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.
Following his nightly routine, Augustus headed to the study where he set the sword on the reading table, went to the cupboard, and poured a shot of bourbon. He slammed it back and poured another. Taking a seat at the reading table, he rested his weary legs. He stared at the glass in his hand as if it were the devil calling him.
Of course, the lockdown routine was a pretense. No matter how many lies he told himself, something deep inside spoke loudly. Hunt the fucker down, it told him. Kill that demon spawn of Lilith.
He’d reason with the vampire, he thought, make the old fart see the light at the end of the barrel.
Augustus began humming a blues lullaby, something he’d heard on the radio. Like the prior evenings, it didn’t help, but he continued humming until his tightening grip on the glass became unbearable. He drank the bourbon down and set the glass on the table.
The room began to buzz.
Branches scratched the side of the house like a creature trying to fight its way inside.
The late Henry Gerson wasn’t going to extract his own guts, so Augustus forced himself out of the chair. Carrying the sword like a security blanket, he headed downstairs. At the receiving doors, he gave the knob a twist.
The door popped open letting in a rush of cold air, and the door swung back clanging against the steel frame.
Had he checked the receiving doors earlier?
He took a deep breath and pulled his revolver free of the holster. Holding the broadsword by the scabbard in his left hand, he tapped the sword handle against the door. Another deep breath he gulped down.
Using the sword, he pushed the door open, and aimed his revolver at the empty parking area. The wind fought him, and leaning a shoulder against the door, he stepped outside. The cold wind curled around ankles sending shivers up his legs.
The sky burned orange against puffy clouds. Augustus scanned the shadows within the woods finding swaying branches. The forest howled making it difficult to hear much if there was something to hear.
Retreating, Augustus turned back spotting an envelope fluttering from the latch of the closed door. He snatched it, tearing the corner, and stepped inside. The door slammed closed. He returned the revolver to his holster, and locked the doors, giving both knobs a good shake.
He tore the envelope open, unfolded the letter, and read the handwritten note. In few words, it told him that Samuel was among other boys and girls at the Pine-Bar Ranch.
No signature. The envelope, without a clue, sank in his hand.
Pine-Bar. Tip or trap, it was something.