Aphelion Issue 216, Volume 21
April 2017
 
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Blood Oranges

by Ashley Dioses




The streetlights began to slowly flow into life as the sun began to set. They emitted a very faint glow and some flickered, having more trouble reviving than others. One flickering light caught Violet Lynwood's attention as she turned the corner and arrived on her street. The flickering lights cast rhythmic shadows through her house's open door.

She had walked to the doctor's office for her CT scan appointment she needed after her recent car accident, letting her mother watch over her five year old son, Steven. Violet had hit a fruit truck after its rickety old door latch came undone causing the fruit, particularly blood oranges, to fly from the truck and onto her car. Her car was still being worked on.

A cold chill ran up her spine and she automatically looked at the house she stopped in front of. The house on the corner of her street was occupied by a woman named Susan Parker. Susan was said to be mentally disturbed yet harmless, and that she was supposedly being taken care of by her sister Margret. Margret was a sweet and very outgoing person and she was always outside either tending her garden or talking to neighbors. Since Violet's accident, she hasn't remembered seeing Margret at all.

For some unknown reason, Violet's open door and Margret's unusual absence made Violet uneasy. Maybe it was her head injury making things seem much worse than it was. Or maybe it was just as bad as it seemed.

Violet raced to her open door and immediately ran into a small wooden crate of cleaning supplies. The crate contained bleach, laundry detergent, fabric softener, as well as liquid soap, shampoo, and conditioner. Violet did not recognize the crate and for sure didn't remember it being in the middle of the doorway. Sifting through the supplies, she noticed that they all were specifically unscented.

Violet had a slight passing thought of her mother possibly bringing them here to use, but she was quite certain that she had all these supplies already and she always bought citrus scented soaps and cleaners, never unscented. In fact, Violet's house usually held sweet relaxing fragrances of citrus or sometimes floral scents.

Righting herself, Violet looked at her surroundings. To her right, the living room contained a few scattered toys and the television was turned on to a blank station with static buzzing softly. To her left, the kitchen gleamed with spotless white tiles. A strong scent of bleach hit her nose as she observed the scrubbed refrigerator, counter tops, sink, window, and floor. Even the walls and ceiling looked to be scrubbed clean.

Violet looked back into the living room and gingerly stepped across the carpeted floor to take a closer look. Steven was a sweet mild mannered child. Tempers and flat out disobedience was rare, yet he was still a child and having his toys strewn across the floor was not uncommon. What was uncommon was that his toys seemed to reflect her face almost as clearly as a mirror.

His old almost rust colored fire truck now gleamed with a hellish blood color. It did not just look clean but looked as if it was an entirely new fire truck. The puzzle of Dexter Morgan from the television show, Dexter, that Steven's father used to let him watch, was still in disarray yet free of smudges and finger prints. Other toys remained equally spotless.

After the accident, Violet had thought that she was fine. She had a few headaches and a sore neck from her head injury, but she did not think there was anything severely wrong with her. Now she knew there was.

The noxious vapors of cleaning chemicals got to her. Her head was pounding with enormous thunderous beats that she was sure the vibrations made her body tremble. But it wasn't the migraine that made her tremble. It was the grim hallucinations she began to see.

The glistening windshield looked like an abysmal haunting eye of a blazing red devil with square white spikes protruding from its back. The buzzing television screen promised a portal filled with thousands of insects and parasites.

Violet jumped back in alarm and tripped over the chartreuse lounge chair. She landed sharply on her back and narrowed her eyes at the silent roaring mouths of the fierce lioness heads that were carved into the arms of the chair. Opening her eyes to anything more than slits brought excruciating pain yet the fresh air from the still open door that she landed near, began to help. The hallucinations began to clear; the red devil began to form back into the fire truck and the portal became the television again.

When she felt a little better, she helped herself up. The pain in her head instantly shot through her but she tried to ignore it. Had to ignore it. Her family was in danger and now she knew it.

Violet cautiously went up the stairs and became acutely aware that the wooden finish on the rail was no longer dull and smudged by countless fingerprints but shining and without a wooden fragrance. The walls lacked fingerprints as well as drawing marks and the carpeted stairs were vacuumed.

