Daybreak was just beginning to lighten the sky as Natasha stood alone in the cemetery. Her skin crawled with discomfort but she ignored it. Normally she locked herself in her coffin while it was still dark; she had always been an early sleeper. It was that flaw which Frankie had manipulated so expertly in his scheme to kill Jonathan. Knowing Natasha would be locked in for the day, he had drained him of blood and left his corpse to stiffen in the sun. By the time she had risen and found him at twilight, it had been too late to transform him into the undead. He was well and truly gone.
Now she stood alone at dawn, resisting the instinct to flee into her crypt, and tried to remember how it felt to witness sunrise. It had been centuries since her last mortal dawn. The tweeting of birds filled her ears and a faint memory stirred inside her. A pale rose-blue light filled the cemetery. Amazing, she thought; after three hundred years I’ve forgotten how beautiful daybreak can be.
The blood in her veins was growing hot and furious. Always the blood dictating her urges, her moves, her decisions. What kind of queen could she really be when she was ruled by such primitive thirst? Her mind flashed back to the local politics and the needy eyes of her supplicants. There were so many candlelit nights and fresh unbitten throats in her future. Yet all of them were meaningless without Jonathan by her side.
Her blood burned like a fire now. It hurt like the most raging unslaked thirst. She glanced around the empty cemetery. Impossible to believe that he was nearby watching her. She couldn’t perceive him at all. No, she felt quite alone. Yet she had been alone for so long anyhow.
The sky was lightening. As the sun rose over the oak trees lining the graveyard, Natasha held up her long bare arms and allowed the forbidden light of day to grace her skin. Like a thousand tiny flames licking her body, her skin burned. She closed her eyes. Oh God, it hurt but after centuries of safety and numbness, this pain was almost welcome… The sun rose ever higher. She ground her teeth, her fangs piercing her lip until it bled. She was shaking now as the fire swept over every inch of her, piercing her skin and infecting her bones and muscle with pain.
Her skin began to smoke. Her eyes flew open in a kind of amazement, staring at her body as it turned black and charred. This couldn’t be happening. She couldn’t hold on, she couldn’t let her hands shrivel up into withered claws. Her lips burned away as she felt the softness of her gums exposed to the heat and then all at once her entire body was raging with agony. She opened her bleeding mouth and howled her agony to the morning skies.
Then there was nothing. Silence and numbness were her entire existence.
A moment passed, then another. Slowly she became aware of a blessed coolness, and the tweeting of the morning birds. You can see, Natasha. Open your eyes! She opened her eyes, surprised to find herself exactly as she was before – almost. As she looked down at herself, she realized she was no longer a vampire. She was human. Or rather, the ghost of the human woman she had been so long ago.
She looked around. The cemetery was bright as she had never seen it, morning sunlight dancing over the tombstones. The flowers adorning the graves were bright red and yellow as she had never seen them. And there, next to her feet, was a pile of ash that used to be her body.
She stared at it. I did it, she thought in amazement. I’m truly dead. After three hundred years, I’m finally dead. Oddly she had never felt so excited or full of possibility.
She poked at the ash with her foot. To her surprise, her foot passed through it.
“You can’t affect the physical world anymore, Natasha. We belong to a different physical reality. We can only observe this world.”
The deep male voice reverberated with love like deep, rich honey. She turned, trembling, not daring to hope. Yet there he stood. Her Jonathan. Strangely he looked as solid and alive as he ever had.
“I… I…” she stammered, as overcome by his presence as by the shock of her transition. He looked even more radiant in the light of the dawn that he had appeared last night by candlelight. His brown eyes regarded her with a love so pure and strong it took her breath away.
She had traded so much for him. She was no longer alive. She was no longer a queen. She was no longer a powerful, blood-drinking vampire who cowed people with just a glance of her beautiful eyes. Instead she was just another ghost. She looked down at her mortal body once more. She was still curvy, still beautiful. Yet her skin was flushed pink and healthy, and a cursory run of her tongue around her teeth revealed the absence of those fangs she had known for centuries.
“You won’t regret this,” Jonathan promised. He swept her into his arms, where she discovered that even if she could not physically affect her old world, they could physically affect each other. “Oh, Natasha. I have missed you so much.”
He felt so different in her arms. So solid and real and glowing. Oddly she felt more connected to him now than she had ever felt when they were alive.
“Jonathan, I…” A lump of tears swelled in her throat. “I’m not a vampire anymore. I’m not special or beautiful like when you fell in love with me.”
A tear slid from her eyes. She wiped furiously at her face and saw that her tears were clear, not blood.
“Natasha, hush. You are absolutely the beautiful woman I fell in love with… Only now you’ll be with me all of the time, instead of only at night.”
His mouth met hers in a warm, tender kiss. She slid her arms around his waist and kissed him back with burgeoning passion, hardly able to imagine the endless adventures that awaited them. Yet she broke their kiss to stare into his handsome face once more. He was so heartbreakingly beautiful. Never would she grow tired of that perfect face.
A quiet murmur caught her attention. Turning, she realized the cemetery she had thought so empty was now full of people. The other ghosts watched them with smiles, talked with each other, or futilely tried to comfort some of the families arriving early at the cemetery. It was November 1, she realized: Day of the Dead. Many families were bringing flowers and other offerings to their loved ones’ graves. She wondered idly who would mourn her. No doubt Monica would honor her crypt. But the truth was, she was done with this world. She was ready to explore new horizons.
“Come.” Jonathan held out his hand. “There’s so much to show you, Natasha.”
She accepted his hand, marveling at its warmth and strength in hers, and together they vanished into the sunrise.