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Night Creatures

 

 

Night Creatures

Project Paranormal

Author: Dark Star

Part 16

Season Three.

 

**

Summary: All kinds of creatures cherish the night.

 

**

 

"I won't be a minute."

 

Martha closed the car door quietly and took a furtive peep at the small cottage. The front of the house was shabby-looking but clean, and bright plants stood in the terracotta pots outside the front door. She took a deep breath and then made the seven steps needed to reach the wooden door and knocked firmly. While she waited, she smiled at her husband in the car, and glanced down at the plants in the pot, realising that she had no idea what some of them were. Aniseed?  She wasn't sure which of the plants smelt like aniseed and she would have to ask John later - he would surely know. She watched a thrush hopping across the path, and she knocked again. From somewhere inside the cottage, there was a soft clunk.

 

"Alice?" she called through the door. She tried the handle, and found it locked. Odd - Alice never locked her door. Was Alice in trouble? What should she do? Crossing carefully to the bay window, she shaded her eyes against the light and peered inside, hoping she wouldn't see the old lady sprawled across the floor. There was no sign of Alice, no sign of any trouble, and the room looked untouched. She wondered if she ought to go round the back of the cottage, but felt that might be just too nosy. Martha sighed and returned to the car.

 

"No sign?" John asked when she was settled back into the front seat.

 

"No." She frowned, pulling the seat belt round her torso and clicking it in place.  "I'm worried about her, John. Nobody has seen her for weeks."

 

"Maybe Alice just doesn't want company," John said, earning himself Martha's glare. Hurriedly, he added, "Are you going to call the police?"

 

"And say what? That she hasn't been seen?"

 

"What are you going to do?"

 

"I don't know," Martha replied as John started the engine. "Can we come over again tomorrow morning before we go to work?"

 

Great. Martha was going to be edgy all evening, then. Wisely, he replied, "Of course, love."

 

Martha fretted all the way home. During her shopping trip that afternoon, she had run into Clarice Norton in Westbury, and the girl had mentioned that she hadn't seen Alice for some time. The old lady's cats were well past their inoculations, and it was odd, because she was usually so prompt. That got Martha thinking about when she had last seen Alice and couldn't remember. Discreet inquiries at the local shops fuelled her concern. Nobody had seen Alice. 

 

**

 

The next morning dawned cloudy and wet. Martha got John to take a detour round to the old lady's home, but although she knocked several times, there was no answer. She arrived at Summerdown House agitated, and for the next couple of hours she found she could think of nothing except whether the old lady was in any trouble. She wasn't sure what to do; she would have liked to talk to Giles or one of Summerdown's other residents, but Giles and Buffy had gone down to Cornwall on a suspected Strange Thing sighting, and Angel had gone up to London to check out a tip from Travis about a spate of vampire attacks, probably carried out by a single individual. She hoped they would all be back soon.

 

**

 

Giles pulled the newspaper out of his bag. "The report said that the creature - a cross between an Owl and a man, has been seen in the Mawnan area. It's not the first time that the creature has been sighted, but it's gone a bit quiet on that front since the 1970's. "

 

Buffy took the proffered paper and glanced at the tiny report at the bottom of the page about a strange creature chasing teenage kids out of the woods. Giles was hoping to stop whatever was going on, assuming it was genuine, before it made the front page. "Its sounds like the Mothman," she said.

 

Impressed, Giles couldn't help saying, "You've heard of him?"

 

"Well, you don't have to sound so surprised," she said defensively. "With the amount of research we did back in Sunnydale, it's not surprising that I have heard of some of this stuff."

 

"What do you know?"

 

"Only that there have been various sightings in the West Virginia area for the last thirty years or so. Some kind of man-beast, but it doesn't seem to be hostile, though it looks ghastly."

 

"I believe the Owlman to be the same, or a related species to the one seen in West Virginia. This one is usually seen in the vicinity of Mawnan - sometimes around the church, and sometimes - as now - in the woods."

