Gods and Monsters Installment 11: Cool Grey City of Love

Reading Time: 6 minutes

LAST WEEK: Gabriel finds Mike’s Pawn shop and buys stones for his vampire teeth necklaces. He also buys an odd coin which he hangs around his neck. He quits his DJ job at Club Vamp. Ryo tells River about orchids.
Read last week’s installment hereSee all installments here. Read the next installment here.

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

Chapter 30


San Francisco — 1981

The Stealthy Drunk

River has never been able to follow Gabriel before.

Whenever Gabriel left, River had been in the booth. Now he ambles after him. River knows enough not to try to be stealthy. He has seen Gabriel dance. Instead, River staggers. Occasionally he yells a curse into the un-listening night. He knows that Gabriel can outrun him. He imagines that Gabriel is listening for footsteps in the night, no matter how soft, no matter how still. But he hopes that Gabriel will ignore a drunken man tottering homeward after a binge. It works. Gabriel pays no attention to the teetering steps behind. He glides through the night like a memory, elegant and unsubstantial as vapor, fleeting as fragrance, ephemeral as love.

Gabriel winds his way home, back to the basement where teeth and chains wait to be fashioned into beacons. He only looks up once, when the silhouette of a crow, dark as an unlit sky, flies overhead cawing.

River lurches to the entrance of Gabriel’s apartment. The Hotel Tailgate rises into the night like a dirty finger. “Rooms rented; daily, weekly, or monthly,” reads the sign above the door. River tries the door, but it’s locked. He briefly considers moving into the building to be near his prey. But when Huck, spiraling onto his shoulder, digs sharp claws into his flesh, the idea is driven out of his head by an onslaught of pain.

Chapter 31


San Francisco — 1981

Cool Grey City of Love

Gabriel never returns to the club. He wants, he needs, to sell his jewelry. Gabriel has never felt anything so intensely. In fact, he rarely feels at all. He is a creature of essence and desire.

He buys velvet boxes of green and dark burgundy, somber as coffins to cradle his creations. He purchases a soft leather bag to carry his wares. It smells of distant places, of memories, of heartache and longing.

He prowls the city, small arty boutiques, quaint book shops, exclusive jewelry stores, even hard-on leather boutiques. The necklaces call to people. Shop owners need to hold them. They lie in palms, strangely warm, radiating light, peace, and color like tangible wishes.

Occult store managers feel physic for the first time, the future becoming distinct and visible. Women proprietors blister with beauty. Men feel suddenly confident. The necklaces are wildly popular. Gabriel should have been too, with his unnatural good looks and perfect form. But he is not. Despite the call of the necklaces, no one will carry them. No one wants to deal with Gabriel.

Gabriel spends afternoons fashioning pieces in the basement, visiting Mike’s, and combing the shops, hoping to find a place that will buy his jewelry.

Gabriel’s necklaces, the cold progeny of his fingers, multiply. Prisms of light dance ‘round his apartment painting the walls in hummingbird pigment. Tinctures seep into the walls, rainbows pulsing from their molecules. Waterfalls of iridescence drip down into the orchids, feeding them with color, light, and evil intent. Their petals open wide. Alien masks wave on slender stalks.

The plants are lush and sensual. Blossoms like hungry organs, moist as sex, an exotic jungle draping the window. Even though there is no breeze, Gabriel’s Hammer Orchids beat against his window with delicate burgundy, mallet lips.

Chapter 32


Healdsburg — 1960

The Hammer Orchid

“The Hammer Orchids resemble the female Thynnids wasp.” Ryo tells River, “Females are flightless; when the season for love dawns, the Thynnids climbs to the top of a plant. She sends pheromones, the perfume of love, into the air, waiting for some male Lochinvar Thynnids to swoop in and fly away with her, mating in midair.”

“What,” River asks, “is a Lochinvar? Is it a kind of orchid?”

“No,” Ryo laughs, “It’s a lover-boy, a Casanova, someone ladies like.”

“Like you?” River asks. “Mom says you are irresistible — to a certain kind of girl.”

Ryo laughs again, uneasily this time.

“Hammer Orchids perch on a stem’s tip looking like a demure, shy female. They too waft pheromones into the air. Drawn by scent, deceived by sight, Thynnids males spend their love on eggless petals.”

