Friday, November 2001, 8:32 pm
The shack reeked of alcohol, dirt, and death. The goat in the corner was probably a very bad sign.
"You have to look at the big picture," Whitney told him.
Clark gripped his unopened Budweiser. Whitney kept eying the bottle like it was the last beer on Earth. Not that Clark had any intention of drinking it; he didn't think being the drunken geek in a group of equally drunk football players was the smartest thing to do right now, even if Whitney was lamenting about the glory days when "hazing meant togetherness."
"You're one of the guys," the quarterback insisted. Maybe Whitney had lost Lana's necklace again, and she had insisted he play nice with Smallville High's lower life forms. "You passed the hazing. It's a ritual, dork."
That's the only thing Clark wanted to be, really: one of the guys, so maybe Lana would see him as something different -- anything but Clark Kent, the boring guy who spent too much time in his loft. Whitney had lured him here with fancy football rites-of-passage. Somehow he had pictured keggers and chest-banging, but when he and Whitney had arrived at the shack, deep in the heart of Smallville's woods, they had found a swarm of grim-faced jocks among burning candles. Now the players were oddly quiet as they passed a large knife between them, and Clark had a knot in the pit of his stomach.
"I have homework to do," he muttered. "I can't stay long."
Whitney snorted in disgust. "You're such a waste of beer, Kent."
One of the players stood shakily. Chad, if Clark remembered correctly. His grin made Clark nervous. "Dudes, it's time to begin."
"Time to begin what?" he whispered to Whitney.
"The sacrifice to the football gods," Whitney said. "Duh."
Clark blinked. "Of course."
"Bring me the goat!" Chad boomed. He picked the knife up off the moss-spotted floor. In that moment, Clark would have given Chad anything he wanted. His lunch money, his jacket, his homework... and he often had, now that he thought about it.
"You're lucky," Whitney added. His eyes were a little glazed. "Not too many people outside the team get to see this. Lana hasn't even seen this. And she's, like, my bitch."
Clark wondered if bailing out right now would earn him a lifetime of wedgies. "Please tell me you're not going to sacrifice the goat," he said.
Whitney just looked at him. "What else would we use the goat for?"
"Come on, guys--" He cringed and looked away as the knife came down. The goat made a strangled sound. When he looked back, the animal was on the ground, and a football had been painted in the dirt with blood. Beside him Whitney was sweating. "How many times have you done this?"
"Just once," Whitney whispered back. "But we won Homecoming."
His attention was drawn back to the situation at hand when the football players began chanting. Chad's voice rose above the rest: "O Gods, we ask that you bring us good fortune in Friday's game!" Some of them were too drunk to even get the words out.
"You needed to kill a goat for this?" Clark demanded.
Chad waved his arms dramatically, too rapt in his ritual to pay attention to Clark's outburts. The candlelight flickered across his face. It would have been threatening if it weren't so weird. "Osh! Swaki!" he called.
"What does that mean?"
Whitney rolled his eyes. "I don't know -- I don't take French."
"You!" He was taken aback when Chad pointed a stubby finger in his face. "You, the newcomer, have to perform the sacred rites."
Clark's mind went completely blank. "No thanks. I just ate," he managed.
That received a death glare from Whitney. "Don't disappoint me, Kent," he warned. "Don't think I haven't forgotten you're after my girl."
Well. After Clark scrambled to his feet, Chad passed him the knife. The cool blade was slick in his palms, and he had to swallow a lump in his throat. "Uh." Biting his lip, Clark repeated Chad's earlier motions. "Osh! Swahili!"
The others gasped. Obviously humiliated, Whitney buried his face in his hands. Chad cried, "You said the words wrong!"
"Sorry," Clark muttered.
The jock glared at him fiercely. "Now you have to stomp on the floor three times, in order to apologize for your blasphemy."
He looked around the room blankly. The team waited in anticipation. Feeling somewhat helpless, Clark pounded three times. He tried to control his strength, but he hadn't counted on the moldy wooden floor being so weak. A chunk collapsed under his feet. He teetered on the edge of the hole, and his stomach dropped, but he caught his balance just in time. Several of the guys snickered.
"You suck," someone called out.
Clark opened his mouth to retort-- but something under the floorboards moved. He squinted. "Did you see that?"
"What?" Whitney asked, stepping up beside him.
"He broke our party house," Chad said, one corner of his lip curling menacingly. The other football players stirred. "You're going to pay, geek."
Clark leaned closer to where the floorboards had collapsed. Something was definitely down there; he could see a glimmer below, like eyes. "Stop, I'm serious," he told them. "This isn't--"
A hand slid out from the hole in the floor. Startled, Clark jerked back and crashed right into the quarterback. They fell to the ground; Whitney's jean-clad leg blocked his view of whatever it was under the floor, and when he pushed the other teen away the boards were splitting. The hand slid back up and grasped the jagged edge of one board.
"Oh my gosh!" he exclaimed.
The players scattered quickly before Clark had even staggered back to his feet, leaving Clark and Whitney alone. The force of the swinging door blew out most of the candles.
"Where are you going?" Whitney shouted. He stood up angrily. "You chickens! It's probably just some rat or some--"
More of the floor caved in. Another hand rose up to meet the first.
"Thing," he finished weakly. He stepped back with a look of horror.
Something started to lift itself up from the depths. Whitney stepped back far enough to bump into Clark's shoulder, and Clark looked around the room quickly for a weapon --anything to hold the creature back. "Kent," Whitney said in a strangled tone. Clark picked the knife back up from where he had dropped it. "Kent!"
The thing stood, and Clark realized it was a woman. What was once a white dress clung to her waif form. Her skin was caked with mud, and her thin arms looked more like branches than living flesh. Slowly, her dry lips lifted in a smile.
"Holy shit!" Whitney cried.
She launched herself at Whitney before either of them could move. The quarterback shrieked as he fell to the ground, and the woman wrapped her arms around his shoulders tightly. As Clark quickly reached out to pull her off, she bit down hard on Whitney's neck.
There was a shocked silence between them. Clark's heart pounded in his chest; if he grabbed the woman there was the possibility that Whitney would be harmed more than he already was. Whitney finally stopped struggling and simply lay there, blinking up at the roof.
"Dude," Whitney said, "she's nibbling on me. Get her off."
Clark took her shoulder and lifted her up. She snarled at him when he wrapped one hand around both her wrists, and he saw her teeth were filed down.
"Do you think you're some sort of vampire or something?" Whitney demanded. Bruises were already forming on his neck.
"Maybe she really is," said Clark nervously. She nipped at his face, and he held her as far back as he could. She couldn't penetrate his skin, but Whitney didn't know that. "She went right for your neck."
"Way to go, Kent," Whitney sneered. "You raised the dead!"
They both stared at her. Her eyes were yellowed, hazy, and not entirely sane.
"Oops," Clark said.
They were halfway to the police station when Clark tripped. The vampire wiggled out of his grasp and took off down the street, cackling.
Whitney slowly shook his head. "I am so embarrassed."
Clark pressed his forehead against the cool pavement and wished the night were over.
It was just after nine-thirty when they arrived back at the farm. Whitney pulled his father's truck right in front of the porch and cut the engine viciously. The expression on his face made Clark grateful his parents were in Metropolis for the night; the last time Whitney was mad at him he ended up a scarecrow.
"Get out," Whitney growled. He shoved Clark's arm roughly, and Clark pretended it actually hurt.
"We need to stay together," Clark insisted. "She's on the loose, and she might come after us--"
"No, *you're* the one who messed up the spell. She's your problem, freak."
With a frustrated sigh, Clark leaned his head back on the seat. "You can't guarantee that," he said.
"Kent." Whitney looked violent. "Get out of my car. I'm not dying in Smallville."
He stumbled out of the truck. Whitney sped off like his life depended on it, and Clark stared at his rapidly fading license plate with a growing horror. A vampire was on the loose, and the only other witness was completely unprotected. His first idea was to go stalking the cemetery with a stake, but he had a greater chance of running into Lana there than the vampire. Explaining the stake to her might be tricky, and he never had any luck in talking to her anyway.
Chloe was the only one he could think of who might know how to vanquish the undead. She picked up the phone after the first ring.
"Oh, Clark." She sounded vaguely disappointed. He heard typing in the background. "Listen, I can't talk now. I'm trying to finish the latest edition, and I think Pete ran off with my printer paper. I'm going to crush his head."
"I'll call you back in, like, an hour." She hung up before he could get another word in.
He stared at the phone for a long time. Okay, so Chloe was out of the vampire chase. He could have called Pete, but he was pretty sure Pete would demand to know why Clark, the guy whose dad wouldn't let him play sports, was invited to the party while he, an actual member of the team, was not.
Clark fumbled around the counter for a sticky note with the phone number of the one person in Smallville he could count on right now. He found it crumpled under a pile of cookbooks. Lex had given it to him after one of his produce deliveries; he had said Clark could call him any time. There was still something about the older man that made Clark-- jittery, almost, like he was afraid he would trip over his own two feet. But Lex had been nothing but kind to him since day one, and, despite the long stares and promises of greatness, Clark knew Lex wanted to be his friend. Nervously, he dialed Lex's number.
"Hi, um, it's Clark Kent," he stammered. His palms were sweaty, and he rubbed them on his jeans. "I'm sorry to interrupt, I know it's a Friday night and..."
"Clark." Lex sounded happy. "I'm glad to hear from you."
"I did something I shouldn't have, and I was sort of wondering if you could help me figure out what to do."
"Of course. What was it?"
"It's kind of bad," Clark admitted.
"How bad? Cheating-on-a-test bad, or stealing-your-dad's-truck bad?" If Clark didn't know any better, he'd say Lex was amused.
"More like raising-the-dead-and-unleashing-evil-upon-Smallville bad."
There was a long silence. Clark contemplated saying, "Just kidding," and hanging up.
"Hey, hold on a minute, would you? There's a woman at my window." Clark frowned. There was a muffled sound as Lex put the phone down, and Clark heard, "This is the fourth floor, what are you--?"
The phone disconnected.
Clark burst through the door of the castle. His mouth was dry, and all he could think of was Lex, Lex, Lex laying on the cold floor, bleeding to death from a vampire puncture wound to his neck. Lex. He took the steps five at a time, the world blurring around him him. He hoped Lex was in his office; he'd never find him--
As he slowed down enough to make it looked like he had run over at a normal speed, he spotted Lex on the floor by the desk. A window had been smashed. The vampire was knelt over Lex, her face pressed into the crook of his neck, and her dry, brittle hair fanned out over her shoulders.
"Lex!" He was too late. Grief settled heavily in his chest.
He nearly jumped when Lex turned his head slightly, his grey eyes narrowing. "Clark." Lex gritted his teeth. "I seem to have acquired a new friend."
"Er," Clark said, gaping.
"She's sucking on my neck. It's a little uncomfortable."
Startled into motion, Clark ripped her off his friend. She swiped at his face; the look of surprise on her face when her nails didn't break his skin was something he was used to by now. When she reached for his throat he shoved her away roughly. Shrieking, she tripped over Lex's chair and went sailing somewhere behind the desk.
"Thanks," Lex said. He took Clark's offered hand. He hadn't let go when the vampire launched herself at them yet again. Clark pulled Lex towards him, and Lex sidestepped her easily.
"I think she likes you," Clark said.
"Great," Lex murmured.
Lex stepped backwards into the lamplight. The way it hit his pale skin was fascinating. Clark found he wasn't the only one who thought so; the vampire paused in mid-step, clearly awestruck.
"Oh," said Clark.
Lex seemed worried. "Why is she just standing there? Clark, do something!"
"I think she likes your head." He risked a glance at his friend. "Because you're, well, shiny."
The vampire practically drooled.
"Because I'm shiny?" Lex demanded, horrified.
"Not glowing shiny, but just shiny-shiny," Clark said defensively. "Like a countertop, or a--"
"Not helping," Lex interjected.
The vampire took another step towards Lex. Clark did the first thing that came to mind: he pushed Lex hard enough to send his friend crashing to the floor. She came at Clark with her hands raised like claws. Clark batted her away with his shoulder, and she crashed through the stained glass window. A loud scream grew more distant as she went down, and then, finally, it stopped.
Groaning, Lex sat up. "Jesus, Clark, what was that?"
Clark peered out the window. He didn't see the vampire in the darkness below, but the bushes rustled loudly. "I think she's gone," he called.
With a gentle touch, Lex led him away from the window. Glass cracked under his sneakers. "What's going on?" Lex asked quietly.
"She was a vampire. I think."
Lex frowned. "That wasn't a vampire, Clark; she didn't penetrate the skin. A more plausible explanation would be she just thinks she is. And, in case you haven't noticed, vampires don't exist. They're folklore."
Clark winced. "We have a problem in Smallville." Lex looked at him sharply. Timidly, he added, "With mutants."
"Right," Lex said.
There were red marks on Lex's neck, like hickeys, and Clark didn't know whether to be embarrassed or amused or what. His face felt hot. "Whitney took me to this old house in the woods," he stammered. Lex raised an eyebrow. "People call it Lilah's Fort, because they say a crazy hermit died there during the meteor shower. They never found her body."
Lex drawled, "Let me guess. Lilah was the one who attacked me."
"Some of the football team was in the shack," he continued. "They were making a sacrifice. When it was my turn, I kind of, er, broke through the floorboards. The vampire came out from beneath it."
"They were making a sacrifice," repeated Lex, incredulously.
"To the football gods," he said weakly.
Lex's grey eyes widened. He couldn't tell whether Lex was amused or horrified. "Faux vampires and crazy football teams," Lex said tightly, and Clark wondered if he was fighting back hysteria. "Strange place, Smallville."
Clark smiled crookedly. "I've seen weirder."
Saturday, 10:07 am
When his car had broken down in the middle of the road, Lex had been annoyed. When he had found himself surrounded by nothing but miles of corn and a stretch of sky so bright he could feel his skin sizzling, he had been disgusted. But when a cow came hurling out of the heavens and crushed his Spyder under its massive weight, he was downright pissed off.
He didn't know much about livestock, but he was pretty certain cows didn't fly. He was also sure running over teenagers usually killed them, so perhaps the laws of science didn't function normally in Smallville.
The cow let out a weak "moo," and promptly rolled off the crushed metal. As Lex stared at the remains of his car he remembered why he hated this town.
He dialed the only phone number he knew in Smallville.
"A cow just crushed my car," he said blandly.
Clark's silence was a testimony that Lex wasn't the only one confused. "I'll come pick you up," Clark offered.
"A cow crushed my car, Clark," he repeated.
"I heard you the first time." There was a muffled sound. "Dad, I'm taking the truck. I'll be back soon."
"Thanks," Lex said. He wasn't sure what else to say. He eyed his car wearily.
"I'll be there in five minutes."
It was actually seven minutes and thirteen seconds, but Lex wasn't going to hold it against him. When the battered Kent truck stopped right in front of him Clark gave him a little wave. Letting out a small sigh, Lex climbed in the blue truck. He was careful not to touch anything but the tattered seat; he didn't want to accidentally ruin something and have Mr. Kent realize Clark had given him a ride.
"Thanks for picking me up."
Clark smiled brilliantly, and Lex found himself smiling back. "No problem. You're lucky I was home to catch your call."
"I'll remember that next time a cow falls out of the sky," Lex murmured.
"How did you get out of it, anyway?"
"I wasn't in the car when the cow came down. My cell refused to work, so I got out to see if the reception was better somewhere else. That's when the cow came."
Clark frowned. "You were lucky then." His voice was distant, and Lex wondered if Clark knew where the cow had come from. Maybe it rained cows all the time in Smallville.
Lex said, "I know it's out of your way..."
He chuckled. "Well, it was either this or leave you to hitchhike home, and with the mutant-to-human ratio..."
"That's not funny," Lex said flatly.
"Uh, yeah, sorry." Clark looked disappointed. He fiddled with the controls, and the heat rose considerably. "I tried to call Chloe, but her dad said she spent the night at Pete's--" Lex rose an eyebrow. "--So the general consensus is that the vampire is still out there somewhere. Do you have any bodyguards at the castle?"
Lex frowned. Something about this situation didn't feel right. "You said last night that the vampire 'liked' me."
"Yeah, I thought the way she looked at you was--" Clark broke off and shook his head. "Well, I just don't think we should rule out the possibility she could come after you."
She couldn't possibly-- "Cows don't fly in Smallville, right?"
Clark raised his eyebrows. "No."
A shadow rose in the corner of his eye. Clark gasped, and Lex's head snapped back to the front.
The vampire was sitting on the hood of the truck.
"Whoa!" Lex exclaimed.
Her yellow eyes were fevered as she latched on with her hands. She crawled towards them slowly, staring hard at Lex. Clark swerved quickly, throwing Lex hard against the door, but she just pressed herself against the windshield. All Lex could see beyond her frayed white dress was corn.
"Clark! Stop the truck!" Lex shouted.
Clark looked at him like he was insane, but he slammed on the breaks with enough force to rip the vampire off. She slid off the hood with a loud squeak. Clark shifted into reverse and took off down the street, backwards. Lex thought Clark should have backed over her.
"I have an idea," Clark said.
The vampire pushed herself to her feet, and she didn't appear happy at all. Lex panted. "What?"
With a determined expression, Clark did a three-point turn. "You're going to have to trust me." He sped up. Lex looked back over his shoulder; surely enough, the vampire was following them. She moved fast for a dead woman.
"You need to trust me," Clark said.
Lex looked at him. His hazel eyes were open and sincere, and Lex swallowed. "Yeah," he croaked. "I trust you, Clark."
Clark drove as far into Smallville's woods as he could, carefully weaving the truck between trees. Thankfully, the football team had been there often enough to leave permanent tracks in the grass. Lex clenched his teeth tightly and gripped the dashboard as if he were afraid Clark would kill them both. As soon as the house came into view Clark saw Lex's mouth twitch in disgust. The shack looked different in the light; now Clark could make out the rotting siding. The door was gone. He rolled the truck to a stop. He heard the vampire running after them, although he knew she was too far away for Lex to hear.
"I need you to stand in front of the entrance to the cabin."
"You're kidding me," Lex said.
"Lex--" he started.
But before he could finish Lex, still staring at him, opened the door. "Sorry, I forgot. I trust you."
Relief washed over him. Lex stood in front of the empty doorway with his hands on his hips. Clark could hear the vampire coming closer. "Just stay there," he called, and dashed around the corner. The footsteps grew louder, and then suddenly stopped. Lex's heartbeat, on the other hand, increased dramatically.
"Clark, she's here," Lex called. He didn't respond. Lex chuckled nervously. "Oh, I'm the bait. Hey, uh, if your plan is to get me killed, then it seems to be working."
"Shiny," came a hiss.
"I have no self-esteem left after this," Lex said.
She screamed as Clark rounded the corner and tackled her. They rolled into the shack, and she clawed at his face, his arms, and his back, but it didn't work. "Lex, get in the truck!" he yelled, and the vampire took a swipe at his mouth. He grabbed her hands. Then he heard the truck door slam.
He raised her by her wrists. She kicked at his shins, but yelped when her toes hit hard flesh.
The wooden floor startled to crack under their combined weight. Frantically, Clark tossed her towards the wall. She smacked against it, and then fell over into the hole where she had originally came. Using his superspeed, Clark pushed all the walls onto a pile over the floor, burying her.
"Clark!" Lex was shouting.
He took a step back as the dust rose around him. When it cleared, Lex stood across the pile of wood from him, breathing hard. It was all very anti-climatic.
"I'm okay," Clark said. "But I don't think we have to worry about Lilah anymore."
Lex was staring at him all the way back to the Luthor castle. Pete and Chloe, no matter how suspicious they had been in the past, had never looked at Clark with that cool, calculating expression. It was the same one Lex had given him when he had handed Clark the lead box; like he knew more was going on than Clark let on. He liked Lex, but he wouldn't -- he *couldn't* -- tell him anything.
"Can I use your phone?" Clark asked. His voice sounded too loud to him.
Lex broke his gaze long enough to dig the cell phone out of his jacket pocket. Clark dialed the Fordman's house one-handed.
"Hello? Whitney speaking."
"It's Clark, and--" Clark's frustration spiked as Lex started to reach for his shoulder. "Lex, would you stop looking at me like that? I'm fine."
"A house fell on you," Lex said slowly.
"The house what?" Whitney asked.
Clark cleared his throat. "Whitney, I don't think we have to worry about the vampire anymore."
"I wasn't worried," Whitney said flatly. "What about the shack?"
"The house, um, missed me," said Clark, more to Lex than Whitney. Lex didn't seem convinced.
"What did you do?" demanded Whitney. "That's the property of the Smallville football team, doofus."
Lex leaned back in his seat, making a point of not looking at him. Clark figured this was a bad sign. He stared at his friend as he replied, "Yeah, the, uh, party house is gone. The team will have to find someplace else."
"You had to destroy Lilah's Fort to get rid of the vampire? Thanks a lot, Kent. I always knew you were a loser."
Whitney hung up angrily. Clark blinked at the phone.
"I think it's safe to assume you'll never be invited to another party," Lex said.
"All this because I displeased the football gods," Clark murmured.
They pulled up to the castle gates. Lex opened the door and slid out of the passenger seat. He took his phone back, frowning deeply. "You know, Clark, I still want to be your friend. I don't want you to think you have anything to hide from me."
"I'll keep that in mind," Clark said.
He watched Lex walk leisurely up the stone steps, until finally, he disappeared into the castle. Clark put the truck back into gear and drove home.
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