomato for Angel; toast and marmalade for both, to satisfy
the you-can’t-survive-on-such-a-tiny-breakfast glare of the owner, Mrs
Kettering – and when no one was looking, Giles’ empty plates were deftly
swapped for Angel’s full ones. Angel
toyed idly with his unused knife while they talked strategy, their voices low
in the cramped dining room. Their
interviewee was due at two o’clock.
In making the
booking, Buffy had managed to secure use of the TV room until four
o’clock. If Mrs Kettering thought it odd
that she should be asked which direction the room faced – north, as it happened
– she said nothing. Added to the
northerly aspect of the room, unremitting drizzle still hung over the seaside
town, totally obscuring the sun. The
south coast climate was normally better than this – or worse, if you were a
vampire – Angel reflected, as he stood gazing out of the window; better, at
least, than England’s average 2 hours of sunshine a day in November. From here, he could just see the top of the
Royal Pavilion, its icing-sugar whiteness dulled by the greyness of the day.
He was pulled
from his reverie by Mrs Kettering’s announcement that their visitor had
arrived, and he moved to sit quietly in a shadowy corner. Giles hadn’t expected that, but didn’t
argue. He did, though, resist the urge
to switch on the overhead lights and dispel the gloom.
was nervous when he came into the room.
He was tall and lanky, embarrassed by his height and desperately trying
to make himself less conspicuous by hunching himself down. He looked like a tall and gangling bird, his
head pulled down between his shoulders.
And he was all angles, as if he were, like a puppy, made entirely of knees. His brown hair fell in unkempt bangs, almost
obscuring the curiously lop-sided and stubbly eyebrows that gave him an
expression of permanent surprise.
Giles, ensconced in a wing chair, gestured to the young man to sit in
another, on the opposite side of the coffee table. Angel, as yet unseen, sat apart, at the third point of the
triangle, weighing up truths and lies.
Matthew, as it turned out, was much too frightened to lie.
training with an ailing and elderly magic user. Giles grimaced at the use of the word ‘training’. The boy had been an apprentice for no more
than six months. Giles knew that was
barely a beginning. Then had come the
call from the Coven. His tutor had sent
the boy away to keep him safe, and had given his remaining strength to help
save the world. Giles felt the sour
taste of jealousy in his mouth. He was
at heart a good man, and he tried to excise from his mind the thought that, if
idiots like this had not been saved, perhaps there wouldn’t have been the need
for Ella to die. He still thought it,
And so, with
his mentor dead alongside the Coven, the twenty-two year old Matthew had been
faced with the choices of going back home to his indifferent and scathing
parents, of finding what his father would call a ‘proper job’ with nothing
better than a Media Studies degree from a third-rate university, or of
do-it-yourself magical training supported by the unknowing taxpayers through
the Job Seeker’s Allowance. He’d opted
for the latter, for so long as his unemployment benefit would last.
In the few
weeks that he had been at large, he had done no worse harm than to singe off
his eyebrows, but three days ago, hunting for medicinal plants around the edges
of a reservoir, he had come across a strange little ball of travelling flame,
and had followed it to an adjacent electricity substation. It hadn’t entered there, but had continued
around the reservoir a little way, and disappeared into a crack between two
large stones. Greatly daring, he had
managed to shift one of the stones sufficiently to worm his way into the small
gap. By the light of the tiny torch on
his key ring he had found himself in a large, dank, stone-lined domed cavity
and, in one stony crevice, he had found the nest. There were a dozen of the little balls of flame in a shallow scoop
made in the flint rubble on the floor, none of them any larger than the one he
had followed, returning from its childish explorations. They were about the size of a tennis ball,
in shades of lemon and pink and blue, and were some of the prettiest things
he’d ever seen, even though one of them had bitten his finger. Fire demon eggs weren’t entirely…eggish.
what he had seen, he’d gone home in a state of high excitement to search
through his dead mentor’s books, and had come up with fire demons. Pretty as they were, he’d understood the
dangers of something that fed on fire or electricity.
although not known to Giles, had known of Project Paranormal, and of Rupert
Giles, and Matthew had worried over whether to seek help. But, he’d desperately needed to prove to
himself that he wasn’t just a waste of space, and he’d decided to deal with the
admission, Giles’ lips thinned a little as he thought of the recklessness of
the young man, but Angel, still unseen in the corner, felt a rush of sympathy
and fellow-feeling. In the boy’s place,
at that age, he might have done the same.
If, that is, he hadn’t spent all his time drinking and whoring. He could scent the shame as Matthew fell
silent. Giles’ voice was still hard.
And so Matthew
had ransacked his mentor’s books.
Perhaps under the influence of too much television, he’d concocted what
he thought was a vanquishing spell.
Back in the dark and cold chamber, he’d carried this out in a trembling
voice. The results had been unexpected.
Instead of the animated eggs disappearing, or crumbling, or dissolving into
some nameless liquor, as he had thought, the nest had exploded in a storm of
light, and a dozen young fire demons had whirled around him, careening off the
walls, flooding the entire chamber with flickering flames. Then, they had disappeared through the
opening like a charm of rather large goldfinches. As he scrambled out, he’d seen them scatter to the four
winds. He’d gone home, shamed and
dejected, and telephoned Giles for help.
of the problems they would now have dealing with a dozen fire demons in what
was clearly a state of some maturity, rather than a simple nest of eggs. That thought was still laced through with
the bitterness of Ella’s death, making his words more rancorous than he
“Of all the
cockeyed things to do! You knew
that you weren’t experienced enough to do anything like this safely! What on earth were you thinking?”
that Giles was thinking of Ella, as clearly as if he’d been able to read his
thoughts. He’d seen the man’s whole
body clench when Matthew mentioned the summons from the Coven. And the boy had not done so badly. True, he’d screwed up the spell, but he
could have turned his back on his mistake, and kept quiet. No one would ever have known what had
happened. Instead, he’d swallowed his
pride and contacted Giles. A for
Effort, even if it had turned into E for Attainment.
He kept the
timbre of his voice as soothing and gentle as the one he had used, back in the
day, for calming nervous prey.
“I think that
Matthew has castigated himself enough over this. The thing is, what to do now?”
nostrils flared as momentary anger ran through him, but he knew that Angel was
right. He closed his eyes, trying to steady
himself. Matthew, for his part, started
as if he had been shot. Turning to the
sound of the voice, he saw, for the first time, the dark figure in the corner,
pale face luminous in the gloom. The
boy looked as though he were having a heart attack.
Angel stood up
smoothly, and positioned his chair closer to the coffee table. He kept his questions easy until the other
two had found their equilibrium again.
“We’ve got a
map, I think?”
“Do you want
to tell me where it is, and I’ll get it?”
himself together visibly – at least to a vampire’s senses.
Angel, in the briefcase.”
could stand, Matthew’s eyes, wide with terror, found his face.
“Angel? The… the… v…”
trailed away into silence. Angel kept
his own voice low and thrilling, that same dark brown voice that had held so
many young men and women fatally captive when other senses had urged them to
me. What if we find out just where
these fire demons were, and then we can see what we can do to track them?”
the map and spread it out on the coffee table.
of himself once more, turned the map around until he could orient himself. Angel sat back to watch. Matthew’s gaze was still fixed on the
creature that his mentor had warned him about, the vampire known to be working
with the ex-Watcher, and of whom the boy had had a completely different picture
in mind. Giles recalled him to the task
attention, Matthew. Now, you found the
eggs in Hove, yes?”
The boy had to
take a deep breath before he was able to speak.
“No…no. By Islingword Road Reservoir, here in
over, hesitated for a moment, and then pointed to a spot of blue on the map.
round the edge of the reservoir, until he found the tiny symbol showing the
electricity substation. Matthew showed
him the position of the underground chamber, as best he could. Angel leaned forward, suddenly, his
“There used to
be an ice house up there, as I recall.”
Giles. A below-ground chamber to keep
ice in throughout the year for the pleasure of the rich and famous. I think this must be one that partially
survives, at least.”
up at him, curious.
Angel looked a
“Darla and I
enjoyed some visits here. Prinny was
known to be a very … convivial… host, you know. For a while, spending the summer in Brighton was very popular
among people of quality. De rigueur,
almost. It was quite the place to be.”
stopped talking when they remembered Matthew’s presence. It was something that seemed to happen to
Matthew, often. Most of the time, no
one noticed him, or remembered his presence.
