He felt the drops plunk down on his nose. Of course, the rain would find his huge schnoz first! Her hand was grabbed as they dashed towards the widest tree in the forest. They laughed; taking shelter under its leafy canopy. He rustled through the backpack’s contents until two emergency blankets were discovered. Crinkly noises were heard as the silvery, thin sheets were unfolded.
“Comfy?” Paul asked as they slipped into their crispy cocoons.
Heather pouted. “Not really. I am kinda hungry.”
“Oui, Oui!” He tweaked one end of an imaginary moustache. “Would the madam care for filet mignon and crème brulee?”
Paul was always full of surprises. Everyone called him, “Hocus Paulcus.” She wouldn’t put it past him to produce something unexpected. The theme music from Twilight Zone escaped his pursed lips as he rummaged through the backpack once again. Beef jerky and pudding soon landed on her lap like manna from Heaven.
Giggling, Heather playfully punched his arm before hungry fingers tore into paper wrappers. She chomped down on the beef jerky while a hand curled around the preserved, salty meat and played tug of war with her clenched teeth.
“I’ll trade you this crème brulee for une pomme.” She tossed him the pudding.
He kissed his girlfriend. “I’m sorry, honey, I ate the last apple.”
“Oh, well, that’s—” Spotting the plum on her lap, she squealed and promptly took a bite. Paul never disappointed! Plums were her favorite. “I didn’t even see you pack this.” Purplish juice trailed down Heather’s chin. “God, this is so good!”
“Wait. What are you eating?” He grabbed the plum; attempting to pry it from her fingers. “Ouch!” His finger was bleeding. “What the fuck, Heather, you bit me!”
She appeared not to have heard him and moaned as her teeth bit into the crimson fruit; devouring it with glee. The sweet, fleshy meat melted in her mouth. Confused, she examined her hands. Where did the seed go?
“Did the seed drop somewhere?” She scanned the ground. Her glance took in his bleeding finger. “What happened?” She searched through the fanny pack, secured around her waist, and produced Neosporin and a band aid.
“You bit me.”
“You wish! Seriously?”
“I’m serious. I was trying to grab whatever you picked up off the ground and stuffed in your mouth!”
She stopped tending to his small wound long enough to roll her eyes. “That doesn’t make sense. Why would you do that? You packed the plum for me, right?”
“I didn’t pack any plums.”
There was a tickle in her throat. It was that kind of itch that couldn’t be relieved; no matter how much she cleared her throat. She unscrewed the water bottle and took a long drink. The tickle soon gave way to the agonizing sensation of a stone lodged in her esophagus. It grasped the sides of her throat; resolute and unmoving. She was drowning in an abyss and sputtered up water. Paul slapped her on the back twice. As if surfacing from the depths of the sea, she took a deep breath. There was still a small lump in her throat, but it no longer felt as if it tore into her inner flesh.
He rubbed her back. “You okay?”
Nodding, she held him close; breathing in the fragrances of the forest and his own unmistakable scent. It was dry under the tree. The rain’s rhythmic drips against the leaves lulled them both into a deep slumber.
The early morning sun streamed through the tree’s canopy; it kissed skin and spread warmth. The scent of plums greeted her; the subtle floral aroma was irresistible. With eyes closed, she bit into the fruit and tore into the pulpy suet. The sweet meat exploded with succulent juices that coated her tongue. The syrupy fluid was dense enough to chew.
“You are truly a magician,” she murmured. Prying her eyes open, Heather thought the plum looked odd, close up. Her eyes slowly came to focus as she leaned back. Paul stared at her with an unblinking and empty expression. His lips were ravaged and torn with the fleshy parts missing. Blood, slightly congealed, was oozing down his chin. She screamed when the realization of what was ecstatically devoured, wasn’t a plum at all. Blood and pieces of Paul’s lips spewed out from her mouth and slopped on the ground. In the dirt, the chunks of meat were still warm, and a wispy, sour vapor emitted from the sanguine stew.
Something shifted beneath the dirt and tunneled around her. A tree root emerged, swaying like a hypnotized cobra, and trembled with excitement as it inhaled the unmistakable, rancid smell of death. It slithered towards the bloody soup. Sharp hooks emerged from its ligneous pith; impaled a chunk of Paul’s lips, and slurped the crimson liquid until the meat resembled a shriveled raisin. Heather felt the forest swirl in a dizzying speed; nausea gurgled in her stomach.
Something was making rustling noises. Paul was convulsing; his body jerked and turned side to side. God, he’s still alive, she thought. As she rushed to him, several tree branches penetrated him. Their grainy outline was visible beneath blue, air deprived skin as they stretched and plundered. They writhed inside his body; seeked veins, and ingested fluids.
She pulled at the gnarled branches and attempted to extract them, yet the branches remained anchored. He wasn’t moving. Paul was dead. The vampire tree was slurping the last few drops of blood from his cooling body.
Heather stepped back. She screamed and clawed at her neck. The plum seed, still lodged in her throat, had begun to take root and broke through its rigid, outer shell. The embryo tree scraped the inner walls of her throat with razor-like claws. It was desperate for nourishment as newly born infants are. This ravenous plant ripped and devoured until Heather’s screams diluted into a gurgling sound. She was drowning in her own blood.
In the darkness inside of her body, a newly formed branch longed for the warmth of the sun. It stretched and tunneled through muscle and tissue until Heather’s right eye was reached. With tiny, jagged teeth, it tore and consumed her eyeball as the carnivorous plant strained towards the light. Blood cascaded down pale cheeks. A sigh of relief escaped her as she was enfolded into death’s welcoming embrace. There would be no more hunger-pain.