Very soon, Edgar Frog will cease to exist.
He knows that and he is okay with it. He doesn't believe in heaven or hell, he hasn't done for a long time. He believes in what he can see. Good and evil, God and the Devil, exist right here on earth, but angels floating around on clouds strumming at harps? Demons with pitchforks torturing the wicked? He can't bring himself to believe that is real. If hell exists, it is right here in southern California, and right now he is sitting at its direct center.
Of course, on the off chance that he's wrong, he has his fingers well and truly crossed that the good he has done in the years proceeding tonight make up for the single evil deed that led him to this beach. He doubts it does, so he chooses not to believe. It's easier that way.
The beach is still and calm, calmer than he has ever noticed it before. Even the waves have ceased their endless crashing into the huge rocks that scatter the sand and jut menacingly out of the water as though laying in wait to punish any surfer foolhardy enough to try his luck. The water laps the shore gently, quietly, as though the beach knows what is about to happen, and waits in respectful silence.
The sand beneath him is damp from the receding tide. It soaks through the seat of his battle-grubby camouflage pants and despite the warm summer air, chills his skin. It doesn't matter. Soon, he will be warmer than he has ever been.
He sits in the center of the smallest of three salt rings that lay on the surface of the damp sand, glittering slightly in the light of the half moon. Each one is several feet smaller than the last, the center circle is no more than four feet across, barely enough room for for him to sit with legs outstretched. It had been a surprise to discover that the rings he drew in salt still had power, but he is glad of it. They will ensure that he does what needs to be done.
The sky is beginning to lighten. The change is still barely perceptible to his eyes, but he can feel the dawn creeping up on him, like a predator stalking him, waiting to pounce. He can feel its eyes on him, watching, waiting for the right moment to spring from its hiding place beyond the horizon. He adjusts his position slightly on the damp sand and tries to forget his fear. He's just putting another monster down, done it a hundred times before.
He glances down at his hands. Fingernails once stubby and chewed have somehow grown long and thick, sharp and deadly. In his right, he clutches his favorite stake tightly. He hasn't decided yet whether he is going to use it, or simply wait for the sun to do its work. The stake is a wooden one, though metal is the current fashion. He has always been a traditionalist and although the new stakes work just as well if not better than the wood, there is something about a hand carved wooden stake lovingly shaped and sanded. It is more personal. Ordinarily, that doesn't matter, but there are times that call for tradition, and this is one of those times. He rolls it slowly between the skin of his palms and fingertips. It feels the same as it always has. It is a part of him, an extension of his body. He doesn't think he has the courage to use it.
He doesn't think he has the courage to do this at all. The monster in him is strong and persuasive. It had already convinced him to do the unthinkable once, and even now it begged and pleaded with him, throwing out justifications, reasons to go on; think of the good he could do, the monsters he could kill now with his strength and power. Compared to that, what were a few human lives, compared to ending all that evil?
His grip on the stake tightens reflexively against the thoughts that bubble to the surface of his mind, indistinguishable from his own only because he knows that he would never be capable of thinking them. Above and around him, the sky lightens incrementally. He glances down at the salt surrounding him, grateful for its presence even as he loathes its existence and searches for a way to bypass the trap. He can feel the approaching dawn in every cell of his body, each one of them screaming at him to flee, to take to the air and fly hard and fast until he finds shelter, and he knows that without the circles, he would obey. Not quite yet, but soon, as the sun rises higher and the pain begins to build. He is weak. That has been proven to him this very night . He sealed his fate with the first drop and he can never allow that weakness to control him again.
It hasn't been a bad life, all things considered. True, he never did make good on his quest to destroy all vampires, but over the years he had taken out more than his fair share. Even taking tonight into consideration, he has probably left the world in a slightly better state than he found it. Sure, he has regrets, two of them. They are called Alan and Sam. Just two of the many he hadn't been able to save, but the two that mattered the most. Now, they will finally leave him alone, their constant presence at the back of his mind will cease.
Everything will cease.
The world around him is losing focus as the sun moves closer to the horizon, shining more and more of its deadly light into the rapidly approaching day. The brightness steals away the sharp clarity that the night had given to his unnatural eyes and replaces it with an uncomfortable glare. The sea begins to turn from black to blue, mirroring the changes happening in the sky above.
