Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, nor the universe in which they reside. I do, however, own this particular story, as well as Meg and Giselle.
See Part One for the rest of the author's notes.
Meg stoked the fire warming the cast iron stove in the corner of the kitchen then put on a kettle of water to boil. Their coffee tended to brew into a bitter tasting sludge, but it always managed to warm the blood after the deeply felt cold of the Alaskan wind. She returned to the narrow kitchen table while she waited for the kettle's whistle.
A lantern dimly lit the room and sent shadows dancing across Giselle's face. The Frenchwoman sat watching as Meg bustled around the kitchen before seating herself across the table. Her brief explanation of what had just happened outside had quickly turned into an extended description of her childhood in the south of France. As interesting as this was to Meg, she found herself wanting to jump back into the present so that she might learn more about Giselle's nightly activities.
"You were never really imprisoned, were you?" Meg asked, interrupting Giselle's recollections of her father's vineyards.
The Frenchwoman looked startled. Sighing, Meg elaborated, "Earlier this afternoon you suggested those marks on your back were because of some criminal dealings in your past. But that wasn't the truth. It has something to do with those strange men, doesn't it?"
Giselle smiled sadly. "Usually my shameful admission of past guilt is enough to settle any inquiring minds," she said. "I should have known it wouldn't fool you for a moment."
Meg leaned back, pleased by the backhanded compliment. But then she shook her head, realizing that it wasn't the time to be distracted by Giselle's delicate fairness. "Those men are involved in some nefarious dealings, is that it?" she asked. "Are they claim jumpers?"
A charming laugh bubbled up from the Frenchwoman's throat. She stilled herself when she caught Meg's wounded expression. "After what you saw tonight, you still try to rationalize the situation. Tell me, how long have you lived in Silver Springs?"
Meg thought a moment. "Paul bought this house from crazy old Peabody Miles back in '94," she said. "That was when this place was a silver mining town. Old Peabody started raving about gold and throwing his money into this monstrosity before he fully lost his marbles. Paul started renovations and added on a third floor just before we were wed. I'm thankful to have missed that nonsense. This house was a mess. I guess I'd say I've lived here just under two years."
"Then you would be in a position to notice certain things," Giselle said. "Such as strange disappearances, or suspicious travelers coming into town suddenly…"
Meg cut her off with a laugh. "Except for Harbor Street and a few of our neighbors here, most of this town is still living and working in canvas tents," she explained. "We have thousands of hopeful miners passing through each week, thinking they're going to strike it rich. Except for a few of our regulars, we never host the same guest more than two nights in a row. This town has been built by travelers, Miss Arceneaux. No one notices anyone in particular, and if a fellow was to wander off by himself and freeze to death out in the wilds, it could be months before he was found."
The Frenchwoman nodded gravely. "This is exactly why I've come here, Meg," she said. Startled by the use of her Christian name, Meg could only nod in confusion. Giselle continued, "The population of the Alaskan territory has exploded in recent months, and we are now in the midst of the darkest point of the year. For a few weeks at least, there will be no sun to dissuade them from the hunt, and overabundance of prey to consume."
"Them?" Meg echoed, feeling the hairs on her arms stand upright. Her mind flashed back to the sight of those two men who'd faced her in the moonlight, their animal features leering through the darkness.
Giselle nodded in satisfaction, seeing that she was starting to understand. "The vampires," she replied.
"What?" Meg sputtered, taken by surprise.
"The creatures feed on human blood," Giselle explained. "They live in darkness, and may exist for centuries. Only the destruction of the heart or the removal of the head can kill them. They find injury in sunlight and when faced with holy objects. This land has become a veritable feast of pleasures for their kind."
Meg stared at her a moment, trying to decide if she was serious. When she realized that Giselle meant every word she said, she felt an embarrassed flush of anger rise to warm her cheeks. The Frenchwoman's strange behavior was suddenly explained. She was daft. Meg felt foolish for harboring any sort of emotions for someone she'd only just met.
"Where is your chaperone?" Meg asked sharply. "Does she know you've been traipsing about at all hours of the night?"
Giselle frowned at her. "What is the matter?"
The kettle chose that moment to shrilly announce itself. Meg jumped at the sound, then hurried to the stove to move the kettle. She wasn't really in the mood for coffee anymore. The heat from the metal handle quickly leeched through the rag she'd grabbed near the sink and nearly burned her hand. She dropped the kettle back onto the stovetop with a hiss. Furious, she whirled to take out her anger on Giselle.
"Miss Reginald was sorely negligent when she did not warn us about your condition," she said bitterly. "And she should keep closer watch on someone who is certainly not capable of caring for herself."
Giselle slowly stood from the table. "I see I've misjudged you," she said, her voice sad.
Meg felt a twinge of guilt, but was unable to shrug off the logical part of her brain that continued to deny the possibility of what Giselle had just described. She felt even more manipulated recalling how quickly she'd fallen under the woman's spell. Meg was simply too angry to listen any further.
