PROLOGUE

It had been the hands of man and not nature that had created the pond a century ago. Time had erased that fact from the minds of Sunnydale’s citizens and they had long ago forgotten the anonymous source responsible for the landmark’s original name of Fullers Pond. The backbreaking labor of countless unskilled, underpaid immigrants had carved the wide chasm that now graced what was one of the town’s popular parks. It was a beautiful, tranquil spot, encompassed by a pastoral landscape of grassy banks and tall black willow trees that shaded the water’s edge. A myriad of small amphibious creatures populated the shoreline, and the pond itself was stocked with a varied supply of aquatic life.


The pond was a popular attraction for the many families living in town. Young children delighted in feeding the many ducks living among the reed-choked shores, or they could play their games in one of the many meadows that graced the surrounding park. There were gently winding pathways for leisurely strolls, majestically treed woodlands for the refuge of the wildlife populace, and the occasional rugged trail to challenge the more adventurous hiker. Bucolic and peaceful, it was the kind of place the people of Sunnydale, California could look to with great civic pride.


But things were not always as they appeared in the town the Spaniards once called Boca del Infierno, The Mouth of Hell. For after sundown, when the families with their children were gradually replaced by growing numbers of joggers and romancing couples, other sinister forces would come out to invade the night as well. It was a time when the darkness could hold horrible death for anyone ignorant or foolish enough to risk the park’s desolation alone.


It was a chilly Wednesday evening and two freshmen from the local community college lay sprawled on a grassy knoll at the pond’s overgrown south end. They had come to this isolated spot hoping to escape the tedious boredom of school life for a few hours and to split a six-pack of beer. They and others like them frequented this area on a regular basis, and the empty cans from many such drinking sessions lay scattered in the thick of shrubs nearby. The litter in the brush named a wide variety of popular inexpensive beverages, testimony to the easy procurement of alcoholic products by the under-aged in Sunnydale.


One of the students, a burly red haired youth, wore a jacket emblazoned with Crestwood across its back in bold letters. As the boy drained his beer, he finished with a loud, uninhibited belch before casually chucking the empty can into the bushes with the others. The half dozen beers he and his companion had brought along were gone, and he was feeling a pleasant buzz from the alcohol he’d consumed in the last hour. But his thirst was far from satisfied. So with an unsteady lurch, the boy rose to his feet and turned toward his drinking buddy.


“I’m gonna make another run to the store,” he announced in a voice that was already beginning to slur. “You want anything?”


“Nah,” the second boy replied, shaking a head of tight blond curls. He was content to remain where he was for the moment, his own beer can still half full. “I’m fine. You go on. I’ll wait here.”


Checking his pockets for funds, the first youth discovered enough cash to cover supplies, but very little more. His last withdrawal from the bank that night had revealed an equally low account. He was looking at a dry weekend ahead unless he could scrounge up some cash. Maybe he could borrow a few bucks from one of his buddies, just enough to hold him over until he called his parents and got them to send a check.


He walked with a decided stagger as he slowly climbed the rise of the embankment where a rutted trail had been worn by countless feet like his own. This short cut through the woods was treacherous enough when sober, and the tipsy boy found himself scrambling on all fours just to make it up the steep incline. It took several minutes to traverse the forty plus feet up to the jogging path above, and he panted and huffed the entire way until, finally, he stumbled out of the woodland undergrowth and into the open. Straightening his hunched body with a grunt, he staggered off toward the right, and following the man-made road, the boy made his way back to his car.


Jerry Spencer never made it to the store that night. Weaving across the deserted blacktop of the parking lot, he passed under the flickering strobe of a street lamp. He never saw the fleeting shadow that detached itself from the cover of the surrounding woods. Rushing forward, a dark and silent figure approached the teen unnoticed from behind. Jerry was startled as a pair of strong, cold hands unexpectedly reached out and seized him. He turned, thinking his friend had decided to join him after all, but a flash of long, white fangs was all that caught his eye before he was thrown forward onto the ground. Something bit savagely into his neck, but he was too stunned, and too drunk to put up a struggle. In his confused panic he felt surprisingly little pain, only a wet, warm sensation as his throat was torn open. Terror gripped the boy, but it was too late. His assailant gulped noisily upon the blood spurting from his ruptured carotid artery, and it wasn't long before his mind slipped away into a state of blissful unconsciousness.


