Act Three


Buffy stood still as she watched the crying ghost, wondering what to do. Her previous experience with ghosts had not been a pleasant one. Carefully, she moved forward, creeping closer to the shimmering figure. She wanted to get a better look. Maybe she could see how the girl had died, and Willow and Giles could figure out a way to exorcise her.

Giles paced worriedly in the hallway below the attic. Buffy had been quiet for some time, and her silence was beginning to concern him. Reaching up, he tried once more to pull down the attic stairs, but they still refused to budge. Blowing out a frustrated breath, he stared up at the ceiling.

"Buffy, are you alright?" he called out apprehensively.

Buffy had almost reached the ghost's side. She could see that whatever had happened to this girl, it had been violent. Her hands were bloody, the skin torn. Catching a glimpse of cut and bruised wrists, Buffy wondered if the girl had committed suicide. She wished she could see the ghost's face, but she had them buried in her hands as she cried.

Buffy's stomach twisted as she stared at the pathetic figure. Unlike ghosts in books, every aspect about this person was in sharp detail, if slightly see-through. Her clothes, the blood, the wounds, they were all unmistakable. There was nothing silvery or Harry Potter-like about this ghost.

"Buffy, are you alright?"

Startled, Buffy jumped as Giles yelled up at her. The ghost looked up in fear as his voice reverberated through the attic. She stared at Buffy, who could only look back in horror.

Battered and beaten, ghost's face was covered with cuts and bruise. Several of the cuts bled ghostly blood, and the bruises were a livid purple on pale skin. Her eyes were sunken and cloudy and Buffy was unable to tell what color they'd been when the girl had been alive. The ghost's once blonde hair hung in knots and clumps over her shoulders. Fear filled the girl's face.

"Buffy? Buffy?" Giles called. Following the sound of his voice, the ghost's gaze moved toward the attic stairs. The stairs rattled violently and Buffy knew he must be trying to pull the stairs down. Her gaze shot back to the ghost.

"NO!" the ghost screamed, her voice a high-pitched screech. "Go away!"

Buffy threw up an arm in defense as the ghost lunged. It felt like she'd been submerged in cold water; her skin crawled with goosebumps where the ghost touched her.

"GO!" the girl screamed, pushing Buffy backwards and sending her flying through the air.

Buffy grunted as she landed on floor with a thud, dust rising into the air around her. Coughing, she looked over to where the ghost was standing, the boxes and trunks shaking at her transparent feet.

"Now I'm really in trouble," she muttered, scrambling to her feet. She bobbled and weaved across the attic to the stair, ducking as the boxes whirled around her. The stairs refused to budge under her weight, and she began jumping up and down on them, trying to force them open. "Giles, help!" she called down, trapped.

Buffy turned as the ghost rushed toward her again. Crouching, she covered her head in a vain attempt to protect herself. Just before the ghost reached her, the stairs underneath her dropped down, causing her to tumble through the door.

Dropping like a stone, she landed in a heap on the hallway floor at Giles' feet. The steps slammed back up to the ceiling, leaving the two of them staring upwards in disbelief.

Willow and Dawn stared at the real estate agent in disbelief.

"So, let me get this straight…" Willow said, her words deliberate. "You knew that the house was haunted but didn't tell us?"

Kylie nodded miserably.

"Well, I didn't exactly know," she clarified. "We don't really talk about it." Kylie shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "The previous owners wanted to turn the manor into a bed and breakfast. They hired workers and everything, but when they went to work on the attic, something happened and all the construction people quit on the spot. They refused to even go back into the house at all. That was in 1994. The bank foreclosed on the house after that, and we've been trying to sell it ever since."

Stunned, Willow pulled out the chair in front of Kylie's desk and sat down heavily. Dawn moved to stand behind her, her hands gripping the back of the padded chair.

"Who is… um, was the ghost?" she asked curiously. Liz hadn't known anything about the ghost, just that the house had one. Dawn had wanted to know more and had been disappointed when her friend couldn't enlighten her. Kylie shrugged.

"No one knows for sure," she said, much to Dawn's continued frustration. "Evidently the ghost has been there for years."