It was as if he were such a nonentity that he was invisible. He’d hoped they would forget all about him,
so that he could listen to confidences he’d never expected to hear – after all,
who in Brighton would not recognise the reference to Prinny, the Prince Regent,
the future George IV, the man responsible for the Royal Pavilion, and the
scandalous entertainments that had taken place there? Here was some one who had actually seen it, been part of it. Matthew’s thirst for knowledge was
insatiable. He saw that they were both
looking at him, and realising that such confidences were at an end, he asked
the question that had plagued him since finding the clutch of eggs.
“But why would
a fire demon lay eggs in such a cold, dark place?”
It was Giles
“It’s to stop
the eggs from incinerating themselves.
The parents don’t care for the young at all, and until they’re hatched
they can’t regulate their temperature.
Somewhere like an old icehouse does that perfectly. They won’t look for warmth until they’ve
consumed all their yolk sac. Of course,
they might have done that already,” he added, morosely. “Are you sure you can’t remember what you
his head in misery. Angel sat back.
largely airborne, I won’t be able to follow them. Any ideas, Giles?”
Now, it was
Giles’ turn to shake his head.
pardon, but I could try scrying for them if you like…”
trailed off, uncomfortable under the weight of their combined stare. He pulled from his pocket a short, stubby
crystal of transparent quartz on a black leather thong. Giles pushed the map over to him, and the
boy took a deep breath and started to concentrate.
He tried. He really tried. No one could say that he hadn’t.
But, he’d only just started learning to scry when he’d lost his mentor,
and these two just made him so nervous.
He knew they were trying to put him at ease, but the old man had told
him such terrible things… You needed to
be centred, relaxed to successfully scry, and he was a million miles from being
that. He dropped the crystal onto the
map with a sigh.
a thin little thing, but he understood why the boy had failed.
suppose you number scrying as one of your talents, Angel?”
Giles. If I could do any of that stuff,
I wouldn’t have needed to keep Dru around for so long…”
his breath, hoping for more, but once again, the confidences stopped.
It was at that
point that the briefcase rang. Or rather,
the phone in it did. Neither man seemed
inclined to answer it and eventually it was Angel who lost in the new
technology avoidance stakes. Sighing,
he got up. He mouthed to Giles that it
was Buffy. His brow furrowed in
“What sort of
him…” Angel paused for a second,
scanning the lowering sky. “… an hour.”
He turned his
back and the rest of the short conversation became inaudible. As he turned to face the others, he closed
up the phone.
we’ve found one of them. It’s locked
into the Alfriston Clergy House. It’s
about fifteen miles from here.”
creased in the effort of memory.
“Um… It’s a
National Trust house – their very first one.
It’s very pretty.”
looked at Matthew.
“I… I’d like
to go with you.”
deepening shadows of the gloaming, the Discovery pulled up by the side of the
reservoir, close to the electricity substation. Giles had decided to check out the nest first, to make sure that
none of the hatchlings had gone back there, and they had set out as soon as
Angel could safely get to the car. They
wanted to make the most of the hours of darkness, and the half hour or so of
dusk was time they could use.
size, Angel managed to slither through the small gap into the underground
chamber. Giles couldn’t imagine how
he’d done it – could only be grateful that it hadn’t been left to him to
struggle through – and was forcibly reminded that the vampire was as flexile as
a cat. Sourly, he thought that it was
like the cat’s whiskers: get his hair through, and the rest of him would
follow. Matthew simply gaped in awe
from the back seat.
in the icehouse for almost no time at all.
Apart from the normal underground denizens of beetles, earwigs,
earthworms and the like, it was completely deserted. Giles, watching him slither effortlessly back up, was suddenly
distracted by a hiss from behind him.
When he turned round, Matthew was pointing towards the sub-station. There, fastened to one of the overhead
cables, was a flickering ball of blue flame.
It was expanding rapidly, rather like a puffer fish. Giles gestured wildly to Angel through the windscreen,
pointing up to the cables running over the mass of industrial art that nowadays
represented transformers and all those other things that he couldn’t put a name
to. Angel grimaced when he saw where
the demon was, and how quickly it was growing. He walked over to the open window.
going to be my turn again?”
dangerous, Angel, even for you. You
would need to make sure that you never ground yourself. It’s a maze – are you positive you can do
it? I’m not sure it’s worth the risk.”
manage to perch on those overhead cables, so I should be okay.”
touch anything else, then. Nothing at
all. I’d never hear the end of it if I
took you back in a paper bag.”
Angel smiled a
little wryly, and strode over to the steel fencing. Giles heard a sharp intake of breath from Matthew as they watched
their companion leap lightly to the top and balance on one of the uprights. Then the sharp intake of breath came from
both of them as Angel leapt for the cables, seemingly an impossible height
away. Giles knew that vampires couldn’t
actually fly, but watching his friend in the last of that day’s light, as he
gracefully crossed the space between the fence and the cables, Giles could see
exactly how the myth of flight had come into being. If cats could fly, this is how they would do it.
Friend. Giles had thought it, and now that he’d
thought it he saw that it was true, as Angel reached for the cable. His right hand caught it deftly, then his
left, and he was dangling a yard behind the feeding demon. He was also only a foot or two away from a
pylon. One touch, and he would be dust. Incinerated dust, at that. Giles felt his fingernails dig into the meat
of his palm. It was too dangerous, and
he should not have permitted it, not for a single fire demon. And then Angel’s body swung forward, and his
hand shot out and buried itself in the blue flames.
wasn’t coming without a struggle. It
hung on to the cable as Angel yanked at it, his feet swinging nearer and nearer
to the metal pylon. Giles scrambled
from the car, crying out a warning, although he couldn’t hope to do anything
useful, and whether Angel heard him was a matter of doubt. And then the demon was free, the power cable
snapped in two, both ends dropping like hissing, writhing, sparking
serpents. The vampire, still clutching
the bundle of flames, plummeted downwards, twisting his body frantically in
midair to get away from the danger beneath.
length, he managed to catch hold of the upper edge of a small building made of
concrete blocks, slamming against the side of the building in response to laws
of motion that were immutable even for vampires. The severed cable crackled and hissed beneath him. He was hanging on with only his left hand,
the fire demon still firmly captive in the other. Giles started to pray as he saw Angel’s fingers slip a little,
and he imagined the bloody trails as the rough concrete tore skin from
flesh. He felt Matthew’s hand tighten
around his arm, the boy’s face white in the gloom.
“He’s going to
die, isn’t he, and it will be all my fault.”
To his own
surprise, Giles’ voice was bracing.
“Nonsense!” To Angel, he shouted, “Angel! Let the bloody demon go!”
none of his strength on trying to reply.
Those watching saw his arm and shoulder muscles bulge, even through the
thickness of his leather jacket, as he applied all the leverage that he could,
and then he let go. He flew upwards,
and rolled onto the roof. Then,
balancing on the balls of his feet, he made one last mighty leap that brought
him high over the fencing to land on the other side of the track way, rolling
head over heels into the bushes.
Matthew, running over to him, heard his yell.
He’d lost his
grip slightly on the bundle of flame, which was now wrapped around his
wrist. As Giles reached the cursing
vampire, he saw that the fire demon had sunk its teeth into the soft flesh
between thumb and forefinger, and was hanging on like grim death. Angel’s other hand gripped the nape of the
creature’s neck, refusing to let it go.
Giles helped him to his feet, and tried to disentangle the beast, but
only succeeded in making matters worse.
Losing its grip on Angel’s arm, the demon was now swinging from its
locked teeth, and a small rivulet of blood ran down Angel’s thumb.
his left hand out, and grasped the demon firmly behind the head. Then, with his right hand, he felt for the
articulation point of the jaws, and squeezed.
It took a lot of pressure before the jaws hinged open. Angel snatched his hand away and Matthew was
left holding the creature by the scruff, rather like a bad-tempered
kitten. Giles ran back to the car and,
after rummaging around in the boot, came back with a large glass jar with a
stout wire mesh screw top, and Matthew lowered the creature into that.
questioningly at the boy who, uncomfortable with the attention, hunched his
head a little further down.