 

"Well," Buffy said, flexing her shoulders and stretching her tired muscles after the long journey down, "I say we get something to eat before we go hunting owls. You know, a lot of our cases are down here in Cornwall. Should we move the office down here?"

 

"Westbury is more central, so will suit us better. But yes… Cornwall is well known for its paranormal happenings, as is much of the West Country."

 

"England seems to have its fair share, too," she chuckled. "Let's go eat, Giles."

 

**

 

Angel watched the night-time population weave its way through the garishly bright lights cast by the busy shops, restaurants and nightlife. Years ago, Soho was known as the Red Light District, but that was now largely eradicated. However, the business undertaken in Soho didn't just disappear, it simply moved elsewhere. He stood in one of the darkened and closed shops, enjoying the hum of humanity as it passed him by, going about the daily rituals. His mind drifted back to earlier that day when Buffy found out where he was supposed to go.

 

"London? You're going to London?"

 

"Yes, but its just…"

 

"Don't you 'just' me!" Buffy folded her arms across her chest. "I spoke to Giles. The area around Kings Cross is a haven for prostitutes, drug addicts, and crooks!"

 

Angel shrugged. "So?"

 

"How come you get to do the slaying? I should do that!"

 

"You could," he replied soothingly. "But you are already packing to go down to Cornwall shortly. I didn't have anything else to do." He took in her furious look, and added placatingly. "I didn't think it would matter."

 

"Well it does!" she snapped, whirling away to pick up her folded sweater and hurl it into the case so hard it bounced.

 

"I'm sorry," Angel ventured. "I didn't mean to make you angry."

 

"No?" she glared at him. "I'm sure you'll forget all about that when you get a look at those naked girls!"

 

"Naked girls?" he said, bewildered. "What naked girls?"

 

"Oh, as if you don't know, Mr Innocent!" A t-shirt bounced into the suitcase, sprawling on top of the sweater.

 

Angel hesitated, not sure if she was mad at him because she didn't trust him, or because he was going without her. "It's not a social trip," he tried. "It's all business."

 

"I'll bet!" she scowled, slamming down the lid of the case hard enough to make the bed shake.

 

Angel sighed. The last thing he wanted was to argue with a pre-menstrual slayer, but her lack of trust in him hurt. "I'm just going to do my job, Buffy. I don't know why you're getting yourself all worked up." He knew he'd said the wrong thing when she pursed her lips, grabbed the case off of the bed and stormed out.

 

Now, looking at the very young ladies parading themselves along the street in very little attire, he had a better understanding of why she was upset. But still… didn't she understand that he loved her?

 

In front of him, a pretty girl with a mass of dark curls stopped in front the shop doorway, in the privacy of the darkness. She began adjusting her top to show her cleavage to the best advantage, and she hitched up her skirt to fiddle with the suspenders at the top of her stocking. Satisfied, she smoothed out the wrinkles in her very tight red skirt before wobbling away on her very high red shoes, completely unaware she had been watched by the vampire in the doorway.

 

He settled back further into the shadows; Oh boy. He suspected he was going to have a very long night.

 

 

**

"So… did Jane mind?" Buffy asked, as they trekked up the slope to travel further into the woods.

 

Giles blinked. "Why should she?"

 

"Well, you know… it's quite romantic, waiting at home for her man…"

 

"I'm not her man!" he shot back before he could stop himself. "She's a friend, Buffy.  One that I haven't seen for a while."

 

"Why haven't we met her?"

 

He sighed. "I'm just meeting her for a drink, that's all. Just a drink."

 

"Right," Buffy smirked. "Just a drink." Secretly, she was pleased that he was going out. Jane worked in one of the shops down in Westbury, and she had overheard Giles calling her to explain that he wouldn't be able to make their rendezvous because he had a job to work on. She wondered if he would ever actually have that drink with her.

 

Something glittered in the gathering dusk, and she went to investigate.

 

"Giles?"

