Here is Part 3 of my contribution to ludditerobot’s Scatterlings and Orphanages ‘Africander’ ficathon (which has some great stories, go check the others out). It’s not the final part; I know that I said there was only going to be one more, but I was wrong. The real last part should go up tomorrow. This part is 3,055 words. Still PG-13, and it looks as if it might stay that way.
Part 1 was HERE. Part 2 was HERE
Summary; The time is now, January 2006, and Xander is staying at a camp site on Zomba Plateau in Malawi and taking in the view. There’s a little more to his trip than rest and recreation, however …
Lonely on the Mountain
There was enough of a chill to the night air when we set off for the walk that I was glad that I was wearing a jacket. The moon was only a thin sliver and we had to rely on flashlights to see where we were going. That was something to keep in mind. This wasn’t Sunnydale, with street lighting everywhere, and the vampire was going to have an edge if we took him on out in the forest. Faith could see pretty well in the dark, but not as well as a vamp, and me? Well, without a flashlight I’d be blind.
There were six of us on the walk, counting Rod the guide, and we all had flashlights. There was enough light that we didn’t have any problems seeing where we were going. I couldn’t see how we were going to see much in the way of wildlife, though. Except for the fireflies. There were sparks of green light all around us, and Meryl was all ‘Ooh, aren’t they beautiful?’, and yeah, it was quite a sight.
Queen’s View and Emperor’s View were a little too far from the camp for an easy walk at night, but Rod led us to a place that had a passable view out towards Mulanje, near the Ku Chawe Inn, and we could see the tail end of the storm over towards that mountain massif. There’d be a flash of lightning and just for a second we’d see that huge mass of rock way off in the distance, and part of the plains way off below, and then it vanished again. We were too late to catch the full effect, the storm had reached there before it got dark and was mainly on the far side of Mulanje by now, but it was still worth seeing.
We moved on, to where little streams splashed and rippled beside the path, and it turned out that there was wildlife after all. A civet cat drinking from the stream, lit up by Rod’s flashlight, raising its head and giving us a startled stare before turning and running off. Points of light in the tree branches that turned out to be squirrels in the flashlight beam. A long slim striped animal, a genet, that wasn’t too bothered by the flashlights and just went right on eating a lizard, holding it in its paws and munching away.
Then, right in the middle of the path, a snake about three feet long and as thick as my arm. The English woman gave a little scream and cowered up against her husband. Meryl got closer to me and grabbed hold of my hand.
“Puff Adder, hey,” Rod warned us. “Don’t get too close, man. Those things can kill you.”
We stood and waited as it slithered away. Meryl’s hand squeezed mine tightly. I hate snakes, but, I had to say, her grip on my hand felt pretty good, and I could almost have thanked the snake. When it had moved away from the path, and we walked on, she kept right on holding my hand. It was nice.
The crowning moment of the walk came when we were traveling parallel to a stream and Rod stopped. “Hush!” he urged us. “Lower the torches, hey?” We pointed our flashlights down at our feet, and stood still, and waited, and then suddenly Rod swung up his flashlight and illuminated something on the far bank of the stream.
It raised its head, and opened its mouth, and snarled. I slipped my right hand inside my jacket and put my hand on the grips of the eight-inch Bowie knife that I had there. Not that it would have been much help against a leopard, yeah, but it made me feel better. Rod brought his gun up to the ready position but he didn’t fire. The leopard looked at him for a moment and then whirled round and leaped away into the trees.
“Holy fuck,” Dave breathed.
“Remarkable,” said the English guy.
“Oh my God I saw a leopard!” Meryl exclaimed. “Oh my God oh my God! Wow!”
“Neat,” I agreed. “I’ve never seen one up that close before.”
“You glad you came, hey?” Rod asked.
“Wow, yeah,” Meryl agreed. “Oh my God I saw a leopard!”
We saw monkeys after that, and another genet, and one of those great big sun spiders that Duncan Lipenga had been wearing as an amulet, only alive this time and scuttling along at a fast lick. “Jerrymunglum, hey,” Rod informed us, as Meryl wigged out and pressed tight up against me. “They’re not poisonous. They don’t need to be, hey. Kill their prey by breaking their necks.”
“W-what do they eat?” Meryl asked.
“Lizards, grasshoppers, spiders, whatever,” he answered. “Maybe squirrels sometimes. Big bastard, hey?”
“You said it,” Meryl agreed. “I hope they don’t come into the camp.”
Rod laughed. “Maybe they do. Don’t worry about it, missy. Like I said, they’re not poisonous. Anyway, we don’t often see them up here. A bit too cold for them, hey?”
We saw quite a few small animals during the rest of the walk but nothing to match the leopard. Rod had a real gift for swinging up his flashlight at just the right moment to catch a furry little creature in the beam. By the time we had gotten back to the camp, and saw the clouds of moths and mosquitoes clustering around the lights outside the boma and the chalets, we’d seen enough to have made the walk a really memorable experience.