“I, erm, I
used to have a couple of pet rats. If
you upset them, they’d hang on like that, and it’s the only way to make them
open their jaws, otherwise it makes a real mess.”
Angel saw that
there were a number of small, white, crescent-shaped scars around Matthew’s
knuckles and the boy, aware of the scrutiny, thrust his hands into his pockets.
won’t you kill it?”
his attention to the angry fire demon cub, scrabbling at the sheer walls of its
dicing in battle isn’t the same as putting something down in cold blood. You want to do it?”
He made to
hand over a sharp, black-handled knife, but Matthew shook his head and took a
step backwards. Angel put the knife
you. You did well, there.”
with pleasure at this unaccustomed praise, even from a vampire. Giles held out the first aid kit. Angel spread his fingers, and the others
could see that the wound was already knitting together.
the box away, and then climbed back into the car.
then, we’re due in Alfriston in half an hour.
Angel, dial 999 and tell the fire service there’s a power line
down. Matthew, you can hold the jar.”
It was full
dark when they reached the pretty little village of Alfriston. Under Angel’s instructions, Giles headed for
the church and, through the dark and wind-stripped trees surrounding the
churchyard, they could see, next to it on the Tye, the ancient black and white
thatched cottage known as the Clergy House.
A yellow light flickered fitfully in the tiny panes of glass that made
up the windows. A man stood on the path
to meet them. He looked doubtfully at
each of them and then asked, “Mr Giles?”
forward and shook hands with the man.
“Thank you for
coming so promptly. My name’s Elwiss,
John Elwiss. I look after the Clergy
House. Did your associate, Miss
Summers, tell you…”
He pushed his
fingers through his thinning hair, a worried frown on his face.
“Why don’t you
tell us, Mr Elwiss? It’s better to hear
it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak,” Giles said, soothingly.
Elwiss gave a
weak smile, and then gave them the story.
The Clergy House, which had been built around 1350 – by a yeoman farmer,
strangely enough, rather than the Church – was not noted as a haunted house,
despite its long existence. There had
never been trouble with ghosts or apparitions, or anything like that. Yesterday, though, one of the visitors had
been poking around in a hearth, and something had flown up at the man
and settled in the rafters of the hall.
At closing time, Elwiss had tried to dislodge it, and been bitten for
his pains. He showed them a hefty piece
of sticking plaster on his index finger.
Unable to understand what it was that might bite, and yet looked capable
of burning down the oak-framed wattle and daub building, he had started making
calls to those who might not laugh at him.
A friend of a friend of a friend had given him the telephone number of
the House wasn’t open to the public on Fridays, and so the creature had
remained locked inside. They walked as
they talked, and when they reached the garden gate, they could see that the
flickering light was beating against the windows, like a moth seeking entrance
to the greater light.
Giles handed a
torch to Matthew.
torch shining on that window.” He
pointed to one furthest from the door.
“Mr Elwiss, shall we go in, then?”
unlocked the door while Matthew distracted the demon, and Giles, Elwiss and
Angel slipped into the House. The small
noises of their entry brought the demon from the window, but not quickly enough
– Angel shut the door in its face. It
was smaller than the one from the electricity sub-station, and lemon in
colour. Vibrating a little – in anger,
Giles supposed – it settled back into the ceiling. Elwiss switched on the lights.
standing in a medieval hall. That is,
the room occupied the whole two-storey space from floor to rafters. The beams were decorated with oak-leaf
carvings, and the floor was of rammed chalk.
Elwiss looked anxiously at Angel, who was wrinkling his nose a little.
faltered. Angel hadn’t been introduced.
strange smell in here. Cheesy – is
at Giles. There was something here, and
he wasn’t sure what the right answer might be.
He prevaricated a little.
it feels like it…”
“I think you’re
smelling the floor as it once was. It’s
rammed chalk, but it was bound and sealed with sour milk. They did that in this part of the Weald. You can really smell it?”
wistful. Angel would have changed
places with him. Sour milk was not an
attractive smell for a vampire.
Meanwhile, Giles had been sizing up the situation. They weren’t going to capture the demon
without using Angel’s more athletic abilities.
would you like to wait for us outside, with Matthew?”
“I’m sorry, I
can’t do that. I’m responsible for this
property, for making sure it doesn’t get damaged.”
move him. Giles tried to walk Elwiss to
a corner of the hall, but the man was transfixed at the sight of the ball of
flame sitting on the rafters. Angel
shrugged at Giles. Better get on with
it, then. Crouching momentarily for
maximum muscle power, Angel jumped for the rafters. He took the demon as neatly as a hawk takes a pigeon, and it was
only as he did so that he saw a small pink ball hiding further back among the
as if he was catching flies, his mouth open in amazement. Giles put his hand on the man’s shoulder and
whispered confidentially to him.
circus family, you know. Simply amazing
what they can do. Invaluable in our
line of work… It’s something in the boots, I understand, but he’ll never say…”
He kept his
face absolutely straight in defiance of Angel’s quizzical look, and produced a
suitably sized jar from his bag.
another one hiding up there, Giles. I
don’t know whether I can grab it, but I’ll try.”
upwards, and Angel was hanging by one hand from a beam, batting at something in
one corner. At last, the fuzzy pink
ball loosened its hold on the woodwork, and whizzed around the room, cannoning
into walls and furniture as it did so.
Both Giles and Elwiss grabbed ineffectually at it as it sped around
them. On one pass, Giles stumbled back
against the hearth, clattering into the fire-irons. He picked up the shovel and took a stance that, even with this
under-sized implement, spoke of cricket matches and rogue bowlers.
As the pink
ball hurtled towards him, he yelled, “To you, Angel!” A two-handed sweep of the shovel, and Angel dropped from the
ceiling, plucking the demon out of midair with both hands, and rolling to a
halt on the floor.
They were back
in the car. Elwiss had thought the fee
for clearing the Clergy House of ‘vermin’ was very reasonable indeed. Buffy would bill him, and he, on behalf of
the National Trust, would pay.
According to Buffy, there had been no more reported sightings, and they
were trying to decide what to do next.
“Do we have a
list of all the electricity stations around here – we could go and look at
but even if we did, these things could be attached to any power cable, not just
those at sub-stations.”
There was a
“I suppose we
could contact the fire brigade to see whether there have been any odd reports or
“Hmm. Would they tell us? And by the way, Giles, I think they call
themselves the fire and rescue service in this century.”
Giles? Angel, sir? You say they like fires best?”
It was Giles
who answered, looking curiously at the diffident boy.
“Yes, a good
roaring fire is their natural habitat – electricity is a substitute.”
tomorrow – it’s Saturday, you see.”
Giles wore an
honestly puzzled expression.
“Yes, I know
it’s Saturday. What about it?”
“Um. Saturday the 5th. It’s Bonfire Night.”
of hunting through the entire county, or worse, as the nation celebrated 5th
November, appalled both Giles and Angel, and they sat silent for a moment,
imagining the bonfires, large and small, that would be lit in gardens, parks
and on wasteland. Everywhere. They would be absolutely everywhere.
was gentle, encouraging.
Matthew? You’ve got an idea?”
we’ve got Lewes. It’s only a few miles
from here. The demons couldn’t miss
never heard of Lewes’ Bonfire Night, Angel?
You’re in for a treat.”
his protestations, they dropped Matthew off in Hove, close to home. As they drove back towards Arundel House,
Giles suddenly turned to his companion.
“What do you
say Angel? Let’s go down the pub.”
later, and a short taxi ride away from their lodgings, they were ensconced in
The Watersplash, and it was heaving. It
wasn’t a pub; it wasn’t even a real ale pub.
It was more an exhibition of real ale.
The huge polished wooden bar ran in a circle through the saloon and the
public bar, the only difference between those two drinking rooms being that the
saloon had more seats and the beer cost more.
The top of the bar displayed a thickly-forested palisade of shiny,
black, old-fashioned hand-pull beer pumps.