 

Joining his slayer at the edge of a small bank, he found her looking down at the bloody grass, a strange creature lying motionless at her feet. It looked rather like a big grey bat. The head and body were one piece; a grey-orange beak in what would have been the head was partly open. The eyes were closed, but Giles suspected that if they were open, the eyes would have been remarkably like an Owl's. The whole body was covered in feathers, except for the membrane underneath the wings that attached the wings to the body, and this membrane stretched right across the chest. The feet, clenched tightly in death, were claws, much like a bird might have.

 

"Is this our Owlman?" Buffy asked as Giles knelt down beside the feathered body.  "What killed it?"

 

"Probably this," he said indicating the sharp rock under what was presumably the head. He looked up from the blood-splattered rock into the overhead trees, and could see nothing. Beside the creature's body, Buffy noticed a large broken branch.

 

"Could he have fallen?"

 

Giles took the heavy branch. One end was ragged, as though it was snapped off, and looked very recent. "Yes, I think that might have been the case. He hit his head on that rock…"

 

"But why? I gather these things have been around for a while - and if it was so clumsy it fell off of things, surely it would have been found before now?"

 

"True." He considered.  "Perhaps he was in a hurry?"

 

"Running from - or after - those kids?"

 

"It's possible."

 

Continuing the route uphill, they found an area that looked like it had been trampled, and was probably where the kids had been chased away.

 

Giles started forward. "Perhaps…"

 

Whatever he was about to say was drowned out by a ghastly screech, and something swooping down from the trees. He went down under a mass of grey feathers, glad he had chosen to wear a warm sweater against the evening chill, because it was taking the worst of the raking talons. He couldn't breathe - the creature was so hot and his world was suddenly full of motion as he fought desperately to keep it at bay. Then it was gone, yanked away by a furious slayer, apparently by her bare hands. In fact, she still had a handful of feathers clasped tightly in one fist as she battled with the overgrown owl-thing.

 

Giles scrambled to pick himself up off of the ground, fighting his instinct to help her, knowing that he would probably just get in the way. She was born for this. He stepped back, to give her some room, and the Owlman turned glowing red eyes in his direction. Motion? Had it been attracted to movement, or something else? An idea was forming, and, trusting that his slayer could look after herself, he set off in the direction that he had been heading before the Owlman had attacked.

 

That had been exactly the same spot that the other Owlman had chased the kids. Coincidence? Or was it guarding something? Behind him, he heard Buffy shout, '"hey!" or something similar, and he could hear the creature coming after him.

 

He hurried through the undergrowth knowing he didn't have much time, and then… he stopped dead.

 

"Good Lord."

 

Giles spun as the Owlman came crashing after him, and Buffy hot on his talons. The Owlman growled at him, and Buffy swung round, putting herself again between the creature and Giles. She started forward, arm raised…

 

"Buffy, wait!" the arm remained in midair, something in the tone of Giles' voice making her pause. The creature, clearly restless, was staring past her, and she kept the creature in her peripheral vision, and turned her head slightly to see what was happening.

 

Giles was gently pulling the undergrowth away from a small area of compacted grass, looking like it was shaped into a well. But it was what was inside the well that made her gasp. Bloody shapes lay inside the well, less developed but definitely miniature versions of the Owlman.

 

"What happened?" she breathed, her arm dropping down to her side.

 

"A fox?" Giles guessed. "Poachers, maybe?"  He squirmed forward, earning a growl from the Owlman, and peered closer. "Some of them are still alive," he said.

 

Gently, he picked up one of the limp creatures, ignoring the warning growl, knowing Buffy would keep him at bay. The baby's skin was cold in his hands, and he remembered the heat of the Owlman's body. The babies had not yet grown their feathers, and he knew that they were dying.  He cupped the young creature in his hands, blowing gently on the body to warm it, his mind racing. Could he do anything to help them? He knew nothing of the physiology of these young creatures, but the thought of not trying to help never entered his head. Placing the baby down quickly, he stripped off his sweater and popped the baby inside the sleeve, wrapping the fabric round it as best he could. He reached for the second baby.

 

Owlman started forward, uncertain what the strange thing was doing to his young, and Buffy barred his way. "You're not going anywhere, Ducky." She told him, and the Owlman whimpered.

