Old Thyme 9. Nine

“So, that creepy old guy was human?” said Nine Thyme. She scratched at the white cloth bandaged on the inside of her arm just above her wrist. The tattoo had hurt for a bit, but now it itched. With the protective cloth over it, she couldn’t quite scratch, just rub at it, which she was warned not to do.

At the table, sitting adjacent to Nine, Augustus stared at his half-empty mug of coffee. He wore all black, always black tie with a black shirt, for as long as Nine could remember. It seemed fitting for a mortician, but he hadn’t always dressed for the part. He started wearing only black in the days after that night at Pine Mountain Tavern. In mourning for his lost son, according to him, anyway. Nine felt certain there was more to it. He couldn’t still be mourning after all these many years. Black suited him well. Her grandfather continued staring at the mug with that intense gaze of his.

He would do this sometimes in the middle of a story, dive deep into his thoughts. Telling this tale was difficult for him, and Nine didn’t want to rush him. She already knew about Jonathan Villeneuve. Not that Augustus had killed him, but about Villeneuve being employed by Vampire Thyme. It was part of her studies her grandfather had set her on in the last week. Fifty-two years ago, Villeneuve had been a mortician for Thyme Funeral Services, a run-down establishment in Bend. Even with the family name in common, her grandfather had never heard of it. Very few had known about it. Unlike their own family business, Thyme Funeral Home in Roseland was actually fairly popular. For a funeral service, anyway.

The old man didn’t appear ready to go on just yet, so Nine grabbed his mug and stepped over to the kitchen counter to fetch more coffee from the pot. She returned and set the mug in the same spot so the old man didn’t miss it. He continued staring at the mug as if it had never moved, but now Nine could see a troubling darkness in his eyes. There was something more about his story he wasn’t telling, or something much darker yet to come. It was always hard to tell with Augustus. Sitting so still like that, he could have died and nobody would have been the wiser until checking his pulse, something she had tried before, but had learned touching him in his state could spook the old timer. He looked great for a ninety-three year-old man, better than most seventy year-olds, but he also appeared as fragile.

“What about the police?” said Nine. She rubbed at the dressing on her arm, but her flesh continued itching.

“I waited for the police to show for a week,” said Augustus. He slipped the hook of his cane from his arm and tapped the floor twice. Another quirk of his. “They never did, and I suspected Vampire Thyme had something to do with that.”

“That was when you decided to start studying,” said Nine. Her guess was based on other tidbits she had picked up over the years, listening to various stories.

Old Thyme 8. Death at Pine Mountain

The vampire stepped inside the tavern, and the door closed behind him. Dressed in a gentleman’s attire more at home in the 1940s, the vampire stood like a gaunt statue with that same distant look he had held while waiting in the Cadillac that night he had chauffeured Susan to the funeral home.

“Ring of Fire” played over the jukebox.

“I see my message found you,” said the vampire.

“Where’s my son?” said Augustus. He didn’t recall pulling his revolver out, but there it was held in his hand. His heart thundered.

The unmistakable sound of the pumping action pushing a round into the barrel of a shotgun came followed by the deep, demanding voice of the bartender. “Take it outside fellas.”

Not appearing the least bit concerned, the vampire grinned showing off his terrible fangs. Augustus’s hand began to shake, and he gripped the revolver tight.

There was a pop sound, maybe even glass shattering. Gun kicking in his hand, Augustus cringed fighting to hold his hand steady. There was no going back now, he squeezed the trigger twice more at the monstrous kidnapper as he backpedaled knocking a stool over, his left elbow smashing into the scrawny fellow. He had hit his mark, he felt sure of it, but that evil grin wouldn’t go away.

Shotgun blasted, the jukebox exploded spitting glass, the music died.

Turning about, Augustus fired in the direction of the bar. Another blast and birdshot tore into his leg. As he crumpled over, he fired again, and the bartender fell over. Augustus hit hard on his side, but managed to hold onto the revolver. Pain shot up his leg, and he growled through clenched teeth.

Sitting up, he spotted the scrawny fellow, Neville, lying still on the floor hugging a fallen stool. Slumped against the front door, the vampire sat there spitting blood.

Loud ringing in his ear made hearing difficult. Fearing the bartender might be reloading somewhere behind the bar, Augustus leaped up onto his feet. His knee felt like it was on fire, and he grunted trying to hold back the inferno racing through his veins. Holding his gun out, he hobbled to the bar and peered over.

Old Thyme 7. Along for the Ride

The highway snaked through evergreens, over the mountains where firs gave way to pines, and then the forest ended suddenly. A bolt piercing the desert, the highway seemed to glow in moonlight. Sagebrush flickered through headlights, spidery ghosts dodging the 1951 Buick hearse speeding along the midnight ribbon with the mortician at the wheel and Death, a silent passenger along for the ride.

The little town of Bend, nestled beside volcanic peaks, sat at the crossroads between timber and ranching. The hearse lumbered through town, splashing through light of streetlamps revealing quiet parking lots housing sleeping automobiles and the occasional pedestrians on the sidewalk. At the southern edge of town the sidewalk gave way to burnt red rock and pine trees. The hearse rolled into a dusty parking lot and stopped beside a ‘57 Chevy.

Augustus Thyme climbed out of the Buick and gave the establishment a crooked look. Pine Mountain Tavern according to the hand-carved sign on the roof. The light was on, and he could make out music playing inside. He checked his revolver in the holster and pulled his coat closed. Out here in ranch country with a gun hanging from his belt, he felt a little like a cowboy—a cowboy without cattle. Trying to hold back his nervousness, he bit his lip.

Inside, the jukebox played “Love Me Tender.” The fat man behind the bar shot Augustus a glance and went back to reading a book. Sitting at the bar, head hanging with troubles of the day, a scrawny man in a gray suit nursed a beer along like he was savoring his last drink on Earth.

Augustus ordered a shot of whiskey. As the bartender poured the drink, Augustus politely asked for directions to the ranch.

Old Thyme 6. Tip

The machine thumped like a heart pushing embalming fluid through tubes into the body, and blood exited the corpse through other tubes filling a cylinder on the floor. Helping the flow, Augustus massaged the flesh with a soapy sponge. He watched the skin color for signs of a problem. The rhythmic thumping calmed him even as his thoughts kept turning back to what he had learned from the historian on top of the hill, the troubling implication about his family name. Gradually, the flesh firmed and turned rosy. All went well for Henry Gerson in death. If only life passed as smoothly.

After Augustus turned the embalming machine off, silence in the windowless mortuary began to creep inside.

Vampires didn’t procreate. The historian, Helen, had confirmed it. These creatures weren’t the vampires of legend, but procreation was impossible, which meant Vampire Thyme could be his ancestor by name alone. Unless the old one had been human once.

Checking his pocket watch, he realized it was already nearly sunset. Quickly, he unhooked the body and began cleaning up. Cavity excavation would have to wait until after he locked down the funeral home for the night. The noise kept the silence away, but his thoughts banged around in his head. Only three things calmed him anymore: jazz music, the embalming machine, and alcohol. In his rush, he nearly tipped the fluid waste receptacle over, the cylinder wheeled around on its base.

Augustus hurried upstairs, first through the lobby, he checked the main entrance. Still locked. Next, he checked the residential front door and then the back. In his bedroom, he unlocked the gun cabinet and retrieved his revolver and strapped the belt around his waist. He opened the cartridge, quickly pushed bullets into place, pressed the cartridge closed, and dropped the revolver into his holster.

After three weeks, this routine was beginning to feel all too familiar and reassuring. He wasn’t a gunslinger by any means, but he could shoot straight enough. At beer bottles, anyway.

From the closet, he snatched up his grandfather’s broadsword, a weapon carried by officers during the civil war. If the gun proved ineffective, the blade would have to do. He didn’t actually expect Vampire Thyme, or any other creature, to come to the funeral home. Vampire Thyme already had what he wanted: his baby son, Samuel.

Old Thyme 5. Helen

The historian lived near Thyme Funeral Home, a short drive to the top of the same hillside. So short, Augustus Thyme decided to hike an old footpath through the woods. The fog grew dense, but as he neared the peak, clouds gave way to blue sky. Emerging from the forest, he gazed out over the valley. Roseland hid beneath the cloud deck leaving a breathtaking view of the mountains appearing like the rolling backside of a green dragon swimming in a frothy sea. Four snowcapped volcanic peaks running north to south were the dragon’s rugged armor plates.

After catching his breath, Augustus walked to the what appeared like a tiny castle, a Victorian manor, surrounded by manicured hedges and lawn. The antique business paid better than he had guessed.

The butler led him to a windowless library decorated in late 19th century furniture with early electric lighting. The room felt cold, and Augustus eyed the small flames within the fireplace with suspicion.

"Library"

While waiting, Augustus strolled around the room scanning titles. The books were arranged by subject. Judging by the vast majority, science must have been the antiquity expert’s favorite subject. He paused a moment at a shelf crowded with mortuary science texts and recognized several of his favorite authors. As he approached the next shelf, a title caught his eye: The Vampyr: A Family Tree.

Augustus took the book and settled into a chair at a round table. Flipping through the hefty tome, he scanned headings and lists broken by brief passages describing individuals. Quickly, he began to realize the book indeed outlined a tree breaking down prominent members and their lines. Flipping back to the beginning, he found a familiar name at the very top: Ithuriel.

A single paragraph described Ithuriel as violent and quite mad. Also, possibly a myth created by the passing of stories to new generations over a millennia. More evidence convincing Augustus there was no Ithuriel, certainly no longer, as this text suggested the source of all vampires had disappeared long, long ago. Whomever Susan had referred to as patriarch was somebody else.

Glancing around, Augustus spotted a woman standing in the doorway. Dressed in something his mother might have worn to church, the woman appeared like a doll. The woman’s eyes hid behind smoky spectacles, but Augustus could feel her studying him.