She entered the guest bedroom and it revealed much the same cleanliness as the kitchen. She did, however, find it odd that despite how the walls, carpet, surfaces, and windows were cleaned with an obsessive drive, the items in the room were not picked up or organized in any way. Clothes lay crumpled and the bed sheets remained unmade.

As she came further in the room, she noticed a dark mass lying on the closet floor. She shut her eyes tightly and wished that the hallucinations would go away. She turned around, opened the two windows, stuck her head out of one of them, and breathed in deeply.

Her heart was now in a rhythmic sync with her head. Both pounding, both hurting yet she did not care. Like a fierce lioness, Violet had to be brave enough face what was ahead. Hesitantly, she walked towards the dark mass and turned on a nearby lamp.

Cheryl Lynwood, Violet's mother, lay strewn like a rag doll on the floor yet her appearance resembled that of a porcelain doll. Her milky white skin was drained of color so great that it seemed like the very blood beneath her flesh was never in existence.

The scream caught in Violet's throat and she turned to run down the hall in search of her son. She searched his room and found no sign of him. She threw open the door to her bedroom and saw a light shining from her bathroom. She turned, took one step, and then froze.

Her wicker laundry basket, currently sorted into reds for the next cycle, was mostly obscured by a now spotless wooden cabinet but she could see all that she needed to see. A small ghastly white hand lay pressed against the side of the basket and stuck out over the edge. Strands of light blonde hair could also be seen poking through the basket.

Violet's rapid rhythmic heart sunk in her chest and she froze. She could not go to him. A book of fairytales lay on the bathroom floor, seeming to have fallen from Steven's grip.

Visions of Steven calling to Cheryl to read him some of his favorite stories, flooded into Violet's head. She could see Steven clutching the book and calling to grandma yet having only a scream return to him. He must have taken the book and tried to hide in the laundry basket under the clothes, yet he was too big for it and would have stuck partially out of it. He must have forgotten to shut the door and the killer must have seen him.

A shrill shriek pierced the room and Violet abruptly turned around to see Susan Parker advance toward her. She wore bright yellow rubber gloves that stunk with a mixture of cleaning supplies, a faded pink sweater, light blue jeans, and thin round glasses. Her red hair was disheveled and hung just passed her shoulders.

Susan would have looked like any normal person. She resembled a schoolteacher, perhaps a studious researcher, or even a scientist to stretch the imagination a bit, if it wasn't for the fact that she was drenched in blood.

Clear plastic tubes that resembled hoses were also bloodied and hung out of every pocket. She held an X-acto knife in her right hand and a small hatchet in her left. Both were now dried with blood.

The pungent odor of blood now mixed with the cleaning chemicals became overwhelming when Susan drew nearer. The lack of ventilation and the odor began to stir up Violet's hallucinations again. She now remembered that her doctor did mention this as a possible side effect. He named off different causes for this, but one caught her memory. Something described as a psychobiochemical process, which, he explained, was some kind of disturbance in her neurotransmitters, chemicals used as messengers to nerve cells. The intoxicating fumes must have been a trigger.

Though Violet knew she was stepping across her threshold into the jaws of a monster when she first arrived, Susan now looked the part. Her red hair now flashed hungrily with fiery brilliance. Her waves of curls became tendrils of flaming serpents. Citrine eyes were magnified beneath her lenses and leered with crazed determination. They held a purpose that could not falter even if it meant death to the monster. The hatchet and X-acto knife were now an extension to Susan's arms. There were no hands, only blades.

Violet's perceived vision of Susan did not change how she felt about her. Susan and the monster image were interchangeable. For all Violet knew, the monster was Susan's true appearance. Whether she was a monster or human, Violet did not care anymore. She had nothing more to lose.

Susan finally lunged at Violet after carefully analyzing her opponent. Violet fought through her searing migraine and despite the hallucinations, Violet was quicker. She caught both of Susan's wrists and used her momentum to swing her hard into her dresser.

"What did you do?!" Violet screamed at Susan. Violet rearranged her grip on Susan's wrists from behind and forced her to drop the weapons.

