Dawn kneeled down next to Elspeth, carefully touching her skin. She was more wrinkled than before and noticeably less slimy. A quick glance around the shed showed no water sources anywhere.
"I’ll get you some water," she said and ran off.
"We have to find Jo!" Willow began to pace around the booth. "This heat could kill her."
"If I were a giant mutant slug, where would I go?" Xander thought, checking around behind the garbage bins and in flower beds.
"Slugs like moist areas..." Carrie suggested. "Shady areas?"
Willow nodded. "But I’m not seeing a lot of shade or moisture."
"I don’t suppose there’s some kind of slug mating call?" Xander asked, eyes searching the crowd for any sign of the missing slug.
"Why? Are you in the mood?" Lessa teased weakly.
"Do slugs make noise?" Carrie asked.
"We can’t wait around to find out." Lessa could see the Katrina slug slowing even more. "I think the heat is really getting to her. We need to get her to water and fast."
"We’ll take her back to the others. You guys find Jo," Carrie suggested, draping her jacket over the dehydrating slug. "Lessa, grab her other end." At the count of three, the two ladies lifted up the slug and began the long, hot journey back to the gear shed.
"Where do we start?" Xander gestured either way down the booth lined street.
"Your guess is as good as mine." Willow shrugged.
"I think you’re selling yourself short, Will."
"Hey, there’s that mean old coot, Finch." Willow motioned toward the goldfish pond. Finch saw her take notice of him and he began to move on. "Maybe he’s the one behind all this. He might be able to tell us how to reverse the condition."
"Let’s go get him!" Xander had already started after him and Willow rushed to catch up. The old man was stunningly spry and seemed to pick up speed as his pursuers began to lessen the distance between them. They wound through the thick herd of fair-goers, just managing to keep the old man in sight until he cut across to the other side of the road and lost them with a cunning slip through the kettle corn booth.
"So much for that," Xander said, gasping for breath. "Plan B?"
"So..." Carrie started. "I know Xander’s story, but is this a normal day for you?" She shifted her grip on the Katrina slug.
"No. Usually we take the slugs to the movies on weekends, but that fell through when there was a popcorn salt spilling incident." Lessa smiled.
"Can we fix this?"
"I hope so," Lessa said with a sigh. "Otherwise they’ll be spending the rest of their sluggy lives enjoying the fruits of the Coven garden."
"Buffy, just a moment, please." Giles stopped and looked at the display. "If you don’t mind, I’d like another souvenir of today."
Buffy saw the various options and grinned and nodded. "A photograph would be great, Giles, but let’s do the slugs in the cowboy outfits. I don’t think either of us would look good in the pink bikini."
"This is so incredibly stupid."
Johnny shook his head at Wilson and grimaced. "Just shut and help, would you?"
"I don’t get why we couldn’t just leave that thing there. We could’ve gotten that reporter and shown him the mutant slugs instead of trying to drag one all over the place."
Marcy grunted from the effort of trying to hold a giant slug that was trying to get away from her. "If we’d left it there, the witches would have just hidden it away again."
Wilson heaved an overly dramatic sigh. "What makes you think they had anything to do with it? For all you know, they got mixed up in that toxic sludge the cops found back in January."
Johnny jerked his head toward the games area, and Marcy nodded her understanding. He said, "If it was a mutant, it would have like a gazillion eyes on its feet."
"Slugs don’t have feet."
Marcy glared at Wilson. "We know. And that’s Johnny’s point. If it was a mutant slug, it’d have feet. And maybe it’s guts would be on the outside."
"So’s your mother. I still can’t believe she thinks you can be a movie star."
Wilson shrugged, clearly not offended by the two-pronged insult. "Mutant slug makes a lot more sense than a witch turning someone into a slug."
The three of them stopped behind the Giant Slug Tower and looked up. "Okay. Marcy, you go up first, ’cause you’re a girl, and you won’t have to worry about the weight of it."
"Says you. I did more pull-ups in gym than you and Wilson did, which means I’m stronger than you are."
"You guys know how dumb this is, right? Because I don’t want to hear you complaining later on."
Johnny didn’t look at Wilson when he responded; he was in a stare-down with Marcy. "If we put the slug at the top of the tower, no one will find it, and then we can get the reporter."
When Johnny looked away, Marcy smirked at him before turning to Wilson. "We just need to keep it up and out of the way for a little bit. Now keep an eye out, would you?"
Lessa and Carrie saw Dawn enter the shed just before they arrived. They opened the door and carefully set Katrina down with the others. "What did you find out?" asked Lessa. "Can you help them?"
"I think so." Dawn opened a bottle of water and poured it over Elspeth. "I sure hope they like Black Butte because it’s all I could find." They watched as the wiccan’s transformed body slowly absorbed the liquid. At first nothing happened, but suddenly Elspeth shuddered in pleasure, blushed pink and began to expand and ooze slime.
Dawn looked at Lessa. "Okay, that’s really gross."
"Not to mention kinda kinky," Carrie said, eyeing the quivering slug.
"Don’t even go there." Lessa cringed and picked up a bottle of water. "We’d better do Deborah next, she looks flaky and she’s turning a weird color."
A noise outside the shed attracted Carrie’s attention. She got to her feet and walked over to the door and peeked out. She saw the reporter who had been annoying her earlier. She sighed and looked back at other two women. "We’ve got company."
Lessa came and peered over her shoulder. "Now there’s someone who deserves to be a slug."
"Who is it?" Dawn asked.
"That stupid reporter from Channel 8. You know the one with the bad hair and the oversized overbite smile," Carrie said flatly.
"We’d better get rid of him before we’re the lead story on the six o’clock news," Lessa said.
"I’ve got an idea." Dawn pulled out her cell phone and retreated to the far side of the room. "Hey, Mark it’s me. I need a favor but you can’t ask me why. You’ve just got to do it. Can you meet me at the slug races? Thanks! See you there in just a sec."
"What are you going to do?" Lessa asked curiously.
"All the contestants in the slug races are about make a ’Great Escape’," Dawn said smugly. "Our nosey friend should be out of here in just a minute." She peeked out the door. "The coast is clear. I’ll be back in a minute!"
Willow stood behind the Giant Slug Tower, looking around impatiently when Xander came running.
"And?" she immediately asked.
"Nothing! This is ridiculous. How difficult can it be to find a four foot slug?!"
"Difficult enough. What are we supposed to do now? I’d do a locator spell, but we’ve seen how well that works. Besides, I’m not sure if it would work on slug Jo anyway."
Behind them, the owner of the tower was making an announcement.
"Come on over. Yes, it’s time for the annual Slugfest Tower Power contest. So far none of the finalists have managed to kick the Slug Master off the throne. That’s right! The 2004 Giant Tower Power Master has yet to be crowned. Come and watch as only the best try to conquer the Tower. Who will be the first to make the throne crash down? Who will be one of the selected few to enter the last round in the fight for the tiiiitle of…"
"Giant Tower Power Master!" the crowd completed.
"No, Xander, I don’t think I want to become Giant Tower Power Whatever," she answered exasperated, scanning the area for a sign of Jo.
"Not even if it means you’d beat Jo, who ironically, just happens to be at the Slug Power level?"
She turned around to him and saw that his gaze was going up to the back of the Tower where Jo was indeed perched just past Slug Power level.
"We’re never going to get her off there," Willow said.
"Well, it won’t really matter, when the first person hits the crown."
She looked further up at the platform on top. From their vantage point they could see the rail on which the crown was mounted and the rail that it would dramatically slide down once hit. It was obvious that it would take Jo or at least parts of her with it.
Willow looked at Xander.
"I’m not the smart one here."
"Okay. You stop that thing from coming down and I… I’ll go and think of something."
With another look at Jo, Willow rushed off.