I guess when it comes to a guide on a night tour you really can’t beat a vampire.
Breakfast next day was the last time that we saw the English couple. They were heading on off to Monkey Bay on Lake Malawi. That left just me, Meryl, and Dave as the guests at the camp.
“When are the next guests arriving?” I asked Marius.
“Not till Saturday, man,” he told me. “There’s a tour party of five coming in from the UK. Tomorrow night there’ll just be you here.”
Well, no, Faith would be paying a call, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. “Seems a shame for you. I guess you’ll be losing money that night, right?”
“You’re right there, man. Okay with you if I shut the generator off as soon as you’ve eaten tomorrow, hey? You can get by with the hurricane lamps.”
“Sure, no problem,” I assured him. I would have wondered how he managed to make a living out of the camp, which sure didn’t seem to be bursting at the seams with guests, only I was pretty sure I knew the answer to that one. “Hey, how long have you had this place?”
“Three years,” he told me. “We came over from Zimbabwe, man. That bastard Mugabe kicked us off the farm, you know, hey? I got nothing back. Lucky I had a little money stashed outside the country, hey? Just enough to buy this place and keep it running.”
“Yeah, that’s tough,” I commiserated. “We? You have a family?”
“Rod’s my cousin,” he said. “He’s a partner in this place, man. We get by. You enjoy the night walk, hey?”
“Yeah, it was something pretty special. I’ve never seen a leopard up close like that before. Not without glass or bars in the way.”
He gave me one of those meaningless smiles that all barmen and hotel keepers use. “You tell all your friends when you get back to America, hey? We can use all the publicity we can get.”
“I’ll do just that,” I told him. Just then Meryl and Dave arrived and brought the conversation to an end. I smiled, and waved them over, and we had breakfast.
Now that I’d gotten the vampire identified all that I had to do was kill time until I could bring in Faith and kill the vampire. The problem was Marius. He was human, I’d seen him in full sunshine, but no way did he not know that his cousin was a vamp. In fact my bet was that he relied on it.
Enough of Anya’s eye for business had rubbed off on me over the years for me to be pretty sure that this place had to be losing money. The cook, the cleaners, Felix, they all had to be paid, and there just didn’t seem to be enough guests to pay them all and make enough profit for Marius to live on. The Le Méridien Ku Chawe got the visitors with money, the Forest Lodge got most of the rest, and here at Nyumba Camp all they got was the overspill when the Forest Lodge was full and a few odd characters like me who just went for the cheapest option. Hell, a couple of miles away there was even a tent campsite to compete with Nyumba on the budget level!
So, my guess was that some visitors didn’t leave. Stay here as a lone traveler with no fixed schedule, and no-one near who could pin down the exact date of a disappearance, and you were dead. Dinner for Rod, cash and credit cards and saleable stuff for Marius. Okay, I’m no detective, but it all seemed to hang together to me, and Faith agreed.
Friday night I’d be all on my own, I’d fit the profile of the perfect victim, and I was real glad that Faith was close at hand and ready to move in. It was scary, yeah, but I’d been in scary situations before, and I wasn’t all that worried.
Until Meryl tossed a monkey wrench into the works.
We didn’t go to Emperor’s View after all. Felix took us to the dam, and the trout farm, and across to the other side of the valley to a view down into the Domasi Valley. Four thousand feet straight down. Awesome. Maybe not quite up to Queen’s View, ‘cause there was nothing that way as spectacular as Mount Mulanje, just the valley and plains beyond, but it was sure one hell of a drop.
We arrived there at pretty much the same time as a party in mini-buses. The other people from the tour that Meryl and Dave were on. Meryl looked at them, and her eyebrows came down and her lower lip stuck out, and she looked at me and then back at the buses, and then she looked at me again.
“Tomorrow’s too soon,” she said. “I mean, we haven’t even kissed.”
“We can put that right whenever you like,” I said. “Uh, maybe not right now, they’re not too big on PDAs in this country, but when we get back to the camp.”
“I could stay another couple of days,” Meryl went on. She looked up at me with those big grey eyes and smiled. “Like, you’re heading back up north when you leave, right? You could drop me off back with the tour on your way.”
Oh, shit. Oh shit oh shit oh shit.
Meryl’s smile faded away. “I mean, if that was okay with you,” she said. “I just thought it would be cool, you know? Only, if you don’t feel the same way, that’s c-cool too.”
Yeah. Like I believed that for a moment. I was hurting her without even saying anything.
Oh, shit. Having her stay would be stupid. It would put her in danger. Maybe put me in danger, and Faith too, having to watch out for someone else who didn’t know about the whole vampire gig.
Telling her I didn’t want her to stay? I could kiss goodbye to the relationship. She’d take it that I wasn’t interested and that would be the end of it. Simple. Only, she was a nice girl, and normal, and I was sure that she wasn’t any kind of demon, and I liked her a whole lot, and I wanted her so bad that I could taste it, and just maybe she might be somebody I could have some kind of normal life with one day. I wanted to try, anyway, see her at home and date and get to know her in everyday life away from the romance of Africa, and I couldn’t bear to give up that chance. I couldn’t.