"You don't know anything?" Dawn asked. Kylie thought for a moment.

"I've heard rumors about a rattle floating in mid-air, and that there have been screams and crying heard at night. But that's it. I swear."

Dawn narrowed her eyes as she watched Kylie's face.

"I think you're lying," she said, after a minute, her voice hard. Getting into the spirit of interrogation, Dawn stepped forward and slammed her hands down on Kylie's desk. "You're going to tell us everything you know, right now."

Giles leaned over Buffy, cleaning the cut above her eye. He pressed a damp cloth to the wound, trying to stem the bleeding.

"Hold still," he ordered as she squirmed under his touch. Buffy winced as the cloth pressed against a bruise.

"It hurts," she whined. Giles gave an exasperated sigh. He held the cloth to her head with one hand, while he reached for a bandage with the other.

"Really, Buffy," he said, shortly. "you've had wounds much more serious than this."

Buffy rolled her eyes at him.

"Doesn't make it hurt any less," she said. "I can take care of this myself, you know," she pointed out. "I took care of my own wounds for two whole years." Buffy then winced at the accusatory tone in her voice. She and Giles had talked about his absence in her life for the past two years, and really, she was over it. She understood why he did what he did and she was moving on. Giles eyes went flat at her words.

"Yes, well, I'm here now," he said, his voice carefully devoid of emotion. Buffy reached up and caught his hand in hers.

"I'm sorry, Giles," she said softly. "I didn't mean it like that."

Giles nodded but said nothing. He finished bandaging her wound in silence. When he finished, he stepped away, clearing up the medical supplies.

"All finished," he said without looking at her. Buffy stood and touched his shoulder. He looked at her, and she could see the hurt on his face.

"I am sorry," she repeated. "It's just…"

Giles nodded.

"Hard to just forget everything that happened," he interrupted. "I know." He continued to gather up the bandages. "It's not easy for me to forget things either," he said pointedly. Buffy swallowed hard, and dropped her eyes, remembering the way she'd treated him last year. How she'd threatened to kill him because of Spike.

"Giles…" she whispered.

"I told you there was something up there," Xander said almost cheerfully, striding into the room, carrying a bag of ice. "No imagining things for the Xand-man." He plunked the ice pack into Buffy's hands. She smiled her thanks and pressed it to the back of her head where it had collided with the floor. Twice.

"No one thought you were imagining things," she protested, sighing in relief as the cold numbed the bump on her head. "We definitely have a ghost," she announced. Xander looked at her in interest.

"Oh, we've dealt with those," he said happily. "No problems there."

Buffy turned to Giles, her eyes wide at Xander's reminder.

"It's not going to possess me, is it?" she asked, her voice edged with panic. "'Cause I've been there and done that, and really don't want to do it again."

Giles couldn't help but smile at her, the moment of tension past.

"It hasn't shown any signs of wanting to reenact past events," he said. He paused thoughtfully before continuing. "No, I think this is a standard haunting. A manifestation of a spirit trapped in our dimension." He stared vacantly into space. "I wish I had my books," he murmured.

Xander and Buffy exchanged a smile at the familiar words.

"How do we get rid of it?" Buffy asked. She shifted the ice pack as it grew too cold on her head. "I mean, we can't avoid the attic forever."

Giles began to pace.

"Our first step should be to find out why it's still here," he mused thoughtfully. "Then we can work out how to exorcise it from there."

"Well, she's pissed off about something," Buffy said decisively. "There's no doubt that." She remembered how the ghost had sent her flying across the attic. Thank God for Slayer speed, because otherwise the trunks that had been hurled at her would've crushed her.

"Yes, well most ghosts are angry," Giles pointed out. "That's why they're still in this dimension."

"Can't we just tell her to go into the light?" Xander asked, rather unhelpfully. He held up his hands defensively as both Buffy and Giles turned to glare at him. "Just a suggestion."

The front door banged open and Willow and Dawn rushed into the living room, looking wild.

"The house is haunted!" Willow burst out. Dawn nodded vehemently behind her.

