Among the Trees
Set after the end, brief mention of events regarding Xander
Oz has grown up and moved in with an old friend
Stop suing me I'm poor.
The sunset, the moon rose and Oz was nowhere near his cage.
"So anyway I was saying we need about ten pounds of candy for Halloween and then ten pounds just for me and you, plus eight pounds for the party and hmm, maybe another seven pounds in reserve just in case so how much is that?"
"Thirty-five." Oz stared at Xander. Why he had ever agreed to get an apartment with the twenty-seven year old version of his friend. But it had been years since Sunnydale and Oz had felt sorry for him when Xander had shown up with one eye and several nasty battle scars from his so-called friendship with Buffy.
Xander scratched at his missing eye. "Think I should be a pirate again this year?"
"Three times in a row?" Oz opened his wallet to see if he had enough candy money.
"Eh, the eye makes it a natural choice, y'know?" A rare sad look crossed Xanders face, prompting Oz to give him an even rarer manly hug. Xander held on tight for a second and Oz felt like he was drawing strength from Oz's tiny frame. Then he released Oz quickly. "Okay, so evil goat herder it is. I can say I lost the good eye in a fight with a wolf." He winked.
Oz smirked at the reference to his lycanthropy and left for the local Acme. He needed a lot of candy and might have to hit more than one store. The street was cool and leaves swirled dead and crackling around Oz's feet. The little town in Northern California sported all the seasons unlike Sunnydale and it also sported discreet neighbors who didn't mind howling sessions once a month as long as Xander and Oz kept the lawn mown.
A little girl was walking in the trees next to him. He waved at the tiny blonde. She waved back and the wind lifted Oz's hair. He stopped. The wind should have brought her scent directly to him. It didn't. Curious he moved closer to her and still nothing. She was unscented which meant she wasn't there. Or wasn't physically there.
"Hey," Oz moved to a ground eating lope, coming up alongside the girl.
"Hi," she giggled and Oz noticed her clothes were early seventies retro.
"Mm hmm. I came to help you coz it's almost the time of the dead." She giggled, stopped and turned to Oz. She pointed at Oz's eye. "You can give your friend a gift."
"Return his eye to him but you've got to do something for me." She twirled.
Oz thought about the sad look on his friend's face and the other scars on him that weren't physical, the ones that were Buffy induced. "Okay go."
"My mommy killed me and buried me under one of these trees." Her face was a mask of pain.
"You want me to find your bones?"
"I want to you to find my mommy's bones. And bury her next to me. That way we'll be together forever, here among the trees. Do that for me and I'll give Xander back his eye."
She vanished, leaving Oz alone.
So the supermarket was out.
Oz headed for the cemetery. Lucky for him there was only one in the tiny town. Unlucky for him the little girl hadn’t told him the woman’s name or date of death. He couldn’t just dig up every woman in the field. Standing at the gates he was stuck in indecision land.
A giggle spurned him on. But the gate was locked. Stuck again. His Sunnydale instincts kicked in and he walked around the seven foot stone wall until he found what he wanted: a sturdy section of ivy. In true Scoobie style he climbed and in a stroke of Xander luck the ivy collapsed dropping him to the pavement.
“You’re not very good at this.” A voice said in his ear.
Oz turned but he could only hear the little girl, not see her. “I’m out of practice and pushing thirty. Hint?”
“She likes blue.”
Oz stared at the wall. The sun was casting long shadows against it. Oz didn’t have much time to get the bones if he wanted to be caged tonight. He hadn’t taken the herbal remedy in years, preferring to let his wild side run free. He wasn’t sure he could still keep the beast in when the sunset… So, the wolf would just have to help him speed things up a little.
Pulling at the light bandage he kept over the darker side of his mind, Oz felt a surge of rage that he liked to call Willow Pain. He dragged the energy of it down into his legs, feelings the wolf’s need to hunt and kill, mate, run free, jump. He pulled jump free and focused it and bounded. He flew over the wall, twisted in the air, flying. Oz landed in a perfect crouch, growling. Rage. Pain. Anger. Hunger. Fight.
Oz’s hands curled into claws, furring, shaking. Forcing it down hurt. He raged against himself, angry in both halves, frightened by emotions he hadn’t felt in years, stuck between man and animal. He was unable to shift.
The landscape exploded into color, scent and sound. Oz was overloaded with animal musks, decaying earth, bodies, dusty bones, stone, molds, grasses, air, spoors, tree bar, leaves, human garbage, feces and the deafening sound of worms and insects burrowing, buzzing… His vision was charged.
Eerie lights swam over tombstones in a thousand shades of sandy gray and verdant mold. The trees were willows and their leaves swirled and swept the grass in brilliant chartreuse alternately blocking and revealing the balls of blue light. Oz approached, cautiously, sniffing, his animal need to flee kicking at his adrenal glands.