It was stupid and selfish and dangerous but I couldn’t help myself.
“There isn’t anything I’d like more,” I said. “Hell, yeah. Only, hey, is it okay with Dave? I mean, leaving you on your own except for a guy you’ve only just met?”
Her smile came back, bigger and brighter than before, and my heart sorta went ‘yay!’ in my chest, even when my mind was saying ‘you’re an idiot, Xander’.
“Dave really likes you. I mean, the guy back in Fresno, the one who made me want to get away for a while, you know?” She hadn’t said as much, but I’d picked up that it had been something like that from the things she hadn’t said. “Dave warned me that he was a jerk, and I should have listened, but hey, I can be dumb sometimes.”
“Who can’t? Hey, ‘dumb’ is my middle name. Well, actually ‘LaVelle’ is my middle name, but if I had four names ‘dumb’ would be right in there.”
We were all smiles again, and it was good, and Meryl went to tell the tour guide that she wasn’t going to be traveling on with them the next morning, but he’d still have to call by Nyumba Camp to pick up Dave. I joined Dave while she was doing that, and we talked some and looked out over that four thousand foot drop, and I tried to put out of my mind worries about how I was going to cope with the vampire while keeping Meryl out of the way.
We ate our sandwiches and then set off for the walk back to the camp. Just as we were leaving another convoy turned up. These mini-buses were from the Ku Chawe Inn. I caught a glimpse of Faith among the tourists getting out. No chance to speak to her; I don’t even know if she saw me. I’d have to update her on the radio later. Man, she was going to be pissed at me.
Color me surprised. Faith wasn’t pissed at all. She was all with the ‘you go, Xander!’ and wishing me luck. Yeah, she did some wondering about the practical problems of handling things with Meryl there, and she bitched at me for not having an ordinary cellphone with me – hey, not my fault, it ran out of charge in Uganda and when I made it back to a place with electricity it just wouldn’t recharge – but she was all supportive about the Meryl thing. And yeah, she had seen me at the Domasi Valley viewpoint, and she said some nice things about Meryl being a good-looking girl.
Anyway, we made some plans, and then I joined Meryl and Dave for a meal, and I hung out with them in their chalet for the rest of the evening, and we played ‘Scattergories’ and laughed some, and watched the geckoes scuttling around on the walls. We called it a night when the generator shut down, and when I said goodbye to Meryl we put right the absence of kissage, and then I went back to my own chalet and tried to get some sleep.
The next morning we said goodbye to Dave and then pretty much just spent a lazy day together. We went on a short walk in the morning, taking in some of the forest glades and waterfalls, and then back to the camp for lunch. If Meryl hadn’t been there I might have done some nosing around the camp, trying to get a line on exactly where Rod slept during the day, but that wasn’t on the cards. Maybe it was just as well; I hadn’t done a damn thing that could give away that I knew the secret.
In the afternoon Felix took us over to the Chivunde stream and we hung out there for a while, just hanging out and listening to the radio and enjoying being together.
Calm before the storm.
The evening meal was kinda eerie. I had to force myself to relax and act natural. I couldn’t see that Rod would make any move while the camp employees were around, and by the time he did act Faith should have arrived. Hell, maybe he wouldn’t make any move at all, only I guessed we’d be just too tempting a target. If we ‘left’ and Meryl didn’t turn up back at the tour, well, I’d be the obvious suspect.
We ate, and went back to my chalet together, and I was trying to make my mind up between trying to tell Meryl the full story and just keeping her occupied and out of it while Faith did all the real work. And then the decision was taken out of my hands.
There was a knock at the chalet door.
“Who is it?” I called out. No way was I going to say ‘come in’. The invite rule probably wouldn’t protect us anyway, seeing as how Rod was part-owner of the place, but no point in throwing away any possible advantage.
“It’s Rod, man,” the answer came. “How about a night walk tonight? You interested, hey?”
“Ooh, that might be kinda cool,” Meryl gushed. “The walk the other night was great. It would be kinda, uh, romantic. What do you say, Xander?”
“Uh, I don’t feel like it right now,” I said. “I’d rather just stay here with you, ‘kay?” That answer seemed to go down pretty well with Meryl. I raised my voice. “Not tonight, thanks, Rod. Maybe another time.”
I’d locked the door from the inside and left the key in the lock, but the key fell on the floor and I heard another key turning. I grabbed up my jacket, with a few useful things in the pockets, and shrugged it on just as the door flew open.
Rod stood in the doorway. “I don’t think you understand, hey? I’m making you an offer you can’t refuse. Come outside. We’re taking a walk.”
Meryl gasped and clutched at my arm. I felt kinda like gasping myself.
Rod was pointing his rifle right at my face.
The characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episodes, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (c) 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox.