Gods and Monsters Installment 12: The Mystic Eye

Reading Time: 8 minutes

LAST WEEK: River makes an ever-expanding array of confections for Jo-Jo’s bakery. The neighborhood becomes famous for harmony and understanding. Only Wang Lijun is able to resist the aroma of forgiveness and friendship. Meanwhile, River finds out where Gabriel lives. Gabriel tries to sell his necklaces, but no one wants to deal with him.
Read last week’s installment hereSee all installments here.

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

Chapter 35

Gabriel

San Francisco — 1982

The Mystic Eye

One night, Gabriel is roaming the Castro. It is late. All the stores, even the bars, have closed; all except one. It would be easy to miss, even though the words The Mystic Eye, lettered in iridescent gold and violent purple, arch over a turquoise and black eye. It would be simple to walk right by, even though from behind dusty windows, crystal balls and tarot cards whisper promises and happy endings.

The door is unusually heavy. Opening it takes an act of will. Inside, the shop is small and empty of people. Two of the walls are covered by thick burgundy velvet curtains. The third holds a bookshelf; the middle shelf is jammed with colorful paperbacks on tarot, fortunetelling, star charts, and all things occult. On the top shelf, unreachable except by ladder, sag a few oversized leather volumes. They are worn, the print on the spine almost invisible. Tiny bits of gold still nestle in a few letters. Some of the titles appear to be handwritten in a carmine ink so dark it looks almost black. From behind glass cases and on top of counters, a few amulets, totems, herbs, and crystals gleam.

Gabriel stands in the doorway, sniffing. The air is rich with dried sage and lavender, thick with time and dust, scented with beginnings and endings.

As Gabriel hesitates, one of the burgundy drapes parts, revealing a small back room. A woman emerges. The drapes close behind her, swallowing the curtained chamber. Gabriel thinks he’s seen two seated figures, but he cannot be certain.

The woman is tall and gaunt; her eyes are blacker than a cave, endless as eternity. She and Gabriel look at each other, bottomless indigo meeting infinite night.

“Welcome,” she says. Her voice promises rain and threatens darkness.  “I am Morta Moirai. My sisters and I are the proprietors.”

Gabriel inclines his head. “Gabriel.”

Morta lifts her eyebrows in inquiry. Wordlessly, Gabriel pulls a long thin box from his bag. He lays it open on one of the glass-topped counters. Inside, nestled in dark green velvet, shine four necklaces. Morta hefts one. She sniffs it. Rapid as a lizard, she flicks out a pointy whitish tongue and licks the crystal. Her tongue curls backwards into her mouth. Slowly she smiles.

“I think we can do business together,” she says.

Holding the necklace, she walks through the curtains, motioning Gabriel to follow. The back of her dress is seamless and snug as skin. It has no visible zipper, buttons or fastening. Behind the curtains, the room extends backward. It is far longer and higher than Gabriel had supposed. He cannot even see where it ends in the darkness.

“My sisters,” Morta says, waving her arms toward two women seated in the glooming. “Nona and Decima.”

Gabriel cannot believe Nona is Morta’s sister. She doesn’t look more than twenty. She sits before a loom, weaving a cloth of intricate design. The loom is threaded with delicate pastel skeins of silk. She smiles at Gabriel, pink lips parting, rose cheeks dimpling, teeth white and even as seed pearls. Her eyes are the clear blue of a cloudless sky after rain. Her hair falls in golden waves to her waist. She wears a tunic of fine white silk. Her hands never pause, pulling woof through warp like harp strings.

Decima sits at a table. She is solid and middle-aged.  She holds a much-used yellow measuring tape in her large, capable hands; bundles of thread lie before her in neat rolls. She nods brusquely at Gabriel.

Morta holds up a necklace. It glistens like possibility. Its light catches the silk, making the threads shine like the nacreous insides of rough sea creatures.

“Gabriel wants to sell his goods here,” Morta says.

Decima nods.

“Oh, yes!” Nona cries, voice clear and soothing.  “They are magical! Perfect for us!”

“We will take all four on commission. I guarantee you a good price. Return here at this hour in two days’ time with more. We take sixty percent, but you’ll be happy with what you get.”

Looking into her bottomless onyx eyes, Gabriel nods. It is odd for him, who has always controlled fate, to feel someone else take the helm. It makes him feel uneasy, as if the shop were swaying. For the first time in his life, a twinge of something tugs at the place where his heart should be. He does not recognize the pull as fear. The room seems dimmer; he doesn’t know it is the shadow of mortality. He’s not cold, has never been cold, but he shivers; he doesn’t suspect it is the premonition of endings.

Chapter 36

Gabriel

San Francisco — 1982

Dreams

Gabriel rarely sleeps, but after meeting the sisters, he feels exhausted. He has never felt fatigue before; it feels weak; it feels fragile; if he but knew, it feels human.  He tries to fight the sensation, opening eyes wide against the darkness, but he cannot. He falls onto his bed, tumbling into slumber, and he dreams. He has never dreamed before, never traveled to the other worlds that lie behind closed eyes and wait for open minds. His dreams are inhabited by strange creatures with open throats and reaching arms. He does not realize that they are his orchids grown large, pollinating his dreams, reaching aerial roots into his being, tapping his soul for fertile soil. They loom enormous, hungry with open spotted mouths and hairy tongues. He is both attracted and repelled. Drawn to them but cursed with the knowledge that they offer nothing but empty promises. Ash blows through the sky. He hears a man scream and a woman shriek. He has never heard the voices before but somehow, they are familiar. Gabriel wakes. The room is silent, but in his head cries echo from an unknown past.

