While the collection of journals and unpublished books provided extensive information on the occult, myths, and bits of history on the Itoril people, precious little mentioned vampires. What there was on the subject primarily focused on certain Itoril claiming to be, or considered to be, vampires. Only the most careful reader would notice the author, Augustus Thyme, had deliberately avoided the subject.
His final book, kept secret in a box, was devoted entirely to the topic of vampires. So much detail and insight, Nine began referring to the untitled tome as the Thyme Guide to Vampires.
After reading the introduction, Nine began to realize vampires were not what she had imagined. The creatures from popular movies and modern literature had more in common with the Itoril people than they did with the traits and abilities Augustus Thyme described. Where had her grandfather discovered this knowledge? The second chapter left Nine wondering if her grandfather had gone mad in his old age, and she was reading a work of fiction. In the third chapter, things started making sense to her, and she began to question her own sanity.
Something moved, and Nine looked up from the guide. She sat on her bed, back against the headboard and legs crossed at her ankles. Her favorite reading spot, dead quiet and the opposite end of the property from the funeral home. If anything disturbed her in her bedroom, it was the wind blowing the tree limbs outside her window or the chirping of a squirrel. The movement had come from the direction of her vanity, and the large mirror reflected the corner of the room where her little desk sat. Nothing stirred. Light spilled out the open doorway into the hall. It was as silent as the grave.
Nine had the strangest feeling that someone had been watching her. Father was out for the evening. A break-in would have triggered the alarm. The silence reassured Nine, and she turned her attention back on the guide.
The writing seemed more candid than earlier books written by Augustus Thyme. It felt as though her grandfather spoke directly to her. This comforted her even though the nature of the content put her on edge. The guide seemed to describe two distinctly different creatures, one that resembled an Itoril and another having more in common with a ghost than the vampire of legend. The creature could remain invisible from the untrained eye, walk through walls, or ignore the passage of time. The topic of drinking blood was given only a few short paragraphs and included mention of consuming memory and knowledge. The end of the third chapter posed questions:
Upon consuming enough blood and memory, could the vampire become its victim? Or was the consumed knowledge used for some other nefarious purpose?
Considering the possibility a loved one may actually be a vampire in disguise caused Nine to shudder, and she slammed the book closed. The clap startled her, and she bit down on her lip trying to hold onto the silence.
Augustus Thyme had always taken care with his research, and like his previous books, this guide included footnotes. Nine recognized references to his journals and two professor names she recalled from another book. New in this guide were footnotes referencing expert witnesses, one by the name of Helen and another, Steve Reynolds. Nine knew of a woman named, Helen, a friend of Augustus whom had lived in a mansion atop the hill, and thought the two must be the same. As for Reynolds, that name was entirely new to her, one she would need to seek out.
Movement, Nine’s gaze snapped to the vanity. There was no mistaking it, something wriggled within the reflection at her desk.
Lurching off the bed, Nine stood over her desk. It was a small thing more suitable for a child, but she still kept the desk using it for storage. On it was a cup of water she had set down earlier, two of Augustus’s research journals, and her phone. No spider or other creepy-crawly that might have caught her eye that she could find. She tapped the phone, and the screen lit up revealing a text message notification from Peter Gray, the owner of Autumn Twilight restaurant where she had applied for a part-time position. That must have been it, she decided, a flash from the incoming message. Grabbing her phone, she took it over to her vanity and sat down in her chair.
Nine Thyme gazed at her reflection. Her flesh appeared paler than usual, a bit puffy beneath her eyes. Too much reading wore her out, and the content of her grandfather’s final book weighed on her.
A vampire remaining invisible to the untrained eye implied one could learn to see the hidden creature. Learning this secret would have to wait for another day. The questions at the end of the third chapter tickled her curiosity. Augustus Thyme wasn’t the type of writer to pose questions and then answer them in the next chapter. The questions were for the reader to answer and continue the work.
Ghosts, Nine could deal with. During her childhood, she had kept company with spectral friends in the graveyard. She had long since overcome the trepidation of phantoms seeing her undress or watching her bathe. But the thought of a creature consuming enough blood and memory to become its victim, the possibility that someone she knew was actually someone else—something else, chilled her to the very core.
Her reflection in the mirror grinned even though Nine felt too alarmed to smile. Touching her lips, she found she was indeed smiling, if only a little. She supposed there was something worth smiling about. For the first time in years, she felt reconnected with her grandfather, and the chance to continue his work lifted her spirits.
Choose your path in Venom. You may continue Nine’s side, or cross over (return to) Peter’s chapter.