A Red, Red Rose – or when florists go bad

The idea of short story ‘A Red, Red Rose’ comes from a scene in Creation, first of the 5-book vampire series Drakul. Helpless bystander Lorna King is no longer a wishful dreamer when investigator Mark Williams visits her flower shop. Thanks to Josch13 of Pixabay for the featured image.

A Red, Red Rose

The smell of freshly cut flowers used to be one of the reasons Lorna loved her job so much, the scent of spring mornings or summer’s evenings. Today the violent reds, pinks and greens struck at her eyes. The florist’s shop was tiny, situated at the end of a small parade. Sam designed the name on the white boarding above the display window and Lorna painted the words in gold and green – ‘ Red, Red Rose’.

O my Luve is like a red, red rose. That’s newly sprung in June; O my Luve is like the melody. That’s sweetly played in tune.

Sam read her the poem on their second date. The name of the shop still brought a smile to her lips, corny but somehow uplifting, and she remembered how they’d argued about that comma, when painting the sign. Sam had argued it was the mark of genius. a know-all. Humming to herself, Lorna began working on a new flower arrangement, laying out daffodils, ferns and a spray of Baby’s Breath. She picked up a red, red rose and the petals were so soft, brushing her skin as she inhaled the sickly scent.

Laura clenched her hand around the stem, feeling the sudden pain as the thorns stabbed. The sensual aromas and colours in the shop screamed. A rose bush spilled petals, each a dark red gout of blood. She wanted to go down on hands and knees, lapping them up. Moisture filled the air, as heavy and oppressive as an approaching storm.

As she cleared up the petals, Lorna wondered what Sam was doing at that moment. He had left home early that morning, agitated and unable to tell her anything about his secret work. She had lost her temper with him, swearing and so angry. She told him to go, pushing him out the door and afterwards she had cried, but the tears were of rage and not of sorrow. He phoned her a couple of times and sent texts, but she had not replied to them.

Now, the anger was returning once more, fuelled by the heady scent of roses. Lorna began to suspect Sam was snooping. Maybe he was following her, checking up on what she was doing, but she could do what she damn well liked. Lorna used his surname but in truth they weren’t married. Could have been, but as usual he hadn’t got around to it. Damn the man and damn his silly job. Lorna looked at her watch and sighed.

Outside ‘Red, Red Rose’, a dense fog had descended and pressed against the windows so that the place seemed to be floating through clouds. Blood thumped in her ears like drums thundering deep in the glossy undergrowth as a bead of sweat trickled down her ribs. She touched her throat and it was wet. Her top was sticking to her skin and she eased the fabric away, fanning herself with a roses brochure but the sweat kept on coming, until a drop ran into her eye. “What’s wrong with me?” she asked.

More sweat trickled down the inside of her thighs. She wanted to yell with frustration, but what for, she did not know. Maybe she had a fever. Maybe she should close up and go home but the very thought of home made her more annoyed. The place was claustrophobic, so much like Sam and so little like her. Sam did not really know her at all, the real Lorna. He still imagined she was a dippy flower arranger, someone ruled by emotions and impulses. A dreamer who believed in the power of red roses.

Lorna was much more than that, if only he could understand. She knew that he had never expected her to succeed – not in his heart – and he wasn’t really interested if she did. He would ask her how her day had been, but it only ever seemed to serve as an introduction to talking about his day.

Okay, Lorna had a few problems getting the business off the ground but she did look at it as a business, didn’t she? Well fuck him. She wiped her forehead on the back of her hand and had to shake off the drops. She stood sweating in the steamy, earthy shop as if she had caught malaria or yellow fever. “Jesus, it’s so sodding hot in this place.”

The word was as bitter as nutmeg on her tongue.

Lorna wasn’t just hot. She was on fire, her skin tingled and the drumming of her heart was ever louder. Finally, she went into the washroom at the back where she kept a change of clothes, because flower arranging could be a messy job. She undressed slowly, peeling her clothes off in a slow, soggy striptease until she caught sight of herself in the moisture-dappled mirror and wiped away the condensation. Her underwear clung unpleasantly. Her skin gleamed with sweat and her hair hung in damp tendrils around her face. She seemed taller, thinner.

Lorna knew she should have been worried by such changes but instead she felt secure, as if they were supposed to happen and they were strangely intimate. She piled her hair up and pinned it, splashed herself with cold water and towelled herself as much as she could. The water almost sizzled off her skin but the sweating had eased. Lorna needed something other than sex and more than love. The want gnawed at her insides. The rose thorns burned.

The doorhandle to the shop rattled. The door opened and she heard a man breathing. She heard the door close and his clothes rustled as he put his hand in his pocket and jingled his keys, the sounds startlingly loud. He took a step, then another and rubbed his chin. She heard the stubble rasp against his palm. “Hello? Is anybody there?” called the stranger.

