Last Updated on July 4, 2023 by ADMIN-TOM
It’s what you are supposed to do, isn’t it? Someone you know is ill and, in the hospital, you buy them some flowers and a bag of grapes. That’s right, isn’t it?
Well, that’s what I did. I gave a friend a bag of grapes. Nice, sweet black ones, nothing sinister in that…
Where did it all start? It was the day I received a text message from Maddy. She said Billy had been taken to the hospital with suspected food poisoning. Billy was once my best friend; we lived, worked, and played together. Billy and I had been friends since we were five years old. We went through school and college together. We even ended up working at the same stockbrokers. We partied hard, and we worked hard. But it ended when Maddy turned up. Always the way, always a woman is what my old Dad used to say, and he was dead on the money where Maddy was concerned.
Maddy started work at the brokerage about a year after Billy, and I joined. Billy and I had lost touch briefly and were delighted to find we had both joined the same firm within a month of each other. We became our old inseparable selves and got back in the groove as soon as we met again. That is until Maddy turned up.
Maddy arrived in what seemed like a staged entrance. Billy and I had just walked into the reception at work and were signing in when the door opened and in walked Maddy. I swear the sun suddenly came out, and there she was in a halo of golden light, her long blond hair flowing behind her as she walked up to the desk.
“I am here for an interview with Mr. Boyd. Madeleine Klein is the name.”
The receptionist ticked her name off a list and was about to tell Maddy where to go when Billy piped up. “We’re next door to Mr. Boyd. We’ll show the young lady the way.”
The receptionist was an old battle-axe, but you could see the glint in her eye as she gave Billy a curt nod. Billy finished signing in, grabbed the briefcase he had dropped to the floor and was off with Maddy in tow. I hadn’t signed in yet, but that didn’t stop Billy. He was fishing, and he didn’t want any interference from anyone else. That was when the first cracks in our relationship showed up. Many more were to follow in the ensuing weeks as Maddy passed her interview with flying colours, and she started her new job in our office.
Six months later, the biggest crack appeared in mine and Billy’s friendship. I started dating Maddy. This wasn’t just an upset to Billy; this was a slap in the face as he had been angling for a date from day one. I, on the other hand, had bided my time and used a softly, softly approach. Six months after that, all the cracks were gone, replaced by a chasm. Billy and I were no longer friends the day Maddy moved in with me.
To me, all was well with the world, and I had never been so in love in my life. Maddy was my dream girl, but it was an odd relationship. The first time we made love was the day she moved in. And that was the same day we started down our slippery slope to the parting of the ways three months later. We didn’t argue; we didn’t fight; we just stopped talking. Or rather, Maddy stopped talking to me. Her last words to me were “I love you dearly, Paul, but you are not the one for me.” It was an odd thing to say, and in response I told her she should go away and live with Billy or words to that effect.
Maddy then did exactly that and struck up a relationship with Billy and within a few weeks of leaving me; she was moving in with Billy. He gloated, of course he did; I would have done the same, and we were bitter enemies now. However, I would never have wished an illness on him. But it seems that’s exactly what I did.
The day after I received the text message from Maddy. I went around to their flat. Maddy let me in, and I was struck by her attire at once. She was dressed head to foot in black.
“Are you going to a funeral?” I asked in all innocence.
She gave me a quizzical look. “Isn’t this correct attire when someone close dies?”
“Yes, I said. Who’s died?”
“No one, yet.”
I sat for a second, pondering what she had just said, shook the thought from my head and asked about Billy.
“He is in the hospital. I told you in the text.”
“I know; I just thought he may be out by now.”
“No, he is extremely ill. I have bought grapes for him but cannot get to see him in time. My time here is limited.”
“Okay, I’ll go and visit him this evening, and I’ll take the grapes.”
“I always wanted you the most, but you were not the right one. Billy is the right one. His time is coming soon.”
I must have looked confused because Maddy then said something even stranger.
“It will be tonight. Will you go to the funeral?”
“Maddy,” I said, feeling as if reality had suddenly been suspended, “what are you talking about. Whose funeral?”
She said it with such a straight face that I couldn’t quite believe what I heard.