"I've certainly misjudged your sanity," Meg retorted. "How on earth do you intend to justify…shoving a stick into a man's chest does not prove your twisted ideas. I shall expect both you and Miss Reginald to continue on your way as soon as possible. If she requires me to return a portion of her payment I shall be more than happy to oblige."
Giselle shook her head. "Stay safe," she whispered before turning and leaving the room.
Meg collapsed into a nearby chair when she was finally alone. She realized she was shaking and hugged herself tightly. For some reason, a memory of her husband passed through her recollection, momentarily eclipsing all thought of the Frenchwoman. Her teeth chattered with a sudden chill. The image of blood dripping against the back of her hand filled her head.
She'd been married only two months the first time she'd realized that Paul Glass was not the man who had so carefully courted her after seeing her working in her mother's shop in Fairfax. His generosity, his humor, and his gentle nature had slowly vanished as they put their home together. Away from the watchful eye of her father, who had never trusted the broad-faced entrepreneur his daughter had consented to marry, Paul changed into a completely different person. At some level, Meg knew she would never forgive herself for ignoring her father's wisdom and remaining blind to her husband's true personality.
"Mrs. Glass?" a quiet voice murmured from the doorway.
Startled, Meg jerked her head up to see Libby standing in the hall. The woman bit her lip apologetically. "I woke up and looked for you but you weren't in your room," she explained.
Meg smiled wanly. Libby only dared to come into their bedroom if she had nightmares and couldn't get back to sleep. Otherwise she avoided Paul like the plague. Rubbing her right eye with one hand, Meg was slightly surprised to find the edge of her cheek slick with tears.
"Oh," Libby murmured when she realized Meg was crying. "Did Mr. Glass--?"
"No, no," Meg assured her. "I'm just tired."
Libby hurried into the room. "You've left the water on," she chastised, grabbing the kettle and moving it to the counter. "Did you want some coffee this early?"
Meg shook her head. "I think I just want to go back to sleep," she said.
Miss Arceneaux did not make an appearance at breakfast that morning, which was fine by Meg. Strangely enough, her odd chaperone was not to be seen either. Meg wondered if they'd gone off somewhere together. There was not much to entertain two unattached women in Silver Springs. Having observed the Frenchwoman's little hobby the evening before, Meg wondered if she should worry about their business among the unkempt miners shuffling through town.
Paul was present at the breakfast table for a change. He put on a grand show in front of the guests, as usual. One could hardly guess that he'd spent the majority of the day before drinking and whoring himself into a blind stupor. He even genially grabbed Meg around the waist as she passed his chair with a bowl of fried potatoes, attempting to pull her into his lap as though she were a child. Everyone present laughed uproariously with the exception of Libby and Mr. Weeks, who'd borne witness to more than a few of Paul's baser moments.
Meg laughed off the inappropriate manhandling and continued to place food on the table. Inwardly, she seethed at Paul's rudeness. It was bad enough he normally left the full running of the boarding house in her hands, but to demean her in front of their guests was unforgivable. She felt a sharp ache pulsing at her temples and spreading outward across her forehead. After breakfast she and Libby would have to start working on the available rooms. Hopefully she'd get a chance to take a nap just after the noon meal.
As Paul headed back to their quarters after spending a few hours chatting with the guests in the drawing room, Meg stopped him in the hallway outside of the kitchen. "Could you take Libby to pick up some supplies this afternoon?" she asked. "I'm feeling a bit ill, and I'd like someone to be here in case there are any new arrivals."
"Train's not coming back until tomorrow," Paul pointed out. He sighed when he saw the expression on her face. "I will," he allowed before mounting the stairs.
Satisfied that Libby wouldn't be out on her own in the dark, Meg continued straightening up the kitchen in preparation for dinner. It was the same for her day in and day out…awake in time to cook the morning meal, clean the rooms, then hurry in order to have dinner on the table by noon. There was normally a few hours of downtime in the afternoons, until it was time to prepare supper. By the time she fell into bed late each evening she ached from head to foot. And the following morning the cycle began yet again. Meg felt herself begin to fray. She wasn't sure she'd be able to continue this livelihood much longer and keep her sanity.
That afternoon there was still no sign of Miss Arceneaux or her chaperone. Libby mentioned she'd seen the two of them leaving the house early that morning. Meg couldn't help but wonder what had occupied their attention for so long. While cleaning their rooms, she surreptitiously looked about for something out of the ordinary. Besides several dusty books and handwritten journals in Miss Reginald's room, she spotted nothing odd.
Meg was able to read a bit, but never had much opportunity to flex her skills up here in the wilds. While Mr. Weeks had a steady supply of aging newspapers sent his way, there was hardly time in the day for her to sit down at read them herself. She was desperately curious to know what Miss Reginald was writing, but felt too shameful at the very idea of actually paging through her personal thoughts and feelings. She left the journals where they lay on the bedside table.