There were dozens of them, all different, all real ale, served from
proper casks. Old Speckled Hen,
Hobgoblin, Ruddles County, Old Peculier, Bombardier, Newcastle Brown, Bishop’s
Finger… The name plates went on and
on. Angel looked with amusement at
Giles, who was positively salivating at the prospect.
to find a tiny table tucked into a niche by a window, out of the main press of
drinkers. The beer, Ruddles, had been
pulled into thick, old-fashioned dimpled pint glasses, the rich, foamy heads
spilling over and running down the curved handles. They clinked the glasses together gently, and each took a satisfying
three pints when Angel held up his mug, and watched the light sparkle in the
depths of the rich brown beer. Greene
King’s Abbot Ale, this time. His mouth
twisted into a small smile.
“That it is,
Angel; that it is.”
Giles tore his
gaze away from the effulgent ale and focused hard on Angel’s expression.
“What is it?”
himself back from the memory. What
could it hurt, now, to speak of it?
“It was a word
Spike… Will… used in one of his poems.
Everyone gave him a really hard time about it. Including me.”
locked with Giles’ for just a second, but then he looked away. Giles didn’t, though.
“Do you want
to talk about it?”
He didn’t mean
poetry or effulgent.
“No. Not yet.
things that Angel could never, would never, tell anyone, but he’d learned from
the last few years. One of the things
that he’d learned was that if you lock your friends out often enough and long
enough, eventually they’ll take the hint and go knocking on a more open
door. Sometimes, you needed to give a
little of yourself, to make them feel that you cared. To feel that you trusted them enough to know things.
at the door again, and found that it creaked open a little.
“How are you,
now? You know, the henbane… Has it all gone? I don’t like to ask too much when Buffy’s there…”
Giles took a
deep swallow of his beer to hide his embarrassment. This was his fault. He’d
taken a dreadful situation and, all unwittingly, made it so much worse for
Angel. With Angel’s reply, the door
creaked a little more.
“You know that
Ella left me with a gift?”
“No… no I
The hope that
sprang up in Giles’ face was painful to see.
Angel knew that the man wished desperately that Ella might, in some way,
have conquered death. Might some day
come back to him. They both knew that
wasn’t going to happen, but the heart sometimes, no matter how briefly, beats
the head into submission. That was why
Angel had never mentioned this to him.
Now, for some reason, it seemed right to do so.
“She was a
generous and compassionate woman, Giles.
She did the very best that she could for me on that… that terrible
night. She knew what I had to do, and
she did something to me, to help me later.
She gave me comfort. Whether it
was my heart, or my mind, or my soul, I really don’t know, but… afterwards…
when I was alone, whatever she did saved my life. She gave me a place inside myself, where there was comfort, and
love and friendship. At first, when the
horror and the henbane were at their worst, I dug myself into an old
barrow. I thought I might never come
out again, but what she’d put into me kept me from total despair. My body was in that barrow, but my mind, my
soul, they were in that place that she’d given me, while the rest of it raged
“It was like a
drowning man clutching at a rock, but it was enough of a rock to stop me from
going under completely. I’ll never stop
being grateful to her for that. And
it’s still here. Only when I’m alone,
and only when the black despair is at its worst, but then I can find it. I’ve still got to learn to live with the
rest, and the best repayment I can give her is to do just that.”
This was a
long speech for Angel, and he seemed to be making it almost to himself. Giles kept silent, afraid that if he made a
sound or a movement, Angel would draw back into his fortress. The vampire took a deep breath, though, and
raised his eyes to Giles’.
“The last of
the henbane still gives me dreams, nightmares, visions. Buffy knows about it. But it isn’t often now - every few days at
most. You did what you thought best,
Giles. You weren’t to know. I could get it out of my system more
quickly, but the only way to do that wouldn’t be acceptable to any of us.”
He took a
long, slow drink as Giles thought about what he’d just said.
Giles. Hot and fresh and living, and
lots of it. It would sweep this stuff
right out of me. But I’m not doing
that, so it’ll have to go at its own pace.
And besides, I’m a bit afraid that what Ella did will go when the last
of the poison goes.”
him squarely in the eye.
“No. It won’t.
We’re always here for you, now.
Just get that through your thick Irish skull.” He looked around. “Do you
think they have a dartboard in here?”
have a dartboard, but they had shove-halfpenny. After the sixth pint – the smooth bite of Newcastle Brown – Giles
was the man. He’d defeated all comers,
the reward for which was the privilege of standing all the players a
round. After the seventh pint of the
lethally strong beer, perfuming the warm and fuggy air with the nourishing
scents of hops and malt, they were both drunk as lords. After nine pints, they were, in the
vernacular, pretty well legless. To be
fair, the beer itself didn’t have much effect on Angel, but he knew that it was
possible to get drunk on water, in the right company. Here, tonight, this was the right company, and so he went right
along with Giles.
sake, to cut down on the number of unsteady trips to the bar, they’d carried a
couple of pints each back to their tiny table, and were now smiling blissfully
at the joyous uproar around them. On
this Friday night, it seemed, everyone was a happy drunk.
“Angel…” Giles was making a tremendous effort not to
slur his words, but he’d long ago lost all feeling in his upper lip. “…what was it like in Hell?”
couldn’t penetrate the fog of bonhomie that swathed around the vampire. He smiled and nodded sagely.
want to know.”
Giles gave a
magisterial wave of his hand that almost sent the spare drinks flying.
understood, old man… Quite… Well, what
about you and Darla and Prinny, here in Brighton?”
his brow with effort.
wasn’t as bad as Hell, but…”
until they were crying and their sides hurt.
“So, what was
it like, then, with Darla?”
The two leaned
together over the beer-sodden table.
From a greater distance than six inches, it was impossible to
differentiate the separate sounds of speech above the maximum volume of babble
in the room, but for any who cared to look, it was clear from Giles’ wide-eyed
expression that a really good tale was being told. Once, Giles patted down his pockets, but failed to find a piece
of paper. With exaggerated care, he
peeled a beer mat into two halves, but then failed to find a pen.
With even more
exaggerated care, he turned to the man standing behind him, and tugged on his
sleeve. The man bent down to him,
almost losing his balance in the act, and Giles made his request known by the
simple expedient of bellowing in the proffered ear, with as much politeness as
bellowing permits. He only had to
repeat himself twice before that man, too, started to pat himself down. The search was unsuccessful, and the message
was passed around the laughing and joking group. Eventually, one of the women produced a tiny pencil that lived in
the spine of her pocket diary.
to write. It took a lot of
concentration, and several more beer mats.
Angel sat back to give him time and space to catch up. The pencil’s owner, no doubt anxious to keep
an eye on her property, together with the rest of her group, gathered around
the table, reading. Much, much later,
when they found the beer mats in Giles’ jacket pocket, and deciphered them,
both Giles and Angel would thank their lucky stars that not one of that
inebriated group would remember a single word, and even if they did,
replication would be a physical impossibility for humans. They hoped.
Giles refused to hand the beer mats over to Angel, though, muttering
something about ‘leverage’, although he smiled when he said it. It looked like a smile, anyway.
They got up
late the next morning and missed breakfast.
Mrs Kettering, who had taken rather a shine to her two guests, offered
to make them a brunch, but they settled for coffee. She went off, huffing, and plotting how to make sure they wrapped
themselves around some food. She
believed that boys never stopped growing.
Matthew was downstairs, waiting for them.
“What are you
abrupt. He didn’t mean to be, but every
sound set his teeth on edge, as well as starting up a jackhammer in his
“I, um, I
thought I’d come to Lewes with you.”
at Angel’s forceful tone. There were
clear advantages to being a vampire, and he’d wondered whether, if Angel turned
him now, it would clear the hangover, or leave him in its grip for
eternity. He was almost prepared to
take the chance.
“You deal with
this, Angel. I’m just going round the
corner to the chemist…”
something from his pocket, and held it up.
It was a small vial containing a clear turquoise-coloured liquid.
“Um… This was
one of the first things I learned to make.
Master Hugh had some hard-drinking friends.”
Angel took the
vial and eyed it suspiciously.
you think Giles wants this?”
The boy looked
even more miserable.
“I saw you
come back last night…”
Angel had a
very clear recollection, and shuddered a little. Giles had no recollection at all, and shuddered rather more. Then the import of Matthew’s information hit
“You were watching
us? Following us?”
“All this is
my fault, and it’s my responsibility to see it gets cleaned up.”
the vial in the air and caught it.
