A Heart Is Not an Orange

fruit on chopping board
Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com

1

Martin Wilson never returned from his student exchange program abroad. This is mostly due to the fact that he didn’t escape the vampire.

“Oh, sweet Jesus!” cried the Brit, as he pounded down the stony hallways of the castle, footsteps echoing into the night. Outside the tall, gothic windows, a ghostly fog obscured the grounds around the place. His perception and understanding of where he was spatially were being warped and twisted – Martin thought he was at ground level, but now it looked as if he were on the third or fourth floor…

“There is no Jesus here,” crooned the bloodsucker. “Just you and I, my dear boy.” The vampire’s voice seemed to penetrate deep into his very heart. The words even reverberated within his panicked mind, as if they were his own thoughts, as opposed to the insidious whisperings of a monster that shouldn’t – couldn’t – exist. Martin also swore that he could hear the sickly smile that touched the corners of the destroyer’s lips. The predator was enjoying this. It was toying with him like a cat plays with a mouse before ending its life.

Martin stole a glance over his shoulder to see how far away his pursuer was, but a frown furrowed its way across his brow. He couldn’t see the creature that had been hot on his heels, just one moment prior… only looming shadows that crept closer and closer. Oh God oh God oh God, his brain repeated over and over, in a religious mantra – the first prayer he’d said since a child. The encroaching darkness was reaching for him with sneaking tendrils; grasping, clutching, clawing. And so, the boy ran, whimpering, screaming and swearing throughout the maze that was Count Ardelean’s fortress, muttering his message up to the deity that he now hoped was real.

When he turned back to look where he was going, he ran straight into the creature. Quite how the vampire had apparated in front of him, Martin didn’t know. The boy bounced off the spectre of the night, rebounding as if he’d run into a stone statue. The leech barely flinched from the collision, eyes indicating nothing more than stoic repulsion at the boy’s presence.

The denizen of the macabre then loomed towards him, the world and shadows warping around him as if the very fabric of the universe understood that this was a thing that should not be. Onwards advanced the vampire, cape billowing, eyes wide and hungry, teeth (are they growing dear god they’re growing) long and sharp.

Martin raised his hands up in self-defence. “W-wait,” he stammered. “Please, please wait, I’ll give you anything, I’m rich! My parents, they—” The vampire reached out and slashed his pointed nails across the boy’s throat. A warmth began to bloom down across his chest. It took Martin a few seconds to register what had happened and he tried to keep talking, except only a watery gurgling noise came out.

The young man’s neck opened up in a horizontal slit, a powerful jet of blood gushing out at full speed. As his lifeforce flooded out of him, his head tilted backwards and the torrent sprayed across the face of the vampire, who crowed with animalistic pleasure. Martin then stumbled away as the world around him swayed, and he tripped. The leech reached for him as he fell, but it was too late; Martin had already tumbled backwards over the balustrade, flipping through the air like a ragdoll, a fountain of crimson spewing in every which direction.

And then, with a crunching crack and a meaty thud, he hit the ground below and exploded across the cobbles like a ripe watermelon.

 

2

Count Gabriel Ardelean stared at the gore slaked cobbles before him. It was astounding the amount of mess the young man had made. Some blood was even dripping from the ceiling far above him. Splick. Splick. Splick. The vampire gazed up at the rafters with a squinting frown. Splick! He stuck his tongue out and tried to catch the droplets, but somehow, he missed each time. One globule landed smack on the tip of his nose. Gabriel wiped it away and licked his hands clean, relishing the taste. He shook his head and tutted to himself. “What a waste,” he said aloud. “Such flavour.”

What was he to do? Lick the blood from the floor like a beast? Gabriel turned around in a full rotation. The fluid was everywhere, in every crevice, nook and cranny. He wasn’t going to stick his tongue in between the cobbles on the ground. That would be disgusting! This place hadn’t been properly cleaned in well over a century. It was filthy. No, he refused to entertain the idea of crouching on all fours, lapping at puddles on the floor like a dog.

With a prolonged sigh and a drop of his shoulders, he resigned himself to cleaning the blood up, as opposed trying to consume it. The thought of soaking the liquid up with kitchen roll and then squeezing it into a glass did occur to him, but… The vampire visibly deflated, like a shrinking balloon. “No, Gabriel,” he scolded himself. “You’re better than that!” He was over four hundred years old. It was unbecoming of a being that had been on the planet since the mid-1600s to eat food from the floor.

No. Better get the mop and bucket.

It was a shame that there were no butlers left to clean up the mess for him.

If only he hadn’t eaten them all.

 

3

At first, Gabriel didn’t pay attention to the television. It was almost always on, these days. Mostly to fill the looming silence that had fallen like a blanket upon the fortress in recent decades. It was always chattering away. Usually some British or American rubbish that the Count happily ignored. Besides, even if it had been interesting (the vampire particularly enjoyed bloody horror movies from the 1980s), he had some cleaning to do.

