It didn't hit her until the Magic Box blew apart. That's when she knew it was all coming to an end.
One week before UPN's ''Buffy the Vampire Slayer'' began shooting its final episode, a windstorm ripped through the show's Santa Monica studio lot and badly damaged the Magic Box, an occult convenience store that's been an unofficial HQ for the Scooby Gang. ''We walked outside, and the Magic Box set was shredded,'' says the retiring Slayer herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar. ''Right then, there was this weird epiphany, like, 'Oh. It's over.'''
On May 20, that realization will finally hit the ''Buffy'' faithful, too, when the seven-season-old cult classic airs its send-off installment. For some in the cast, ''The End'' has come as rudely as a stake to the heart: Alyson Hannigan (Willow) and Nicholas Brendon (Xander) didn't learn that they would be out of a job until late February -- when they read about it in Entertainment Weekly magazine. ''Which kind of sucked,'' says Brendon, sharing his interview time with Hannigan and Anthony Stewart Head (Giles). ''That's not the way it should have happened.... But everything happens for a reason.''
''I always thought this would be the last season,'' objects Head, who became a recurring player two years ago in order to spend more time with his family.
''That's great,'' cracks Hannigan, ''but you bailed after season 5, so shut the hell up!''
They can laugh about it, but fans should gird for tears. Buffy's last adventure will send her into the Hellmouth for a throwdown with a primordial evil known as The First. Creator Joss Whedon says there will be a kiss with Buffy's first love, Angel (David Boreanaz); major drama involving Buffy's obsessive admirer, bad-boy vamp Spike (James Marsters); and oodles of blood. ''Buffy's head explodes like a pumpkin,'' jokes Whedon, who won't disclose who survives but says the climax hinges on the original fantastic four: Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles. ''You wanted to have that moment in the last episode. You needed it -- the completion of the circle.''