“A bit of
this, a bit of that, and a lot of codeine.
It goes into coffee.”
the vial in midair again, and then, cruelly, tossed it to Giles, who almost
fumbled the catch.
It took two
cups of coffee with the added extras before Giles was restored, and after that,
breakfast – or rather lunch – started to look very attractive indeed. Rather gruffly, Giles thanked Matthew. The effect was spoiled though, when he
added, “But you still aren’t coming to Lewes with us!”
in Lewes just before 5 o’clock, stuck in so much traffic that the eight miles
had taken almost an hour, to find that the roads into town were closed. So, they left the car on the Brighton Road
and walked the rest of the way, Angel carrying the satchel that contained the
tools of today’s trade – collecting jars and fire demon nets. Already, there was a holiday atmosphere in
the thronged little town. Banners
stretched across and between buildings, declaring Bonfire Night, and, as they
passed the castle and entered the central part of the town, they found small
knots of street vendors and large crowds of bystanders. Tens of thousands of people must have
converged on Lewes, and all seemed to be in a state of heightened
expectation. They were forced to push
their way past the Law Courts and found themselves in sight of the War
“Look. Programme sellers.”
They were men
in distinctive knitted guernseys. Giles
dug into his pocket and fetched out a five-pound note. He gestured to the programme sellers, and
gave the note to Matthew. A few minutes
later, they had their heads bent over the booklet whilst Angel watched, an
indulgent smile on his face.
“My goodness –
there are thirty-one different processions!”
does it start?” Giles looked at his
watch. “Oh. Half past five! It...it’s almost time! And it lasts until midnight.”
“It says they
have effigies and tableaux stuffed with fireworks. Oh, I remember now. A
couple of years ago, they had Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson…”
gurgled with laughter at the recollection, and Giles gave a sudden guffaw. Angel merely shook his head. Politics had always been another country to
him. Still, come to think of it, when
he was alive, the politics that had eaten into his people like a canker had
been the politics of another country, so perhaps it was all the same in the
themselves, with their attendant fireworks displays, started about nine
o’clock, and there were five separate locations, one for each of the Lewes
Bonfire Societies. Privately, Angel
thought that those would be the best places to attract the fire demons, but he
had reckoned without Lewes.
their way through the crowds thronging the narrow, hilly streets, picking up
hamburgers and soft drinks for Matthew and Giles, until they had a good view of
the War Memorial, where the crowds seemed thickest, without being trapped by
the press of people. Between bites of
his hamburger, Giles consulted the programme.
“Oh. Each Society in turn lays a wreath at the
War Memorial to remember the war dead.”
this is all about? I thought you said
it was older than that?”
patiently, and Matthew looked attentive.
started in 1606…”
“Oh, no wonder
I don’t remember it. Before my time,
warningly until he saw the laughter creasing Angel’s eyes. It was an uncommon enough sight to make him
first anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot.
That was just a bonfire, and it probably rattled on with just that for a
few decades. But, in 1679, after Titus
Oates accused the Catholics of a Papist plot to kill Charles II, they started a
procession carrying banners, and effigies, which they then burned, of Camillo
Borghese, Pope Paul V at the time of the Gunpowder Plot. Somehow the burning of 17 Protestant martyrs
in Lewes High Street in the reign of Bloody Mary got bundled in… Then there was
the landing of WilliamandMary…” He grinned at that elision. “… on November 5th, come to
restore the Protestant Monarchy, and it’s just gone on from there. Seems these Sussex folk never give up either
a grudge or a celebration.”
“This is a
sectarian thing? Protestants thumbing
their noses at Catholics?”
It was Matthew
who answered Angel’s question.
anybody can join in, if they’re from Lewes.
And there are some other Sussex Bonfire Societies that get invited. It’s really Lewes people – Sussex
people – thumbing their noses at foreign interventions. They generally view anybody from outside
Sussex as being foreign, and town authorities pretty well get honorary foreign
status. There’s a big history of people
versus authority regarding Bonfire Night.
They’ve tried to stop it loads of times, and always had to back down.”
help but chuckle, shaking his head genially, and Angel joined in.
Angel took the
programme from Giles and looked at the map.
“If all the
Societies lay a wreath here, then the processions are all going to pass
here. Looks like a good place to
As he said it,
a cheer went up from somewhere a few streets away.
“I’ll be back
in a minute…”
him slip down an entryway in the middle of a row of shops. Surreptitiously, so as not to draw
attention, he looked up. Sure enough, a
few moments later, there was a dark silhouette on the roof. Then the shadow was gone and Angel was back.
races going on down near the river.
They’re pulling something that’s on fire.”
through the programme.
barrels. They have races pulling
lighted tar barrels mounted on wheels.
Apparently in the 1800’s, they just rolled them down the hills…”
down, did they?”
so. Angel, I’m surprised you’ve never
heard of this. I mean, you’ve been
around a bit. This must have been the
sort of place you’d come hunting…”
silent for a moment and Giles, uncertain of how the question in his head had
actually come out aloud, worried that he’d taken this new ease between them too
far. There was so much he wanted to
know… It was his besetting sin, and he
was aware of that, but he really hadn’t intended to ask.
was not offended. That had surprised
him, until he realised that part of coming to terms with himself was simply
that – coming to terms with himself.
And he’d been surprised that he didn’t know about an event like
this. He’d have loved it. The promised spectacle, the extra pleasures…
It was Darla,
he told Giles. Matthew, almost
forgotten, listened raptly. Darla hated
5th November and the burning guys, and would never allow them to be
in England at that time of the year.
Once, when they had missed their ship to France, they had found a house
to lie low in, but she had been in a rare tantrum. It was before Drusilla and Spike, and they were alone. She’d taken her anger out on him, and he’d
made sure they never missed the ship again.
It was just the fire, he thought.
There was nothing deeper, just the fear of the fire. Strange, because she feared so little else.
Then a cry
went up from the crowd as the first procession came into view, and Angel
thought that maybe the fire demons were already here.
have guessed it beforehand but that night their senses were assaulted by a
cavalcade of hissing, spitting, living light.
It seemed that every one of the townspeople must be here, taking part in
the festivities. Almost everyone
carried fire. Men and women paraded in
sumptuous costumes. Effigies were
carried shoulder high, usually of the tormented Guy Fawkes and his
co-conspirator, the enthroned Pope.
There were phalanxes of masked men in horizontally-striped smuggler’s
jerseys, white trousers, and knitted caps: the Bonfire Boys, carrying the
seventeen fiery crosses to mark the deaths of the seventeen Lewes Martyrs. There were mock archbishops in full regalia,
and clergy of all ranks. Wheeled
tableaux, in the guise of this year’s favourite targets, were apparently
stuffed full of fireworks to be let off at the bonfire sites. And, flanking each and every yard of the
processions, men and women carried flaming torches, crackling and sizzling and
spitting out gobbets of burning tar.
From time to time, each slow procession would stop entirely, and ignite
their set piece street fireworks, lighting the sky with sheets and stars of
glittering, coloured fire.
It was a
parade of heat and light and fire and noise, flavoured with the acrid scents of
wood smoke and gunpowder. Behind each
procession, men wheeled great barrows of fire as they picked up discarded
torches that had been too hot to carry safely, or that had almost burned
out. Once, a splash of fiery liquid had
caught Angel’s hand. Only the fact that
Matthew had immediately smothered the incipient flames, wielding the damp bread
of his hot dog bun with aplomb, had prevented serious injury. Or worse.
The stuff clung to the vampire like Greek fire. After that, Angel had retired to the safety
of the rooftops for a while. From up
there, he could see the streets and squares of the town transformed into rivers
and lakes of fire. It would have taken
his breath away. That was how it
felt. It was nothing short of
amazing. He couldn’t understand how
they would ever find a few fire demons here.
His night-adapted sight was almost blinded by the dazzling brilliance,
and he was sure that the other two couldn’t do much better. Just at the moment, though, he didn’t care
about fire demons. He simply wanted to
enjoy a spectacle that must almost rival the forbidden sun.
