Summary: Angel and Spike have a hard time adjusting to their new living arrangements in Texas. Can they put their troubles aside long enough to save a missing girl?
Rating: PG-13 (for language)
Author's Note: This is the third episode in my Angel: Afterlife virtual season six series. For series background and prior episodes, see this post.
The woman’s name was Demitra. She sat at the kitchen table, clutching the glass of iced tea Aggie had given her, and told them how she’d found her daughter’s bed empty and the window wide open when she’d gone to get her up that morning.
Angel listened silently, with a gnawing sense of dread. It was all starting again. After everything that had happened, he’d somehow come full circle and ended up right back where he’d begun: alone, empty, torn away from everyone he cared about, and confronted by a frightened woman begging for his help. He felt like he was trapped in some Sisyphean cycle of torment, doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over. It was Aggie and Spike pushing him down the path now instead of Cordelia and Doyle, but otherwise the whole situation was unsettlingly reminiscent of the early days of Angel Investigations. We help the hopeless, chirped Cordy’s voice in his head. If that’s you, leave a message.
The memory provoked an overwhelming feeling of betrayal. He’d done it all for her. She’d made him believe he could win, that there was something to win. And then she’d abandoned him. Because of her, he’d thrown the Hail Mary pass that got Wes and Gunn killed. But it was all a lie. There were no winners in this game, only casualties. He’d spent the last two days scrubbing Aggie’s house as if menial work could somehow scrub the guilt out of his soul, but Clorox couldn’t wash the blood from his hands any more than all great Neptune’s ocean could wash Macbeth’s.
If he’d known back then what he knew now, what would he have done differently? Would he have been able to save Doyle? Would he have seen what lay ahead for the rest of them and cut his losses?
Probably not. He knew now that he couldn’t have quit. Not just because of the visions, but because of the endless succession of helpless victims with nowhere else to turn. They’d compelled him to keep going, when nothing else could. There was always another soul to save, another battle to fight. He could no more have turned his back on them then than he could turn his back on Demitra and her lost daughter now. It was who he was. He remembered that now, even if he’d tried to forget.
“Did you call the police?” Aggie asked Demitra.
“First thing,” said Demitra. “They’ve been out looking for her all day, sniffing around the neighborhood with dogs and whatnot, but they’re not gonna find her.”
“Why not?” asked Angel.
“Because it was the Hairy Man who did it. He took my Maya.”
Angel looked at Aggie. She shook her head slightly but didn’t say anything.
“What’s a Hairy Man, then?” asked Spike.
“She knows,” said Demitra, nodding at Aggie.
“It’s a folktale from the swamps,” said Aggie carefully. “About a monster who catches children and puts them in a sack.”
“And what makes you think this hairy bloke took Maya?” asked Spike.
“Because she told me she saw him!” said Demitra. “Twice before, just like in the stories. She ran and hid from him both times, but the third time he came right into the house and he took my baby, I just know it!” Her eyes welled with tears and she plucked another tissue from the box Aggie had brought into the kitchen for her.
“Where did she see him before?” asked Angel gently.
“Once by the Quick Stop down on the corner. And then again on the sidewalk right in front of our house.”
“And what’s this Hairy Man look like, exactly?” said Spike.
Demitra blew her nose. “Ugly and hairy all over, with pointy sharp teeth and hoofed feet like a cow’s. And he’s always carrying his big ol’ sack swinging over his shoulder.”
“Cow’s feet, eh?” Spike looked thoughtful. “Don’t see a lot of them around. Demons tend to prefer goat’s feet as a rule.”
“I should have gotten her a dog like she wanted,” said Demitra wringing the tissue in her hands. “The Hairy Man can’t stand dogs.”
“What about Maya’s father?” asked Aggie.
“He’s dead,” Demitra told them. “In the ground five years.”
“Could someone in his family have taken her?” persisted Aggie. “Maybe Maya’s grandparents, or an aunt or an uncle?”
“He didn’t have any family and no one else ever wanted my baby girl but me.” Demitra dissolved into a fresh bout of choked sobs.
Angel watched Aggie back discretely away, positioning herself as far from the distraught woman as she could without actually leaving the room. Her arms were crossed tightly across her chest, her lips pressed together in a thin line. It must be hard for her to be so close to so much naked grief. He found he didn’t have a lot of sympathy for her tonight.
He ran Demitra through a few more questions, none of which revealed anything remotely helpful, and promised her they’d do everything they could. “Do you need a ride home?” he asked, seeing her to the door.