A few minutes later it was over. Freshman Jerry Spencer lay dead, his young life drained away by a faceless stranger. Lifeless eyes stared at the car waiting a short distance from where he had fallen, fixed vacantly upon the sanctuary that had eluded him. In the sky overhead, the glowing specter of a waxing moon slipped from behind the cover of a cloud as the glowing orb crested the top of the nearby forest.


Rising from the boy’s body, a lithe figure stood upright, wiping away traces of blood from its face with a casual swipe of its delicate hand. The creature was a young, female vampire. Its hideous yellow eyes glowed in the dark as it gazed with satisfaction upon the remains of its meal. Distorted features formed a horrifying mask that was sickly and pale with a thickened brow that bulged above its evil glower. Elongated canines were tainted with blood from its recent meal, and as the creature licked its stained lips clean, it smiled in ghoulish delight. For a moment, the vampire was as unmoving as its prey. Then with a toss of its head that sent the short bob of its honey-colored hair bouncing pertly, the creature morphed into an attractive young woman.


“So much for the appetizer,” the vampire grinned wickedly. “Now on to the main course.”


Stepping over the dead boy’s body, the creature retraced his path back into the park. She walked past the tail that led down to where Jerry’s drinking companion waited, hidden from her sight by the thick forest of trees. The wind came from the wrong direction for the vampire to pick up the boy’s scent, and so she continued her prowl in search of her next meal elsewhere, never realizing there was easy prey so close at hand below. She would not go hungry that night, feeding again before daybreak finally forced her into hiding, but that wouldn’t be until many hours later.


Down on the grassy banks of the pond, Todd Adams was finishing his beer. He had no way of knowing his friend would never return for him that night. The freshman was pleasantly intoxicated, his body slumping into relaxed stupor as he pulled his jacket tight around him against the night’s increasing chill and stared out over the calm waters of the pond. As the minutes passed, several sleepless nights of studying began to eventually take its toll and his eyelids gradually started to droop downward as he drifted into a dazed narcosis.


Vp>A rippling so subtle it was barely noticeable trembled at the water’s surface. Among the reeds that choked the shoreline a mother duck incubating its clutch of eggs squawked softly, momentarily roused from its slumber. From the pond’s waist-high depths in front of the boy, a crown of golden hair rose up from the murky pool. The emerging figure had the appearance a young woman, her long mane tangled with weeds as it fanned out to float gracefully behind her on the water. Her head bobbing just above the water, the girlish creature gazed upon the nearly unconscious youth with curious interest, a smile playing lightly across her ethereal face.


Todd blinked. He thought at first he was dreaming. The last few days had been rough as he’d crammed for the psychology test he’d taken that morning, and he was tired beyond description. He wasn’t even sure why he had agreed to come out here with Jerry when by all rights he should be in bed, sleeping it off. But the promise of a few beers to help him unwind had seemed a good idea at the time, so he’d put his share of cash in and together they’d divvied up a six-pack out here at the pond. It usually took more than three beers for him to get wasted, but tonight seemed to be an exception. He swore he could see a girl swimming out there in the water in front of him, and that simply couldn’t be. The night was way to cool for that sort of thing.


Sitting upright, Todd shook his head, but the vision of the girl remained. She must be real after all, he thought to himself in wonder. A smile curled across his face as she gave him a look that was unmistakably interested. She was a little hottie. Way better than the girls he usually dated. It surprised Todd that he didn’t recognize the girl. He’d lived in Sunnydale his whole life and knew most of the kids his age. Maybe she was from the high school, he thought. Todd grinned, not at all put off by that idea. Older college-type guys impressed high school girls. His chance of scoring with this girl was starting to look pretty good.


It was time to make his move. Slowly rose to his feet, Todd stumbled as he made his way down the sloped bank to the pond’s edge. The girl kept a close eye on him, following his approach with great interest, and he returned the direct gaze with what he hoped passed for suave geniality.


“Hi, there!” The girl made no reply to his greeting, but continued to smile, keeping her distance from the shore.


