Gods and Monsters Installment 10: Bucket Orchid

Reading Time: 6 minutes

THE STORY TO NOW: Gabriel, a human-vampire hybrid, is living in San Francisco as a  DJ at Club Vamp. He has a hypnotic ability over vampires, and in the morning light, they turn to dust, leaving only rainbow crystal fangs which he makes into necklaces. He begins growing orchids.  
River and his pet crow have also moved to San Francisco, where he meets Wang Lijun and gets a job at Jo-Jo’s Happy Bakery. Although he is unaware of it, his Uncle Ryo’s ghost talks to him. 
Read last week’s installment hereSee all installments here. Read the next installment here.

(Image created by E.E. King with Adobe Firefly.)

Chapter 26


San Francisco —1981


Two nights later, Gabriel sees another lucid beauty on the dance floor.

River is leaning against the bar, a small glass of scotch, diluted by melting ice, before him. Gabriel doesn’t even bother whispering into the mic, he simply opens the door of the booth and motions to River. River takes the playlist without a word.

There is a slightly larger crowd than usual tonight. Perhaps they have assembled to watch the dance, unearthly, lovely, and deadly.

Her name is Arial. She’s tall and dark, skin like polished stone, eyes a rich, bottomless amber. Besides that, all is as before, sex is followed by dawn, ash, and cappuccino. And the orchids flourish. Though orchids usually only bloom once or twice a year, Gabriel’s blossom year-round. They cover his window like beautiful nightmares, filtering the sunlight that falls onto the crystal canines.

Chapter 27


Healdsburg — 1960

The Bucket Orchid

“Every orchid,” Ryo tells River, “has a unique pollinator—its very own special kind of orchid bee. And every orchid has a different, weird, way of attracting its pollinator.

“The Bucket Orchid secretes fragrant oil into its pouting, pail-shaped lip. Male orchid bees use this perfume as a calling card, an invitation to females to join them in a courtship dance. The oil is more potent than oysters, rarer than Chanel No. 5, sweeter than dark chocolate…at least to the bees. In their eagerness to collect the scent, males topple into the fluid-filled vessel.” Ryo bugs his eyes out, flailing his hands like tiny wings. River laughs.

“Struggling to escape, the bee finds the lip is lined with smooth, downward-pointing hairs. They force him backward. They are impossible to climb. Just when hope is lost, he discovers small, hairless knobs. The orchid has provided a ladder to freedom! The knobs lead to a spout. As the bee tries to squeeze through.”

Ryo wriggles as if he were trapped. “The spout tightens, gluing a packet of pollen against the bee’s thorax. It might hold the bee captive for forty-five minutes until the glue has set. When he is released, the bee continues searching for a mate. But another orchid lures him with the scent of passion. The bee again falls into a bucket. As he fights to get away, the bee’s pollen is thrust against the stigma which is the female part of the orchid. The orchid is fertilized, the bee frustrated.”

“It sounds,” River says, “like the orchid is smarter than the bee.” He considers. “I’d still rather be a bee though; I’d like to be able to fly.”

“Wouldn’t we all, little buddy, wouldn’t we all,” says Ryo, patting River’s head.

Chapter 28


San Francisco — 1981


After his cappuccino, Gabriel visits a neighborhood hardware store. There’s an image in his mind. He wants to make it real. Gabriel wanders narrow aisles hung with shiny doorknobs and brass hinges. He passes cubbies filled with nails, screws, and washers. Even the large, tattooed men, who normally puff up like bullfrogs and try to fill the aisle with testosterone, retreat when they see Gabriel.  He buys some chains, random fastenings, and a welding gun.

On the way home, he spots a dark doorway.  “Mike’s Corner Pawn Shop Cash Fast! Gold, Jewelry, Guns, and Watches. Get Top Dollar Here!” A stairway leads down below street level, ending at a weathered wood-framed glass door. The glass has been sloppily coated with burgundy paint. “Mike’s” is scrawled in gold glitter on the door. The glitter has dripped.

Gabriel pushes open the door. Inside the windows are covered with heavy cardboard, hung with cobwebs. The shop is lit by neon signs: electric blues, lime bright greens, hot reds, brilliant yellows, and sunset magenta. They pulse and glow like jellyfish, providing a constantly shifting unnatural light. They must come from a variety of countries. Many spell out unintelligible words in alien characters.

Mike lolls beside an antique cash register. His white belly hangs over soiled jeans, providing a monitor for the light show.  He wears a faded T-shirt. It once featured a busty blond cartoon on a motorbike, but now only the blonde’s red smiling lips and the bike’s handlebars remain. Mike’s hair is thin and greasy, hanging on each side of his veiny red face. He has tiny watery blue eyes. Meaty, rough hands grip a small, dirty paper cup. It’s full of dark red liquid. It looks like wine.

“Howdy.” He spits the greeting damply at Gabriel. Mike is missing his canines.