“—there’s got to be a better way!” said one irritating voice from the T.V., as images flashed across the screen. Gabriel rolled his eyes at the enthusiastic tone in the young man’s voice. Didn’t humans realise how cringeworthy they could be at times?

“…and there is! With the all-new fully motorised stainless steel—”

Gabriel opened the closet door and peered inside, tentatively. He wasn’t much of a cleaner, Count Ardelean. Especially since becoming a bachelor, once more. He tried to think of the last time he’d opened the cupboard with the cleaning equipment inside and realised he couldn’t remember. He winced guiltily. He pushed several old brooms out of the way (a historian would have had a field day with these pieces of equipment, with most of them dating from the mid-1800s… alas, in Count Ardelean’s cleaning cupboard they shall remain) and reached for the mop and bucket, the latter of which was a red plastic thing, with a yellow squeeze drain at the top. Gabriel yanked what he wanted out of the closet and slammed the door shut with his foot as things began to clatter to the floor. “That’s a problem for future me,” he growled, as the cacophony of objects being knocked from shelves and wooden handles falling over died down.

Gabriel was about to head to the sink, to see if he still had running water to fill the bucket with, when a slice of the conversation from the T.V. program stuck out to him, like a thorn on the stem of a rose.

“—never waste another drop—”

He froze, ears suddenly attuned to the human’s words, listening, bat-like, mop and bucket in hand.

“That’s incredible!” said the one voice. “I’m always saying to my wife – you know how she hates waste – well, I’m always saying to her: Honey, we don’t get as much juice outta these oranges as we should! And, you know—” The Count ignored the rest of what was being said. Partially due to the irritation caused by the nasal voice. But mostly because the vampire was already sold on the device. Never waste another drop.

Text was flashing at the bottom of the screen, in a garishly coloured font: WAS $249.99, NOW $199.99! YOU SAVE $50 WHEN YOU BUY NOW! Gabriel shrugged and pulled a face: “Seems like a good deal to me,” he said to no one.

He read the number on the screen and picked up the telephone. Gabriel blew the dust off the receiver, upon which it had settled like snow, an inch thick. He dialled the number and waited.

“Yes, hello there,” he said, in his silky-smooth tones. “I just saw your incredible infomercial…”

 

4

After having placed his order, Count Ardelean returned to the task of cleaning up the boy from the cobbles with renewed vigour. The vampire hummed as he gathered the chunks of flesh and body parts, stuffing them into various Ziplock bags. He might not be able to drain much from the bits as they were, but if the promise of not wasting a single drop was true…

Feeling like a man returning from doing the grocery shopping, Gabriel stumbled into his cold storage room overladen with clear plastic bags stuffed full of gore. Before he left, he scribbled MARTIN, BRITISH and the date onto them. “Best before,” he whispered to himself with a boyish grin.

Once the ragged mess of flesh, skin, bone and hair had been gathered, Gabriel set to mopping the tiles, whistling a jazzy tune as he washed the floor, foamy suds forming pink bubbles from the diluted blood.

Halfway through the clean-up, the vampire broke out into a remarkably good rendition of Queen’s I Want to Break Free, twirling the mop around as if it were a microphone stand.

All in all, the destroyer was in good spirits.

 

5

The item arrived in the post fourteen days later. Gabriel tore through the packaging with his razor-sharp nails and pulled the box free from the packaging, admiring the nice glossy graphics on the side. With more care than he’d ever taken a life, Count Ardelean pried open the top of the cardboard box and eased the thing out, tearing Styrofoam and bubble wrap away in the process.

He set the shiny silver device on the countertop in the kitchen. The Count stood there, admiring it for a moment. Gazing over its reflective metal and the way its curved features distorted the mirror image of the room around it. Of course, Gabriel couldn’t see his own reflection in its surface, for obvious reasons. The juicer had a good weight to it, too – he always felt that you could judge an item’s quality by its heaviness. BREVILLE read the name on the side.

And then, because he couldn’t contain himself any longer and he didn’t want to wait, the vampire skipped over to the cold room, a song in his heart and a rumble in his belly.

Count Ardelean returned to the kitchen minutes later, a Ziploc bag in his clawed hands. He set the machine up in all its alien glory. The Count glanced at the instruction manual, shrugged, and plugged the juicer in.

With a meaty slap, he opened up the baggie and emptied the fleshy contents out onto the counter. Grabbing handfuls of the meat, Count Ardelean rammed the chunks of the thing that had been Martin into the juicer and flicked the machine on.

The machine roared into life, blood sputtering into the collection container, bits of fat, skin and other undesirables being deposited into the pulp jug. The vampire was so engrossed with the crimson liquid that was pouring out of the machine, he didn’t listen to the sound of the juicer starting to whine sadly.

