“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.
Augustus nodded. His eyes brightened a bit, but some of the darkness held on.
“On Helen’s recommendation,” he said. His head hung low. “I had gone back to Kandy’s store for advice as well, but she told me the same. Know thy enemy.”
Helen was the older lady living in the mansion up on the hill. A recluse, but she came down from her perch every now and then for tea with Augustus.
“The books you have me reading,” said Nine. One of them was on the table, and she slid it over. A family tree for various known vampires including the original Thyme. The name on the book was pseudonym for an unknown author, but Nine suspected Helen had written it. Parts of the family descriptions had her way with words.
“And what have you learned from your studies?”
“The Itoril people believe they are descendents of Ithuriel, a blood-thirsty god-like being. They are thought to be the inspiration for vampire myths due to their fangs. Didn’t you say Villeneuve didn’t have fangs after all? You only thought he did.”
“Nine, things are rarely black and white,” said Augustus. “And stop picking at that or it will get infected.”
Pulling her hand away from the dressing, she realized she had been absently rubbing it again. Why did the tattoo have to itch so much? She might need a thicker dressing to keep from irritating it. Maybe some oil would help, she thought.
“I hadn’t realized it then,” said Augustus, “but I was beginning to recognize the subtler traits of an Itoril.”
“The iridescent eyes,” said Nine.
“And other cues,” said Augustus. He took a slow sip of coffee and set the mug gently on the table. “I didn’t know if he had filed his fangs down to fit in with society, or simply never had any. Low hanging fruit on his family tree, I suppose. Blood is sure-fire confirmation. Some of Villenueve’s blood ended up on my hands and arm, and I tested it finding his blood very different from human blood.”
This hadn’t been covered in her reading, and she hadn’t considered their blood being different. Perhaps the Itoril people weren’t as closely related to homo sapiens as she had first believed.
Her grandfather smiled breaking the gloom. He said, “It’s your sixteenth birthday. I’m certain you have better things in mind today than listening to an old man’s story.”
“Are you kidding?” Nine gave her grandfather a scolding look. “This is the best birthday present ever. You have to tell me how you got Daddy back!”
Expression darkening, her grandfather gazed down at his mug. He seemed transfixed for a moment as if he saw something terrible inside the mug, but at last his lips began to move. And then he spoke.
“Much later,” said Augustus. “Maxine Berkshire had lost her third and final son. Not the war this time, but illness. Hospital care wasn’t so good in those days.
“It was a dark day. Clouds threatening rain that never came. The funeral had gone smoothly, and at the very end, that kind old lady, Berkshire, approached me and took my arm. She thanked me for the service. And then she gave me her blessing, telling me she felt certain my son would return.
“I held back my tears. Men weren’t supposed to cry in those days, but I nearly did. And after she left, I trembled. I’ll never forget her words. ‘God promised your son will return,’ she said. Her son had told her so not long before he had passed.”
Eyes watering, Nine dabbed at them with her finger. Darkness seemed to envelope the kitchen. She watched her grandfather take a dry gulp, and she took one of her own.
“The Itoril people may be more or less, people,” said Augustus. “For the most part. But, I soon realized the truth.
“There are terrible things in this world. That night I learned what it means to look upon evil. Vampires truly exist, Nine, and when one allows you to see it in all its horror, there is no uncertainty. To gaze upon a vampire is to look upon the devil.
“After the funeral, Old Thyme paid me a visit.”