The Taste of Blood

Fiction
Walter Kraut


He liked the taste of blood. It was as simple as that. Some people like good wines, others single malt whisky, Peter liked nothing better than a good glass of tasty blood, no ice, no water, just pure, freshly poured from a popping vein. It wasn’t an addiction though. He could do without it for weeks, months even if he had to—and sometimes he did have to, because supply was uneven and he wouldn’t settle for just any blood, which to him proved he wasn’t a bloodoholic like some of the people he knew.

Peter was not alone. As with a lot of things, you don’t realise the existence of like-minded people until you find them; and then they seem to be just about everywhere. There was even a blood merchant in a flat near Homerton Hospital in East London. Apparently the proximity to the hospital was a coincidence. No one fancied blood from sick people; it could even be dangerous to drink it, and although there was a market for the blood of the recently departed, Peter wasn’t into that. For more than one reason they called it ‘dead blood,’ like the Dutch talk about ‘dead beer’ when it is stale and has no head. The shop didn’t have an official name; everyone knew it by the name of the owner, Max, a man in his late forties with a flushed appearance, butcher’s arms and the round belly of a cartoon character, a stained apron permanently tightened around it.

Peter generally phoned in advance to check what Max had in stock, but this time Max, who knew his customer’s preferences, had phoned him. Last night he had acquired blood from a young black woman, of good quality, and exactly the kind Peter was into. Because blood could lose some of its freshness when it was chilled, and the colour would often fade a little, Peter had asked Max to keep it outside the fridge and let it cool down naturally. He had promised to pick up a pint of the blood that same day after work for 150 pounds, a lot of money, but if Max was to be believed it was of an unusually high standard and likely to be a one-off.

It was a Thursday afternoon, Peter sat behind his desk at London City Hall. The time on his computer was 15:18, his watch made it two minutes earlier and the clock on the wall behind him had its pointers at 3:20. He found it hard to concentrate. Max had rung him when he was already on his way to work and ever since then he’d had a clear image of the little glass bottle awaiting him. He could imagine the flavour slowly getting weaker, the taste diminishing. He wanted to get hold of it as soon as possible and give it a good sniff. He would drink only a teaspoon of it at first, the blood would be soaked up by his tongue, a sensitive palate that would send it out to the rest of his body. His extremities would tingle, his saliva would run—as it did now in anticipation of this first sip.

At the desk opposite sat Cherie. The stress of her name was on the last syllable, but Peter always pronounced it as a fruit. She didn’t mind, seemed to even like it when it came from him. She laughed at most of the things he said. Her eyes were quite beautiful when she smiled. Just a pity there was so much face around it, big and flabby, with an overflow of skin that drooped underneath her chin and wobbled when her smile became a laugh, with a high and penetrating sound that was known around the office as ‘the trumpet.’ Her hair was long and curly, a dark and shiny brown, and Cherie was clearly proud of it. Not long after they had made their acquaintance Peter had given her a compliment on her hair, which had been the start of a flirting match that had now been going on for about three months without ever leading anywhere.

‘Looking forward to tonight?’

With a start Peter was brought back to the reality of the office. Blood had gushed through imaginary rivers, it had dripped round the edges of bottles, it had rained down from heaven and filled his mouth which was pressed into an ecstatic smile when he’d heard Cherie’s remark. He blushed lightly at the thought that she might have seen the images in his head. He weakened his smile and raised his eyebrows. It was only then that he understood what she was alluding to.

No, he was not looking forward to it. Not tonight anyway, but when he glanced at the diary it was there, in his own writing, and he remembered putting it there, one-and-a-half weeks ago, long enough to forget, as he had done that very morning when Max had rung him, and through the rest of the day, distracted as he was because of that phone call. Yes, he remembered that a week and a half ago he had actually said ‘yes’ after her umpteenth suggestion that they should go out, and she had immediately fixed it by saying that she would book something. They would have a drink followed by a meal, and it would all be, she wouldn’t hear of anything else, her special treat, because, well just because he was such a lovely colleague. There was no way, he knew, of disappointing her now, so he smiled indulgently and said: ‘I wish it were half five already.’