Boy and girl stared at each other for several moments. Suddenly the swimmer let out a melodious giggle, and paddling backward, playfully slapped at the water. Todd watched as she swam away, then suddenly flipped into a graceful surface dive. There was a momentary flash of glistening bare flesh, and he realized with surprise that the girl wasn’t wearing a bathing suit. Or any other clothing for that matter. His interest had definitely been piqued, and as he peered down into the dark water, his eyes excitedly searched for the mysterious girl. But all he saw was the reflection of the moon shining back from the mirror-like surface.


“Hey!” Todd took a step closer to the water’s edge. The ground along the shore was marshy underfoot and his shoes sank deeply into the moist earth. He began to pace impatiently, waiting for the girl to resurface. She had to breathe some time, didn’t she? But when there was no sign of her for several minutes, he started to worry. “Aw, come on!” he muttered, growing more anxious with each passing second she didn't appear. “Where’d you go?”


Off in the distance, a faint rippling caught his attention. Squinting, Todd spotted the girl. She was treading water, her hands slightly skimming over the pond’s surface. Playfully the girl slapped at the minute waves, delighting in the noise she made. She seemed fascinated by the glitter of reflected moonlight dancing around her, and she laughed, her hands churning more vigorously until the water began to foam.


She spent several minutes amusing herself with this energetic water sport, until suddenly, she stopped, and swimming back toward shore, the girl dove under water once again, only to resurface a few yards away from the boy.


Todd wavered unsteadily on his feet. Grinning at the girl, he motioned for her to join him up on shore. But the beautiful creature coyly shook her head, laughing as she boldly gestured for him to come into the water instead. The idea definitely appealed to the young freshman. After all, what hot-blooded guy in his right mind would pass up a chance to go skinny-dipping with a girl? Certainly not him!


As he stepped forward to answer her invitation, Todd felt his feet slide out from under him on the wet grass. He tottered precariously, arms flapping like a large crane-like bird, his unfinished beer slipping out of his hands and sailing off like a missle into the shadowy woods. Falling backward, his bottom slammed into the mushy ground, and he slid down the embankment, landing on the gravel beach below with an undignified plop.


Todd muttered a curse under his breath. He was sure he had ruined any hope of snagging a date with the girl. She was probably laughing at him right now. But when he looked up, he saw to his surprise that she didn't seem at all put off by his display of uncoordination. Instead, she was staring at him, head cocked slightly to one side, her green eyes registering only a mild and curious interest.


Sitting on the shore, Todd was contemplating his next move when he became aware an odd noise. It was low and soft sound, a kind of melodious humming. It took a few moments before he realized that it was coming from the girl. She was singing. He could barely hear the gentle crooning at first. Actually, it was more a whisper, the tonal reverberation seeming to waft from the beauty's smiling lips. He didn't recognize the tune. There weren't any words he could distinguish, or at least, they didn't make any sense to his beer addled brain. It sounded like some foreign language, something alien and strange, almost inhuman.


Todd grinned. Maybe the girl was a foreign exchange student, one of those uninhibited European types who thought nothing of frequenting topless beaches. He’d heard that people were a lot less uptight about that kind of thing overseas. His opinion of this girl was becoming more favorable by the minute. He desperately wanted to get to know her better.


“Hey! You go to school here?"


Smirking, the boy made eyes at the young girl in the water, but she ignored his attempt at conversation. Todd frowned. He was finding it difficult to concentrate with the constant distraction of her humming. His mind kept wandering. Maybe he shouldn’t have had those three beers, he silently chastised himself. With a determined effort, he finally managed to redirect his focus long enough to try another question.


“So, what’s your name?"


Again the girl said nothing. Maybe it was just his imagination, but Todd could swear that her singing had gotten louder.


An intoxicating fog settled lazily inside Todd's befuddle brain. Nodding his curly head along in time to the girl’s strange melody, it suddenly didn’t make any difference that he couldn’t understand the words to the song he heard, or that the music was odd and ominously unfamiliar. He found the strange melody mesmerizing, and the longer he listened to the siren-like tune, the more it filled his head. Any thought of Jerry and why he hadn’t returned became forgotten, as did the eight o-clock class he had the next day. He didn’t even care how tired he was. Nothing was important at that moment. Even the girl became a trivial beside the enchanting serenade that echoed through his skull with such haunting purpose.


As the girl continued to trill her magical vocalization, the youth befan to slip into a trance-like state. His eyes glazed over, his pulse gradually slowing as the music took possession of his body. It was like a drug, addictive and unyielding in its power. He couldn’t resist the hypnotic allure of the song. Didn’t want to. The lyrical opiate washed through him, sweeping away all reason and thought, leaving behind a calm tranquility like none he’d ever known.


