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 he had been sitting with his classmate. His steps were uncertain and hesitant as he approached the rutted trail worn by countless feet like his own. This short cut through the woods was treacherous when sober, and the tipsy boy had to scramble on all fours to make it up the steep incline through the thick brush to the main pathway above. It took several minutes for him to travel the forty plus feet up the dirt track, panting and huffing with effort the entire way. Finally he stumbled out of the woodland undergrowth and into the open. Straightening his hunched body with a grunt, he turned onto the paved walk before him. Striking off toward the right, he followed the man-made road back to the asphalt lot where he had left his car parked.

Jerry Spencer never made it to the store that night. Weaving across the deserted blacktop, he passed under the flickering strobe of a street lamp, heading for the lone car at the far end of the lot. He didn’t see the fleeting shadow that detached itself from the cover of the surrounding woods. The dark, silent figure rushed toward the boy, approaching unnoticed from behind. Jerry was startled as a pair of strong, cold hands suddenly seized him. He turned to look back, thinking his friend had decided to join him after all, but instead saw the flash of long, white fangs as he was knocked forward onto the ground. Something bit savagely into his neck, but he was too stunned and drunk to put up much of a struggle. In his confused panic he felt surprisingly little pain, only a wet, warm sensation at his throat where it had been torn open. Terror gripped the boy too late as he listened to his assailant gulping noisily upon the blood that spurted from his ruptured carotid artery. It didn’t take 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. The safety of his car waited only a short distance away from where he had fallen, parked under a puddle of harsh light from an overhead street lamp. His lifeless eyes continued to stare vacantly at the sanctuary that had eluded him as the glowing specter of a waxing moon crested the tops of the trees beyond.

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.

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 as if to clear it, 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 he realized she was flirting with him, giving him a look he could only interpret as interested. She was a regular little hottie, too, better looking than most of the girls he usually dated. Todd was surprised he didn’t recognize her from anywhere. He’d lived in Sunnydale his whole life and thought he knew all the kids his age. Maybe this girl was a recent transfer or something, though he was sure he would have noticed someone like her around campus. Could be she was from the high school. Todd wasn’t too put off by that thought. He found that older college-type guys impressed high school girls. His chance of scoring with this girl was starting to look pretty good.

Todd decided it was time to make his move. He slowly rose to his feet, stumbling more than walking as he made his way down the sloped bank to the pond’s edge, his beer can still clutched in one hand. The girl kept a close eye on him, and he returned the gaze with what he hoped was suave geniality.

“Hi, there!” he called out to the girl. She made no reply, but continued to smile at him, 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 paddled backward a few feet, playfully slapping at the water. Todd watched as she swam away from him, then did a sudden flip 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 now definitely piqued, he peered down into the dark water, his eyes excitedly searching for the mysterious girl. But he saw only the reflection of the moon overhead shining back at him from the mirror-like surface.

“Hey!” he yelled. 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 as he anxiously paced back and forth. He waited impatiently for the girl to resurface, to come up for air. 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 said aloud to himself. “Where’d you go?”

Off in the distance he caught a glimpse of movement. Squinting hard, Todd spotted the girl treading water about thirty feet away. Her hands were barely skimming the pond’s surface, her gently undulating arms sending out quiet ripples across the pool. The girl slapped playfully at the minute waves she’d created as they traveled across the water in ever enlarging concentric circles. She seemed to delight in the noise she made as she splashed, amused by the glitter of reflected moonlight that danced all around her. She laughed, her hands churning more vigorously until the water began to foam. After several minutes of this energetic water sport, she suddenly stopped and swam back toward shore, diving under water to resurface a few yards away from the boy.

Todd wavered slightly on his unsteady feet, grinning at the girl. With a broad wave of his arm, he motioned for her to join him up on shore. But the girl coyly shook her head, laughing as she boldly gestured for him to come in with her instead. The idea definitely appealed to the young freshman. After all, what hot-blooded love-crazed guy in his right mind would pass up a chance like this to go skinny-dipping with a beautiful girl? Certainly not him!

Stepping forward, Todd felt his feet suddenly slide out from under him on the wet grass. He tottered precariously, arms flapping like some poor imitation of a large crane-like bird as his beer went flying, his balance compromised. He felt himself fall backward, his bottom about to slam into the mushy ground with what would appear to be a great loss of dignity, when somehow he managed to pull himself upright again, saving his pride as well as the seat of his pants. Instead he stumbled forward with an ungainly lurch, his left foot landing in the water with a splash that soaked his pant leg up to the knee.

Todd muttered a curse under his breath, his shoe quickly filling with mud and murky pond water. Stepping back, he gave his foot a shake, draining his soggy footwear as a shiver wracked his body. The water had been cold. Feeling like a complete klutz, Todd was sure he had ruined any hope of snagging a date with the girl. She was probably laughing at him right now as he hopped about, attempting to wring the excess water out of his damp clothing. But when he looked up, she didn’t seem at all put off by his strange behavior. She merely stared at him, her head cocked slightly to one side, her green eyes registering only mild interest.

Disgusted with himself, Todd sat on the ground and removed his shoe, scooping out the bulk of the sludgy mud that had collected inside. He was contemplating what to do next when he became aware an odd noise. It was low and soft, a kind of melodious humming. It took a few moments for him to realize it was the girl making that sound. She was singing. He could barely hear the gently crooning, her voice a mere whisper of sound wafting from her smiling lips. The tune was not one he recognized either. And when he could distinguish what he thought were words, they didn’t seem to make any sense. It sounded like she was singing in another language, something very alien and strange, almost inhuman.

Todd grinned as he considered the girl might be 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 those things 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?” the boy smirked, making eyes at the young girl.

She didn’t reply. Instead the girl continued her song, ignoring his attempt at conversation. Todd frowned, finding it suddenly difficult to concentrate with the constant humming distracting him. His mind kept wandering. Maybe he shouldn’t have had those three beers, he thought to himself. With a determined effort, he finally managed to focus long enough to try another question.

“So, what’s your name?” he asked the girl. Again she said nothing. Todd wasn’t sure if it was just his imagination, but it seemed that her singing had begun get louder.

Feeling an intoxicating fog settling inside his befuddle brain, Todd nodded his curly head along in time to the girl’s strange melody. It didn’t make any difference to him that he couldn’t understand the words, or that the music was odd and totally unfamiliar. He was strangely mesmerized by the haunting sound. And the longer he listened to the siren-like song, the more it filled his head. He quickly forgot about Jerry and why he hadn’t returned, and the eight o-clock class he had the next day. He didn’t even care how tired he was. Nothing else was important at that moment. Even the girl herself was suddenly trivial. Her enchanting serenade had become all that mattered to him at that moment in time.

As the girl trilled her magickal vocalization the youth slipped 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 magickal 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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