He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." - Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146, German philosopher (1844 - 1900)

AND THE PEOPLE WHO HUNT THEM

Count Gustav Magnon III would arrive in his coffin at Sky Harbor Airport on Delta Air Flight 260 in less than two hours. David Carfax packed the last of his holy water vials and crossed himself. David wondered aloud, "What can get pass airport security and still kill the Count?"

The Count had covered his tracks carefully. David had only now learned of his travel arrangements. David walked out of his apartment to the sounds of Edgar and Alan, a pair of mud-brown pit bulls who growled whenever he walked by. The light afternoon rain had retreated to make room for tonight's thunderstorm.

The unusual rain that had plagued Phoenix for weeks now reminded him of the Count. The old boy had lost everything to Katrina. Even immortals can't do anything about the weather. So he and his little family relocated to Cincinnati. How someone as pro-French as the Count tolerated this country defied explanation.

Accidents and TGIF traffic added up to an hour-and-a-half commute. Twenty minutes to reach Terminal 3. Twenty minutes to reach the Count.

Jim Jones. L. Ron Hubbard. Shoko Asahara. Just names to David. Before he had met the Count, he had never encountered such devastating charisma. If the cliché "could sell an icebox to an Eskimo" ever applied to anyone, it applied to the Count. Sylvia Matheson couldn't help but fall for him.

Security personnel made him take off his shoes and take a sip from each vial. A pat down that stopped just short of a cavity search followed. David couldn't have gotten a toothpick past them.

As he took a seat across from Flight 260's luggage, he wondered how he reached this absurd situation, a six-pack of holy water versus a six-hundred-year-old bloodsucker.

The Count had not come to Arizona for the sun. He had come for David. David had done something wrong, even by a hunter's standards. Perhaps he deserved to die, but damned if he'd let the Count decide that for him.

David thought back to when he first met the family. The Count had settled in Washington D.C. at the time. The city's famously high murder rate allowed their activities to go by virtually unnoticed.

His father had died in a car accident the year before. The world's finest hunter of their kind, entombed in a coffin of twisted steel. It didn't feel right. He should have gone down doing what he loved, hunting their kind.

David decided to continue the quest his father had started. But with his father dead, the Count's quirks, his gallows humor, his easygoing yet fatherly demeanor and his encyclopedic knowledge of French history, all had one effect. The effect of weakening his resolve.

How could someone who had just slashed open a carotid artery seem so human? It made no sense. Perhaps because they killed only out of necessity while David killed . . . David didn't even know his reason anymore if he ever had one to begin with.

"Sir." A familiar-looking man in a three-piece suit walked up to him, his voice polite with a pinch of paranoia. "My apologies, but we'll need to confiscate your bag."

David forced a smile. "C'mon, man, do we really have to do that?"

"Yes, we do. Airport security." The agent spoke those words as if they explained everything. Now he knew where he had seen him before, F.B.I. Agent James Malcolm Rymer, born April 30, 1975, father of three daughters and traitor to his species since the summer of '87. Sylvia Matheson had known him personally. David had not.

Crowd gathered and so did a couple agents. "Please don't make me do this."

O Lord, please forgive me. David Carfax had never fought anyone who might have fought back. For all he knew, Agent Rymer could have killed him.

But he didn't. David must've hit him a dozen times. He reached for the gun, yelling and cursing like he had a mind to shoot someone. In truth, he had more of a mind to vomit. Agent Rymer's face didn't look like a face anymore.

"He's got a gun!" David Carfax could see the words forming on their lips. "Please don't kill me!" or "I'll do anything, anything you want!" David did not like this situation. He did not like looking like the bad guy.

Now, he had solved his own riddle. "What can get pass airport security and still kill the Count?" The answer: this gun. Used wisely, this gun could kill him. In the end, strategy meant everything. Even when confronted by seven of the meanest monsters to ever grace Southeast Asia, First Lieutenant Solomon Carfax had survived where everyone else died by improvising. David would have to improvise to survive this situation.

David fired a warning shot. Everyone hit the ground as David inched his way towards luggage claim. More agents would soon arrive. He had minutes to act if he had any time at all.

Then he saw it. Though he had seen it a dozen times before, it always transfixed him. He saw the Count's coffin. His coffin lacked the stereotypic hexagon. It looked just like any other trunk one might find wheeling down the conveyor belt.

He shot the lock off. He lifted the lid. There lied Count Gustav Magnon III dressed like a 15th Century French peacock. David's father, Solomon Carfax, had broken his romantic image of hunters. Hunters do not fight like heroes; they fight like cowards. They lie, they cheat, they steal; they do whatever it takes to get the job done. On a day not too long ago, he had once killed four of them while they slept.

As he emptied the Browning HP into the Count's neck, the smell brought back memories from that terrible night. The Count promised his followers what religion only feigned: immortality. No more disease. No more weakness. Just eternity with a father who truly loved his children. David had gained enough of the family's trust to watch over the elders. Though everyone had his or her suspicions, the Count loved David like a son. And when he did nothing in his first month as a guard, everyone considered the matter closed. And then, six months after getting his new job, he found the perfect opportunity to strike. Five coffins. Five monsters. Paralyzed and defenseless. David didn't even bother to look. He reached for the canister and began wetting them down.

One torch later, the place had caught fire. As he walked away one of the bodies did something unusual. It leapt out of its coffin, covered head-to-toe in flames. It made an impossible noise, the most complete expression of pain David would ever hear. Sheep sent to the slaughter could not match Sylvia Matheson's final moments. God, David could still smell the bouquet of roasted flesh.

After the last bullet, David dumped all but one of the vials of holy water along the throat. As the flesh boiled and blistered, David dug his fingers into the half-bloody half-burnt mess and yanked off the head. The eight-pound lump of meat and bones sailed through the air as it turned to ashes. The rest of the body followed seconds after.

David performed the last rites on the Count's ashes as the police dragged him away. From the streets of Washington D.C. to the jungles of South Vietnam, there existed monsters and the people who hunt them. His father, the Marine, had turned him in something he hated and wished he could undo it. And if he had had a single shot left in the gun, he would have.

THE END