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He carefully balanced the fruit in the palm of his hand and enjoyed the feeling of its soft hairs against his skin. Its appearance bore some resemblance to the plum, but larger and with its own distinct golden colour, and a scent that he could only describe as dime-store perfume.
Since he first noticed it nestled in between the other more mature fruit trees, it had looked weak and sickly and covered in a black sticky marshmallow-like substance. On one occasion, he had tried to dig it out, but the contrasting roots were huge and impenetrable, and even after dousing it with weedkiller, the tree was unwilling to die. And then the first bud came.
He would not have believed it would provide such a beautiful offering, especially after producing such sinister-looking flowers—blood red freckles sprinkled across four white petals that that dangled solemnly towards the ground—and the pitch-black centre that gave off a little puff of dust when slightly squeezed.
Sometimes he just stared out of the bay window observing the tree—a mixture of curiosity and respect for its stubbornness to die. His wife, Denise, called it an unhealthy obsession, especially after finding out he had recently named it Veronica.
The sight of the first fruiting was an exciting time for George, and the infatuation with Veronica grew subsequently stronger. He knew for pollination there generally had to be two trees, but for the time being, he felt enormous pride in having something so special and unique in his own little patch of earth.
As he closed his fist around the fruit that fit perfectly into his hand, it felt incredibly tender, as though the skin could break with the slightest of knocks. It felt ready—at its peak. He held the fruit to his nose, and again the not unpleasant smell of cheap perfume wafted into his nostrils. For a moment the soft and warm flesh triggered an image of a firm, but pliable breast and suddenly, he felt quite aroused.
Denise stuck her head out the back door, “George, I will be at Edith’s if— “
She pointed towards his crotch.
“It’s—it’s just pants tent,” he said in defence.
She rolled her eyes, “Say goodbye to Veronica for me,” and left without the usual kiss on the cheek.
He held the fruit back to his lips and felt an overwhelming urge to bite down. The scent was making him lightheaded, and as he gently rolled the fruit across his lips, his heart quickened with anticipation.
She could feel it now. It was nearly time. Even under feet of soil she still had the power to seduce. She had no intention of staying dead—there was too much fun to be had. Over the years the roots had eventually started to form, albeit painstakingly slow, and push their way through rocks and earth towards the surface. The flowering was the easy bit—each one a previous victim—and the memories they provided were oh so sweet. It was the love for her husband that kept her going over the years and the hope that he was still alive.
Images of soft skin filled George’s mind, accompanied by the sultry whisper of a woman inviting him to taste. He felt giddy, nervous, and absurdly weak at the knees—a feeling that brought back the memory of losing his virginity so many decades ago. His body was alive with desire, and he could wait no longer.
There was a satisfying pop as his incisors sank into the silky skin and he prepared himself for the inevitable sweetness that would follow.
And he immediately knew something wasn’t right. The taste that filled his mouth was unpleasantly earthy and metallic, but so greedily had he sunk his teeth into the skin, the cold and viscous substance had already started its journey down his oesophagus.
He pulled the fruit away, and a thick string of blood and soil stretched from his lips to its underside. He threw the fruit on the grass and tried to retch up the grainy liquid, but it was already beginning to congeal, and suddenly he was choking. He put his hands to his throat and heard himself wheeze as he helplessly watched the small pool of blood and dirt around the discarded fruit harden and turn to ash. And then slowly his world slipped away.
Another victim, and for now his body would suffice. The breeze touched her cheek, and how good it was to feel something after all this time. Vibrant colours started to form and even more spectacular than she remembered. The smells of this new time excited her too, and she sensed opportunity everywhere. She counted every winter, each one an ordeal endured to bring her closer to her husband—over a hundred years under the soil—but soon they would be reunited.
The day she set eyes on him, she knew he was the one. She sensed the innate evil and the carnage they could share. Besotted, they married and began their journey into darkness. And what a rush.
Intoxicated with false hope and cheap scent, the men would flock, and he would gut them. So much blood and laughter, and they would feast on their hearts and lift their blood-filled glasses in a toast.
For so long they had free reign—until the day they set a trap.
They buried her alive; laughing as they threw the earth over her face. It was the price they paid for complacency, and there was no way they would ever let them see a trial.
With no knowledge of his demise, she could only assume he met the same fate and hoped that he too would be carving his way back through the earth. She had come so far with blind faith but needed his pollen to be able to fruit.
And now she knows he must be close.
Mark has only been writing short stories for eight months now, but his passion and dedication are unparalleled, and this has resulted in pieces in prestigious magazines including Books N' Pieces, Artpost, Gallows Hill, Page & Spine, Montreal Writes, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Antipodean SF. His works have been included in The No Sleep Podcast and he has stories in eight spine-chilling anthologies to be released later this year. Mark's first collection of dark fiction 'Face The Music' has been picked up by All Things That Matter Press. Publication date TBC.
Mark currently works in sales and is ready to sell his soul to the devil for a full-time career as an author. He resides in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and two children.
If you are interested in checking out more of Towse's work, you can find him on twitter at @MarkTowsey12 or on wordpress here.