After the noon meal, Meg retired to her bedroom for a few hours for some much needed rest. Libby took control of the kitchen before it was time for her and Paul to head out and collect the weekly necessities. Meg found it difficult to actually sleep, and settled for a quick nap with a wet towel placed across her eyes. She finally drifted off, only waking when Paul burst into the room and started tearing through the wardrobe.
"I put my pocket knife in my pocket somewheres," he said by way of explanation when she sat up and looked at him quizzically. "You know, the one Miles bought off those Injuns back when?"
Meg frowned. "Have you and Libby returned already, then?" she asked.
At the blank look on his face, she threw the wet towel at him angrily. "You were supposed to take her!" she cried. "Did she go alone?"
Paul shrugged. "Hell if I know," he said evenly. "What does it matter?"
"It's as dark as midnight out there," Meg snapped, pointing out the window. "A woman has no business on the streets alone."
She jumped off the bed and crossed the room towards him, poking him in the shoulder. "You promised me you would go with her," she said. "Can't you ever think of anyone but yourself for a moment?"
His eyes turned thunderous at the assault. "You watch your tongue," he warned. "You just remember who puts food in that belly of yours."
Meg laughed harshly, startling him. "You feed me?" she challenged. She almost never raised her voice, and certainly not to Paul, but something deep inside was egging her on today. She found herself unable to stop until she finally told him exactly what she thought. "When I'm the one who keeps this place clean, cooks every meal, and takes care of the guests? You don't do a damned thing around this house except piss away whatever money we earn with your drinking and rutting."
When she paused to take a breath, he hauled off and slapped her across the face. The blow wasn't quite enough for him, for he grabbed her by one shoulder and shoved her as hard as he could. Paul had sixty pounds on her at least. The move sent her flying across the room, stopping only when met the wall by the bedroom door. The entire room seemed to shake with the force of her body striking the wall. Meg slid down to the floor, dazed.
"You don't speak to me that way," Paul muttered, turning back toward the wardrobe. After rummaging through their clothing for another few moments, he pocketed something he'd found in another shirt, turned and stalked out of the room.
Meg sat where she landed for several minutes, trying to catch her breath. Her heart pounded thickly in her ears, and her headache bloomed in full force once more. She clutched her chest with one hand, feeling the tender organ beat fiercely inside her ribcage. Suddenly she could imagine how her mother felt as she died—sitting alone in her kitchen, her heart seizing in her chest. Meg closed her eyes and fought for control over her body and her emotions. She would not allow herself to cry.
Finally, she regained her composure. Opening her eyes, her gaze fell immediately on the wedding gift given to them by Paul's mother. It listed crookedly on the wall above their bed, nearly dislodged when he'd thrown Meg across the room. She frowned, considering it for many quiet moments. Resolved, Meg rose to her feet. Standing on her tiptoes, she was able to reach the object with her fingertips. Maybe Paul had supplied something useful to their marriage after all, she mused.
"She came and left over an hour ago, Mrs. Glass," Buddy Drinker told Meg twenty minutes later. Henry Drinker's son began listing the items that Libby had collected, but Meg shook her head and cut him off.
"Had she already gone to the Yarbough's for the fish I requested?" she asked him.
Buddy shook his head. "I surely don't know, Mrs. Glass," he responded. "Like I said, I gave her two bags of flour, some brown sugar, coffee beans—"
"She carried all of this on her own?" Meg asked, confused.
"Oh, no," Buddy answered. "Pa said he'd be happy to deliver the items right over there. She did take a few things on her own. Said she still had another stop before heading back to your place. Then she left."
Meg shook her head, amazed at the boy's stupidity. "To the Yarbough's," she commented evenly.
His face cleared. "Oh, that makes sense," he said, nodding sagely. "Are you sure you're okay, Mrs. Glass?" he asked again. They were the first words out of his mouth when Meg arrived disheveled and out of breath. She hadn't the time to look before she left the house, but she would guess she had a bruise already forming under her left eye.
"I'm perfectly fine," she assured him. "I'll just be heading out then. Tell your father to please have those items delivered by late afternoon, if you will."
"Sure," Buddy said, nodding affirmatively. "I sure will."
Heart thudding in her chest, Meg left the store. In the darkness outside, she paused to stare out across the open landscape just yards away. The town sprung up immediately out of the wilderness, a stark bit of civilization amidst the savage Alaskan wilds, and it ended just as abruptly. In the distance she could make out the twinkling lights of lanterns hanging from tent posts. Before Silver Springs vanished into the landscape, it devolved into a series of tents and temporary housing. This is where the Yarbough's lived and worked, selling some of the finest seafood in town.
Heading out there meant crossing some rough territory. Meg was terrified at the idea, even more so after witnessing the events of the evening before. But the idea of Libby out there on her own sent chills into her very bones. The woman was too childlike to care for herself if something happened to her. Slipping her hands into the folds of her skirt, she felt the hard surface of the only weapon she had available to her in the face of the evils polluting their town. But she hoped it would not come to that.
Pressing forward, Meg left the shelter of the general store and headed out toward the array of tents lining the horizon.
To be continued…