Xander walked around to the front of the Tower. One red-faced contestant was standing at the patch, concentrating. He hit it with the Slug hammer and the other slug flew up the scale almost up to the throne.
"Well, that was very good, but not quite good enough. Give the man a hand everyone!"
The people clapped and the red-faced man bowed down before disappearing in the crowd.
"That was another good try, but we are looking for the MASTER. Who will it be? Maybe our next finalist."
Xander stepped up.
"I’m sorry but this is only for finalists," the owner told him.
"I’m a finalist."
"You are? I can’t remember you hitting Slug Power."
"I get that all the time."
A bulky man with an Oregon Beavers t-shirt came up to them. "Can we move on with the show? I think I’m next."
"Move back into the row, both of you, I’ll call the names as I got them on the list."
Xander and the bulky man went back glowering at each other.
"Steve Jones?" the owner asked.
The bulky man grumbled, but didn’t step to the patch. After a few seconds Xander started to move when a young blonde man come through the crowd. Xander stepped back looking around to see whether anyone had noticed. The Beavers Fan watched him with narrow eyes.
Willow was on her way to the Coven tent, when a woman selling long slug balloons caught her eye. She ran over to her, bought two of the balloons and then ran along the booths until she reached the Pershing Daisies’ stand.
Lyle grinned when he saw her. "What are you doing running on a day like this? Take it slow, like a slug."
"Hi, ha, yes, good one. Lyle, I remember Buffy talking about some slug ’food,’ something that they can’t resist?"
"You bet. Our slug bait is the best. Slugs can’t resist it, and you’ll get rid of them easy." Then he frowned down at her. "But surely you don’t have slugs in your garden!" he said clearly offended even by the idea that one of his employees wouldn’t take care of such things.
He scowled. "Buffy should know better! If you let them be, they’ll be all over your garden and it’ll be like a big fat buffet for them."
"So, could you give me some of that miracle stuff?"
"Sure. Tell Buffy she can take some home on Monday. Better yet, she can go and get some this evening."
Willow shifted from foot to foot. "You don’t have anything here?"
"Of course, but this is for customers. She can come by the shop and get as much as she needs."
Willow bit her lip. "Customers… oh yeah. Buffy said something about a customer. And she wants to show it to him over by the Tower."
"She should send him here. We have a great demonstration patch back here."
"Yes, but he’s kinda in a hurry and I think there is also the issue of the herd of small kids running around begging their dad for ice cream… it would be easier if I just gave it to her. She’s really eager to help out and make a sale for you."
He seemed to think about it.
Willow put on her best earnest face. "I’ll get it back to you, if she doesn’t sell it. But knowing how good everything from Pershing Daisies is, she’s sure to sell it."
Lyle finally nodded. "You’re right. Here’s a packet. It’s only $2.29 in that size, so if Buffy does sell it, tell her to buy you a drink with the money. You’re going to melt running around like that."
He handed her a green packet and Willow ran off.
Dawn peeked through an opening in the tent flap and then turned and hurried back to Mark. "The coast is clear. Everyone’s over by the track arguing about which slug is the slowest."
Mark look around the individual terrarium, each housing one slug. "I don’t know about this."
"Please?" Dawn grabbed his hand. "I know it sounds crazy, but believe me it’s really important."
Mark hesitated. "And none of them will get hurt? I know they’re just slugs but..."
"Absolutely not!" Dawn protested. "Some of my best friends are slugs. Well, actually they’re friends of a friend, but still... no slug harmage."
Mark shook his head. "I don’t think I even want you to explain that to me." He turned and went from one glass container to the next gathering slugs and putting them in a jar. Once he collected them all, he put them into a single terrarium. "I’d better stay here. Some of the people who own racing slugs are a little high strung. I wouldn’t want there to be a fight or anything."
Dawn grinned. "I’m counting on that. Now hide for a minute and then you can come out and protect the little slimeballs properly." She waited until he ducked under a table and then went to the tent opening and began shrieking, "My slug! My god, my slug! What have you done! How could you?!" As people turned to look she pointed wildly into the tent and yelled, "I had a champion racer and he’s been stolen! Someone’s trying to fix the races!"
She slipped out through the rush of people entering the tent and listened to the yelling with satisfaction as she ran back to the shed.
Buffy and Giles turned at the sound of the uproar and the yells of "cheater!" and "foul!" coming from behind them. "Should we go check it out?" asked Giles. "Perhaps we can help?"
"Nah, I’m off duty today, remember?" Buffy tugged at his hand. "Anyway, I thought you wanted to rest. Come on, we’re almost there."
"I’m sorry Kevin, but another good try. A round of applause for Kevin!" The crowd clapped until Kevin stepped back from the patch at the tower. "Our next finalist is Rupert Giles."
Xander looked up in surprise. He studied the crowd quickly and not seeing Giles anywhere, stepped forward.
"Your name is Rupert?" Beavers Fan asked suspiciously.
Xander turned around and faced him. "Yes, my name is Rupert Giles, do you have a problem with that?"
"Nope. No problem, why don’t you get it on with?"
"That’s what I’m trying to do."
Xander stepped in front of the tower and looked around, but there was no sign of Willow. Slowly he picked up the slug hammer. He stood up straight and stretched his muscles. He looked around again. The owner was looking at him with encouragement; the bulky man with anger.
Xander looked back at the tower and up to the platform. He lifted the hammer, but then he lowered it again and put it on the ground.
The owner was about to say something when Xander started unbuttoning his shirt, lifting his hand to say that they should wait for a second.
"Come on, what is this, a strip booth?" Beavers Fan asked, losing what patience he had.
Xander glared at him. One woman in the crowd spoke up, "Give him a break, you’ll get your turn."
Beavers Fan growled, but shut up.
Xander got out of his shirt as slowly as possible, when he saw Willow running past the crowd. She lifted her hand, letting him know she needed more time and disappeared behind the tower.
Xander stretched his muscles again and picked up the slug hammer. Slowly he lifted it and held it up high, while everyone around him watched.
Behind the tower, Willow tied the two balloons together, trying to make the string as long as possible. She smeared the top one with ice cream and then ripped open the packet and sprinkled on the slug bait. Some of it dropped to the ground but most stuck on the ice-cream. She threw down the packet and slowly let the balloon fly upwards towards Jo. When it was all the way up, and she was just holding on to it by the other balloon, she began waving it towards Jo.
"Come on. Yummy slug bait. You want it. You know you do. But you’ll have to come down to get it."
Jo turned her head to the balloon. After a moment she moved towards it, but then Willow pulled the string a bit, and the baited balloon sunk below Jo. Slowly Jo turned around on the tower and made her way down. Willow carefully kept the balloon just out of Jo's reach. She watched nervously as the slug slider went up the track behind Jo, just slightly above the Slugtastic sign. "Come on, Jo. You don’t want Xander to Master this!"
On the other side of the tower, Xander was preparing for his second hit.
"How long do you want to stand there and look? It’s not like it helped last time. The only good thing is that it can’t really get worse than ‘Slugtastic’ or are you heading for ‘Sluser,’ Rupert?" The bulky man snorted.
"Why don’t you cut it out?" the woman defended Xander again.
"Yeah," someone else chimed in. "Maybe he just hit so bad because you can’t leave him alone."
"That man has only one eye, maybe you could give him a minute more to concentrate on where he’s hitting. Or are you afraid he might beat you?"
"Beat me?" Beavers Fan said incredulously. "I’m not afraid of anybody. Especially not such a… of him. Take all the time that you need, you…" he stopped himself before saying something that would turn the crowd further against him.
Xander looked at him, and then back at the green patch.
"You’ll manage, Rupert. You hit Slug Power before."
Xander smiled uneasily, and then stared at the patch moving his head right and left as if to get the exact position.
Willow appeared behind the tower, shaking her hand to let him know she still needed time.
Xander couldn’t stall any longer and hit the patch. The slug rushed up past Slugerific almost to Slug Power and the crowed spontaneously started clapping. Beavers Fan rolled his eyes.
"A great try from Rupert," the owner said realizing what a hit Xander was with the crowd. "And he has one more try to go! If he manages to gain as much this time as with his second, he’ll be all the way up to Giant Slug Tower Power Master. Will he be the first of our finalists to do it?"
Xander put down the hammer, shaking his arms, ostensibly to loosen his muscles. He stretched and then slowly picked up the Slug hammer again.
Suddenly the woman who first helped him out started shouting his name.
Behind the tower Willow had finally managed to lure Jo down far enough for her to get her off the tower. She put her down far enough not to be crushed and went around the tower to see Xander standing in front of a crowd cheering him on with a chorus of "Rupert! Rupert! Rupert!"
She lifted her hand to make a circle with thumb and forefinger, signaling him she was ready.
Xander sighed in relief and quickly hit the patch.
The slug flew up past Slugerific, past Slug Power, up to the platform. The crowd held their breath. The slug touched the Power Master platform, but didn’t hit hard enough to make it come down.
The crowd voiced their disappointment and the tower owner stood up and went to Xander.
"A great try, Rupert. You didn’t quite manage to knock the Master off the throne – however, since you have a little handicap, I think it would only be fair to count this excellent try as a hit."
The crowd went wild with applause. The chorus of "Rupert! Rupert!" started again.
Xander told the owner that it wasn’t necessary.
"Nonsense! You deserve it." He put his arm around Xander and Xander bowed in front of the crowd.
Willow shook her head and smiled.
"This means we have our first contestant to the last round for Giant Slug Tower Power Master of 2004."
Willow waved at Xander and pointed at her watch.
"I’m afraid I have to go."
"Go?" the owner asked, not wanting to lose his crowd pleaser.
"To tell my friends. They’ll want to be here for the last round."
"Oh, of course."
Xander bowed again, picked up his shirt and went through the crowd.
"Rupert Giles, everybody. Don’t miss him later in the last round. But now let’s see who else will join Rupert. Peter Ahr is next."
Beavers Fan smiled and stepped towards the owner. The crowd went quiet at once. A small "boo" came from somewhere in the crowd. Beavers Fan glared, flexed his muscles and gave the base a sound whack.
As the couple approached the ticket booth, Giles stopped. "Did you just hear my name being called?"
Buffy paused. "Nope, now come on, you’re gonna love this."
Dawn hid behind a tent as the reporter ran by, following the shouting. As soon as he went by, Dawn continued towards the shed, stopping only to get in the shortest line she could find to buy some more water.
When the trio finally caught up to the reporter, Marcy spoke for the three of them. "You gotta see this! Really, there’s a giant mutant slug at the top of the tower!"
Dave was frustrated, and he let it show. "Yeah. Right. Giant slug. Let me guess…was it supposed to be in the race?"
Marty shook her head. "No, really, it’s a real giant slug, something weird."
"You really have a giant slug that you think’s a mutant?"
She bit her bottom lip, and then nodded quickly. "Yeah, ’cause of the dump site in the woods, remember?"
Wilson opened his mouth at that, but Johnny clapped his hand over it before he could say anything.
Dave frowned. "Okay. Show me the mutant ninja slug. But if this is a joke, you’re going to be sorry, you hear?"
Behind the tower, Willow kept looking for Xander. She finally saw him coming with a big slug cap on his head and a new pair of sunglasses on.
"What’s that supposed to be?"
"Just don’t want to be noticed by my fans," he said pointing towards the crowd standing on the other side of the tower.
"I think we’re safe. They’re watching the contest."
Xander couldn’t help himself and stole a glance.
"You can go back and bask in the glory, when we get Jo out of here, okay?"
"All right, all right."
Together they lifted the slug and made their way to the shed.
"Hey, I’m back! And I brought a bit more water. I didn’t have time to get any more than this though." Dawn ran and poured the water on Katrina. The wrinkles flattened very fast but that wasn’t the only change. "Are they supposed to change their color?" she asked Lessa.
Before she could answer, the metal door opened and Willow and Xander entered with Jo.
"You found her," Lessa said relieved. "Thank God."
"What about the reporter?" Carrie asked.
Dawn smiled smugly. "When Mark and I mixed up the all the slugs that were entered in the race, everyone started yelling and screaming about cheating and how there needed to be an investigation. I saw the reporter heading over to check out the noise when I was on my way back."
Willow and Xander put Jo on the ground. "What about Mark?"
Dawn smiled smugly. "He stayed to make sure that nothing happened to the slugs."
Carrie approached Jo. "God, she looks terrible. I think she’s dying."
"We have to get them all out of here," Dawn said resolutely. "This place is like an oven."
"All the way back to the Coven tent?" Xander asked.
"They all need water now," Carrie said.
"I’ll get some more," Dawn said, jumping up.
"The bottles aren’t enough. We need to get all the slugs to a pool or something. It would get them out of here and in constant supply of wetness," Carrie suggested.
"You guys want wetness. How about a ride in the Slugnel?" Lessa suggested.
"You want me to ride in something called a ‘Slugnel’?" Giles shook his head. "These people have really carried this slug obsession a bit too far."
"Come on, Giles," Buffy said, seductively. "It’s a place to sit down, that’s good right? And it’s dark and cool and," she lowered her voice, "very private."
"Tickets for two please," said Giles, stepping up to the window.
The gang paused between booths, putting the slugs down while they caught their breath. "Where is it?" asked Xander, panting.
"We should almost be there," answered Lessa. "They always build it over Crystal Water Lake so it can be really long and deep. It’s a really neat system, and…"
"Xander, we’ve got to hurry. We’re losing them!" Carrie’s tone was void of humor, deathly serious. Xander nodded and stepped out into the street to check the way.
Dawn looked back and saw the familiar reporter walking along the street with three kids. They looked like they were arguing with him. "Damn it! Here comes that nosey reporter again!"
"It’s over there!" Xander pointed. "Everyone take up a slug and make a run for it!" Xander picked up Jo slug and tossed her over one shoulder and with help from Carrie managed to get Elspeth slug over the other.
Lessa took up Sarah-slug, and Carrie helped Willow secure Katrina-slug before picking up Deborah-slug herself. "Go around back. We can’t be seen buying tickets while carrying mutant slugs."
"Mommy.... Mommy..." A three-year-old boy tugged impatiently on his mother’s sleeve as he watched the curious caravan scurry by. "Can I get a giant slug too?"
"Maybe later, sweetie," she answered, not bothering to look.
Wilson pulled on the reporter’s sleeve and pointed toward the tall high school girl. "There they are! See?"
"I’ve had enough of your joke, kid. Go away. You're bothering me."
Johnny pushed him around. "Look!"
Dave was about to argue. Then he caught sight of what the kids were talking about. "I’ll be damned. You were right. Remember where my cameraman was?"
Wilson’s eyes gleamed at the mention of the cameraman. "Yeah."
"Go get him."
"Excuse me." A woman donning the official Slug Fest 2004 T-shirt blocked the procession’s path. "Those are the most authentic toy slugs I’ve ever seen." The gang froze with panic as the reporter appeared behind the woman. "May I ask where you found those adorable oversized slug toys?" she asked.
"See that guy coming up behind you? The one with the bad hair and the cheap polyester sports jacket? He sells them." Carrie pointed toward the reporter and the woman’s bright pink lips curled back into a pleased smile.
"Thank you!" She marched over to Dave and kept him busy as the group hiked the final stretch to the Slugnel of Love.
"Come on, come on!" Xander held open a flat of the Slugnel tent marked [Maintenance, Authorized Personnel Only.] The group slowly worked their way through the space.
The arid pavement was one thing: they had been able to move along quickly, and their rubber-soled sneakers stuck well to the ground, but once everyone’s slimed sneakers touched the wooden plank of the Slugnel of Love, they were sent uncontrollably slipping and sliding inside the darkened carnival ride.
"Hey, watch it," Dawn yelped as she and Lessa collided with the rickety metal gate that blocked access to the slug shaped boats.
Seconds later Xander, Willow and Carrie careened into them, creating a pile of humans, mutant slugs and a splattering of slug jelly. What few items of clothing that had remained unspoiled previously were now encased within the slick slug slime.
"This is just…" Willow paused and searched for the right word. "Yucky."
Xander shook his head. "Glad to see college is increasing your vocabulary, Will. Maybe next semester you can cover gross."
"I’d say gross is already covering us," Carrie quipped with a shudder.
Giggling, they struggled to get upright. Xander tried to help Carrie only to be pulled off balance and sent crashing back to the ground. This brought Willow tumbling down with him. As she fell, she accidentally kicked Lessa’s leg out from under her, sending her tipping forward into Xander just as he made it to his feet again.
Dawn was the only one left untouched by the domino effect and she stood by watching the ongoing slapstick routine with a grin. "I’ll give it a 5.6 for artistic impression, but you need to work on the landings. They’re kinda… squishy." She took a step forward and found herself flat on her back beside them.
"That’s what happens when you sass your elder, Miss Smarty Britches," Xander struggled to his feet.
Still battling to remain vertical, Xander quickly stripped himself of his shoes, gesturing the other to follow his lead. "C’mon. We’re running out of time."
Dave finally got past the woman who insisted he sell her a slug, by taking down her address and promising to mail her one. He spotted his partner and yelled, "Marty, over here!"
As the cameraman appeared with the three kids in tow, Dave purchased two Slugnel tickets. When the kids protested, he ignored them. "Come on Marty, we’re going for a ride."
"Um, Dave, you’re a nice guy and all that, but I’m seeing someone."
"Damn it, come on. She’s getting away."
"I don’t know."
"What’s she done?"
"Ran around with a giant slug and screamed."
"Um, Dave, have you had enough water? The heat’s getting to you." Marty frowned. "This is Slug Fest. Everyone runs around and screams."
"Yeah, but not with a giant mutant slug," said Dave impatiently. "I think she went in here. Come on." He climbed into the slug boat and waited. "Come on!"
Marty shrugged and climbed in next to him, careful to keep his camera dry. The three kids watched as they drifted into the tunnel together.
Xander opened the gate and quickly pulled one of the empty slug boats towards him. He managed to get one of the slugs into the boat where it wiggled happily on the water coating the bottom near the foot pedals. His boat started to slip away and he reached back, "Carrie, hand me Katrina!"
As Carrie stretched out to hand him the slug, her shirt caught on the railing. She slipped and the giant slug hit the water with a splash. "Oh my god, I dropped Deborah!" Without skipping a beat, she jumped in to rescue the sinking slug. She waded with the current, trying to find the waterlogged slug.
Xander glanced back to see Willow and Lessa following his example. The two of them hopped awkwardly onto the next slug boat, while Dawn prepared to climb into the next boat. They all began drifting slowly along the ride, passing animated plastic flowers and hearts as the sickly sweet tunes of elevator Musak’s top ten all-time love songs provided an odd soundtrack.
He looked back over his shoulder. "Dawn, can slugs swim?"
The teenager shrugged helplessly. "I don’t know. I didn’t know we were going to turn this into a beach party."
"Owwwww!" With a loud splash, Carrie suddenly disappeared underwater, as the depth of the lake bottom changed suddenly. Xander strained forward, hands sweeping the water to locate her as the boats began drifting into a larger opening in the center of the tent.
Something tangled in his fingers and he gripped it and lifted it out of the water, coming up with a handful of hair, Deborah’s hair. He jerked back at the sight of the fully nude mature Wicca. He barely managed to prevent himself from teetering over and joining her and Carrie in the water.
"That’s it!" Willow shouted when she saw the transformation. "Hurry! Toss ’em in the water. It’s changing them back!"
Dawn and Lessa each hoisted their slugs over the guardrails of their boats and sent them splashing into the manmade stream below. Deborah reached out trying to grip the side of Willow’s boat, only to trip and disappear back underwater.
"You okay?" Xander asked, as he reached down and pulled Carrie back into the boat.
"That’s her!" The shout came from behind them. They turned to see the reporter pumping the foot pedals of his boat frantically in an effort to catch up with them. He grabbed the camera from Marty and raised it at the group. Xander quickly pulled Carrie in close, wrapping his arm around her as if they were just another tender couple snuggling within the enchanting atmosphere of the Slugnel of Love.
"Come on guy, give me a break! I want a little privacy here with my girl!" He waved his hand at the reporter.
Willow glanced over at Lessa with a wicked grin and the other girl immediately threw her arms around Willow and played her part to the fullest. Willow paused for a moment to look up indignantly, "What are you staring at?! You a bigot or something? Or maybe," she said huskily, "this turns you on?" She turned back to Lessa and they kissed again.
Dave lowered the camera and twisted away, bobbing precariously in his boat, when the water surrounding him began to bubble. With a burst and spray of water, Elspeth, Jo, Katrina, and Sarah surfaced, faces white with shock, partly from the chilly water and partly from their state of dress. The reporter stared down at them in shock and Marty began to laugh. "Streaking witches! Cool ride, Dave! Thanks for making me come along!" He waved. "Hi Katrina! Remember me?" The young wicca stared at him in horror and ducked back under the water.
"What the hell?" spluttered Jo. She began swimming towards Willow.
Lessa anxiously covered Deborah’s mouth to keep her from screaming. "Shhhhhh," she hissed.
"Don’t ask," Willow ordered as she tried to cover Jo with the ’out of service’ sign. Beside her, Carrie was doing her best to camouflage Elspeth with an oversized plastic cartoon daisy. A few feet away, Xander was trying to hold a very annoyed Sarah under water to try to hide her from the news team.
Xander yelled at the reporter, "Guys, no need to film this, they were just cooling off! It’s hot out, you know."
Marty nodded and laughed, while Dave frowned at the sight around him. "Come on, Dave, you know you can’t show this on the news. Janet Jackson’s nipple is one thing, but wet witches is a whole different channel!" He began to peddle the boat towards the exit.
A ride attendant entered the cavern, walking gingerly along a plank set over the water. He stopped in shock at the crowd before him. "What the…?"
"Ewwww! YUCK! I can’t watch!" Dawn groaned dramatically as another boat swung out into the open space. Willow and Lessa broke off their kiss and Xander turned to look.
Aboard the giant slugboat, Buffy was devouring Giles’ lips. She kissed along his mouth, drawing him closer with urgent tugs of his shirt and soft strokes along his leg. Giles’ arms were wrapped around Buffy, and pulled her closer, deepening the embrace as one hand moved to caress her face.
"Meep," Jo yelped as she spotted Giles and Buffy. She dove for cover behind Willow’s boat. The Coven ladies splashed from the water, showering all in a spray of water.
Deborah took a deep gulp of air and stared at Xander with an expression bordering on loathing. "Young man, I want an explanation, and I want it this very minute."
Buffy and Giles sailed on through, oblivious to pandemonium surrounding them…the questioning reporter and laughing cameraman, the naked and panicked Coven members splashing within the chilled waters, the slime coated Scoobies and the ride attendant who stood awestruck at the sight of the streakers partaking his ride.
It was obvious to all that the only thing on the minds of the Slayer and Watcher was each other.