"Yeah, we just interrogated the real estate agent and got the full scoop," she added. Dawn looked pleased with herself. "I was ready to rough her up if she didn't talk." She rubbed her hands together gleefully at the memory. Xander, Buffy and Giles stared at the two girls.

"We know," Buffy said, holding up the ice pack for them to see. "Both Xander and I met her personally."

Willow looked confused.

"Oh," she said, disappointed that they already knew. She noticed the bruises and dirt that covered both Xander and Buffy. "Are you guys alright?" she asked in concern.

"Still in one piece," Xander pointed out. "Although I seem to have taken Giles' place of being Concussion Boy," he groused. Willow looked back and forth wildly.

"It's a she?" she asked, exchanging a look with Dawn. The information they'd gotten from Kylie had suggested that the ghost was that of the original owner, Hiram Scobie. Buffy nodded.

"Definitely a ghost of the female persuasion," she assured the redhead. Buffy's eyes narrowed, and she swung to face Dawn. "Wait a minute. Why was Dawn involved in 'roughing' up the real estate agent?" she demanded. Dawn grinned.

"I was great, Buffy," she said enthusiastically. "I just knew she was lying."

Giles stepped forward, cutting off what he knew was about to be a legendary Summers argument.

"Be that as we may, we'd best figure out who the ghost is so that we can exorcise her," he suggested. Willow nodded.

"I'll get on the computer and see what I can find."

Buffy paced the living room impatiently. Xander and Dawn had run into town to pick up some dinner for the gang, and Giles was in the kitchen talking to the coven about methods of exorcising the ghost. Willow sat crossed legged on the floor, tapping diligently on her new laptop. Giles had insisted on buying her a new one with Council money as the old one was lying in the rubble of Sunnydale.

He had done a lot of things like that, purchasing comfort items after the final battle with the First in an attempt to give the gang a sense of normalcy. Some of the items had been big, like Willow's computer, others relatively small. Dawn had gotten a new journal and Xander some silly Star Wars figures. Buffy had gone to her hotel room and cried after he had presented her with a replacement for Mr. Gordo. Mr. Gordo II currently had a place of honor on the air mattress upstairs in her room.

"A-ha," Willow said finally, drawing her attention. "I found it. Finally," she said in exasperation. "Stupid phone lines. We've got to get the cable guys in here to set up a high speed connection," she insisted. Buffy nodded absently, coming to stand behind her friend.

"We should probably pick up a TV then, make it worth the trip," she murmured, reading over Willow's shoulder. The witch had managed to tap into the archives of the local newspaper, The Whispering Pines Gazette.

" 'Servant Suspected of Murder Disappears,' " Buffy read the headline out loud. Leaning forward, she continued. " 'Authorities seek information as to her whereabouts.' "

Willow scrolled down the page.

"Look," she said, pointing at some text. Willow began reading the article. " 'Hedwig Swenson, who was tried and acquitted in the matter of the sudden death of Phillip Scobie, infant son of town leader Hiram Scobie, disappeared suddenly late last week. Servants at Scobie Manor reported that the girl did not return to work after a long mourning period imposed by Mr. Scobie. The local sheriff has been unsuccessful in finding any clues to the girl's mysterious disappearance.' " Below the article were two grainy photographs, one of Hiram Scobie, a hard, angry looking man, and another of a young, blonde girl. Buffy guessed her age to be about 19.

"That's her," she gasped, pointing at the picture. "That's the ghost in the attic."

Willow looked up in surprise.

"Are you sure?" she demanded. Buffy nodded.

"Positive. Although, she's looking a little more worse for wear nowadays," she said, remembering how battered Hedwig had looked. Buffy peered closer at the picture. "That's definitely her." She stepped back in horror. "Something awful happened to her, Will."

"Poor thing," Willow murmured, staring at the picture. Hedwig's eyes were so sad. "Oh, this was taken at the start of the murder investigation."

Buffy put her hand on Willow's shoulder.

"See if you can find out any more information on her," she instructed. "I'm going to see if Giles found out anything." She strode into the kitchen, where Giles was still on the cell phone. He held up a hand at her, motioning for her to be quiet.

