Fog rolled through the parking lot. Within the murk, red splashed the airborne droplets. A flash, and another, slicing between trees, each pass of the strobe spraying a red mist, the dragon’s steaming blood rolling on the currents, disappearing into her frothy breath.
At the end of the walk, fog rolled into itself, swirling back against the breeze, and darkened into smoke. A moist boot-print stepped onto the walk. Another, a long stride carried the smoking fog closer. Stepping through the veil, a dark figure arrived, his step expending a dark cloud dissipating into the air.
Frozen, Augustus watched his visitor glide closer. With the streetlamp behind, shadow hid most of the cowboy’s features. And smoke. Writhing inky smoke seemed to rise from him. Squinting, Augustus searched for details. Not smoke, soot maybe. Each step shook soot free from the demon. The dark stuff even rose from the wide-brimmed cowboy hat. Recognizing the long strands of fine hair hanging over shoulders, Augustus realized this was the same creature that had been sitting in the chapel.
Cloaked in darkness, the patriarch of the family, Vampire Thyme, approached.
Trembling, Augustus raised the hefty Peacemaker.
Stopping at the head of the corpse on the walk, the vampire gazed down at the mess.
Summoning his will, Augustus forced himself to look upon the vampire. Red-orange dust covered the hat and long coat, a rancher’s duster in tatters, and open revealing a big gun belt hanging low from the waist. The vampire appeared as if he had been wearing the same clothes for a century.
“A poor excuse of an Itoril,” said the vampire. He spoke under his breath, barely audible, clear and precise.
Arm shaking with the weight of the gun, Augustus lowered the weapon.
When the vampire looked up, Augustus dared to peer into the shadows beneath the hat. The narrow face, a dark shape against the lit fog. Irises like shards of stained glass, the fires of Hell blazing behind them, the vampire’s eyes held Augustus transfixed by beauty clashed with terror.
“I hadn’t anticipated the events leading to this night, Augustus,” said Vampire Thyme. “For that, I apologize. Still, we must deal with the hand dealt.”
It took a moment for the words to sink in, and even then Augustus fought to respond. He tore his gaze away from those terrible eyes and looked down at the body. “I want my son,” he demanded.
“The child is as much my son as he is yours, Augustus. Samuel is the result of years of careful selection.”
“Breeding?” Augustus didn’t want to believe it, but it made sense. Susan had been delivered to him in an arranged marriage. Had it been dark deals and social manipulation?
“Augustus,” said Vampire Thyme. His voice took on a deliberate, careful tone. “Have you ever asked yourself why you, like your father, are the custodian of death? It’s in your blood, my son.”
Augustus winced inside, and he fought hard to keep his face from expressing the hurt nerve. Generations of manipulation, lifestyle and dreams carefully constructed through breeding and social engineering. He loved his job, his home, and his family. Perhaps not by blood, but Vampire Thyme was family. The first Thyme. However, he couldn’t fathom the purpose of the selective breeding.
“Finish this, Augustus. End this creature’s suffering.”
“No!” Finding his strength, he shook his head. “I can’t go to prison. The bartender holds the evidence. This story hides my transgression back at the tavern.”
The bartender spit blood. Somehow with a big hole in the top of his head, the Itoril person was still alive. There would be no story if the bartender walked away!
Vampire Thyme held out a slender broadsword, an antique from the sixteenth-century Renaissance.
Augustus squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn’t believe this was happening. Having been warned and offered a large calibre handgun to take down the Itoril bartender, he was already deep in debt with the vampire, and yet Old Thyme wanted more.
In the distance, somewhere down the hillside, a siren cried out. No doubt, he thought, Sergeant Wilcox had radioed for backup upon finding the suspicious camper.
“I’ll return Samuel if you agree to my offer.”
Augustus winced at thought of another deal.
“Twice annually, deliver to me a harvest of Itoril venom,” said the vampire. “First harvest tonight with my instruction. Fail two harvests in any calendar year, and forfeit your next child.”
Holding the Peacemaker out handle-first in one hand, Augustus took the sword in the other. Vampire Thyme slipped the big revolver into a holster and waited quietly while the middle-aged mortician stared glumly at the Itoril slowly regaining conscience on the ground. With two chops, Augustus removed the head from the Itoril sealing the deal in blood.
Months later, after the case of the murdered men from Bend had closed—the missing owner of Pine Mountain Tavern found guilty—did young Samuel Thyme return home at last. A caretaker delivered the child into Augustus’s arms. Samuel met his father with a beaming smile, the sort of grin that melts the worries of the world away.
Over the years, the bargain proved challenging. Besides being difficult to harvest, Itoril venom was very rare. The devil only offered deals in his favor. Along with the rest of the inheritance, the debt would become the terrible burden for another Thyme.
Thank you for reading Venom Old Thyme. You may continue with NINE/ƎИIИ, start with Peter's side of the story in Kandy-4-Peter, or follow me in Time Wraith. See the Venom Table of Contents page to choose your path.