“How come they don’t die off then?” River asks. He has already learned about extinction, and already knows that it takes at least two—sometimes a whole flock—to keep a species healthy and alive.

“Good question,” Ryo says. “The wasps can still have babies because unlike people, female Thynnids can reproduce parthenogenetically—it’s a long word meaning that the females don’t need males to have babies, they can do it all by themselves. But if they do reproduce parthenogenetically, the babies will all be boys… which is just what the Hammer Orchid wants. Because what do boys do?” Ryo waggles his fingers like a wasp trying to grab a flower.

“Males,” River says, trying to sound like a scientist, “pollinate Hammer Orchids.”

“Good boy!” Ryo says. River doesn’t understand everything his uncle tells him, but he gets the main points. Hearing Ryo is like listening to a poem, a poem that’s real.

Chapter 33


San Francisco — 1982

Green Tears

Gabriel spends his nights prowling the streets, a peripatetic flower in search of a mate. He can smell vampires. Not, oddly enough, the scent of blood, but its absence. San Francisco has a wealth of vampires. The city calls to them. Perhaps it is the early morning fog that keeps the sun from their flesh a bit longer than most places. Perhaps it is the nightlife. Perhaps it is the dearth of werewolves, who tend toward more rural haunts. Or maybe they just feel at home in the cool, grey city of love.

Gabriel’s very being summons his mother’s people. They are drawn to him as a moth to flame, soft bodies drawn to his beauty as to light. Perhaps it is the scent of danger that emanates from him; perhaps it is the aroma of mortality.

Gabriel travels at night. River, waiting in the shadows, follows. Usually, he loses Gabriel around some dark curve or unsuspected alley. The only way River even knows the direction Gabriel has gone is by following the bodies of the Luna Moths, whose luminous wings flutter on the hard streets like pale green snow.

“At the best of times,” River hears Ryo saying, “Luna Moths live only one week. They do not have mouths. They cannot eat. They emerge solely to mate, then fall like tears, dissolving faster than first love.”

Sometimes River sees Gabriel take the white, perfect arm of a lovely stranger, a man or a woman, a boy, or a girl. They disappear together around a corner or into an alley, leaving only the recollection of something beautiful and deadly, which disperses as quickly as smoke in wind. River is left standing alone in the fog and the dark, exhausted, and empty, Huck his sole companion.

Gabriel is not gay, or trans, or bi, or straight. He’s not human and therefore cannot be viewed in human terms, any more than reef fish that change sex mid-current can be labeled transgender, or the many species that reproduce parthenogenetically, by virgin birth, can be judged to be especially beloved by God.

Sex is of no more import to Gabriel than love or friendship, laughter, or pain. His only needs are for his crystal creations and the beautiful strangers of the night. Somehow, they are inextricably linked, one to the other and both calling Gabriel like the migratory restless of birds.

Chapter 34


San Francisco — 1982


Some nights when River has lost the scent again and stands alone and lonely, 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 a forgotten past and an unknown future.

River pours his fear and frustration into mixing bowls, blending equal parts of hope, fear, and longing into an ever-expanding array of confections. The neighborhood around Jo-Jo’s has become famous for harmony and understanding. Principals buy treats for their entire schools. It’s expensive, but well worth classrooms filled with sweet-tempered, empathetic children. Therapists have standing orders for River’s cranberry muffins which seem to calm anxious patients. Spiced cookies give insomniacs an uninterrupted night’s sleep for the first time. Prescriptions for Valium, Prozac, and sleeping pills remain unfilled. Pharmacists wonder why business is slow. Some worry they might go broke. But, when their noses lead them to Jo-Jo’s, a single bite of pie quiets their fears. They expand, offering not just medicine, but arrays of scented oils, flowers, and greeting cards. Men stop beating their wives. Children clean their rooms. Only Wang Lijun is able to resist the aroma of forgiveness and friendship.

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

NEXT WEEK: River stabs at his steak, trying to hack it in two. As Pam comes back carrying his soup, a final vicious swipe sends half the steak spinning across the counter, narrowly missing Pam. It hits the soup bowl, sending a stream of hot, greasy orange liquid onto the wall. Small, cubed vegetables dribble onto the floor. After what seems like an eternity, he hears a snort. Pam is bent, almost doubled over, laughing. 

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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