 

"Don't you hoot at me," she warned.

 

"I think," Giles muttered, looking up from his swaddling, "that it was more of a whine than a hoot."

 

Buffy sighed. "Yes, but it's funnier if it’s a hoot. Work with me here, okay?"

 

"In fact," Giles added, tucking another small body into a fold in his sweater, "it's interesting that barn owls don't hoot, either. They screech."

 

Buffy raised an eyebrow. "You're telling me this is a barn owl?"

 

Giles smiled to himself, wondering if she could find humour in any situation. Six of the young creatures were still alive, although one was so limp he doubted that it would survive. He stood up, his agile mind weighing up his options. Both Buffy and the Owlman were watching him curiously, and he indicated she should let him pass. The creature scrambled to his babies and crouched down. Giles was afraid he would unravel the fabric but he made no attempt to do so, and he breathed a sigh of relief. He noticed Buffy relax too - she must have been tensed and ready to stop it, if he had tried.

 

What to do now? He remembered the body of the other Owlman, or maybe it was an Owlwoman, and that it had a band of skin running around the chest area. This Owl-creature didn't have it. "Take off your sweater," he suddenly said to Buffy.

 

"Excuse me?" she squeaked, feeling her face turn a becoming shade of pink. What was happening now? Had Giles been possessed, or something?

 

Giles suddenly realised what he had said. "I do beg your pardon," he spluttered, awkwardly indicating the crouching Owlman. "I think that they keep their young warm by holding them against the body, and I was just thinking that wool would be a better… insulator than… I'm so sorry; I didn't mean…" embarrassed, Giles began to unbutton his shirt in order to use that instead.

 

Buffy tried to hide a smile. He looked so … cute, when he was fumbling like that. In an older, Giles' way, of course… "It's okay," she grinned, stripping off her sweater, thankful that she put a t-shirt underneath it this morning. As she handed it over, she couldn't resist another dig, "If you wanted a flash, you only had to say."

 

"I didn't…" he began, before realising she was teasing him. "Well," he added, knotting the wool into a makeshift carrier. "Just don't tell Angel…"

 

Buffy giggled, and the Owlman jumped. Right. Inappropriate humour here…

 

When the Owlman stood up, Giles indicated the sweater, and curious, the creature let him place the bag over his neck so that it hung down in front of his chest. He growled when Giles gently picked up his own sweater, complete with babies, and slipped them into the cosy carrier round the Owlman's neck.

 

Owlman looked bemused, and then… he wrapped his arms round the babies and hugged them close. He looked up at the strange pair of creatures in front of him, and said, "Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss."

 

"You're welcome," Buffy and Giles replied in unison. Then the Owlman turned and scampered off into the woods again, his babies supported by a feathery arm. Or was that a wing?

 

"Do you think they'll survive?" Buffy asked.

 

"I don't know," Giles replied, suddenly realising he was really very tired. "But we have given them a chance."

 

Buffy shivered. "You know, we should really get back… it's a bit chilly down here."

 

"Quite so," he agreed.

 

"What about the other Owl body, should we bury it?"

 

Giles considered. "Covering it will probably suffice. It's fairly quiet up here, and I doubt that it gets much passing traffic."

 

It was a sad business manoeuvring the deceased Owl creature into the darker undergrowth and covering the body with leaves and branches now that they knew 'she' had only been protecting her young. Maybe it wasn't so different after all.

 

"Should we… you know, say something?" Buffy asked, looking down at the little pile of leaves.

 

"It hardly seems appropriate to say a prayer," Giles replied.

 

"I know, but still…" in her thoughts, Buffy was remembering the dead cat that had ended up in her basement, and her mother's insistence when they buried it in the yard that they had to say something. Goodbye, strange Owlwoman, I hope you find your way.

 

"Well…" with Buffy looking at him expectantly, he searched his memory for something that would be adequate. Then, he began to recite.

 

" I saw my world again through your eyes
As I would see it again through your children's eyes.
Through your eyes it was foreign.
Plain hedge hawthorns were peculiar aliens,
A mystery of peculiar lore and doings."