“Billy! Did you say Billy’s funeral?”
“Yes. Would you like to make love to me before I go?”
“Maddy, this is getting a little too surreal for my taste. You’re not making sense.”
“I like the sensation with you. Billy is not a match for you. He is too fast. But he is the one I need. However, we could make love again, the last time before I leave.”
As she spoke, Maddy stood up and began unbuttoning her black blouse. I sat there, aghast, not knowing which way to look. This was my ex-best friend’s girl, and she was stripping for me. By the time she had dropped her skirt to the floor, I was ready for her, despite my outrage at what she was proposing.
I left the flat a spent man, tired and disorientated. However, I had to see Billy. To make sure he was ok and to try to make some sense of what was going on with Maddy. I took Maddy’s grapes and bought a bunch of flowers from a stall at the local market, then hopped a bus into town.
When I got to the ward Billy was on, I was shocked. They had moved him into a side cubicle, and he looked dreadful. His face was skeletal and his eyes sunken, his once full head of curly black hair was now grey and lank. He was asleep, but I could tell that he seemed shorter than the last time I saw him. As I stood in the doorway, I stopped a passing nurse and asked what the diagnosis was.
“We’re not fully certain. He won’t eat and we’ve got him on a drip, but he is withering away in front of our eyes.”
“Has Maddy seen him like this?”
“No one has been to see him. You’re the first.” The nurse quickly made her exit and left me with my thoughts, which were in complete turmoil.
After about an hour, Billy began to stir. Suddenly, his eyes opened, and he let out a feeble cry. Then his eyes locked onto mine, and he visibly relaxed with a sigh, then he struggled to leverage himself up on his forearms. “Paul, she’s done for me,” Billy muttered. “She’s sucking the life out of me. She’s not human.”
The effort was too much for him, and he collapsed back onto the bed.
“Hey, man. Steady on. You need your strength. What do you mean she’s not human?”
“Maddy, she’s an alien.”
“What, illegal alien or Martian type alien?” I asked, trying to lighten the mood. My attempt at humour failed miserably.
“She’s not from Earth. She’s on safari, hunting down humans to feed off. She sucks the life from them. She started feeding on me two days ago, she, she…”
The effort was again too much for him, and Billy suddenly settled back and closed his eyes. For one horrible minute, I thought he had died, but then I saw his chest rise and fall as he took short, shallow breaths.
I stayed for another thirty minutes but was eventually shown the door by a male nurse who was taking no prisoners.
I decided to go back to Billy’s flat and confront Maddy and get to the bottom of what was happening to Billy.
I arrived at the flat just in time to see Maddy getting into a cab with a large suitcase. She was no longer dressed in black, and she seemed less dour than earlier in the day. There was no point hanging around as it didn’t seem Maddy was coming back any time soon and certainly Billy was in no fit shape to go home. So, I hailed a cab and went home myself. I was tired and needed to sleep, but I didn’t get any.
When I arrived back at my flat. I went straight to the bathroom to run a bath. I somehow felt dirty, gritty even and needed a bath to wash away the day. As I removed my shirt, I caught sight of myself in the mirror and gasped in shock. My dark-brown hair was now grey, and my blue eyes were grey also. I had aged by thirty years in a few hours. Then I noticed the red ring of proud flesh on the left-hand side of my throat. It was mouth shaped.
A sudden insistent knocking on the door made me jump. I quickly put my shirt back on and walked to the front door. I opened it and a burly uniformed policeman stepped in, blocking my exit. A man in plain clothes, whom I assumed to also be a policeman, stood on the threshold. “Paul Freeman?”
“Yes,” I said, nodding.
Within seconds, I was handcuffed, and the police officer was reading me my rights.
As they bundled me down the stairs, I shouted at them. “Why am I under arrest? I’ve done nothing.”
“You are under arrest for the murder of William Danson.”
“Billy? I’ve just left him.”
“We know. William Danson died within minutes of you leaving him. You left him a parting gift.”
“Grapes. Poisoned grapes.”
### The End ###
Grapes can be found in my book of science fiction short stories and flash fiction, The Eternal Man.