“No, my sister’s waiting outside in the car. She didn’t want me to come, but I knew I’d find help here.”
As soon as he’d closed the door behind Demitra, Aggie said, “She’s crazy, you know.”
“You think she hurt the girl herself?” asked Angel.
Aggie shook her head. “She’s not lying, she doesn’t know where Maya is. But she honestly believes the Hairy Man came into her house and stuffed her kid in a sack.”
“Maybe he did,” said Spike.
“He doesn’t exist,” said Aggie. “It’s just a story.”
“Right, you mean like vampires?” said Spike.
Aggie threw him a look. “No, unlike vampires, the Hairy Man’s not real.”
“Maybe,” said Angel. “Or maybe the stories are based on a real demon. It’s happened before.”
“The girl probably just ran away,” said Aggie. “I’ll bet she’s hiding out at a friend’s house, eating Moon Pies and watching SpongeBob.”
“If that’s the case don’t you think the police would have found her by now?” said Angel.
Spike stood up. “Are we going to sit around all night arguing or are we going to go look for that little girl? I vote for looking, by the way.”
“We’re going to look for her,” said Angel grimly.
See, you can save the damsel and make decent money, taunted Cordy’s voice in his head. Is this a great country or what?
Demitra lived in a shotgun shack on the other side of the bayou. It was in the Freedmen’s Town Historic District, according to one of the signs they passed, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of preservation going on that Angel could see. It was a neighborhood in the throes of gentrification, where the rich and the poor lived side-by-side in the shadow of the downtown skyline. Demitra’s small house was dwarfed by a row of shiny new condos just a few doors down.
She invited them inside to take a look around Maya’s room and the rest of the house. Angel made a cursory search that didn’t turn up anything unusual. The only evidence to be found was of the parade of law enforcement agents and friends and relatives who’d been traipsing through the place all day. If there were any clues around, they’d long since been trampled to dust.
Angel made a circuit of the outside of the house with Spike and Aggie trailing behind him. There were no non-human footprints outside Maya’s window, nor any other evidence that a demon had been in the area. He stood in the front yard and looked up and down the street. It was hot and steamy outside, even at 11 o’clock at night, and the breeze carried the stench of dead crawdads over from the bayou. He pointed down at the corner. “There’s the convenience store where Maya supposedly saw the Hairy Man.”
There was no one there but a bored Korean clerk who dragged himself away from the baseball game on his tiny TV long enough to tell them he didn’t know anything. “The police have been all around the neighborhood today searching for that girl,” he said. “Like I told them, I haven’t seen her since last week sometime.”
Angel shot Aggie a questioning look and she nodded to confirm that the man was telling the truth.
“You haven’t seen a hairy bloke with a big sack?” asked Spike. “Maybe cow’s feet?”
The clerk stared at him. “Are you high?”
They moved on, making the block. And then another block, and another after that.
“Bugger this,” said Spike eventually. “Not gonna find her just wandering aimlessly.”
“Have you got a better idea?” asked Angel.
“You’re the one with all the gumshoeing experience. Shouldn’t we have found a clue or something by now?”
“You can’t find clues if there aren’t any to find.”
“Bloody brilliant. This is really what you were doing all those years with that detective agency of yours? Wandering around aimlessly until you accidentally stumbled onto a clue?”
“I had a seer,” snapped Angel. “It made it easier.”
“Sure, you get the answer handed to you on a platter, I imagine it would.”
“I see him,” said Aggie suddenly.
“Who?” said Angel.
“The guy Maya thought was the Hairy Man. Look.” She pointed down the street, where a man was fishing aluminum cans out of a trashcan. He had long, tangled brown hair, a bushy beard and a garbage sack thrown over his shoulder. No cow’s feet, but to the mind of a seven-year-old, he probably looked like the Hairy Man.
Spike took off running. He had the man by the throat and up against the building by the time Angel and Aggie caught up to him. “Where is she?” shouted Spike. “What’d you do with that little girl, you wanker?”
“Spike, cut it out!” said Aggie. “You’re hurting him.”
“Well, that’s sort of the point, isn’t it?” said Spike.
“He didn’t do it!” she said.
“You’re sure?” asked Angel.
“I’m sure,” said Aggie.
“Put him down, Spike,” said Angel.
“All right, fine.” Spike let go, reluctantly. The can collector crumpled to the sidewalk in a gasping heap.
“I’m so sorry,” said Aggie, kneeling beside him. “Are you okay?”