Like a mindless automaton, Todd slowly stood upright. He didn’t feel the cold as he placed first one foot and then the other into the water, wading out toward the waiting girl. He followed her voice obediently, shuffling through the tangle of sedge grasses growing along the shore, moving out into the waist high water beyond. The pull of her music drew him further away from shore with every step until he was only a few feet from the tantalizing enchantress herself.


The young girl paddled about with growing anticipation. Her song warbled stronger and louder with the boy’s approach, and she eagerly rushed forward to meet him. Hungrily she fixed her green eyes upon her prey, swimming in frenzied circles around the boy, always staying just beyond his reach. She used her voice to guide him along, moving out ever deeper into the pond, impatient for the delicious moment she knew was so near at hand. This was what she lived for, what she craved, and her excitement was reflected in the heightened intensity of her dangerous serenade.


Todd’s befuddled thoughts didn’t even register the piercing cold that soaked through his clothing. He found it becoming more difficult to walk in the chest deep pond and still keep his footing. As the water’s buoyancy lifted him, the boy began to swim, following girl as she drifted toward the pool’s deep center. The pond bottom fell away beneath them, leaving nothing to interfere with their movements as they swam side by side in the frigid water, the girl dancing a graceful water ballet as she encircled her partner and encouraged him along.


In a small part of his brain still untouched by the music, Todd realized he was having trouble staying afloat. He’d never been a good swimmer and his wet clothing weighed down his limbs, tiring him quickly. The girl continued to splash about with an unnatural vigor. He found himself becoming dizzy as he tried to keep his eye on her, his arms reaching out toward the girl that seemed to elude him. Through it all she never ceased her beguiling song, luring him further away any hope of safety.


Eventually his exhaustion caught up with Todd and he felt himself begin to flounder helplessly, his head occasionally dipping below the water’s surface. He fought the panic rising within him, but was unable to turn away from the girl’s hypnotic voice and head back to shore. There was a new and hungry urgency to the girl’s strange melody. Her music had developed a sinister tone, and Todd suddenly noticed how the young woman was glaring at him almost savagely, her eyes as luminous as the moon. The sight of her eerie gaze struck a nerve of fear deep in the boy’s heart, cutting through even the fog of enchantment that seemed to control him.


With a wet cough Todd cleared his lungs of the murky water he was swallowing. As he panted and struggled to keep his chin up, the youth felt himself sobering quickly. He realized in terror that the shore was nowhere in sight and he had no idea how far out he was in the deep pond. To make matters worse his body was numb from the cold and he could barely move to keep himself afloat. Todd knew he was in trouble. But frightened as he had become, the girl’s song was stronger than his own will to survive. He was unable to escape its somnolent hold even as he felt himself slipping beneath the water’s surface.


As Todd sank into the cold darkness, he felt something touch his leg, drawing him downward into the pond’s murky depths. Under water he could no longer hear the melody that had entrapped him, and its magical spell seemed to dissolve, allowing his head to become clear at last. Feelings of confusion and fright gripped the youth as he fought to swim upward, pulling against whatever unseen force was holding him back. He managed to struggle and break free of the horror that clutched at him from below, and with a frantic kick he rose above the water, his tortured lungs gasping for air.

Yelling out into the darkness, Todd prayed for someone to come to his rescue. His cries echoed weakly over the pond, but there was no answering reply, no sign anyone was out there to help him. Even the girl had disappeared. For a brief passing moment he wondered if she had abandoned him to the frigid waters that threatened to take his life at any minute, or had she possibly drowned herself and her body lay floating somewhere out there in the dark. He remembered hearing on the radio a few days back about some guy being found dead in the park, in this very pond. He only hoped that by tomorrow there wouldn’t be two more victims to add to the strange stories going around campus.


Feeling a growing despair, Todd realized he was completely alone. Not a soul was there to hear his pleas as he called out into the night. His voice wavered breathlessly, his strength faltering quickly. When something clawed at him from below, he began to thrash in panic. Images from dozens of horror movies filled his thoughts, and he had to remind himself that sharks didn’t live in fresh water, and the likelihood that piranha inhabited this particular pond was just as slim. He had successfully managed to convince himself it had been nothing more than a curious carp when the thing suddenly grabbed onto his pant leg and he was yanked down under water by something a lot bigger than your everyday variety of pond dwelling fish.