The rest of the day he thought of ways of getting out of their date. He got up and got himself a coffee, pondering over the possibilities. He could of course pretend that he was ill and went as far as going to the loo to stick his fingers in his throat. It made him a little nauseous but didn’t give him the pale appearance he was hoping for. He could be called away by someone, invent an emergency. His parents were already dead, so they couldn’t serve that purpose. Who else was there? He would have to invent a person as well as an emergency. But while he thought of ways of pulling out he felt guilty towards Cherie, who must have been looking forward to their date ever since he had given his unexpected ‘yes.’

After a lot of deliberation about either going out with Cherie or having a quiet night in with an exquisite bottle of blood he came to the conclusion that he could probably do both. He decided to pop out for an hour, he could get away with that—he was a civil servant after all—and he would pick up the bottle and drink it as an expensive night cap, or if he came home late he could even store it in the fridge for the next day. That wouldn’t necessarily be a complete disaster. A good blood would keep its taste for at least a couple of days. Very young blood could even improve if stored under the right circumstances, although he himself preferred it ‘straight from the vein’ as it was called.

Peter put on his coat, told his colleagues that he would be back shortly and set off to Max’s with three fifty-pound notes in his wallet.

On the bus to Hackney his taste buds were aggressively yearning for the taste of blood. He was thirsty in a way that he hadn’t experienced before. There was a powerful pull towards blood. It wasn’t just quality blood that he longed for. He needed something soon, anything, and he looked nervously around him, as if he could at any moment expect something there, a blood bar that would suddenly pop up at the rear of the bus. Blood was off course everywhere; he even carried it in his own body. But he had only heard of one person who could drink his own blood; the man had, unsurprisingly, drunk himself to death.

When he craved blood, he could smell it everywhere. Even when saturated he could pick out any woman who was having her period. He knew of one guy who was hopelessly pulled towards these women, who would chase them for their smell alone and had almost killed a young girl he had followed and with whom he had suddenly found himself alone. She had, for whatever reason, stopped and turned around, facing him with incredulous calm. He, after taking one last deep breath, had run away and locked himself up in his room where he stuck two pieces of burning cotton in his nose to kill his sense of smell.

Peter knew he was lucky. His taste for blood had never been obsessive. His current craving therefore scared him. His eyes wandered and fell upon a woman in her early twenties, dark skin, straightened black hair; from the Caribbean, he guessed, Barbados probably. He loved female blood from that area. It had a sweet, dark flavour, a strong smell that wasn’t to everyone’s liking. His nostrils widened, his mouth filled with saliva. He forced himself to look the other way, put his hand on his nose and coughed loudly. He knew of people who carried a hip flask with blood with them at all times. Maybe he should consider doing the same.

He rang the doorbell, announced himself and was let in. Max received him at the top of the landing, a smile on his face; he seemed unusually cheerful. ‘I just knew you would come this soon. It’s been on your mind all day, hasn’t it? Well, it’s worth it, my best man. You never tasted anything this good, I can promise you that, and I kept it especially for you. I know I can rely on you. When you say you’ll come, you’ll come. And you know you can rely on me: when I say it’s good, it’s excellent!’ He released a joyful laugh and led Peter into the dark, but tidy hallway.

The blood at Max’s was stored in three big fridge-freezers in the only room where customers were allowed. There was a large, white table in the room with laboratory equipment on it; a metal stand with empty blood bags stood in the corner. Peter consciously ignored everything that reminded him of the origin of his favourite drink. He was like someone who wouldn’t eat meat if it was recognisable as an animal. It was better not to know, he thought. He preferred to trust that Max sourced his blood ethically, as Max always said he did, and never asked questions to find out more. He had been a regular for more than five years now and Max had taught him an awful lot about blood. Max believed that taste was personal and like a perfumer he would try to match the right blood with the right customer. He had written a guide that was the standard and did tasting sessions that drew in people from all over the world.

Peter said he couldn’t hang around for too long and took the three fifties from his wallet.

‘Ho, ho, first a little taste, my friend!’ said Max with his hand as a stop sign in front of him. He got out a couple of wine glasses. ‘First I would like you to try something new, something quite different from what you usually drink, but equally good if you ask me. It was brought to me this morning by one of my regular and best suppliers. He gets the blood from about anywhere in the world and always seeks my opinion and leaves me samples. Have a little taste of this. If you like it, there’s plenty more where it came from, at a good price. I think it’s beautiful, it’s light, slightly tangy at first, but with a sweet aftertaste. It’s best to drink it chilled. Ideal for a summer’s evening. Here!’

Peter took the glass and smelled it. His nose twitched slightly; a bit tangy indeed! He took a sip, breathed in through his mouth, took another sip. Blood wasn’t addictive, they said, not physically anyway, but something always happened to him when he drank it. He called it ‘disentangling’, it was as if all the knots in his body became undone. He felt relieved, as with the ringing of the school bell as a teenager on a Friday afternoon. It gave him a sense of freedom, it unburdened him, loosened the tight grip of responsibility. He drank up and sighed. ‘Just what I needed. I’ve been feeling a bit… unusual on my way here. Do you ever get that, the feeling that, how shall I put it, that you’re drawn to somebody, to some body I should say—two separate words—and that you really need to restrain yourself?’

‘That you feel you could kill someone?’ Max asked greedily.

‘Killing wouldn’t be necessary, but that you want their blood, that you want to drink them?’

‘Of course, we all have that, don’t we? To drink straight from someone’s body is possibly the best experience you could have… Did you ever do it?’

‘No, I wouldn’t know how.’

‘Would you like to? I mean: would you be interested if I could arrange it for you?’

‘I don’t know. Could you?’

‘There are meetings, LBPs they are called: live blood parties. I could introduce you if you like. They are usually organised at very short notice, because of the risk involved. You want me to give you a ring next time?’

‘I guess it’s not cheap?’

‘Who cares about money when you can spend a few hours in heaven?’

‘I’ll think about it.’

Max laughed. ‘I already know your answer, but yes, do think about it! And this is…’ He got a flask from a cupboard next to one of the fridges. ‘This is what you came in for.’ He opened the bottle. ‘Smell!’

Peter didn’t need to bring the bottle any closer. ‘That’s okay,’ he said. ‘Put the lid back on. I’ll have it. And a pint of the stuff I just tried, although I’m not sure if I have enough money on me.’

‘I’ll put it on a tab.’

‘How much is it?’

‘How much, how much? Like that’s all you care about. You can have it for a mere fifty pounds. Pay me next time you come in. Don’t worry about it now.’

With the two bottles, wrapped in tissue paper and stored in his leather briefcase, he left Max’s, the taste of blood still on his tongue.

By the time he got back at the office he had finished one bottle, the cheaper of the two, and he strolled gingerly past the guards at London City Hall. It was almost half past five.

‘I thought you had run away,’ said Cherie with a half-smile and Peter realised that she really had thought that he had fled from her. He felt guilty about the fact that he had indeed considered it and shook his head vehemently. Cherie stared at him, slightly bewildered, and she seemed to sniff at him; he could see her nostrils widen. Her eyes went back to the computer screen, but returned to him, curiously and with the audacity of a child who is just old enough to know that she shouldn’t stare but hasn’t yet learned to control her gaze.

He felt strangely aroused by her stare and wanted at the same time to hide from it. He excused himself, left his desk and went to the loo. The blood had stained his teeth, he saw when he checked himself in the mirror, and his pupils had widened. He drank some water, rinsed his mouth, stuck out his tongue. He nodded at a man who had at that moment come in, checked himself once more and went back to his desk.

‘Let’s go,’ he said to Cherie. ‘I fancy a drink.’

Cherie had continued her stare throughout the evening. It was as if she wanted to make the most of her eyes and tried everything to keep his attention fixed on them. He no longer wanted to hide from her stare and returned it with his own. He had also copied the way she sniffed at him. He sniffed back, less and less discreetly. When the food was taken away, her smell finally reached him fully; the smell of her blood, full bodied, delicious, he could sense it was rushing through her veins at high speed. He wanted to kiss her neck, lick her carotid artery and bite.

‘What about a drink at my place? It’s not far,’ he asked after Cherie had paid.

‘That would be nice,’ she said with a shy smile. She took his arm and, after a moment’s hesitation, put her head on his shoulder.

They walked to his flat in Bermondsey without saying much. Cherie held on tightly to his arm as if she thought he would flee again. On his other arm he felt the weight of his briefcase. The blood would have to wait until the weekend. He shouldn’t overdo it anyway, he thought. The greed with which he had drunk the first bottle had disgusted him. He wasn’t like that. He was a moderate drinker, a sensualist, not a bloodoholic. He had thought many times of giving up, but never quite managed it. The need, however small, was persistent, and because of that, he thought, he would never be able to live a regular life. How could you live a life with someone if you could not share your greatest passion?

He knew of a few couples in the scene. Most of them were Goths, or otherwise hardcore, who liked the rituals as much as the blood itself, who had gatherings like the ones Max had been referring to. They were would-be vampires drinking each other’s blood, they danced made-up dances that they insisted were traditional and took them seriously—a sense of humour was rare amongst bloodies. Drinking blood wasn’t fun, it was ‘beyond fun,’ as someone had once remarked, exactly the kind of fake intellectual phrasing you would hear in that scene. Peter just wanted to share a glass of the very best blood while listening to some music and cosying up on the sofa with someone he loved. Someone like Cherie, he thought with a twitch, while he led her upstairs to his flat.

‘Let me take your coat,’ he said politely, shaking off the thought. ‘Have a seat. I’ll get us a bottle of wine. Unless you want something else of course. Sorry, I’m doing this all wrong. What would you like to drink, Cherie?’

‘Wine would be fine,’ she laughed. ‘No need to be all formal all of a sudden. Is it okay if I take off my shoes?’

‘Of course, make yourself at home.’

He took his briefcase to the kitchen and opened it on the floor in front of the fridge. He got the bottle and unwrapped it, quickly but carefully, and unscrewed the top. Just a little sniff before he chilled it, he thought, it would invigorate him, ready him for what was to come. He might even put a few drops on his tongue while it was still fresh, and then go back to a heavy and dark wine, something that would complement the taste of blood. His hands shook lightly when he swiped the bottle under his nose, the aroma filling the kitchen and making him slightly dizzy.

‘Ah, there you are…’

The bottle slipped from his hand on the kitchen floor and glided just out of reach, leaving a line of blood on the surface. Cherie got to the bottle before he even knew what had happened. Peter looked up at her in a state of shock. ‘This is…’ not what you think, he wanted to say, but he left it there, unfinished. He wasn’t sure what she would think, but the smile that came to her lips suggested that she wasn’t at all upset.

She squatted next to him, dipped a finger in the line of blood and brought it to her lips. ‘I knew it, I just knew it,’ she whispered. She dipped again and moved her finger towards Peter’s mouth. She looked at him like she had done earlier at the office and kissed him on the lips.

‘Why don’t you get some glasses,’ she said and she nudged him to get up.
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Walter Kraut has published two novels in the Netherlands (Blauwe ogen and Het echte werk, both by Prometheus) and several stories in periodicals and anthologies. He moved to the UK in 2000 and currently lives in London. ‘The Taste of Blood’ is his first story in English. Website: walterkraut.nl
E-mail: walter[at]walterkraut.nl