“Course I’m not okay, I’m damn near strangled,” grumbled the man.
“He thought you were someone else,” said Aggie, helping the man to his feet. “Spike, give him your cigarettes.”
“Sorry?” Spike stared at her open-mouthed.
“Give them to him. And apologize.”
“Look, I feel bad for strangling him and all, but I’ll be blowed if I’m giving him my cigs!”
Aggie fixed Spike with a look that could have flayed the paint off a wall.
“Sorry,” muttered Spike, handing over a half-empty pack of cigarettes.
“We’re looking for a missing girl,” said Angel. “And you fit the description of our suspect.”
“I heard about that girl,” said the man, pulling out a cigarette. “People been out looking for her all day.”
“So you haven’t seen her?” asked Angel.
“Not since this morning, like I told the cops.”
“This morning?” said Angel. “Where?”
The man gazed levelly at Spike. “Got a light, friend?”
Spike rolled his eyes and grudgingly fished his cigarette lighter out of his pocket.
“Thanks.” The man pulled a long drag on his cigarette before continuing. “Over on Genesee, behind the taqueria. Like I told the cops, she was walking down the sidewalk with some old woman. A white woman. Seemed happy enough.”
“Thanks,” said Aggie. “Again, sorry about the strangling.”
The man shook his head. “I knew I should have stayed home tonight. It’s a bad night to be out.”
“Why?” asked Angel.
“Can’t you feel it, man? The devil’s in the air tonight. If you listen real close you can hear him, coursing up the bayous and blowing through the trees.” He shook his head again. “It’s a bad night to be out.”
The only thing Angel could hear was the rumble of a train in the distance. He cocked a questioning eyebrow at Aggie. She shrugged.
They left the can collector to enjoy his cigarettes and headed over to the Taqueria Arandas, which was only a few blocks away. It was a lead, but not a very promising one. The restaurant was closed and there was no one in sight. Angel felt sure the police had already questioned everyone in the area anyway. And even if the girl had passed by here, there wasn’t any way to know where she’d gone after that. As the three of them completed a fruitless circuit around the restaurant, a cemetery came into view.
“We should search over there,” said Spike.
“Why?” asked Aggie.
“Evil always likes a cemetery.”
“That’s such a cliche,” she said.
“Maybe,” said Angel. “But it’s true.”
The cemetery was surrounded by a six-foot chain link fence, which Angel sprang over in one easy bound.
“It’s seriously unsettling when you do that,” said Aggie. She looked doubtfully up at the fence. “Maybe I’ll go around to the gate.”
“It’s probably locked,” said Angel.
“Wanna boost?” offered Spike.
“No,” she said stubbornly. She stuck her foot in the links and awkwardly scaled the fence. Angel stood by, ready to grab her if she started to fall, but she managed to come to a not-altogether ungainly landing on the ground beside him.
Spike followed her spryly over the fence and sniffed the air. “Don’t smell any evil about,” he said.
“You can’t even sniff out a cross-dresser,” said Angel. He didn’t sense anything out of the ordinary, either, though. For a cemetery, it seemed pretty benign. It was actually kind of peaceful, if you didn’t mind the bats whirling and swooping overhead as they fed on mosquitos. A huge sprawling live oak, as old the city itself by the look of it, stood up by the front gates of the two-acre lot, majestically welcoming the visitors of the dead.
“That’s the Hanging Tree,” said Aggie. “They used to hang people there during the Republic, all the way up through Reconstruction. And by people I mean black people, and by hang I mean lynch.”
“It’s lovely,” said Spike. “I mean, if you’re going be hanged, I imagine there are worse places to do it, right?”
It was much darker here in the cemetery, away from the streetlights, although a nimbus of orange light pollution surrounded the city, reflected by the hydrocarbon haze that clung to the horizon. A waning crescent moon emerged from behind a thick bank of clouds, casting a little more light around the graveyard.
Something was nagging at Angel, but he couldn’t put his finger on what, exactly. It was like that feeling you get when you’ve left the iron on at home, like there’s something you’ve forgotten. Something important. “What day is it?” he asked abruptly.
“Wednesday,” said Spike.
“No, the date.”
“Oh, uh, the twelfth, I think. Why?”
“Tomorrow’s All Saint’s Day.”
“No it isn’t,” said Spike. “That’s in the fall, that is.”
“It is now,” said Angel. “The pope moved it to November in the eighth century, but before that it was held on May 13th. And it was originally based on the pagan Feast of the Lemures, which was held to appease the malevolent spirits of the dead.”
“How d’you know all that, then?”
He’d learned it from Wes, who’d explained it to him in that gentle teacher’s voice of his back when they were tracking a clan of warlocks through Inglewood. Cordelia had made a joke, something about lemurs. “It’s come up before,” Angel said.
“So, what? All the malevolent ghouls and ghosties are wandering about looking to get their feast on?” asked Spike.
“Only the extremely old ones,” said Angel.
Spike gazed around at the empty graveyard. “Don’t see any ghosties, do you?”
“Where’s Aggie?” asked Angel. He’d been so distracted hadn’t even noticed her wander off.
“Over there,” said Spike, pointing.
She was a few rows away, kneeling in front of one of the newer gravestones. They made their way over to her. Antoinette Agnes Belfleur, read the marker. Love beats all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
“Your grandmother?” said Angel quietly.
Aggie nodded. “I’ve never seen it before. The headstone, I mean. Do you think it’s nice?”
“Very posh,” said Spike. “I’d be proud it have it on my grave.”
Beside it was another, slightly older stone. Corinne Jolie Belfleur. 1955-1984. Where there is much light, the shadows are deepest. Aggie’s mother, Angel assumed.
He wondered suddenly what had happened to Wesley’s body. Had someone seen to a proper burial, or had he simply been disposed of, swept under the carpet like so much dust? He pushed the thought aside. If he started to go down that road he might never come back. And for the moment, at least, he had something else to do.
“We’re not going to find her, are we?” said Aggie. “We’ve been looking half the night.”
When the chips are down and you’re at the end of your rope, you need someone you can count on ... Doyle’s voice, captured on a cheap videotape, mocking him.
“We’ll find her,” said Angel, with more conviction than he felt.
And that’s what you’ll find here. Someone who’ll go all the way, who’ll protect you no matter what. So don’t lose hope ...
Aggie stood up and brushed the dirt from her knees. Then she bent over and picked something up off the ground. Something small and brightly colored, almost hidden in the grass beside her grandmother’s headstone.
“What is it?” asked Angel.
“Just a barrette,” said Aggie.
Angel looked at it. And then he looked again. “That’s Maya’s barrette.”
“Sure it is.”
“No, it is. She was wearing it in the photo her mother gave us.” He pulled the picture out of his pocket to compare. They were identical.
“Damn,” said Aggie. “You are good.”
“Can you sense anything from it?” asked Angel.
She closed her hand around it for a second, then shook her head. “Nothing. But it’d have to be connected to something traumatic for me to get anything from it.”
“I’d imagine abduction’s generally pretty traumatic for a kid,” observed Spike.
“Yeah, but unless the object itself is the focus of the trauma, I’m not going to get anything from it.”
“That’s a bit a weird, though, right?” said Spike. “Finding it by your grandmother’s grave like that.”
“It is,” said Aggie, looking unsettled.
Angel heard the edge of a sound carried elusively on the wind. Faint. Beckoning. It was a voice. Delicate and sing-songy, like a child reciting a nursery rhyme. “Do you hear that?” he said.
“What?” said Spike.
“Oh, Mother, how pretty the moon looks tonight, she was never so cunning before ...”
“I don’t hear anything,” said Aggie.
Angel walked past her, in the direction the voice was coming from.
“... her two little horns are too sharp and so bright, I hope they’ll not grow any more ...”
“Sounds like singing,” said Spike, following Angel.
“It sounds like a little girl singing, right?” Aggie trailed after them. “Could that be Maya?”
“... if I were up there with you and the moon, we'd rock in it nightly, you see ...”
“What’s a little girl doing singing in a cemetery in the middle of the night?” asked Spike.
“Giving me the heebie jeebies, is what,” said Aggie.
“... we’d call to the stars to get out of our way, ’lest we should rock over their toes ...”
Angel followed the sound into the oldest part of the cemetery. The grass was tall enough back here that it reached almost to his waist. A lot of the headstones were so discolored, worn, or covered with moss they were illegible, but he passed a couple that clearly dated back to the Civil War. Most of the markers were small, with a few larger monuments scattered here and there. There was also a large crypt up ahead. The bushes around it were so overgrown it took him a moment to even realize it was there. He pointed. “I think that’s where it’s coming from.”
“... and there we would stay 'til the dawn of the day, and see where the pretty moon goes.”
The three of them walked around to the front of the crypt. There sat Maya, alone, happily playing jacks. She stopped and looked up at them, smiling. “Are you here for the picnic?”