 

Giles turned and walked away then, and Buffy fell into step beside him.

 

"Tennyson?" she guessed.

 

"Ted Hughes."

 

"I don't know that one."

 

"No? Well, he was an English Poet - only died about ten years ago."

 

"Learn something every day," she murmured. "So, we're done here then? We can go home?"

 

"We can go home," Giles confirmed.

 

"Good." Her expression turned sombre. "I was a bit… unfair to Angel before we left. I need to make it up with him."

 

"I'm sure he isn't going to bear a grudge."

 

"He'd better not," she grinned, earning herself a sideways glance from Giles. "And," she said in an attempt to change the subject, "You've got a date to get ready for."

 

"It's not a date," Giles said patiently. "I'm just meeting a friend for an evening out, that's all."

 

"Yep." Buffy beamed. "Like I said… a date."

 

**

 

Two feet from the darkened doorway, a boy begged for the drugs he craved, even though he hadn't enough money to pay for them. Angel watched in distaste, as the youngster, probably no more than fifteen, offered the dealer everything he had to procure the sale, even himself, before being turned firmly away. Hands shaking, the boy pulled his hooded jacket tighter over his malnourished frame and crossed over the street and disappeared around the corner of the street. A drunken male, shouting lewd comments at the barely dressed girls, staggered into the same alley and vomited.

 

Girls paraded themselves in their tiny clothing and provocative poses, waiting for the latest customer to come and buy what they had to offer. Clasping the arm of one of these eager punters, they sashayed into cheap hotels, or climbed into waiting cars; many pulled their companion into the nearest darkened alley, to reappear mere moments later, the client already on his way somewhere else.

 

Angel missed nothing; he saw the drunks and druggies, the pimps and prostitutes. He saw raincoated men sidle into seedy clubs, with bold claims of topless dancers or free shows emblazoned across their establishments.  He watched the couples just out for a fun evening, the occasional tourist who had ended up in the wrong part of London, and the inevitable homeless huddled in their makeshift boxes or bedded down in doorways. One had tried to commandeer the space that Angel occupied, but the instinct that all relied on down here, sent him hurrying for somewhere safer. While he watched, he brooded. Buffy had been annoyed that he had agreed to come here. He understood that she was unhappy about his proximity to the area's working girls, but he had no intention of getting to know any of them. Why didn't she trust him?

 

Then he saw her. She had a grace that the other girls didn't have; an ease of movement that seemed to flow. She looked confident and pretty in a simple black dress that clung to every curve. He moved forward, silent and fast, and reached her as she stopped on the street corner. Her dark eyes appraised him; no words spoken, she gave an imperceptible tilt of her head to the nearest alley, and he let his mouth quirk into a small smile. She went first, waiting for him.

 

"Been a while, has it?" she asked, the husky tone of her voice affecting him more than was comfortable.

 

"What makes you say that?"

 

"We don't normally pay for what we want, do we?"

 

"Who said I'm going to pay for it this time?"

 

Her stance changed. "No freebies, even for you." For a moment, Angel froze, wondering if she recognised him, but he didn't think so when she continued, "I've seen that look before, you know. "

 

 "Look?"

 

"Yeah." Then she was in front of him, against him, and her lithe body arousing more than the usual manly response, and he watched as she let her true face emerge. "I've shown you mine…?"

 

The muscles in his face twitched, but he forced himself to keep his human face. "No. That's not how it's going to go."

 

Unperturbed, she scraped her fangs along her wrist and offered it to him. "How what's going to go?" Her voice was low, and full of silk. The blood on her wrist was calling to him, and his own bloodlust stirred. It had been so long… The wrist was almost to his lips when he entwined his fingers with hers, and the temperature of her skin, so different from Buffy's, snapped him back to the present. With the memory of his woman's smiling face in his mind, he turned the wrist, twisting it up behind the vampire's back.