But then the juicer splatted the last of the juice from the hunk of meat into the outgoing plastic jug, and the machine’s engine resumed a normal, healthy buzz. The Count flicked off the Breville and snatched the jug away, downing the contents in several desperate gulps. He slammed the jug on his kitchen counter with vigour, gasping for air.

“My dark lord,” he groaned. “That was fantastic!

Blood smeared across his face, eyes wild and wide, Gabriel raced back into his cold room.

He returned with a Ziploc bag containing Martin’s heart. Without a second’s hesitation, he stuffed the blood-pumping organ into the chute of the juicer.

Gabriel failed to see the piece of bone sticking out the side of the meaty chunk as he patted it down the chute with the food pusher. The offending piece of the skeleton was a part of one of Martin’s cracked ribs.

 

6

Count Ardelean picked up his phone for the second time in forty years and dialled the customer service number that was printed on the instructions. Behind him, the juicer was smoking angrily. Somewhere inside it, something was mechanically ticking.

“I’m sorry, Sir, you said you put a what in the juicer?”

“A heart,” he said, a tad testily.

“A—what? A human heart?”

“Of course, a human heart! What else? Do I sound like an animal to you?”

“No, not at all! I do apologise, but—”

“But what?” demanded Gabriel.

Silence from the other end of the line, as the man he was conversing with struggled for words. Eventually, the vampire received this answer: “I’m sorry, Sir, but… a heart’s not an orange. And where did you…” his voice trailed off.

The Count stood there, telephone held between ear and shoulder, arms crossed, tapping his foot impatiently. “I know that!” snapped the vampire. And then the realisation dawned on him. He covered the receiver and swore.

“Maybe I should speak to my manager—”

“You’ll have to excuse me, my English is not fantastic,” interrupted the Count, really playing up his accent. “I of course meant, I used blood oranges,” he said, and then offered a hearty chuckle, as if this were the funniest thing ever.

After a slice pause, Gary, who worked in Customer Service, laughed in return. Although, it sounded distinctively forced. “Oh, oh right! Oh my God, for a second there, I was like… Whoa! You know?”

Gabriel chuckled again. “Can you imagine?”

“So, you say the machine broking whilst juicing blood oranges, is that correct?”

“Yes… that’s right.”

“Hm, okay. That shouldn’t have happened. Did you remove the excess rinds from the fruit?”

“…of course.”

“Hm. Oh, oh! Did you use oranges with pits and seeds inside ‘em?”

Count Ardelean slapped his forehead audibly. “Oh, so that’s what did it!”

“Ah, yeah. It does say in the instructions how to prep your fruit. But, listen, buddy, I like you, so I’m gonna go ahead and send you a replacement juicer, how’s that sound?”

Gabriel grinned. “That sounds fantastic, Gary, thank you so much for your help!”

“No problem, man! Have a good day!”

“You too,” said the vampire, sweetly.

Before he hung up, he heard Gary say to his colleague: “Did you know, that in other languages blood oranges are called…”

 

7

The replacement juicer came via expedited delivery. Before using it a second time, the vampire donned his reading glasses and perused the instructions. “Huh,” he said to himself, pulling a face that seemed to say, How about that?

According to the manual, fruits – especially the harder varieties – should be peeled prior to processing. Additionally, fruits with pits, hard seeds or stones should be pitted prior to juicing.

And when you really thought about it, wasn’t a human body just a hard fruit with lots of stones inside? At least, Gabriel thought so.

With a renewed lust for juicing, Gabriel gave the device a second chance. This time, he diced the flesh into cubes and made sure there were no pieces of bones jutting out of the meat. The machine didn’t whine at all when the vampire fed the prepared flesh into the chute. Blood spurted out of the end with such vitality, that the Count could have sworn it was shooting out of a live human’s severed artery.

When Gary from Customer Service called him later that day, to see how he was getting on with his replacement juicer, Count Ardelean gladly left a five-star review for the machine.

“Doesn’t it work much better when you remove the fruit’s outer layers and rind?” asked the customer service rep.

Much better,” agreed the vampire. “I can’t believe how much juice he had in him!”

“Oh, and don’t throw away the skin—” began Gary, but Gabriel cut him off and finished his sentence.

“Because you can make potpourri from it!”

The two men chuckled, wished each other a nice day, and then hung up.

Sighing contentedly, the vampire smiled and finished off the last of his Martini; six parts gin, one part dry vermouth and a dash of Martin. As he drained his glass, Count Ardelean surveyed his calendar. He tapped a date three weeks away.

Not long until the next exchange student.

Gabriel was looking forward to trying a Bloody Mary.

 

13th December 2019

 

Written for Reedsy’s weekly Short Story Contest

One thought on “A Heart Is Not an Orange

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s