"I think I've got it all," he said into the phone. "Yes, I'll stop by the shop tomorrow to pick up the ingredients we need." He listened for a moment, a smile forming on his lips. "Yes, Jo, I'll see you then. Good-bye." He clicked the phone off and turned to Buffy. "Any luck?" he asked.

"Yup, we're being haunted by one Hedwig Swenson, murder suspect and missing person," she said. "You?" Giles nodded absently, looking down at the list of ingredients he'd written down.

"Jo was most helpful," he said, the smile still on his face. Buffy's eyes narrowed.

"I'm sure she was," she murmured to herself. Giles looked up.

"I'm sorry, what?" he asked. She shook her head.

"I said, I'm sure she knew exactly what to do," she said. Giles seemed satisfied by this.

"Yes, it's a simple spell. Willow should have no problems performing it." He frowned suddenly. "We'll have to wait until tomorrow, so that we can pick up all the ingredients," he said, his gaze falling back to the list in his hand. "We'll just have to hope that the ghost doesn't try to exorcise us before then."

Buffy nodded in agreement.

"Let's hope."

Buffy tossed and turned restlessly on her air mattress, unable to achieve peace even in slumber. Mr. Gordo II had been flung to the floor next to her mattress in her agitation.

She was dreaming, as she often did. Like the rest of them, Buffy was plagued by nightmares these days. Usually, she dreamt about Spike and watching him burn in those final moments, reliving the hopeless knowledge that she couldn't save him, and that she wasn't able to even give him the peace of having loved him. Sometimes, it was Anya, Andrew's description of the ex-demon's death providing vivid details. Other times, she fought an endless army of ubervamps, slowly growing weaker, knowing that she was going to die. But tonight, it was different.

Buffy was locked in the attic. It was cleaner than she'd seen it earlier in the day. The trunks and boxes were stacked neatly to one side, and no dust covered their surfaces. A small metal bowl filled with water sat on the floor, and she idly wondered why it was there.

She wandered the room restlessly, looking for a way to escape, but couldn't find one. The small windows had been nailed shut, and the stairs refused to open no matter how hard she pushed on them. Footsteps below startled her, and she warily backed away from the entrance as the stairs slowly descended.

Suddenly, Buffy found herself chained to the wall. Her wrists were bound by heavy shackles that refused to budge no matter how hard she pulled on them. Looking down at herself, she realized that she was wearing a dirty tattered dress, one that seemed familiar, although she couldn't place where she'd seen it before. The dress was covered in blood, and she realized in horror that it was her own. She could feel the blood dripping from her face, and when she moved her hands to touch it, she saw that her wrists were bleeding from where the chains held her.

A dark figure came slowly and deliberately up the stairs. Terror surged within her, although she didn't know why. The figure held something shiny, and she realized that it was a knife.

"He doesn't believe me," a voice whispered in her ear. She turned to find Hedwig standing next to her, looking as she had in her picture. Buffy realized that the girl's eyes were a clear blue, much like the sky on a spring day. "I told him the truth, but he's mad with grief. He won't stop until I'm dead."

Buffy turned back to the figure approaching her, recognizing the man as Hiram Scobie. A look of mad glee was on his face, and he held the knife purposefully, the blade glinting in the dim light.

"No rest for the wicked," he cackled. Buffy struggled uselessly against her bonds. The chains clanked, but didn't give. "Admit your sins, and you'll die quickly," he offered.

"I'm innocent," she heard herself scream. "I didn't hurt Phillip, I swear!"

Hiram shook his head.

"I know the truth, you harlot!" he screamed in her face. Spit flew from his mouth onto Buffy. He struggled visibly to control himself. Taking a deep breath, he raised the knife. "And soon, I will hear you say it."

The knife whistled as it slashed through the air.

Buffy sat up on the mattress, chest heaving, her body covered with a fine sheen of sweat. Untangling herself from the blanket that covered her, she stood and went to the window, pushing it open wider to let the night air cool her skin.

"Well, that was fun."

Act Two   Act Four

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