 

"This," he snapped, pulling the stake out of his pocket and jamming it into her heart. Her surprised gasp was lost in the crumbling dust, and he brushed down his jacket. He understood now; Buffy had been right to be concerned about sending him on this mission, and he resolved to make it up to her when he got back.

 

But the smell of blood still hung heavy in the air.

 

 

**

 

Before leaving for Westbury, Giles called Summerdown House to see if there had been any more cases come in during his absence. There had been only one enquiry about how much an exorcism would cost, and  Martha took the opportunity to mention her unease about Alice. Giles liked Alice. She had been his primary school teacher at the tiny local Victorian school, and she must have worked at the school for at least thirty years when she had been forced to retire. He had never known her to be anything less than charitable to everyone, and as a boy, had sometimes sneaked to her little cottage to listen to her wonderful tales of the places that she had been. She had taught English, but he discovered that she could also speak French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Greek. She had loved languages, and he suspected that it was partly down to her, that he had developed an early interest in learning to speak other tongues. In fact, he could speak halting French long before they had ever had lessons in it at school, and that was down to her enthusiasm and patient instruction.

 

"Would you like me to drop by?" he asked his worried housekeeper.

 

"Would you mind?" Martha replied, a little too eagerly. "I know it's not…. a case… but I would feel better if you could take a look."

 

"Of course I don't mind," Giles assured her. "I'm sure it's nothing to worry about, but I'll stop by her cottage when I get back."

 

"Thank you," Martha said, relieved. "I'd feel better if you would."

 

After the long journey home, Giles had a quick freshen up and changed his shirt before keeping his promise to Martha. He left Buffy behind at the flat, to wait for Angel's return sometime after dark.

 

Alice's front garden looked neat and tidy, the potted plants healthy and well cared for. Somebody must have been looking after them. He knocked on the door and waited. There were no sounds of movement from inside the house, and he knocked again, not really expecting an answer. He tried to open the door next, and found as Martha had, that the door was locked.

 

Giles took a couple of steps back and looked up at the bedroom windows. The curtains were open, the windows clean. Walking round the side of the house, he unhitched the latch on the small wooden gate and went into the back yard of the house. There was nobody in the garden, and he went to the window and peered inside. On the floor of the kitchen, a pair of black and white cats hunched over two bowls of food, and as Giles watched, a couple of drops of water ran down the window pane. In the sink below the window, some cups and bowls waited to be washed, and he knew somebody was in the house.

 

He knocked on the back door, smiling ruefully as both cats abandoned their bowls and hid in the space underneath the dresser. Nobody answered, but he was fairly certain that he had heard movement from behind the door.

 

"Alice?" he called,  "It's me - Rupert Giles. Are you all right?"

 

Nobody answered, but he had the distinct feeling that somebody was hiding behind the door.

 

"Alice?" he tried again. "I know you're there. Talk to me. Is something wrong?"

 

Silence. And then, very tentatively, Alice said, "Nothing is wrong, Rupert. Thank you for coming."

 

Something was wrong - he couldn't put his finger on it, but he knew that she was hiding something. "Open the door, Alice."

 

"I… I can't, Rupert. I've been… had the flu. I wouldn't want to give it to you."

 

He frowned. Her voice sounded… odd, somehow. "Open the door, Alice."

 

"I'd… rather not."

 

All right. Time for the big guns. "If you don't open the door right now, I'm going straight down and enlist the help of  Ivy Grittleton. If you think she'll go away without seeing you, you're very much mistaken."

 

From inside the cottage, he could hear rustling sounds. A drawer being opened. What was she doing? Looking for some kind of weapon? He heard the bolt on the door being pulled back, and the door opened just a crack, and he peered inside. Although the temperature wasn't particularly cold, Alice appeared to wrapped up very warmly, even to the point of wearing gloves and a hat. A scarf was pulled up high round her neck.

 

"Are you cold?" he asked.

 

"Haven't been well," she said, a bit testily. "Now you've seen I'm fine, you can leave me alone."

 

Giles frowned again. He had never heard Alice be sharp with anyone. Still, he had seen her, and he could report back to Martha that all was well. He was just about to say goodbye, when he noticed that the scarf had slipped down, and her neck looked very dry, very pink, and… was that scales on her neck?