He runs his fingers over the piece of wood in his hands, feeling every groove, every bump and imperfection like he never has before. He turns it slowly, aiming the carefully carved and polished point towards his own body. He can feel the sun approaching now, unstoppable as a freight train in some old TV show, and he is tied to the tracks, immobilized, fixed in place. Terror twists inside him and he resists the urge to struggle, to try to break through the salt rings holding him in place. He knows it is not his. Instead he sits, eyes focused on the sip of the stake. He still hasn't decided which way this is going to go.
He never was great at planning. That had been his brother's job; he had been the strategist. Edgar, he had prefered to see himself as a man of action. The fine details didn't matter so much as long as the job got done. One way or another, he knows that he won't be leaving this beach alive, and that is the important thing. Stake or sunlight, the only thing that matters is that he goes out a soldier, brave and stoic to the last.
The first rays of direct sunlight make their inevitable way over the edge of the horizon. The light spills indiscriminately into the world and pain explodes inside Edgar's mind. His eyes sting and burn and he slams them closed reflexively against the onslaught of pain. His teeth find his bottom lip and bite down hard, drawing poisonous blood. His hands grip the handle of the stake hard and his breath stops. Everything in him that is vampire retreats deep inside him and for the first time in days, he feels that he is himself. He is Edgar Frog. He is a vampire hunter.
He forces his eyes open despite the painful glare of the morning sun. With horror, he sees that the exposed skin of his hands is beginning to smoke, he feels them burn as though pressed against a hot surface. Heated to the point of agony with no way to pull back and escape. Despite everything, he finds himself smiling, feeling the burning skin of his face protesting against the motion. In one fluid motion, he thrusts the stake toward himself, aiming directly for the heart. His aim is prefect, practiced a thousand times in his mind.
After a lifetime of hunting, it would have been so easy to sit this one out; to let the sun do his work for him, but that isn't his way. He goes out fighting, even if the thing he is fighting is himself.
He feels no pain as the sharpened wood enters his body, only a dull shock and mild surprise at how easy it had been, and then the world begins to drop away. He allows his fingers to let go of the stake and slumps forward, the sun no longer bothers him, he can see clearly now as golden light illuminates the world. It is beautiful, this world that he has fought for so long to protect, but he is ready to leave it now.
“Good thing too,” he hears someone say. “I mean, it's not like you have any choice in the matter, is it?”
Edgar turns, puzzled, and finds himself looking into the familiar blue eyes of Sam Emerson. He frowns in confusion.
“Yeah, it's me,” Sam confirms. “Well, maybe. On the other hand, I could be a hallucination your brain cooked up as it slips away. Science never did give a definite answer on near death experiences, did it?” he pauses then shrugs, “Of course, this is an actual death experience, so who knows?”
Edgar opens his mouth to reply, but can't think of a single thing to say.
“So, ready?” Sam asks. He holds out a hand to Edgar and waits expectantly until the hunter reaches up to grasps it and allows himself to be helped to his feet.
He steps easily over the salt circles and out onto the beach, following after Sam.
“By the way, thanks,” Sam says. “Been meaning to say it for a few years now, but never got the chance 'til now.”
Edgar pauses, lost in the strangeness of the experience “What for?” he asks finally.
“For killing me. Saving me. I owe you.” Sam keeps walking, Edgar following half a step behind. Finally, as he approaches the edge of the ocean, he turns to look at him and smiles.
Edgar starts to ask him what happens next, but before he can form the words, something starts to happen. The world begins to disappear around them. The sky, the sea, the sand, all fade into whiteness until there is nothing left but him and Sam. Sam's smile widens to a grin. “You're going to love this,” he says. “Trust me.” And then he, too fades away leaving Edgar completely alone.
Finally, Edgar feels an unfamiliar sensation and instinctively knows that it is his turn to go. He waits for the expected burst of terror, but it does not come. This feels right in a way he doesn't quite understand. As he stands there and allows his consciousness to slip away from him, still feeling on his skin the echo of the breeze the beach left behind it, for the first time in a very long time a realization dawns on him.
Edgar Frog is at peace.