The shop’s walls are full of glass cases overflowing with a chaos of junk and jewelry. Sparkling sad wedding rings and pocket watches, the flotsam and jetsam of the lost and hopeless. Overhead hang racks of rifles. Two large, antlered elk watch Gabriel out of brown glass eyes.

From a bowl of miscellany, Gabriel picks out some short bits of chain, silver, copper, and gold. He finds twelve small round-faceted amethysts, a pile of needle-sharp rose quartz, and a foreign coin of unknown origin. The coin is silver, banded with gold, circled by strange symbols.

Gabriel is drawn to it. He scoops it up, cradling it. It nestles warm and heavy in Gabriel’s palm. Mike never puts prices on anything, except a few items he doesn’t want to sell. These he labels with exorbitantly fantastical figures, figuring that if anyone wants them bad enough to pay more than top dollar, they can have them. Mike is a haggler. He likes the contact, however inconsequential. He likes to argue. He likes to win.

Gabriel brings his findings to the counter and hands Mike sixty dollars. Mike opens his mouth, looks into Gabriel’s endless eyes, and is silent.

Gabriel returns home. In the basement, he sets up a work bench and lights. Marco, the manager, sees. He knows that he should say something, forbid Gabriel from using the space, or demand extra rent perhaps. But he says nothing.

Gabriel spends his afternoon fashioning jewelry, welding together chains, triple helixes of gold, silver, and copper DNA. He adds tiny purple clusters of amethysts like angled grapes. Delicate rose quartz dangles like sunrise icicles. In the center of each, he hangs a single tooth. Even underground, the teeth twist trapping sunlight, separating it into colored fragments that dance around the basement. He is surrounded by rainbows, this man who cannot see the blue of the sky or the brown of the earth.

Gabriel makes a chain for himself. But, instead of a tooth for the centerpiece, he drills a hole in the coin and hangs it around his neck.

Chapter 29


San Francisco — 1981


Gabriel has become a regular at Mike’s. No matter the hour, Mike is there, always in the same faded, grungy T-shirt and jeans. Gabriel imagines he can see the big blonde’s lips fading each time he visits until all that is left are her teeth. In spite of his size, Gabriel never sees Mike eat. Instead, he constantly, surreptitiously, sips dark wine from a paper cup. After working at The Vamp, Gabriel is familiar with red-veined bulbous noses and bloodshot eyes. The lack of teeth is more common in meth users than alcoholics, but Mike is too heavy to be a meth head.

Gabriel begins frequenting gem shows, picking up agates, garnets, and an occasional piece of red glass. But he soon stops. He is never happy with the results of pieces made from findings purchased anywhere but from Mike’s.

One night, Gabriel wanders into The Vamp and realizes he is done. He wants, he needs, to spend his time creating. He is driven by that most basic desire, a craving as strong as love, as driving as death. He is propelled by the need to reproduce. It is creation, greed, and birth. Some produce babies, small imperfect copies of themselves. Others gather objects, as if mansions filled with possessions could stave off death. Artists create pictures or books, sending soul, imagination, and ideas into the world, fancying them less finite than flesh. Gabriel needs his crystal teeth to hang like needles of light around living necks. This appetite is closer to an emotion than any he has ever felt.

He drifts up to Frankie.

“I quit,” he says. Although his voice is a whisper it echoes around the bar. It murmurs into ears, the breath stirring tiny hairs on the back of customers’ necks. It pierces through the slow, flat pop song coming from the booth.

“You can’t just quit,” Frankie protests. “I need at least two weeks… one, bare minimum. I gots to find someone. You can’t just leave me in the lurch…”

“The guy before me didn’t give you notice, did he?”

Frankie wants to complain. He wants to protest. He wants to mention how good he’s been to Gabriel. To remind him how he’s never said a word, even when Gabriel has walked off the job two nights out of five. But he does not.

“River’s here. He always is. He can do it.” Gabriel pushes through the door and is gone. Frankie turns to discover River behind him.

“Do you…” But before Frankie can offer him a job, River disappears into the dark after Gabriel.

Watch the author read this week’s installment in the video below:

NEXT WEEK: Some nights, when fog is banished by sea breezes and the moon shines brilliant, bleaching the city white, River’s hair rises, caressed by unseen electric fingers. Above the sounds of the city, a mournful howl ascends, calling to a forgotten past and an unknown future. 

Edited by Mitchelle Lumumba and Sophie Gorjance.

E.E. King is cohost of the MetaStellar YouTube channel's Long Lost Friends segment. She is also a painter, performer, writer, and naturalist. She’ll do anything that won’t pay the bills, especially if it involves animals. Ray Bradbury called her stories “marvelously inventive, wildly funny and deeply thought-provoking. I cannot recommend them highly enough.” She’s been published widely, including Clarkesworld and Flametree. She also co-hosts The Long Lost Friends Show on MetaStellar's YouTube channel. Check out paintings, writing, musings, and books at ElizabethEveKing.com and visit her author page on Amazon.

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