Short fiction, Uncategorized

Orange Trees

The phone slips from my fingers and lands on my face. 2% battery left. I gaze into the darkness. 

While it lasted, it was an all-consuming love. None of that romantic stuff you see in the films, just raw passion. The type that leaves you drained but still longing for more.

It began when I was jogging one day. I used to go every Tuesday for about an hour and then come back and rejoin city life. It was a beautiful spring morning; the air was light with the smell of flowering trees; the sun was still low in the sky but warm.

My headphones were blasting Billie Eilish when I saw him next to what looked like an orange tree. Odd to see among the elms and birches .

He had a broad back and a well defined body. His biceps were bulging under a black t-shirt. Kneeling down, he didn’t immediately see me. I stopped dead in my tracks when our eyes locked. His haunting gaze drew me into his world.

Yet, that didn’t stop me from bolting when he let go of the girl he was strangling and dashed after me.

Of course he was faster. He was taller – one stride of his was two of mine. I did well; I didn’t trip, I didn’t panic. I just knew I had seen something I wasn’t supposed to see.

He finally got hold of my hair and yanked me down. I landed on my back, gasping. He dragged me back to the place I had met him and hauled me next to the girl. She seemed to be out of it but her chest was moving.

I was still trying to catch my breath when he hit my solar plexus with a precise punch. I crawled up in a ball, black spots dancing in front of my eyes, as I watched him kneel and put his hands around the girl’s throat. I closed my eyelids shut, unwilling to see what came next. If I didn’t see I wouldn’t be part of it. I don’t know how it changed from that to him prying my arms from my knees and making himself comfortable on top of me. I felt his weight crushing me – or it could have been just the tight grip he had on my neck.

The world had darkened as I tried to get words out but produced only raspy sounds. My nails dug into the skin of his hands. Through labored breaths, I finally spoke.

“Don’t kill me. I won’t tell.” These two sentences took me a long time but I made sure to look him straight into the eyes. I wanted him to know I was sincere.

And he knew.

After that fateful day, he was like my shadow. I don’t know why he decided it so but I was thankful for the chance to live. He promised that if I even thought about betraying his identity, he would end me. I believed him.

He continued with his killing business. I would hear about it on the news – another missing girl discovered dead in the middle of a field. Strangled and buried. A small orange tree planted on top of her resting place.

I didn’t really understand why he was compelled to do these things but the ritual seemed to fulfil an unknown purpose. As time passed I grew used to him being around me. It was a weird connection we had. I felt no hatred coming off him, just caution. And as strange as it sounds, not long after, I relaxed around him.

One day it was pouring down and I looked outside. He was there, as always, beneath the single street lamp, in full black. I took pity on him – it was cold, and it was dark and wet. To be fair, maybe that’s how he liked it.

Nevertheless, I rushed down the stairs, swung the door open and invited him in. He stared at me and finally stepped in. Water was dripping from his hair, down his neck and into his shirt. My eyes followed the little drop.

I had invited a serial killer into my home.

I looked up. My eyes met an intense gaze staring back at me. My heart started racing. The feeling was intoxicating – danger mixed with a sick attraction. I asked him if he wanted to take a shower to warm up.

I turn my screen on again. Now 1% left. The memories keep me busy but I’m uncomfortable. I can’t really find a good position so I bend my knees slightly and twist them to the left. It is a bit better than just lying on my back.

That rainy night was the first time we slept together. The way he held me was very different from previous lovers. Every time he touched me I felt a dangerous longing in my core. We were inseparable from then. Me and my shadow. A shadow I was rapidly falling in love with.

I wasn’t sure what I loved about him until one night when I was coming back home around midnight, I crossed paths with a gang of thugs. They circled me like hungry wolves surrounding a deer who’d lost its way.

They asked me if I wanted to go party with them. I looked around, hopeful. I was looking for him and he was there, patiently waiting, leaning on a tree. I took a step forward, hoping the gang would just let me pass. Two men blocked my way.

Someone grabbed my arm and yanked me back. Everyone smelled like booze. I hated the smell. I looked at my shadow. When would he drop the laid back attitude? I wanted him to save me.

I shift my legs again, this time to the right. I bend sideways as much as I can to massage away the inevitable cramp. If only he was here. He gives the best massages.

That night he did save me. Eventually. I had kicked and punched around as much as I could and although I had landed some good shots, the thugs were too many. I saw a knife flash so I settled down. Just as they started tearing my clothes, he intervened. I remember the kiss he gave me after he was done with them – it tasted sweet like him and metallic like the blood from my busted lip.

There was a lot of shoveling after. He told me he waited because he wanted to see what I was capable of. Not much, I replied. He said he was impressed with my fighting spirit as he wiped the blood from my face.

I asked him why he wasn’t planting any orange trees. He replied that the thugs weren’t part of the plan, whatever that was. He said it felt different, killing for someone else. I took it as his twisted way of saying ‘I love you’.

Shortly after I suggested he move in with me. It was great to have another person in the house, especially on days I didn’t have much time to cook. He would whip up a lasagna and clean the kitchen, too. Often he would bring flowering orange trees home and their fragrance would fill the air, uplifting our mood. Orange blossoms are a strong aphrodisiac, I found after looking it up online.  

My phone screen lights up and the familiar sound of my alarm cuts through the dark silence. Five hours have passed. I can feel a drop of sweat trickle down my temple and in my ear. Well, anytime soon now, I tell myself as I take a deep breath. Anytime soon…

My boyfriend was my little secret from everyone. It was partly because I wanted it so but also because I knew that telling anyone might provoke him. I really liked him and I really didn’t want him to misunderstand my intentions.

This flame in me kept burning for years, and I knew, in my head, it would burn me alive. I just didn’t know when. It wasn’t when he came back home all covered in blood and we showered together. It wasn’t when I asked him about all the girls and he grabbed me by the neck. It wasn’t even when he dragged me out of town and made me watch him plant an orange tree.

If I had to pinpoint the exact thing that made him flip and put me in this coffin, it would have to be because of that conversation. The conversation about us and our future. Our all-consuming love had led to the creation of a tiny human. It was only a small collection of cells but it changed everything.

It was then that I realised I had become a special existence to him. Following me around day and night, he had grown attached to me. Living together had made me carry the scent of blossoming orange trees. I was his – and he didn’t like the thought of sharing me with anyone else.

I know it was a perverse reaction but his jealousy pulled me closer to him. We made love so passionately that night, it was like that first rainy night years ago.

He told me to get an abortion and I told him it was out of the question. I gave my serial killer an ultimatum – keep me and the baby; or lose us both.

I saw his jaw clench but he didn’t argue any more. We never spoke of it again. Days passed, then weeks. I was starting to relax. Things were back to normal. Two orange trees appeared in our hallway and I marveled at their small leaves. His rituals had become a mundane part of my life. 

That night was just like any other night; we got ready for bed and I nestled into him, my eyelids getting heavy. He kissed me softly and I responded in my dream-like state. He caressed my cheek, my lips, my jaw.

It took me a good few seconds to realise the death grip he had on my neck was no longer gentle.

I lie in the darkness and I listen to the quiet ground. I know a person can survive about five, five and a half hours buried alive in a coffin. I can now hear digging. A rhythmic sound which makes my slowed-down heart skip a beat.