“I can’t find my dog!” A voice screamed in Oz’s ears. He hissed, growled and tripped over the ancient piece of tombstone. A chunk came loose and rolled. A face shone at him from within the blue light. “Where is he? What did you do with my dog?” Hands reached out of the light, grazing Oz with a burst of ice in his veins.
Oz skittered backwards, crashing into another head stone. A woman was weeping over her husband. Her enormous eyes dropped lemon drop tears onto the grass. One touched Oz and a patch of frost coated the spot. Oz stood up and realized he was in a field of ghosts, each standing over his or her stone like bad memories stuck in the mind.
Too bad they were all blue or the little girl’s hint might have been useful.
“I didn’t do it.” A ghost in a prison jumper screamed at Oz. “I never killed my little girl! I loved my little girl. I loved her.” His eyes were large and the skull was exposed underneath. His hands were rakish, thin and dripping with electricity.
Oz felt the hair on the back of his paws stand up from the charges. He backed away but asked, “Who did it? Who killed your little girl?”
The ghost’s eyes colored, blazing orange. “He sees me!” The ghost screamed.
The rest of the graveyard shrieked and roared and converged on Oz. Some pulled away from their graves and reached ice hands to touch him. Others were bound to their stones, unable to move. Those were crying with grief or screaming with rage. The prison ghost latched on to Oz and he was frozen to the spot. Icicles formed on Oz’s nose.
“I’m looking for someone who killed a little girl.” Oz said, feeling his throat closing up with ice.
“My wife,” the ghost hissed, vapor escaping and settling in sheen over Oz’s face.
The other ghosts pulled and tore at him. Oz felt his skin rip under the intense cold and pressure. Welts appeared, the blood frozen before it could run. He let out an enraged howl. His voice froze them in their tracks like sonic ice.
Oz dropped out of the prison ghosts arms. Every one of the dead souls had turned snow white. All except for the one in the grave next to the prisoner: She was azure. Oz approached her and saw her headstone through the center of her torso: Jenny Amblin.
She was blue.
Oz stared at his clawed hands for a few seconds than shrugged. The wolf was coming in handy tonight. He tore at the moldy earth. Clumps of weed choked grass flew at the other ghosts shattering them into wisps of smoke. They drifted away as Oz dug deeper, lit by the light of the azure woman, frozen in place.
He hit pay dirt. Or the hard surface of the coffin. Giving up any pretense of humanity, he ripped the lid off with pure brute strength and sent it flying across the small yard. It smashed an ancient headstone. A union soldier appeared above it and aimed his rifle at Oz. A flash of amber light hit Oz in the back, knocking him into the dusty coffin. The bones shattered and the woman above him screamed in agony.
Oz howled in rage but she didn’t freeze. She just kept screaming and screaming. Oz ripped off his shirt and started stuffing her dry bones into it, old moldy dress and all. The shrieking made him angrier and angrier. Finally he had all of her and he raced across the yard. He bounded over the fence and raced away to the trees.
The woman ran after him, half wind, half blue light and all rage. Her energy knocked him to the ground three times before he made it to the trees. The little girl exploded to life beside an old elm. “Here Oz! Bury her here!” She pointed to the ground and an ‘x’ of grass and dirt exploded upwards leaving a clear mud scar. “Bury the bitch here!”
The mother tore rents down Oz’s back and the iced over wounds opened and Oz was suddenly red as the sun set. Oz changed over completely to animal. Fur burst out of the rents in his skin as his face split and revealed the whole demon underneath. But for once his heart and mind stayed in place, angry beyond comprehension but in place.
He raised earth in a fury as the mother screamed, “No! I never meant to hurt her! I just put her head under the water for a minute! I just held her there for a moment. Just until she stopped screaming. Just until the screams…”
Oz dumped the bones into the whole and the little girl wrapped her arms around her mother. “I love you mommy.” She whispered. And dragged her down into the earth.
Her voice echoed to Oz from the trees. “Bury us.”
His enormous paws moved enough earth to seal the spot in a single heave of earth. The mother’s screams slowed, then stopped. It was over.
The wolf went out into the night to rob a few candy stores.
The doorbell rang and Xander opened it. A large werewolf stood there. “Wow, that’s one hell of a cost-hey Oz.” In the wolf’s mouth was a huge bag of Mars bars. Around hime were various sacks of goodies.
Surprised, Xander forgot about his bad eyes and lifted his evil goat herder patch to get a better look. And then was even more surprised when his world flared into stereo vision.
He blinked and rubbed at his eyes. He had two eyes. Xander raced to the window and back again. Then he stared at the pile of bags. “Hey, where are the Reeses?”
Oz spat the bag of candy at him.