Old Thyme 14. Showdown at Thyme Funeral Home

Armed with his revolver, Augustus headed downstairs to the morgue and fetched a gurney. Ramming through the receiving doors, he wheeled the gurney into the unloading lot. It was easier going than he had thought it would be pushing the gurney with a bad leg up the hill along the narrow drive around the backside of the chapel. Little light reached this corner of the property, though, making it difficult to see the curb which he kept banging into due to the angle of the roadway. Dark as ever, the woods breathed fog over the road.

On level ground, he nearly rode the gurney wheeling through the main parking lot. Bouncing onto the walk, the gurney veered into the grass where it stopped suddenly causing Augustus to lose his footing, spin about, and tumble over planting his rear end hard on the ground. He climbed onto his feet, pulled the gurney out of the grass, and backed up the walk to the office door. Spotting his cane in the grass, he hobbled after it.

A gunshot rang in the woods, and the report howled into the night.

Somewhere beyond the trees, red pulsated in the fog, the heartbeat of the forest dragon.

Augustus snatched his cane and scurried, opened the door, and pulled the gurney inside crashing against the desk. The skinny corpse fell out of its chair and released enough gas to kill a mouse. Pulling his shirt up over his face, Augustus held his breath and hurried to the door. He did a quick survey of the parking lot finding a wall of fog hiding the far end along with the trees. He pulled the door closed and set the lock.

Sneaking the corner of the curtain aside, he put is face to the window. Something on the glass blurred his view sending the lamp post into a twisting shape. Pulling back, he found a round dome flowing outward, a bullet hole in the glass.

“Holy smokes,” said Augustus. Backpedaling, he pushed the gurney against the corpse on the floor, and he stumbled against the desk. Villenueve’s corpse slumped over onto the desk, papers sliding loose onto the floor.

A gunshot, and wood snapped nearby.

Trapped between the gurney and the desk, Augustus didn’t know which way to run. He reached for his revolver, but found the holster empty.

“I returned your mess, asshole.”

The voice outside belonged to the bartender from Pine Mountain Tavern.

Augustus shouted, “I thought you were dead.”

The bartender guffawed. “I don’t check out that easy, Augustus Thyme!”

Crouching down low, Augustus took cover beside the desk. He glanced around the floor, but he didn’t see the revolver. It had likely fallen outside in the grass.

“I read all about your lost child, Augustus Thyme.”

The bartender sounded closer, but Augustus couldn’t tell if it was due to the fear of being trapped, or if the man outside was quietly strolling closer. Sweat streamed into his eyes, and he felt hot as ever.

“I wished I could have been there,” said the bartender. His voice grew louder if not closer. “I would have loved to have seen your face after your kid was swiped right out from under your nose!”

The boisterous laugh grated against Augustus, and he cringed as his head pounded.

“Now I know why you came asking about that old ranch. You know what I found, Augustus? You and that old coot there—he and you—share the same goddamn name! I mean holy shit on fire, Thyme. ‘Family matters.’ Isn’t that what you had said?”

Go away, Augustus thought. He glanced at the antique Peacemaker resting on the desk and the broken finger pointing at the gun. The bartender seemed insane enough to toy with him by arranging the corpse in such a fashion, but the message had not been from the bartender.

Old Thyme 13. Message From Hell 2

“Let me help you inside, Mister Thyme,” said the police sergeant.

“No!” Hand flying up to wave the officer away, he knocked Sergeant Wilcox on the elbow with his cane.

His head felt moist with sweat, his breath, a furnace shooting vapor. He imagined he appeared as guilty as a child with a pocket full of candy standing just outside the candy shop. A murderer in the middle of hiding the bodies, only the bodies had come for him along with a weapon, not the other way around. He was knee deep in Shit Creek paddling with a cane. The law man, dutiful and persistent, a hero if there ever was one held up the damn. One wrong move and the damn would open turning his little creek of a predicament into a raging river of shit.

Blocking out worry over his missing son, the two corpses kicking back in the office, Augustus searched for the calm pool of reason. It was there he found Susan, her memory swimming through conscience. He remembered her quiet smile, the way her eyes sparkled in candlelight. Her purring when he made love to her. Love had taken time arriving months after their wedding. An arranged marriage. That was what it had felt like, and it had been that old man. Villeneuve, his visitor from Hell, whom had brought Susan into his life. And now the corpse had brought an old gun to him demanding he use it.