He came back
down to ground just as the Commercial Square Bonfire Society came abreast of
Giles and Matthew. From every direction
came the crack and bang of fireworks, rook-scarers used by each
procession. Bonfire Boys, their
smuggler’s jerseys black and gold in this Society, their caps red, flanked the
man carrying that Society’s insignia, an Indian head, in a war bonnet, on a
black metal shield, backed by the ubiquitous flaming torches. The First Pioneers, those who led their
Society’s procession, were dressed in full Indian regalia, magnificent in their
embroidered leathers, fur and shell adornments, and feathered headdresses. Behind them came their banners and effigies,
then the members of their Society: men dressed as redcoats and women in their
crinolines; their mock clergy; their Bonfire Boys carrying the seventeen
burning crosses, all bounded by those lines of torch carriers, close enough to
touch, close enough for the bystanders to feel the searing heat of their
And then came
their tableau. Every Society so far had
really pulled the stops out with these, but this one caught the trio’s
attention. Eight Bonfire Boys, four to
each rope, were pulling a car that glittered darkly in the firelight. The inside of the car was packed with
fireworks around a pair of effigy figures in the front seats.
pointed to the effigies and fell into a fit of the giggles. Giles’ crack of laughter was spontaneous and
unforced as he saw the lumpish but highly recognisable features of the Spitting
Image-type figures of the Prime Minister and his wife. Angel only had eyes for the car. It was black. It was shiny. It might be
a few years old now, but it was a Porsche Carrera, for pity’s sake. And they were going to burn it? Explode it? He couldn’t just let that go.
He thought of
the chatty and knowledgeable street vendor who had supplied hot dogs for
Matthew and Giles, in between processions.
Where would he be now? Too
distracted to remember the other two, he climbed up to his vantage point on a four-storey
building. Ah, there he was, two streets
a sop by first buying fresh supplies of food and drink for his companions, and
then he asked his questions. The vendor
may have been a little tipsy, or he may simply have been a gossip, but he was
happy to share. The owner of the car
had found his wife and another man in flagrante delicto in that very
car. He’d dealt with his wife, now he
was dealing with the car.
delivered his purchases to Giles and Matthew, and it was fully a quarter of an
hour later before they realised that he was missing. Giles studied the rooftops carefully, but he wasn’t there – on
this night of light, it was always possible to pick out that darker
shadow. Matthew had unfurled his
normally hunched posture, using his greater height to scan the crowds around
Matthew. If he doesn’t want to be seen,
he won’t be seen.”
“But how are
we to find him? We can’t follow him if
we don’t know where he’s gone?”
“Oh, I don’t
think we need to follow him. I think we
just need to follow that car.”
it up to the Landport Recreation Ground, where the bonfire was roaring, a wall
of heat keeping spectators at a distance better than the marshals could, and
the fireworks display lit up the sky in glittering rainbow patterns. It didn’t take long at all to see the tall,
dark figure in animated discussion with one of the Bonfire Boys who had pulled
the car, surrounded by the other seven.
The man that Angel was talking to gave a clear chopping motion with his
hand, his body language utterly clear.
No. No more talk. Angel’s body language radiated
disconsolation, as the band of men took up the ropes and started to pull the
car closer to the enormous bonfire, in preparation for this centrepiece
next was never entirely clear to anyone.
A particularly dazzling set of fireworks flew up almost from the heart
of the bonfire, and a rain of coloured fire in lemon and blue and pink,
surrounding a much larger green ball of light, fell onto the car and into its
open windows. The fireworks-packed car
lit up with sheets of flame.
save themselves from the explosion that must follow, the Bonfire Boys seemed to
trip over themselves, and the thick rope, almost as if it had a will of its
own, became tangled around their legs.
As they struggled, becoming more enmeshed in the rough coils, marshals
converged on the site with fire extinguishers.
Angel got to the car first. To
the horror of everyone, Giles and Matthew included, he leaned into the car and
stuck his fist into the rainbow of flame.
The marshals shouted warnings as they ran, but he paid no heed. As he backed away, the green fire came with
him, wrapped around his arm. The
smaller balls, the lemon and pink and blue, followed, trailing behind the
larger one like bows on the tail of a kite.
tried to stop them, but Giles and Matthew pushed past them, running towards
Angel. The men with fire extinguishers
were looking on with understandable confusion, and the Bonfire Boys were
finally extricating themselves from the ropes.
The car stood in relative darkness, with no sign of flame inside. Giles understood why. There had been no fire, only fire demons. Angel had the large, green, football-sized
adult by the throat. Its claws were
buried deep into his forearm, and its teeth into his hand. The nine younger ones, much larger than
their captive siblings and well fed on this Bonfire Night, circled around
making small mewing calls of distress.
surreptitiously as humanly possible under the bemused gaze of thousands of people,
Giles and Matthew netted the youngsters into the collecting jars. The man they had seen in argument with Angel
finally shrugged off the rope, and his fears, and walked over to them.
over at Angel, saw the sinews in his neck taut with the effort of the stand-off
with the demon, saw the blood drip from his wrist.
say that Bonfire Night has attracted some of the more unusual wildlife around
here. Once we get that big one away,
there won’t be a problem.”
understand any of this, but without your friend, that car would have blown up,
and we would have gone with it. He
saved our lives.”
You could lie
by saying nothing. Giles knew
that. The car was never a danger. He thought of everything that Angel had
suffered. Everything he had lost. Sometimes, even a soul as strong as his
at the right time, I suppose, but he was quick, wasn’t he? He really likes that car, you know.”
confusion, they’d left the Commercial Square Bonfire site with the demon still
wrapped around Angel’s arm. As soon as
they found somewhere away from the press of people, Angel’s mask dropped.
“Help me get
this damn thing off, will you!”
They did, but
there wasn’t a big enough jar to put it in.
Giles pulled off his belt and wrapped it around the vaguely humanoid
form within the ball of flame. The
demon sputtered in indignation.
go! I’ll… I’ll tear yez into tiny
shreds… I’ll stomp on yer ashes… I’ll… I’ll give yez such a nuttin’…”
up or I’ll see what a stake will do to you.
What are you doing here with these youngsters?”
hissed at him, but Giles held his ground.
young ’uns – where does tha think I’d be?
And where’re the other three, yer scraggly long-legged strips of nowt?”
“Yours? I thought fire demons abandoned their eggs…”
“That’s all you
know, then! Abandon ’em? Just because
both their fathers allus runs off… Just let me get to yez…”
again, and writhed against the hold of the belt.
other three, I said? I’ll slice yer
balls off if yez don’t tell me…”
worry. They’re safe. Now, why don’t we
all start again? Who are you?”
bristled for a moment, then gave in.
“Yeah! Yez wants to make summat of it?”
to release any of them, yet. The demon,
Stan, sat morosely surveying the satchel that held his captive children. Occasionally he strained at the belt that
keep destroying power cables. We won’t
are lots of volcanoes in Iceland – the island of Surtsey, for example, or
perhaps Heimaey, although that’s got an important fishing port on it, so
Surtsey would be better… I’m sure we could find an open vent for you.”
this dimension… It’s allus cold. There’s never any real fire, not like
stumped, Giles tried to find another solution.
Angel spoke into the silence.
“I might know
somewhere. There’s a dimension where
parts of it are just fire. Flame
running like water; trees and rocks and streams completely limned in fire;
parts that are an inferno; other places where everything just drips fire in
every colour of the spectrum. If we
could get you there, would you go?”
at him in mute enquiry, but Angel refused to meet his eye.
looked up at him, hope flushing a rosy pink through his green flame.
just like home. Me and the other two,
we got pulled through a portal years ago when we were only babbies. I ain’t seen it in so long… Yez thinks yer could?”
Matthew off in Hove again, much to his disappointment, and returned to Arundel
House for the last time. Stan remained
in the car, but Angel carried the satchel with the captive youngsters up to
their room. They had an agreement, but
they hadn’t learned to trust each other yet.
before they went to bed couldn’t completely remove the smells of smoke and
fireworks and bonfires. Having ripped
the scab off some of his inner store of horrors, Angel didn’t sleep much. He found, though, that it all hurt a little
less than the last time he’d looked this memory in the face.
found himself faking sleep more than experiencing it. He was almost certain he knew which dimension Angel had
described: the one that he’d been consigned to for centuries, in order to close
Acathla’s portal. Perhaps now the ice
had been broken, Angel might be prepared to share. To unburden himself a little.