“Dreams can take you like that,” says Ryo, “echoing inside your head, making you remember things that never happened.” But, as usual, Gabriel cannot hear him. It’s one of the drawbacks to being dead: so few can hear the frequency of death. Not that Ryo talks to many people. The dead are different from you and I. The dead are single minded. They are only an intention: a revenge, a desire, or a need to finish things left undone.

Chapter 37

River

San Francisco — 1983

Bert’s

It’s foggy, as usual. River, damp to his bones, pads dark streets, trailing Gabriel. Gabriel rounds a corner. River runs to the curve, but Gabriel is gone, vanished as though he had never been. River stands under the hazy streetlights. The moon is visible only as an obscure round glow behind the mist. Somewhere along the coast a howl ascends skyward like a lost soul. River shivers. It’s 2:00 am. He’s tired. Tired of pursuit and tired of desire. Tired of getting up early to be at Jo-Jo’s after a long night of wandering. Tired of chasing Gabriel. Tired of not knowing why.

Across the street, Bert’s coffee shop glows orange and warm. River enters, leaving Huck circling outside. He slides onto a stool at the counter. The stools are intense orange and pink vinyl. The light is harsh and unfriendly. A mirror feathered with gold veins lines the walls. The place is nearly empty.

At the end of the counter slouches an old man, toothless and gray-bearded. River can smell him. He reeks of stale wine, urine, and disappointment. His gnarled, veined hands grasp a heavy, white coffee cup, as if for warmth.  The nails on his right hand are long and filthy. An empty cardboard six-pack wine carrier stands beside his feet. In a far booth sit two policemen, coffee and two donuts shiny with glaze and sugar between them.

“Can I help you?”

River looks up into a pale heart-shaped face, delicate as an elf. Huge brown eyes under reddish brown bangs glance back, topped by a frilly white cap. Full lips smile, dimples indenting her cheeks; the left one is dotted with a chocolate mole. Over the breast of her starched uniform, blue as a robin egg, is a badge. ‘Pamela.’

“I’ll have a coffee… uh… do you like Pam, or Pamela?”

Pam gives him a close-lipped smile, “Either is fine.”

“Pamela then, it suits you. I’m River.” He holds out his hand. Pam inclines her head but does not take it. She puts down a heavy white China cup and saucer and fills it with coffee. She is slender as a dancer. Although she looks delicate, River senses strength. Her calf muscles bulge hard and firm.

“Cream, sugar?”

“No, black is good. It’s cold out there. This will warm me up.”

Pam grins again. “The apple pie is really good. Warm, too.”

“Okay,” River says. He doesn’t want pie, but he wants to talk to Pamela. He wants to keep her near. She returns with the pie.

“I’m guessing you don’t want à la mode?” she says.

River tries to think of something clever to say, something that will make her laugh, anything to keep her there for another minute.

“No, à la mode.”

Pam turns toward the kitchen.

“Uh, maybe I will have something else though.… Could I see a menu?”

“Sure,” Pam reaches into her pocket and slides something, probably mints or gum, River supposes, into her mouth. She walks to the register, returning with a large, garish laminated menu full of shiny pictures of food. It makes River feel slightly nauseous. Pam bends down and lifts a bottle filled with deep red liquid from behind the counter. She takes a long swig, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. It could be grape juice. It might be wine.

“Pomegranate juice,” she says. “It’s really good for you. Full of antioxidants.” The tip of a pink tongue peeks out and circles her lips. River swallows. Pam turns toward the kitchen.

“Hey,” River says. “You know, I’m hungrier than I thought I was… Could you, uh, do you have anything you’d recommend?”

Pam smiles, she has perfect, straight white teeth. “Well,” she says, “It depends what you like. I’d go for the steak, very rare.”

River is surprised. He’d have pegged her for a vegan.

“Uh… sure sounds great.  I don’t suppose you want to have one, too? On me, of course.”

Pam laughs. “I’m working,” she says. “We can’t have dinner on duty… but thank you. That’s very thoughtful. Would you like mashed potato or fries with that?”

River doesn’t want either. “Uh… what do you recom…” River stops. Asking for a recommendation on what kind of potato he wants sounds wimpy. “Mashed.”

“Butter and sour cream?”

“The works.”

She walks to the counter. “Steak, rare and bloody,” she calls.

River stares at his apple pie. The cooling brown sugar reminds him of the jelly fungus that grows on the redwoods after rain. He moves it around his plate.

Pam returns with a charred steak, greasy blood congealing around its corners. The potato rises before River like a solid, dirty cloud.

“Ya know,” River says as Pamela turns away. “I think I’d like to start with some soup.”

“Wow,” she laughs. “You really are hungry! Minestrone, chicken noodle or clam chowder?”

“Minestrone.”

River frantically wonders how to dispose of some food. He 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.  River inhales sharply. He thinks he might have ceased breathing. He thinks time may have stopped. Pam’s eyes widen. They stare at each other wordlessly.

River leaps up. Grabbing as many napkins as he can, he races around the counter and begins frantically mopping at the oily auburn waterfall seeping across the linoleum floor.

There is silence.  River scoops up the warm moist chunks of soup. He fervently hopes he will not throw up. After what seems like an eternity, he hears a snort.

He turns. Pam is bent, almost doubled over, laughing.

When he leaves Bert’s in the wee hours before first light, River feels extremely foolish, but warmer and happier than he can remember. Huck lands on his shoulder, squawking loudly. He complains noisily the entire walk home.


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

NEXT WEEK: Gabriel is searching for the shop that only appears at night. Passers-by and store owners watch him: he makes them uneasy. He is an absence, a rip in the sky, a man-shaped hole in the afternoon. 

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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *