PART THIRTYSIX - EPILOGUE

"Thanks for a terrific interview guys. All of you were just great" said Ray's older cousin, Channel Six News reporter Steve Tannen. He'd just finished filming an exclusive personal interview with Alex, her older sister Annie, Ray, Robyn, Louis, Nicole, and Grace Lasky in the back yard of the Mack house. Little did he think he'd be back to interview Alex again, as well as all of her friends, to promote them as heroes for the second time in two weeks.

His t.v. crew began picking up their lights and cables as Alex, Annie, and their friends got up from the folding directors chairs they'd been using for the interview. Their parents, Ray's girlfriend Rachael Waters, and Grace's partner, FBI Agent Tim Black, were all watching from an area off-camera. Even Dave Watt was there at Alex's personal invitation.

It was early afternoon, two days following the culmination of their adventure on Tanner's Trail and the terrible explosion which took Vince Carter's life. The last two days had been a virtual whirlwind of FBI investigators, police statements, and reporters, but the effect was beginning to finally wind down and things were beginning to get back to normal.

The parents, beaming with pride, moved in on Alex and Annie's group, giving out hugs and pats on the back to their kids. There was a buffet table that Mrs. Mack, Mrs. Russo, and Mrs. Wilson hadorganized and set up to the far side of the yard for everyone to enjoy. Grace stepped over beside it with Agent Black, who still wore several bandages and walked with a cane from his involvement in the car wreck a week ago. He was still very sore and recuperating from his injuries, but he had no intention of missing this; the exoneration of his partner.

"Well done 'Special Agent Lasky', and welcome back..." he said with a smile, pouring himself a glass of ice-cold punch from the punch bowl on the buffet table. Grace smiled and blushed.

"Thanks... 'partner'. It's good to be back".

"You're a good agent Lasky, and you're a credit to the Bureau, but as much as I know you'd like to hang out here for a while, we've got to go. We have to catch a plane this evening to begin our new assignment in San Francisco tomorrow".

"Grace?" said a voice from behind her. She turned to see Alex, Annie, Ray standing there. Both of the Mack sisters were dressed in brand new dress slacks and blouses Mrs. Mack had bought them for the big interview by Steve Tannen.Ray was impeccably dressed in dark dress pants and a sport coat.

"Is everything alright?" Alex asked. Little did Grace know that Alex had mentally sensed Grace's powerful feelings of sadness about having to leave. Grace frowned but quickly replaced it with a cheery smile. "I have to leave Alex. Now that I'm reinstated with the bureau, I have a new assignment. I wish I could stay longer ". Alex and Annie both gave Grace a hug. When Grace was close to Alex's ear, she whispered softly into it."Your secret is safe with me".

Then, it was Ray's turn to hug her.

"We'll miss you Grace" Alex said.

"I'll miss you guys too Alex" she replied. "I'm just glad things worked out. I wish I had known what great people you and your family and friends were a year ago; you know, before I....".

"Don't worry about it..." Annie said, cutting her off. "That was a long time ago. Things are different now... 'Agent' Lasky'". Grace laughed, and gave the Mack sisters one final hug. She exchanged winks with Ray.

"Take care you guys. I'll keep in touch. I promise" Grace said, and turned to walk away with Agent Black.

"Bye" Alex, Annie, and Ray said together at once. Before leaving, Grace said her quick goodbyes to the rest of their friends and families, and then just like that, she was gone. Alex leaned backwards against the buffet table to take in all of the activity in the back yard. Ray started plundering the mounds of small finger sandwiches and cakes on the table. Alex couldn't help but laugh under her breath how nothing seemed to curb her best friend's voracious appetite. She stared out across the yard, absently soaking everything in.

"A penny for your thoughts Alex" Annie said, bumping her little sister's elbow gently with her own.

"Huh?" she mumbled. "Oh. Sorry Annie. I guess I was just lost in thought. I'm still trying to process everything that's happened over the last two weeks".

"Were you thinking about what I think you were?" Annie pressed.

Alex smiled. "Yeah".

"Well, don't worry anymore Alex, because we managed to pull this off and still hide your secret from everyone. Not to mention expose Director Walsh and the rest of his accomplices and henchmen".

"I know" Alex chuckled. "I sort of wish I could have been there to see the look on Walsh's face when Grace's friend Agent Torres arrested him".

"Don't forget his crooked lawyer brother-in-law Samuel Cook..." Ray added, half-listening as he continued to raid the buffet table. Annie nodded in agreement with Ray.

"It's just a good thing everyone believed your story of escaping the cabin through a hole in the back wall when Vince caused that beam to fall" Annie postulated."Otherwise, they may have suspected your powers. We've been very lucky Alex...".

"I just feel guilty that we're hiding my powers from mom and dad again. It doesn't seem right" Alex said with a frown, observing her parents mingling with several guests across the yard.

"But it's best it stays that way Alex, at least for now. I know you don't like it. I don't either, but remember how your powers totally freaked mom out before? Imagine what they'd do to her now".

Alex looked away from her parents entertaining guests and lowered her head as a pang of guilt ran through her. Annie took her sister's hand in her her's and squeezed it lightly. "Alex, you're the most powerful human being on Earth, and nothing's going to change that. We're just saving them a lot of stress by keeping this secret in our small group".

"Yeah, I know" she agreed, half-lying. Moments later, Robyn, Nicole, and Louis managed to escape the adults and approached the tables where they were. Alex felt a little better with them nearer.

"So guys" she grinned, trying to break out of her funk. "How does it feel to be celebrities?".

"I'm not sure" Robyn frowned. "This could lead to a complete lack of my privacy, and who knows what sort of people will see that report and want to get even with us. I don't think I'll ever sleep again!".

"Thank God!" Nicole exclaimed with a chuckled, raising her hands to the heavens like a singer in a choir. "The 'old' Robyn Russo is back!". Robyn blushed as everyone laughed, but it wasn't long before Annie broke in with a serious tone.

"As exciting as all of this has been..." Annie spoke up, breaking the levity. "...Let's remember there are still some high stakes involved, and those are Alex's safety". All of them grew serious and nodded in agreement to Annie's warning.

"Yeah guys" Alex cut in. "Now that all of you share my secret, expect to get a daily dose of Annie's sermons about being careful not to expose it. Or at least until she goes back to college". Annie gave her a semi-serious glance, then began again.

"We managed to tell the media about our involvement in exposing Vince and Director Walsh without revealing Alex's powers have returned, but just remember there will always be someone who will pry into this story until it finally dies down. You 'have' to be careful not to slip up if you're approached by anyone in the media".

"Then let's do it like the Three Musketeers did..." Louis remarked, stepping forward, placing his hand out in front of Alex palm down ,and motioning for everyone to form a circle. "All for one, and one for all".

"All for one, and one for all!" each one of them said at the same time, reaching out and placing their hands on top of each others' in the middle of the huddle.

-----------------------------------------------------

Friday, three nights before Halloween, and Paradise Valley High School was abuzz again with the talk of Alex Mack and her friends' exploits. The day went by quickly, but Alex and her friends still felt overwhelmed by all the attention.Except, that is, for Louis, who was enjoying his five minutes of fame.

Alex had different feelings. Her empathic abilities to sense others' emotions almost incapacitated her on several occasions. Once, when she passed by a jealous and fuming Libby Flanders who tried to stare her down in the halls, the sheer hatred she felt from the girl almost knocked her down.

But the most embarrassing moment came when she rounded a corner after last bell as she and her friends were leaving for the weekend. "Whoof!" she gasped, running right into the tall, handsome, and athletic frame of Brad Patterson as they rounded a corner leading to the front doors. She dropped her backpack from the impact.

"Oh geez Alex! I'm so sorry!" he blushed, immediately bending down to pick up her backpack. "I'd forgotten something and was hurrying back and I guess I wasn't looking where I was ....". Alex just couldn't help it; couldn't help herself. The emotions coming from Brad and being caught so off guard took over again just they did several days ago in this very hallway. She was besieged by Brad's powerful feelings for her.

As soon as he stood to offer her her backpack, Alex grabbed Brad's shirt with both hands and pulled him to her, kissing him hard on the lips again.

Robyn blushed as red as a beet and looked away. Nicole suppressed a giggle. Louis started laughing in silence, and Ray just placed his hand over his eyes, shook his head, and said "Here we go again".

-----------------------------------------------------

"That was 'so' embarrassing..." Alex fretted as she and her friends maneuvered through the crosswalk on the street in front of the school, heading for a planned get-together at Wayne's Wigwam, a popular donut shop and teen hangout. She continued to wipe perspiration from her forehead with a tissue Robyn had given her inside, even thought the temperature outside was uncharacteristically cool for Paradise Valley.

As soon as Alex had come out of her trance and released Brad from her kiss, it took every bit of her concentration and effort to prevent her skin from glowing like a roman candle for everyone to see.

"Well Alex, at least Brad's ego isn't suffering any from you kissing him every time you lay eyes on him" Louis joked.

"Verrrrrry funny" Alex scowled. "Listen, it wasn't my fault. I'd been under pressure with all those emotions around me all day long. I couldn't help it!".

"Well, at least he agreed to come by your house and visit you tomorrow" Nicole said sympathetically. "I 'know' you like him Alex. Otherwise, your emotions wouldn't cause you to do that".

Alex didn't say anything, and rolled her eyes and smiled mischievously. She knew Nicole was right. She liked Brad a lot. Hunter Reeves was barely an afterthought in her mind now. Maybe now things would finally get back to normal and Alex could actually enjoy a normal life for once.

For the next several minutes as they walked towards the Paradise Valley Mall where Wayne's Wigwam was located, the teens joked and laughed. They crossed another three blocks and entered the large plaza in the front of the mall. As they crossed the concrete clearing in direction of the mall's main front doors, Louis suddenly stopped them.

"Hey guys! Check this out!" he said as Alex and the others slowed to see what he was talking about.

Louis dugfifty cents from his pocket and placed it in one of the half a dozen paper boxes lined up near a set of concrete benches located under a small stand of manicured shade trees.

"What is it Louis?" Nicole complained. "If we don't get to Wayne's early enough, there won't be any seats left out on the patio!". Louis waved her off with an impatient shrug.

"But look at this..." he insisted as he pulled a newspaper from the box and held it's front page up on display for them. Alex and the others gathered in front of the paper and read the headline with concern.

MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCES

Three Paradise Valley Residents Have Vanished Since Last Week

No Clues Found Yet: Police Baffled

"Creepy" Robyn said with a shudder.

"Louis..." Nicole complained, her hands on her hips. "Don't you think we've had enough drama in our lives the last two weeks?". Louis looked betrayed, but it didn't take Alex much effort to figure out what was on his mind. Being so close to him, she could easily sense what was going through his mind.

"Oh no! No way Louis..." Alex argued, waving her arms in front of her and shaking her head. She spun around and began walking towards the mall again. When Ray, Robyn, and Nicole followed her lead, Louis surged forward and fell into step right behind Alex.

"Aw c'mon Mack!" he protested. "We've got ourselves another mystery on our hands, and we're the people who could solve it! Especially with all the super powers you have!".

"Shhhhh!" hissed everyone simultaneously, turning and leering at him. Louis winced at their combined reprimand.

"Louis!" Robyn growled. "Would you quiet down?! We're in public!".

"Alex is right Louis" Ray added defiantly. "I like to consider ourselves the people who were smart enough to walk away from it and 'not' get involved in anymore trouble. My dad has already taken my driver's license away for a whole month for getting caught speeding in Alex's jeep. I don't want anymore restrictions".

"Or have you forgotten you were captured by Vince and Agent Garth and nearly eliminated?" Nicole reminded him, looking over her shoulder haughtily. Louis' face reddened and he went quiet; he knew they were right. They finally made their way to Wayne's Wigwam and stayed for several hours, laughing, partying, and having a great time.

Soon afterwards, it was a walk to the theaters at the other end of the mall where they watched the latest action film, 'Ruinator Four'. It was nearly ten o'clock when they left the theater, and their group split up to go home. Ray walked Alex home while Louis left with Robyn and Nicole.

After a couple of blocks, Alex and Ray turned down Chance Street, which dead-ended in front of the junior high school. There, they could take the elevated walkway bridge spanning over the interstate which led to Rivernut Avenue, Alex's and Ray's street.

Alex zipped up her windbreaker and folded her arms tightly on her chest as a cool wind cut down the street. "Wow Ray! It sure is cold for Paradise Valley this time of year! It must be in the fifties out here tonight".

"Yeah, you're right. Maybe we'll have another cold winter for Christmas like we did last year" he answered. "Of course, you could always morph us home if you're cold and in a hurry". Alex giggled.

"Naw, I'll walk this time; with my best friend". She veered over and bumped Ray playfully.

"I have no problem with that" Ray laughed, putting his arm around her shoulders.

Without warning, Alex stopped dead in her tracks and gasped loudly, startling Ray. She began looking around them in every direction.

"Alex? Is there something wrong?" he asked, surprised, glancing everywhere she was looking. The entire boulevard for the next two blocks was brightly illuminated by street lamps, and they could even see the lights in the parking lot of the junior high school from their position. There was little activity around them. Only a few cars were left on the street at this hour, and all but a couple of the small sidewalk shops were closed.

"Alex?" he asked again. "What's going on?". He began to get nervous.

"I'm not sure. I just got this real weird feeling that... that somebody was watching us" she replied quietly.

"You're pulling my leg right? Trying to scare me 'cause Halloween is almost here...".

"No, I'm not Ray" she replied seriously. "Then, it was like I felt something totally..... 'totally'... bad".

Ray took Alex by the arm and started walking, gently pulling her along. "Alex, are you sure you're not just stressed outfrom everything's that's happened today? I mean, it may just be your imagination, or your powers playing tricks on you".

"Maybe Ray. But let's skip the walk and I'll morph us home anyway, o.k.?". Ray stopped, nodded, and held Alex's hand so she could liquify each of them, find the nearest sewer which led to their neighborhood, and go home. Neither of them were prepared for what happened next.

A pair of large, black blurs appeared in front of them out of nowhere and flew at them faster than the eye could follow. Before Alex could erect a force field to defend herself and Ray, powerfully strong hands grabbed both of them by the upper arms and lifted them off their feet. They huffed loudly as the blurs roughly whisk them away into an alley they'd been passing on the sidewalk. Once inside the alley's dark confines, they were forcibly pushed against the stone wall beside each other. The sheer centrifugal force of the high-speed assault and being slammed against the wall left both of them dazed and dizzy.

Alex squinted her eyes and tried to focus. For some reason, she could see perfectly in the dark. Another side-effect of her powers? But the sheer physicality of the attack left her in a haze. A low, sinister voice spoke softly to her, a voice which made her skin crawl.

"Pretty, pretty, pretty. What do we have here? Two young ones out late at night?" the voice hissed.

Her sense of smell seemed more acute too, as her assailant's rank breath quickly cleared her head. Holding her against the wall was a small, skinny man in his late thirties, with short dark hair and dark brown eyes. She glanced next to her and saw Ray's head leaned forward, and he was groaning. He'd been roughed up worse than she had been. His attacker also held him against the wall beside her, and was of a slightly bigger and stockier build than the one holder her, about ten years younger with lighter hair and a moustache.

For some reason, Ray's attacker seemed vaguely familiar to her.

The man holding Alex stroked her cheek with his right hand and moved his face closer to her. The feel of his touch disgusted her.

"Yes, you're a pretty one alright. Lucky to have found you tonight" he said as her gaze met his. When their eyes made contact, Alex began to feel dizzy, and then a sensation of complete surrender overcame her.

Her body went limp, and she stopped trying to struggle with her attacker.

"Yes, my pretty. That's it..." the man cooed. But as soon as he finished speaking, Alex felt a sharp, painful twinge pass through her head which instantly brought her back to her senses.

It suddenly occurred to Alex what her sister said to her yesterday, that she was the most powerful human being on Earth, and she decided to take matter into her own hands. There was no further reason to worry about hiding her powers now; these two thugs were out to do her and Ray harm, and she couldn't allow that!

She summoned her powers and she felt them boil up inside her. A snarl appear on her face at the shocked surprise of the man holding her.

"Let... me... go!" she growled with a new-found strength, and reached out with her mind at the man. Instantly, he was hurled across the alley and slammed against the far wall. The man holding Ray turned and looked at his partner crumpled on the ground across the alley, then looked back at Alex.

She reached out with her mind again, and Ray's attacker went flying backwards against the far wall too, landing on the ground beside his companion. Ray began regain his senses as soon as the man holding him was tossed away.

"Ray?!" Alex exclaimed, trying to help him stay on his feet 'and' keep an eye on the two men, who were already getting up. She couldn't believe it they had already recovered, because that type of blow from her telekinesis would have knocked a normal man senseless. Alex had never used her powers in that manner before, and it scared her that she had.

"Wow Alex. Did you get the number of that truck?" Ray moaned, seemingly unaware of what was going on.

"C'mon Ray, we have to get out of here!" she pleaded.

The two men were back on their feet, watching them warily from across the alley. "You and your friend aren't going anywhere my pretty..." said the smaller man.

Ray's head finally cleared enough to grasp their situation, and he instinctively stepped in front of Alex to protect her.

What they saw next caused their blood to run cold. A horrifying physical change began to overtake the two men. Their skin darkened, their faces rippled and contorted, and the outer corners of their eyes angled back slightly. Pointed, horizontal ridges formed on their foreheads and upper noses, and their eyes turned fiercely red with sparkling yellow pupils. Dark, purple veins rose and throbbed behind their temples. Their bodies grew several inches in height and became bulkier and more muscular, and their fingers looked more like claws now instead of human digits. But the most gruesome part of their change was their mouths, where a pair of long, sharp, pointed teeth slid down from the front of their upper gums between their incisors and canines. The entire change only took about a second.