Instinctively the boy kicked out, trying to dislodge the invisible force that tried to pull him downward. His panic returned as he fought the hold of long, curved talons, felt their sharpness pierce his numbing flesh. Todd let out an involuntary shriek of pain, his cry muffled under the murky water, his lungs giving up their precious bubbles of oxygen. He used his fists to strike out blindly, but his pitiful efforts were useless against his stronger assailant and he felt himself sinking deeper beneath the water’s surface, drawn helplessly downward into the chilling darkness.

All around him the water was frothing wildly as he thrashed, using every last reserve of strength to swim to the surface again. He could see the plump, round image of the moon through the clouded waters above his head, and he reached out in desperation toward the light that suddenly meant hope to him. The scant traces of air in his lungs grew stale and worthless, his oxygen supply depleted by his struggles to escape. He grew weaker with every second, the sound of his tortured heart beating in his ears. He fought the instinct to inhale, knowing it would be futile, but the urge became overwhelming and he could resist it no longer. Even as he realized the danger in his actions, Todd opened his mouth and pulled in the first deadly rush of pond water.


His chest constricting in violent protest, the boy felt his lungs fill with cold death. He tried to scream again, but there was no sound, only the last bubbles of life floating up from his lips to break at the water’s surface. And then the darkness came as the moon’s luminous crescent faded away from sight and Todd slid toward unconsciousness at last.


A dark figure rose from beneath the boy, clawing its way up his limp body, enfolding him within its grisly limbs. In his last moments of awareness, Todd felt himself cradled in the grip of some mysterious, faceless being. It pulled him close, clamping its monstrously toothed maw around his mouth, delivering a deep kiss that sucked away the essence of life from his saturated lungs and drained the shell that had once housed his soul.


Releasing its lifeless victim, the creature gurgled in contentment, its hunger satisfied for the moment at least. The boy’s motionless body floated away slowly to the water’s surface like so much discarded jetsam, worthless now to the thing that had fed upon it. Eventually the dead youth would come to be discovered within the reed infested shallows by a curious dog out for a morning run with its owner. But that night it would be noticed only by a lone duck nesting among the vegetation’s cover, its slumber disturbed by the gently ebbing waves from the boy’s last struggling moments.


Breaking the water’s surface, the water demon tossed back its mane of golden hair, raising its maidenly face to the moon overhead. Its green eyes sparkled in rapturous glee as the creature burst forth with an exhilarated trumpet, the sound reverberating throughout the surrounding park. A startled jogger passing on the trail above faltered momentarily in his stride then recovered, dismissing the strange noise as nothing more than some unseen wild animal in the nearby woods. But he nevertheless quickened his pace, continuing his run down the pathway through the park, looking back over his shoulder as he made a mental note to change his route and avoid this section of the trail on his return.


Like she had on many such nights in the past, the demon reveled in the quiet moonlight, basking in its silvery beams as they washed over her pale flesh. She felt drawn to the lunar satellite hanging in the darkness above, following its cyclical progress through the succession of nights, her own vitality growing with the moon’s increasing fullness. And with her strength came the need to feed more frequently, to store reserves in anticipation the great sleep that would come upon her when the night would be as equal in time with the day.


But for now there was time for play. Though she had no understanding of calendars such as men used to mark the passage of time, the demon could sense from the pinpoints of light above her when the equinox would arrive, and it would not be for many more nights such as this. Until then she was free to pleasure in her brief awakening, to swim and cavort without fear, always searching for her next meal. This was a good place to live. She fed well here, passing through many previous sleeping times deep within this peaceful pond, safely hidden in her golden lair below.


With an exuberant splash, the girlish creature dove into the dark pond and leisurely cruised beneath its murky depths, chasing the tiny fish that cowered before her. Overhead the cloudless sky sparkled with its bright stars, the moon shining brightly as it painted the tranquil scene in shades of silver and shadow. It was a night like so many others in the seemingly normal town of Sunnydale, where people often ignored the strange and unexplained evils that stalked them under the cover of darkness. But on this particular evening the deaths of two young college students would not remain unnoticed.







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