Make the police go away, his message from Hell.

The devil wasn’t going to take him that easy.

Using his cane, Augustus climbed up onto his feet and stood tall. He met the sergeant’s scrutinizing gaze head on.

“I’m all right now,” he said.

Sergeant Wilcox shot the funeral home a quick glance and turned his attention back on the mortician.

“If there was a problem,” said the sergeant. The heat bled from his eyes, and Wilcox took on a softer appearance. “Anything at all. You’d tell me, wouldn’t you, Mister Thyme?”

“I appreciate your concern,” said Augustus. His leg barely hurt now, a fading throb. “I thank you for sharing the news about the camper, and I’ll certainly keep my eye out. However, it’s been a long day and I need to let my leg rest now.”

“Of course, Mister Thyme. I’m going to take a drive through the graveyard before I head back. If there’s anything you need, don’t hesitate to get on the horn.”

Sergeant Wilcox placed his cap on his head, wished him a good night, and ambled back to the cruiser.

Back inside, the corpse behind the desk still pointed to the waiting Peacemaker. Ignoring him, Augustus stood at the window and peeked outside. The sergeant. sat in the driver’s seat for what seemed like several minutes, but was more like thirty seconds. Finally, the police car rumbled to life and pulled out of the parking lot. Augustus watched until the fog swallowed the police car.

Make him go away.

Eyes shooting wide open, bolting around in alarm, Augustus searched the office finding his dead visitors still sitting in their chairs. He glanced out the window again at the empty parking lot, and looked around the room. Then it hit him; the translation finally fell through. Him hadn’t referred to the police sergeant.

Someone was at the funeral home.

Old Thyme 12. Message From Hell 1

As Augustus watched the police officer climb out of the cruiser, tears blurred his vision and burned the corners of his eyes.

A bolt pierced his mind, and he winced, silent thunder rumbling through the depths. Coiling around the dark recesses, rising, something foreign squeezed into his conscience becoming thought. Not words, but his mind translated giving it new life. It blazed into an inferno this message from Hell.

Make him go away.

Spinning away from the window, Augustus put his back against the wall. Sitting there in the center of the desk among pads of paper, pencils, and his calendar, an unfamiliar revolver, an old Colt .45 Peacemaker caught his eye. The corpse of Villeneuve, the man he had shot weeks ago, sat in the chair behind the desk. The half-rotted face seemed to grin with delight. Villeneuve’s hand rested on the edge of the desk. His index finger, forced open, crooked and broken, pointed at the Peacemaker.

"Cole Peacemaker"

Augustus glared at his visitor from Hell. “Tell the devil he isn’t getting me. Not tonight.”

Sitting in the other chair beside the desk, the corpse of the skinny fellow from Pine Mountain Tavern offered nothing but a mouth full of rotten teeth and bugs.

Racing to meet the officer before he drew too close to the stench, Augustus flung open the door, stumbled outside—nearly dropping his cane, and as calmly as he could muster, he closed the door. He met the officer half-way down the walk.

The man in blue removed his cap and pushed his hands through his bristling flattop hair.

“Mister Thyme,” said the officer, “are you feeling all right?”

Augustus’s heart hammered so hard, he thought the police sergeant—designated by the insignia on his uniform—might hear it. He dabbed at the sweat on his forehead, took a deep breath, and offered a smile.

Old Thyme 11. Corpse Rot

As Augustus stepped inside the funeral chapel, the stench of rot set upon him in a furry. Even more disgusting than the odor was the thought of it gradually building during the services. What if someone had noticed? He took pride in his business. Everything had its place, and he kept his workplace clean. Whatever the source, the stench let on too strong and too sudden to be coming from all the way down in the morgue.

He quickly closed the door and scrambled as fast as his bad leg would allow, cane rapping across the floor to the side exit. He slid the door open and stormed into the showroom. The stench was stronger here. He flipped the wall switch, and the lights snapped on.

The display caskets were arranged at the sides leaving plenty of walking space in the center and out the two opposing exits. Most lids stood open revealing their plush interiors. Two were closed as he had left them. He couldn’t tell if the rot was coming from in here, but he knelt inspecting the floor around casket stands. It would be awful if a predator had dragged the carcass of a critter inside. Animals had a way of sneaking in within the foundation and turning up dead in the most inconvenient of places. He’d have to pay pest control extra to come out at night or on Sunday, and rip up the floorboards if it came to that. The floor still held its polished gleam, and nothing hid in the corners.