 

Alice saw the look that crossed his face, and, her eyes wide, she readjusted the scarf round her neck, wafting the scent of aniseed in his direction. "Go home, Rupert," she snapped, a note of desperation in her voice.

 

Suddenly everything clicked, and Giles said sympathetically, "You're a Silarri."

 

Alice gaped at him. Then she sighed, moved back and opened the door. "You'd better come in, Rupert."

 

While Giles sat himself down at the kitchen table, Alice made some tea. With Giles's insistence, but with some reluctance, she took off the hat, scarf, and gloves. Her hands were also covered with the same pinky scales that covered her neck, and some were even showing through her hair, and a little self-consciously, she sat down and told him her story. He'd known that she had travelled a great deal, but until now, he had never understood why.

 

Originally from North Africa, she had worked her way up through Europe. She had never married, never had children. When she lived in Italy, she had fallen in love with an architect, but after she told him she wasn't human, he had freaked, told her she was a monster. She fled to France, and finally England, where she eventually settled in Westbury.

 

Although Alice looked about eighty, Giles knew that Silarri lived a great deal longer than humans. "If you don't mind me asking," he asked, "How old are you?"

 

"Two hundred and seven," she said promptly.

 

"And now, you're having trouble passing?"

 

"Yes. By our standards, I'm not that old," she said, "I do have to be careful when I'm with others that I give the impression of an old lady. That's not too bad, but the ability to maintain my human skin is getting harder. Eventually, I won't be able to hold it at all... I'm afraid to let anyone see me like this."

 

Giles nodded. When that happened, she would have to disappear from public view completely. "What have you been living on?"

 

Alice shrugged. "I've been stockpiling food and supplies for some time, but I'm starting to run a bit low now. And it's been… lonely."

 

"You're not alone any longer," Giles said firmly.  "I will come by and see you, and I'm sure that Martha will be happy to take care of your shopping and other …"

 

"Martha mustn't see me like this!"

 

"Martha is more adaptable than you give her credit for," Giles said gently, rubbing behind the ears of a purring cat that had just landed on his lap.

 

Alice watched him in silence, and then she said, "What do you know about Silarri?"

 

Giles considered. "Very adaptable species, able to camouflage themselves as many different demons, or nationalities of humans… I didn't realise that the power to do so was limited."

 

"It's not something that's documented," Alice agreed.

 

"Their language skills are legendary." Giles replied, and then asked, "How many languages can you really speak?"

 

Alice hesitated. "I've really no idea. Thirty, perhaps?" At Giles' look of astonishment, she added apologetically, "And probably another twenty or so demon languages."

 

"I wish I'd known that before," Giles said. "It would have come in very useful on some of our cases. You don't want a job as translator, do you?"

 

Alice laughed. "The income would come in handy." Her expression changed. "I miss… being useful. I miss mixing with people, seeing life."

 

"It must be hard to always act as an elderly lady when you aren't all that old. Do you ever… behave inappropriately?"

 

Alice looked down, embarrassed. Then she confided, "Sometimes I go out - always at night so that I can't be seen. I go to bright places, busy streets; and sometimes… I go into the woods and just run. It feels so good."

 

"I imagine that would be a surprise to anybody that you happened to run into," Giles said, making Alice laugh for the second time. He suspected that she hadn't had much chance to talk to people of late, never mind find humour in the meetings.

 

"I imagine it would," she agreed.

 

Giles sipped his tea, and the silence stretched on. The cat nudged his arm, and Giles obliged by stroking the soft fur. Alice had been around a long time. How had he never realised that she wasn't human? How many others were here in England? In Westbury? Oh… the things she could enlighten him with! He smiled.

 

"So… why don't you tell me some more tales of what happened before you ended up in Westbury?"

 

End

 

 

Author's Notes:

 

The line from the poem Giles quotes is The Owl by Ted Hughes.

 

You can find more about the Cornish Owlman here.

 

 

 

 



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