He’d never do it to Buffy – it would hurt her too much to know what she
had sent him to – but he might tell Giles.
morning, by common consent, their smoke-saturated clothing from the night
before was bundled into the satchel with the miserable prisoners. After breakfast, they retired to the TV
lounge, waiting only for sunset before they returned to Westbury. Each had things they wanted to discuss with
the other, but neither knew quite where to start, and so there was an uneasy
silence in the room when Mrs Kettering bustled in. She had a lumpy envelope in her hand, a padded Jiffy bag. She faltered for a moment, realising that
although she knew Mr Giles’ name, she had never actually heard his
companion’s. She held the envelope out
came for you. The man said you would
know what it was. He didn’t wait.”
reluctantly, obviously curious about the envelope’s contents, but she went unsatisfied. When she’d gone, Angel tore open the packet
and tipped the contents into his hand.
Car keys. He looked into the
envelope again, and pulled out an official-looking sheet of paper. The registration document. It was for a black Porsche Carrera.
They went to
the door together, and saw the sleek black car parked just across the
road. Angel longingly considered the
dank, smoggy, post-Bonfire morning, but it had to be Giles who took the keys
and went to investigate. The car had
been thoroughly valeted, smelling of nothing but cleanliness and leather and
polish. There was a note on the
seat. When Angel opened it, it simply
Back in the TV
lounge, they found that Mrs Kettering had left a tray of tea for them. Over the second cup, Angel managed to put
aside his astonishment.
“How did he
know where to find us?”
smirked. Promising himself to pursue
this further, Angel dragged his mind back to the things he needed to raise with
notice anything strange about Matthew?”
“Well, he was
a bit of an odd character, but I suppose all of us are, in one way or
another. He was likeable enough.”
what happened at the bonfire? Don’t you
think that was strange?”
considered this, but couldn’t see what his companion was driving at.
“What do you
that we’d found the right bonfire – a one in five chance – why would the fire
demons leave a roaring fire like that and all of them come into a cold
car? And what about the way the Bonfire
Boys got tangled in those ropes? There
was no reason at all for that to happen.”
“You’ve got a
“Think back to
the time we’ve spent with Matthew.
We’ve told him that he couldn’t come with us, and yet he did. We’ve – I’ve – talked about things I
had no intention of talking about. I
don’t mind you knowing, but I would never have talked about Darla, or Dru, or
that demon hell, or anything else from my past, in front of a comparative stranger
like him. I think he has hidden
talents. I think he can… manipulate…
things. I don’t believe he knows that
he’s doing it, so that makes him quite dangerous, although I’m sure he has a
good heart. I think he needs a proper
not something any of us can do, and certainly not me. He needs someone who can help him with the magic, not a dabbler,
which is all I am.”
than a dabbler, Giles, but you’re right.
He needs someone of power.”
haven’t found anyone who fits the bill.
Magic users are damned thin on the ground now.”
heartache was etched into his face, so Angel was gentle.
“I know. And I think I know the very person to do
When he named
the person he had in mind, Giles’ opinion was clearly and forcefully
expressed. It didn’t change Angel’s
view, though. So, they agreed to differ
for the moment, and talked about ways of finding a passage to that particular
demon dimension for Stan and his brood.
They came up a blank, but Angel had his own ideas about that, too. He didn’t mention them, because he rather
thought he knew what Giles would say.
So, they fell
back onto the safer ground, for now, of what Giles was going to talk about to
the Methodist Ladies’ Circle. Biblical
monsters, indeed. After half an hour,
they asked Mrs Kettering if she had a Bible to hand – King James’ version,
please – and settled down to serious business.
Satyrs, cockatrices, unicorns, dragons, basilisks, demons and devils,
leviathan and phoenix. They talked
about them all. Could ‘demons’ be a
mistranslation of the desert hyenas?
Was it really a screech owl in Isaiah 34:14, or were other translations
of Lilith, or the lamia, more accurate?
Why did Psalm 74 speak of God breaking the heads of leviathans, yet
Psalm 104 tell of God making the leviathan to play in the sea? On and on they talked, as the sun westered
behind the concealing smoky mist.
Then it was
time to settle their account with Mrs Kettering, and head back to
Westbury. The fate of the fire demons might
still be unresolved, but it would be a priority for Giles, when he got back to
his research resources. Angel kept his
own counsel, for now. Stan, perhaps
preferring the company of another demon, opted to ride with Angel. Angel, knowing that, for now, the Porsche
had been added to Giles’ insurance, ignored Stan’s plea to ‘heat it up a bit’,
as he ignored the little demon’s requests for more information about how they
might be restored to what he was now convinced was his own dimension.
Buffy was pleased
to see them all, and thought the young fire demons ‘cute’. Judging by the pink flush to his coloration,
Stan found her cute, too. And she was
very, very taken with the car, especially since she could see the excitement in
Angel’s face when he showed it to her.
woke up the next morning, Monday, he couldn’t speak. Angel, under instructions to examine the glands in Giles’ neck,
found them lumpy and swollen. There was
no chance of him getting his voice back by that evening. There were arguments, conducted on one side
with gestures and in silence, and those went on for half the day. In the end, though, the Methodist Ladies’
Circle got their speaker on ‘Biblical Monsters’. It may possibly have been the first time ever that one monster
had addressed a church social group about other monsters, as a vampire talked
from Giles’ notes and from his own learning, bringing a three-hundred-year-old
understanding to the matter, with a Slayer and an ex-Watcher sitting proudly in
the audience. The ladies thought it was
one of the most interesting talks they’d ever had, even those who heard hardly
Matthew down to Westbury. Giles, still
far from convinced, but with nothing better to offer, did the talking. Matthew thought they’d run mad, but
eventually began to believe.
that, until we ask, we can make no promises?”
Adam’s apple was bobbing in his throat as excitement, and the prospect of
adventure, gripped him.
“Very well. We’ll try tonight. We might not even gain entry, you understand?”
sir. But I’m grateful that you would
come, Giles, and Buffy and Angel; Matthew; and Stan and his children. They hadn’t been able to find the other two
adult fire demons yet. Only Angel and
Matthew walked up the hill, though, passing by the Cerne Abbas Giant and
standing under the clear moonlight in the little enclosure known as the
Trendle. Angel called to her.
“My Lady! Can you hear me?”
He had no idea
whether he would be received, whether access was at all possible without Ella’s
magic to open the doorway, or even whether the Queen could hear him. Then, he and the boy were surrounded by a
thick mist, and the Trendle was gone.
The last time this had happened, he had found himself in the Autumn Land
of the King, while Buffy had gone to the Queen’s Summer Country. Now, he and Matthew were surrounded by the
ladies of the Queen’s Court. The Queen
sat on a mound of cushions, nursing a red-haired infant. Angel looked around. There were far fewer women here than he had
vampire. My Court, and the King’s, are
both much depleted. We gave what was
needed to the witches, but the price was heavy.”
“You have my
thanks, Lady, but we would all have been dead, otherwise, including you and the
ungracious demon.” She looked up from
the infant, a half smile on her face.
“And yet you are right. Have you
come here to help us replenish the faery folk?”
“You know I have
not. I have come looking for…help.”
He didn’t like
to use the word ‘favour’.
“I think that
Matthew, here, has the power of magic.
He needs a teacher, and we cannot find one.”
“And so you
come to me?”
“Ella told me
once that all witches have faery blood in them.”
almost true. Is that all you have come
“I have some
fire demons. Can you help us get them
back to Acathla’s dimension?”
She tapped her
finger against her pursed lips, considering.
She had made promises to Ella before the witch’s death; promises to help
rebuild the Earth’s population of magic users; promises to care for the future
of this demon and his lover; promises that she would keep because they were in
her own interests, too, but there was no need yet to let the vampire know about
these. That would be a position of
strength for her in her dealings with him.
“What are you
prepared to pay, for this… help?”
was silvery, and full of bright malice, he thought; nevertheless, it sent a
thrill of pleasure through his demon.
Ruthlessly, he squashed that down and waited for her response. He hoped it wouldn’t be fatal.
“Here is my
price. When my King is no longer young
and strong and virile – and that will be many years hence – you will come for a
season, and take his place. The place
that you won, and walked away from.