Too ripe not to have noticed a decaying animal stuck in the crawlspace earlier in the day. The corpse had to be a recent arrival. Chills raced down his back as he breathed in the pungent sweetness, too sweet for a critter corpse. Human. And it had to be nearby.

Augustus ran riding on his cane to the other door. His knee hurt like fire bursting from the inside. He crashed into the door, grabbed the handle and flung it sliding sideways with a bang. The stench struck him like a jab to the gut, and he clamped his mouth shut. Reaching over he smacked at the wall until he found the switch.

The light revealed Villeneuve sitting in the chair behind the desk. Only it wasn’t Villeneuve anymore, but advanced decay creating the grotesque visage of the old man’s former self. The face appeared like wax melting over jaw, dark empty pits where the eyes had been. And beside the desk sitting in another chair, that skinny fellow from the tavern. What was his name? A bag of bones now, his clothing hanging on by threads. And his face. It looked as though bugs had eaten most of it away.

A vile word spat through Augustus’s lips.

Slapping his hand over his mouth, Augustus glanced around the office searching to see if anyone had witnessed his slip. Hearing his voice utter that word shocked him as much, if not more, than the horror before his eyes.

He mumbled a prayer, a wishful hope, that this was all an hallucination. He begged God, but he knew the truth. Two men he had murdered back at the tavern in Bend had found him at last.

“The bartender,” said Augustus, sounding ragged. He had shot the big man in self-defense. As for the skinny drunk, he couldn’t recall how that poor twerp had died. He coughed clearing phlegm. “Where’s that goddamn fat bartender?”

His forehead turned slick with sweat, and he felt noxious. The room swayed, and he nearly lost his balance, jabbing the cane against the floor. He wished more and more he hadn’t taken the extra pain pill as the medication fogged his brain. He needed to think! Twirling around, he searched for another corpse. The bartender wasn’t here.

The sound of a rumbling car engine snapped Augustus to full attention. He stared at the closed front door, at the shaded window. Headlights flared against the curtain and dimmed. Outside, a car squealed to a stop.

Augustus scurried to the window, and plucked the curtain open for a peek. In the parking lot, a police cruiser grumbled in a fit, coughing, and fell silent. The fog swirled away from the car clearing a path for the knight. The driver’s side door popped open. As he watched the police officer emerge from the cruiser, tears blurred his vision and burned the corners of his eyes.

The nightmare had only begun.

Old Thyme 10. Side Effects Guaranteed

Standing at funeral chapel’s entrance, Augustus watched the kind old lady, Maxine Berkshire, return to her car. The services had gone well for her third and final son. Illness this time around. Somehow, that sweet gal carried on with dignity. He watched Maxine Berkshire climb into her Volkswagen Beetle and drive off until the pair of red taillights were swallowed by the forest.

Dark clouds of twilight threatened rain, but it was beginning to look like a weak promise. The patter of raindrops, a welcoming thought, but just his luck the wish would deter the weather, a prayer unanswered.

After standing for hours, first during the proceedings in the chapel and then at the graveyard, his knee felt like it was on fire. He fished into his pocket and yanked the little bottle of pills out. He hooked his cane into his elbow, and opened the bottle. After shaking a pill onto his palm, he looked at it for a moment. Third one for the day, beyond the limit. The medication hadn’t bothered him yet, and his leg needed it more than ever.

He popped the pill into his mouth and swallowed hard.

Closing the double doors, he began his routine of locking up. After weeks of nothing happening, he had given up on arming himself. No vampires. Only the dead looking for a place to rest, and their loved ones saying goodbye, were his only visitors.

Using his cane, he plodded a few wincing steps over to the light switch. Since the gunshot had permanently damaged his knee, walking had become a journey with his new wooden companion. Flipping the switch doused the chapel into a gloom, the row of electric candles at the far end holding vigil over the empty stand where the casket had rested hours earlier. Light filtered in through the stained glass windows.

Heading for the aisle between pews, Augustus spotted a shape beneath the muted blue beams of light teasing the dust. Someone was sitting in the chapel.