"Oh my God..." Alex gasped in wide-eyed disbelief.

"This 'is not' happening" Ray groaned.

"I like it when we find someone with a little 'fight' in them!" the little man said chuckling and spitting through his one-inch long fangs. The two men hissed loudly at them. Alex and Ray couldn't believe what they were witnessing.

Vampires?! In Paradise Valley?! No way!

Alex sensed they were about to attack, and this time, wasted no time in creating the most powerful force field she could muster to encompass her and Ray just as they leapt. With blinding speed, the vampires cleared twelve feet through the air, the entire width of the alley, only to crash into Alex's mental barrier. She could feel their great strength as they collided with it, but she maintained her concentration and sent them reeling backwards again.

The vampires picked themselves up from the alley floor again, with a look of confusion on their faces. They hissed angrily again.

"What sort of trickery is this pretty one? There is more to you than meets the eye" the smaller one said threateningly, and the vampires spread out to encircle Alex and Ray. She kept her force field up, but wasn't sure how many more attacks from these monsters she could repel. Their strength was incredible!

They crouched and readied themselves for another attack, and Alex prepared herself accordingly. Being a 'morpher', she instinctively look downwards and found her force field also surrounded a circular drainage grating at their feet. Alex hoped if she could repel the vampires once more and temporarily stun them, that she could morph herself and Ray away to safety.

Without warning, a sharp 'twang!' echoed in the distance, and a small arrow flew from the shadows in the rear of the alley, striking the larger vampire in the chest. Alex and Ray watched in horror when the vampire's demonic appearances faded back into the human form he had before changing, and then his entire body and the clothes he was wearing instantly crumbled into dust, his ashy remains disappearing on a strange wind which came out of nowhere to scatter them into oblivion. Only the arrow which dispatched him remained, and it fell to the alley floor with a loud 'click!'. Alex was so shocked she absently dropped her force field. The smaller vampire began to desperately look all around him for the hidden attacker.

Another 'twang!' sounded from the shadows, but in the blink of an eye, the smaller vampire moved almost ten feet to the alley's far wall, and another arrow whooshed through the spot where he'd been.

"This is isn't over pretty one!" he snarled directly at Alex, and turned and leapt upwards onto the alley wall eight feet above, clinging to it like a lizard. Much like a man walks down a sidewalk, the vampire effortlessly scaled the wall upwards with blinding speed and into the darkness of the rooftops above.

For several seconds, Alex and Ray stood motionless, completely terrified, glancing back and forth to each other and then at the wall the vampire slithered up and away on.

Then Alex noticed a figure moving in the darkness at the back of the alley. She saw it long before Ray did. From the shadows emerged a beautiful blond girl with big blue eyes and a short, athletic frame. She was dressed in all black; black jeans, black boots, black shirt, and a black leather jacket. She looked about the age of her older sister Annie. The girl's long, shoulder-length hair was tied tightly into a braided ponytail which hung over the back of her jacket. In her left hand she carried a wooden crossbow. She walked towards them with a confident gait.

Alex and Ray backed up against the alley wall as the blond girl approached them. Alex couldn't sense any danger from the girl, but she readied another force field just in case.

"Nifty little trick you have there 'girlie'..." the pretty blond said disarmingly as she stopped three feet short of Alex and Ray. She lowered her crossbow and cocked her head to eye Alex suspiciously. "Care to tell me how you did that?".

"Did ... did what?" Alex stuttered innocently. The girl scoffed.

"Toss those two guys across the alley without touching them is what..." she girl replied matter-of-factly.

"You... you aren't one of those ... those things, are you?" Ray asked the girl shakily, pointing to where the large vampire had disintegrated. She looked where he was pointing then turned her attention back to him.

"A vampire?" she laughed, a touch of sarcasm in her voice. "Hardly". She looked at Alex again.

"So, you aren't going to tell me how you threw those guys through the air, huh? O.k., I'll let that be your secret for now. I suppose I have a few of my own too". Alex could almost see a hint of respect appear in the girl's eyes.

They stayed silent until the girl in black softened her voice.

"Don't worry. I'm not your enemy. I just saved you two if you didn't happen to notice. Tell me who you guys are".

Alex finally summoned up the courage to speak.

"I'm... I'm Alex Mack, and this is my best friend... Ray. Who ... who are you? And what's going on here?".

"You really don't know, do you?" the girl asked, acting somewhat surprised they didn't know.

Alex and Ray just shook their heads innocently.

"I'm Buffy, a slayer, and you have a master vampire loose in Paradise Valley".

------------------------------------------------