“Yes, hang on, I’ll be out in a second.” She prayed that he would not put his head around the door as stark naked, she pulled on the dress. It was made from a silky white material patterned with roses, and seemed a little too short when it didn’t used to be. She smoothed it over her body and the dress immediately clung like a second skin. She checked herself in the mirror before she went into the shop, self-conscious but determined.

The man looked to be in his early thirties. He had not shaved, she noticed with displeasure. But he had a nice smile, wide and generous. His brown eyes were tired but warm, so different from Sam’s pallid blue gaze. The crumpled raincoat made him look like an archetypal American detective, sort of sexy if she stretched her imagination far enough.

“hi,” he said softly with wandering eyes that stroked her body. “My name’s Mark Williams. I’m a journalist – I wonder if I could ask you some questions.”

Lorna licked her lips. Questions? She didn’t want questions, she wanted sex. The shop was a steaming jungle and she was the lonely wife of the plantation manager, ignored whilst her dull husband was up-river. And now, a handsome detective had arrived and all he wanted to do was to ask questions whilst the blood thundered in her head.

“About roses?”

He smiled shyly. “I’m trying to find a missing woman. Her name’s Angelica. She’s the daughter of a wealthy industrialist – Tepesch Drakul. You may have heard of him.”

“I’m a florist. What d’you think?”

He shrugged. “It’s just that your husband knows something. So I wondered-”

“If I’d betray his confidences. You know Sam?”

He repeated his shy smile. “You’d be helping him – besides, I know when I see a woman in need. Or am I wrong?”

Then the cheeky grin hit the magic spot, and she almost gasped aloud. The stranger was not wrong. He idly picked up a rose and pricked his thumb with a sudden intake of breath. He sucked it, leaving a smear of red on his mouth.

“Wait a minute, I’ll close the shop,” she said urgently. His eyes stroked her as she walked towards the door. Lorna wanted more than stroking. She locked up and pulled down the blind before turning and leaning against it. Her knees were practically trembling.

He took off his coat and wiped his brow, pushing his dark brown hair into damp-looking spikes. “Should we go somewhere? It’s awful hot in here.” He sounded as nervous as she felt.

“Where did you have in mind?” A little voice in her head was screaming to stop, but the hunger was tearing at her guts. “How about your place?”

It was as if she was listening to someone else speaking with her voice. Guilt and sorrow were consumed like leaves in an autumn fire. Doubt flickered in his eyes. “My place? Are you sure?”

“Yes – like you said, a woman in need.” Take me to your place or I’ll do you right here and right now, on the floor of my flower shop in full view of the street.

He said he had arrived by tube and so they got in her Mini Cooper. She drove fast whilst he gave directions, his tone increasingly urgent. She watched him casting sidelong glances at her legs as the dress rode up, and she allowed it to. “This is going to be good,” he said thickly.

The journalist lived some twenty minutes away and his apartment overlooked the river, but Lorna could not care less where it was. When they arrived, he followed her up the stairs to the first floor and she was an animal on heat. She felt him watching, but not her face.

“It’s this one,” he said, fumbling with his keys. She felt like screaming.

Her stomach rumbled and the hunger felt like it was eating her alive. When he finally opened the door, she pushed him into the apartment and thrust the door closed behind her with her bottom, kicking off her shoes. He was already fighting with his crumpled raincoat and she helped him, laughing whilst he pushed up her dress. She pulled it off as he started to unbutton his shirt and she ripped it off, kissing and licking his skin. She bit him on the neck and he yelped. At the same moment, someone knocked on the door.

“Leave it,” she moaned.

The knock came again, louder and insistent. “Shit,” he said. “Shit, I’ll see who it is.”

He peered through the spy hole whilst Lorna gnawed her lip. The intensity of her emotions was scaring her. This was not sexual hunger or some mindless cruel way of getting back at Sam. This had nothing to do with him and even less to do with her and only then did she remember what had happened and it astounded Lorna.

He had come to her.

He had come, blotting out the night and swooping down on their little house and she had invited him into her room. Lorna knew his name. She knew how he travelled the stars, and the pain and ecstasy of his long, long life. She needed him, not this apology for a man. The strange eternal spark that powered him had jumped between them and now it was consuming her, a voice from the far reaches of space-time. It was whispering secrets and sending her a stream of knowledge she could not disobey.

Eat, the dark voice said. Eat, drink. It was a communion from hell.

Williams was staring through the spy hole and his erection seemed bigger than ever. Lorna pushed him aside, putting her eye to the door. A smartly dressed blonde was outside, strikingly sexy, with high cheekbones and wide-set, dark eyes. The woman peered back as her lips moved and absurdly, Lorna could understand what she was saying. It was a mix of thought and emotion, images and sounds, and the images were terrible. She was not shocked by what she saw but she knew she should have been, profoundly so.

“Do you know her?” he asked.

“She wants to join us in a threesome,” she said, wondering what that would be like as she reached for the lock.