There will be no negotiation about this.”
her demand. In the time span that the
Queen referred to, he might be dust, he might be human, or he might still be
stalking the Earth. If he still lived,
Buffy would not. Faeries measured time
in greater spans than humans. He might
need a respite from Earth, when Buffy was dead.
Buffy lives, but afterwards? Perhaps.”
“Good enough. You may leave the boy here. I shall tell you when to fetch him
back. Bring the fire demons to the
place you call the Trendle. The walls
are thinner now between us and the demon dimensions. They will grow stronger with time but, for now, I can reach
“Can you find
the other two, Stan’s husbands?”
clouded with anger.
“I am not your
lackey! No, I will not!”
cried a little and reached out for her.
She soothed it with soft humming noises. When she looked up at Angel again, the anger was gone.
“I will not
spend my time doing this for you. But,
if you can find the other two before the walls thicken, I will send them
nodded. It was the best he was going to
get. He turned to Matthew.
“Are you sure
you want to stay here?”
“Oh, yes. Thank you… Angel.”
out his hand, and Angel shook it, solemnly. Then he turned, strode back into
the mist, and was gone to his own reality.
I must apologise
– I’m getting as bad with Author’s Notes here as I am in my longer
stories. I just like to share. Forgive me?
Jerome K Jerome’s ‘Three Men in A Boat’?
(If you don’t, you should go and read it, right now). What you may not know is that he also wrote
a book called ‘Three Men on the Bummel’.
So, what is a bummel? To have it straight from the horse's mouth, he
explains it as follows: "A 'Bummel'," I explained, "I should
describe as a journey, long or short, without an end; the only thing regulating
it being the necessity of getting back within a given time to the point from
which one started. Sometimes it is through busy streets, and sometimes through
the fields and lanes; sometimes we can be spared for a few hours, and sometimes
for a few days. But long or short, but here or there, our thoughts are ever on
the running of the sand. We nod and smile to many as we pass; with some we stop
and talk awhile; and with a few we walk a little way. We have been much
interested, and often a little tired. But on the whole we have had a pleasant
time, and are sorry when 'tis over."
included from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bummel
2 Cavalier Poets
A very good selection
of work from the Cavalier Poets, including the poems mentioned here, can be
found at: http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/cavalier.htm
collections of works from other periods, too.
It really is a lovely site – go visit.
3 Royal Pavilion, Brighton
Here’s a good
picture of the outside:
And here are
some good views of the interior:
immediately detect that The Prince Regent was noted for his restrained taste in
décor. Don’t you agree?
4 Fire demons
readers, think of the current nPower advertisements, take the cute little
yellow and blue energy thingummies, give them teeth like giant rats, and a lot
of attitude. That’s a fire demon. For people outside the UK, I think you can
get the idea.
5 Islingword Road Reservoir and the Ice
In Britain the
practice of storing ice in specially constructed chambers was started in the
17th century and continued up to the early 20th century. At first ice was
collected exclusively from local ponds and lakes and was placed in the private
Ice Houses of large estates where, if properly insulated, it would last the
year through. These Ice Houses were usually built partly or wholly below
ground, typically with a cylindrical pit of about 3 metres in diameter and 6
metres deep with a domed top. An entrance passage, horizontal or with steps
leading down was often used for access and occasionally a loading shaft through
the top. Materials used were usually brick but other local materials such as
clunch, sandstone and flint rubble were also used.
In 1962, when
an electricity substation was being erected close to the Islingword Road Reservoir,
a structure was discovered and from drawings prepared at that time, this
appears to have been a large Ice House.
actually find a map detailed enough to show whether the reservoir is still
there (not without actually going and spending money on an Ordnance Survey map,
that is) but since it existed in 1962, I’m assuming it is. If anyone knows differently, please tell me.
6 Prince Regent, George IV
about the end of the 18th century into the 19th
century. The Prince of Wales was
appointed Prince Regent, during the period of madness suffered by his father,
George III. He spent a lot of money,
had some very disreputable friends, and had a fairly ruinous lifestyle.
7 Alfriston Clergy House
This is a
lovely property owned by the National Trust, and you can see a picture here:
Oddly, I can
find very little about the look of the interior – the following is the best
I’ve got, and so I’ve made the rest up.
Again, if anyone knows better, please let me know. It’s from:
The house is
situated on the green of this Sussex village and is one of very few surviving
14th century Wealden hall houses. It
was built in around 1350 and has a central hall rising to the rafters, flanked
by two-storey blocks on either side.
One block contained the family's private accommodation and the other the
service quarters. The hall has beams
decorated with oak-leaf carvings and a rammed chalk floor. This was local to Sussex and consisted of
lumps of chalk, laid and sealed with sour milk.
To give you
some context, here are pictures of the village of Alfriston. It looks as if butter wouldn’t melt, doesn’t
it? Apparently, though, it was big with
smugglers in centuries gone by…
8 Bonfire Night
November 1605, Guy Fawkes was found with a large stack of barrels of gunpowder
underneath the Houses of Parliament.
There had been a conspiracy to blow the place up with the King and
Parliament inside it, and Guido Fawkes was the one chosen to do the deed. Much as one might sympathise with him in
modern times, it was not generally well-regarded then, especially as Guido was
a foreigner. Since that time, there has
been a tradition of bonfires, and burning guys, and bonfire toffee and baked
potatoes and fireworks. The bonfire can
be a big public display or a much smaller affair in a back garden. The real Guido met a particularly nasty end.
9 The Watersplash
This is based
on a real pub, up on the Hertfordshire/Bedfordshire border. That one was called The Waggon and Horses,
and I used to go there, in my youth.
The description is pretty accurate so far as I can remember. It was a long time ago, right? The Watersplash was another old haunt, but
much more sedate. The name seemed
better for Brighton, though… If you’ve
never had real ale, you do not know what you are missing. All of the ones mentioned are available as
bottle-conditioned guest beers. Try
them, but not too many at once. You
have been warned.
10 Shove halfpenny.
Now that the
halfpenny is no more (finishing up as a tiny washer that stuck in the seams of
your purse, rather than the proper sized coin that it used to be), it probably
should be shove tenpence, but the name has stuck. This is a very old board game.
There is a board marked up with horizontal lines, and you score points
by shoving a coin with your hand from the edge of the board. The winner is the one who manages to get
three coins in the same bed.
Honestly. The more you drink,
the more fun it is, and the more comprehensible the rules…
11 Lewes Bonfire Night
Night compares to Bonfire Night everywhere else as, for example, a Jumbo Jet
compares to a child’s model aeroplane.
These Lewes people really know how to party. You can get lots of information and some
stunning pictures from: http://www.lewesbonfirecouncil.org.uk/
One year, they
did, indeed, have effigies of Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson stuffed with
12 There seem to be an unconscionable number
of items of clothing named after parts of the British Isles. The Channel Islands have made their mark
here. I think everyone knows that a
jersey is a sweater (named after the largest of the Channel Islands). A guernsey is named for another important
island in that group, and is a thick, originally fisherman’s, sweater made
especially from oiled dark blue wool. The Channel Islands are, I believe, the last of the territories
belonging to William of Normandy, before he became William the Conqueror and
no, France cannot have them back.
13 Greek Fire
One of the
most feared weapons of the ancient world, we have no record of exactly what
this substance was. The Byzantines used
it primarily against ships, by pumping a stream of burning fluid from a brass
tube. It apparently could not be doused
by water. It may have been a mixture of
sulphur, quicklime and liquid petroleum.
Nasty stuff, with the properties of napalm. Don’t try it at home.
There’s more at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_fire
definitely a land of ice and fire. And
not a lot of people. Here are pictures
of volcanic eruptions on Heimaey, and of the volcanic island of Surtsey.
15 Biblical monsters
you get all those in the Bible? Would I
lie to you? King James’ Version at all
Satyrs : Isaiah 13:21
serpents: Numbers 21:6
Cockatrices: Jeremiah 8:17
Unicorns: Isaiah 34:7
Dragons: Malachi 1:3 et al
Leviathan: Psalms 74 and 104
Basilisk: Isaiah 14:29 et al
Phoenix: Job 29:18
16 The Queen
met the Queen in ‘Rut’ and in ‘Slayer’.