"The smell! You all smell like oranges! Had to scrub but it wouldn't leave! It was in their blood!" she moaned and then shrieked franticly and then sobbed as Violet twisted her arms.

Violet finally unleashed the scream growing in her chest. The pain, the despair, the rage finally exploded in a piercing rush from air-filled vocal cords. Hot tears were held back no longer and she inflicted her pain into Susan's twisted arms. Susan shrieked again and then gasped for air as Violet brutally forced her out of the room.

Susan struggled in protest as if her work still needed to be done. Violet slammed her into a wall as they landed on the first landing of the stairs. She had to get to the phone but she was afraid that the operator wouldn't hear her over the loud ranting of the madwoman she was drastically restraining. The fierce rattling of pictures hanging on the wall gave evidence that the force must have been stronger than she thought, for Susan dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes.

The phone was on a coffee table in the living room, and Violet hurriedly picked it up and dialed the police.

"What is your emergency?" the operator asked.

"My name is Violet Lynwood and my mother and son are dead. They were killed by our neighbor Susan Parker, who is mentally ill," Violet explained, trying to remain calm. The operator asked for her address and she gave it. A few other questions were asked and when she hung up, she could already hear the sirens. She turned around and saw that Susan was gone.

Violet quickly looked into the kitchen before running outside. It was now night and the street lamps glowed brighter than they had when she arrived. The first patrol car came roaring down the street. The car did not stop but instead slowed in front of her house. The patrol woman asked Violet where Susan had gone, but only one sentence escaped her mouth.

"My son and mother are dead," she said softly.

"An ambulance is on its way, ma'am, now where is she?" the patrolwoman asked. Violet could only shake her head. The patrol car sped off in the direction she was headed and shinned her lights into every yard.

Violet turned to look back at the house on the corner. Without hesitation and almost mechanically, she headed toward it. She could hear more sirens but she didn't need to be at the house to watch them carry her family out of the house in body bags.

The door was unlocked and she boldly let herself in. The foul stench of decay hit her nostrils and she knew that Margret had to be dead and rotting somewhere in the house. After that revelation, the snap finally came. She could almost hear the resounding snap her brain must have made. Hallucinations were not the only thing wrong with her it appeared or maybe the hallucinations were a clue that other things were amiss inside her skull. Violet now seemed devoid of all emotion. The anger, hatred, and sadness she had only moments ago, seemed to have simply vanished, as if they never existed. Perhaps it was just shock or perhaps it was something more.


* * *

"What's her status?" Officer Maria Cortina asked the paramedic. The paramedic finished shining his light into Violet's eyes. She stared blankly up into the night sky as she was handcuffed to the gurney in a red mess.

"She's in shock. Physically I think she'll be fine. Her mental state, however, I cannot say," he said shaking his head sadly.

Maria slowly nodded. "What's the story on this, Susan Parker she hacked to bits?"

"I remember her. Susan was one of the first people I ever picked up when I started out. When she was around seven, her sister locked her in the cellar. In the cellar, they stored their oranges they picked from the trees they used to have out back. Apparently, she had been down there for days while their parents were out. Anyway, we got the call and all she kept saying was how she hated the smell and the taste and needed to clean herself of it. She was very weak and hysterical but never dangerous. I would never have thought she was capable to take a hatchet to her own sister like that. But then again something must have triggered her into doing it, she is mentally ill," the paramedic said.

"That's strange, in my file, this Lynwood reported a car accident just a few days ago hitting a fruit truck that carried oranges. I remember a blurb in the newspaper on it and it had a picture of the truck driver giving her some to take home as an apology. Interesting," Maria said mostly to herself.

"She had to clean everything. Had to get rid of the smell," Violet said softly. Maria and the paramedic both looked at Violet.

"Ms. Lynwood, can you hear me?" the paramedic asked.

"Blood oranges. He gave me blood oranges and she must have drained them too," Violet said, vaguely remembering the peels in the kitchen trashcan but not the pulp.


THE END


2013 Ashley Dioses

Bio: Ms. Dioses has been writing horror and fantasy stories and poetry since the age of 12. She was previously published at the Horror Zine, Blood Moon Rising, Dark River Press, and Horrotica.

E-mail: Ashley Dioses

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