Williams grinned as Lorna opened the door with trembling hands. The woman strode in and kissed her on the mouth. She towered over Lorna, wearing a Burberry raincoat over a short leather skirt and black stiletto-heeled boots. She smelled of cinnamon.

“Hello lover,” the woman said. The accent was central European, the voice a husky sigh, the lips kissing the words. The eyes were honey-flecked and utterly deep. Lorna knew immediately that she would do whatever the stranger told her. A silent communication bound them together and it felt right. What the stranger wanted, she wanted. Lorna sensed a sea of pain and an insatiable rage. Revenge, death for death. She looked at Williams, his shifty eyes working out an escape route as he understood he had betrayed them both. The journalist ran into the bedroom and slammed the door.

“Get him,” the blond woman hissed.

Lorna ran to the door and kicked at it. The door burst in, torn off its hinges and slammed into Williams. She reached the cowering man in two strides, grabbing the mobile as she experienced a strange feeling of detachment. She was watching a stranger that looked just like her. The face of the other Lorna was distorted by a fury she could never know. She crushed the mobile in her hand, feeling it collapse like an eggshell and dropped the tangle of broken plastic and circuit board on the rose-patterned carpet.

He shrank away. “You – you’re one of them,” he whispered. “Please don’t hurt me. I won’t say anything. I thought you liked me.”

Lorna grabbed him by the arms and dragged him to the bed, throwing him on it where he lay with knees drawn up, whimpering and begging. She felt a bone break with a dry crack and his passivity unleashed something wicked inside her. Lorna leaped upon him not knowing what she would do, only aware of the hunger. She threw him onto his back as easily as if he was a child and sat astride him panting heavily, gripping his throat. Lorna put her hand on his face before he could scream again and saliva dripped from her mouth as she lowered her head. The gush of fluid made her spasm uncontrollably and every moment of passion she had ever experienced became a shallow imitation of that single moment.

She took her hand away and Williams squealed, but that only made her burn more fiercely. She drank and felt his life force flow into her. It was a golden taste so different from the salty, metallic smell of blood.

She bit into his body repeatedly whilst his legs thrashed against the bed, until his limbs trembled and finally he lay still. The frenzy never seemed to end until she stopped from sheer exhaustion and slumped against him, satisfied and yet horrified. It did not seem possible that he could have so much blood. He lay in a small lake of crimson and she was completely drenched. The woman helped her from the bed where the remains of Mark Williams lay, and the one misty eye still stared at her reproachfully. The blood reminded her powerfully of the roses in her shop. Say it with Roses, she thought crazily.

The stranger led her to the shower. “Get cleaned up, flower girl,” she said, sounding almost kind.

“You’re Angelica, aren’t you?” the novice asked.

“Yes. Sam King’s been looking for me.”

“I don’t want you to hurt him,” Lorna was saying, her voice shaking. “Don’t. Promise me you won’t hurt him and I’ll come with you.”

Some humanity still dwelled within the girl but there were no tears in her eyes, only the unfathomable depths of her new family and Angelica was quite certain that eventually, Lorna would kill Sam.

“I promise,” Angelica said.

“I’m afraid.” Angelica could read it in Lorna’s face. She pointed a shaking hand at the bed. “What in god’s name did you make me do? I’m a florist. I sell roses.”

Angelica kissed her forehead. At the very centre of Lorna’s fear was the insurmountable thought that she might do the same thing to Sam. Angelica felt strangely moved by Lorna’s devotion, but it would not do.

“Does the farmer murder the pig when he slits its throat? Does the fisherman murder the fish, as it drowns in the air? How many countless hundreds of millions of animals are killed by humans every day? They die in fear and misery, spending their short lives in crowded prisons and they are shown no compassion or kindness. Their deaths mean nothing to humans, who buy their meat in boxes or turn them into liquids and pastes. We must feed too, Lorna dear. They are not immortals like us – humans are born to die. They are born to be food. Why else would there be so many, and so few of us?”

Lorna was not listening. “How could I have done that? Why don’t I feel anything? Suppose I hurt Sam?”

Angelica smiled despite her irritation. “You are beyond his reach and he is not important any more. He is not worthy of your love.”

“How do you know that? Have you ever loved anyone?”

Angelica held her close and looked deep into Lorna’s eyes until the girl stopped sobbing and breathed quietly. Angelica listened to her heartbeat and it was already slowing, now no more than twenty beats a minute. In a few hours the heart would hardly beat at all, ready for its long journey and her emotions would be distant memories. No such luxury awaited Angelica. How she had loved, and there would be no diminishment of her loss. She stroked back Lorna’s hair.

“Now listen to me, lover. You will go home and sleep. You will not remember any of this, and I will come to you soon.”

Lorna gazed up at her. “Will I see him? Tell me I’ll see him.”

Angelica shook her head. “No. You will not see Tepesch Drakul again. But you may send him a gift. You can say it with roses.”

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