Gods and Monsters Installment 13: Consequences

Reading Time: 8 minutes

LAST WEEK: Gabriel begins to sell his necklaces in the Fates’ occult shop, which only appears at night. Rivers meets a beautiful red-haired waitress named Pamela.
Read last week’s installment hereSee all installments here. Read the next installment here.

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

Chapter 38

River

San Francisco — 1983

The Food of Love

The next morning at 2:00 am, River walks down Market Street, shoulders hunched against the ubiquitous fog. He’s left Huck home with some walnuts to occupy him. He carries with him a stack of chocolate chip cookies, a banana nut muffin, and four chewy, chewy brownies. These cookies have caused twelve marriages and stuffed the slumber of children with dreams so real, they wonder forever after if they had been true. These muffins have filled the residents of an entire Vietnamese village (now residing in apartments # 320 and # 340, Turk St.) with buttery forgiveness. Their ripe flavor caused the villagers to forget the disputed ownership of four rice paddies that has lasted more than a quarter century. They had reunited in a creamy outpouring of unity, bananas, and enough calories to maintain the village through a hard winter. The brownies were mixed, as always, with perfect proportions of chocolate and egg, a half teaspoonful of vanilla and hope thrown in for good measure. Just the smell can make children follow River down the street, although now at 2:00 am, there are no children about.

The police still on duty are sleeping in their cars or hunching over coffee in all-night dives. Even the homeless are asleep, huddled in doorways under blankets of cardboard and crumbled newspaper. But as River walks past, the scent of the sweets weaves into their dreams and makes them smile. Some dream of a time they’d been full of hope. Others live for a while inside illusions, as knights on horseback, or sprouting vast shimmering wings to rise above the city and soar.

River steps into Bert’s, pushing the door ajar with his right shoulder. He searches the almost empty coffee shop. There sits the old man from the night before, huddled over a coffee, a six-pack wine carrier at his feet.  In a distant corner, four kids are laughing and talking over burgers and fries.

High school kids, River thinks. Maybe college. Once you round thirty, everyone starts to look young.

Two police sit in a far booth; one a few years older than River, the other a few years younger. Two donuts, bright with pink icing and dotted with what looks like confetti, lie between them. They each have a coffee. River doesn’t know if they are the same two that had been sitting there the night before. Maybe they never left?

Pamela’s not there. His blood sugar drops in disappointment. Suddenly he is very, very tired. The old man surveys him, his eyes sharp with emptiness.  River sighs.

“You hungry?” River asks.

The old man doesn’t answer. He just eyes River’s plate with bright eyes that remind him of Huck. River walks over and sits next to the old man. He lays the plate heavily on the table.

“Here,” he says. “You might as well eat them. I brought them for someone who doesn’t seem to be here.” River peels off the saran wrap. “I’d recommend the brownies for you…although the cookies have been known to provide powerful dreams.”

The old man reaches out for a brownie. He bites into one, mushing it surprisingly neatly between toothless gums. He swallows. His face splits into a wide, brown grin. “Mighty fine,” he says. “Makes me remember… but seems you know that. Who’d you bring these for?”

“Uh…Well, there was a waitress here last night…. I made a bit of a mess…”

“Pam?” the old man asks.

“Yes,” says River. “Do you know her?” He realizes how desperate he must be, to hope for an introduction from this source… but…

“What’s with the food, buddy?” River looks up into the pink meaty face of the older policemen. The other is snoozing in the booth.

“I, uh… I’m a baker.” River says. “I spilled some soup here last night and I was sort of bringing them by as an apology.”

“An apology to this guy?” asks the cop. River looks at his badge. ‘Jackson,’ it reads.

“Would you like to try a brownie, or a muffin, officer?” River smiles in what he hopes is disarming fashion.  Officer Jackson squints at him. He takes the muffin, biting into the moist dome. A dreamy look spreads across his face.

“Thanks,” he says, gazing at River.

Like a sleepwalker, he stumbles back to his booth, muffin in hand. He pulls a notepad and begins writing a letter to his younger brother, Jim, whom he has not spoken to in over nineteen years.

The old man chuckles softly, “Well, you are a dark horse, aren’t you? Don’t know your recipe, young fella, but I’d like to. Believe me, I’d like to.

“I believe this young man has brought you a present, Pam.”

River turns to see Pamela smiling at him. Blood rushes to his face.

“I— I brought you these. Sort of an apology for last night.”

“That is so sweet of you.” Pamela smiles her closed mouth grin. She and the old man look at each other across River’s head.

“Please, try one,” River says. “I think you’ll enjoy the cookies.”

Pam turns away, grabbing a coffee pot and filling the old man’s cup.

“Do you two know each other?” she asks.

River shook his head. “I’m River.”

“River, Thanatos. Thanatos, River,” Pam says.

“Thanatos? That’s an unusual name.”

Thanatos nods.  “It’s Greek. My mom had a thing for Greek stuff. Big on mythology, she was. I’m just lucky she didn’t name me Chaos.” He chuckles, bends over, and lifts the six-pack onto the counter. It’s full of small glass bottles, each filled with rich red liquid. Pamela reaches for a bottle greedily.

“Pomegranate juice. Thanatos delivers it daily.” She uncaps a bottle and swigs thirstily.

“Uh… don’t you want a cookie?” River asks. He feels like an idiot.

“No…” Pam dimples. “They smell marvelous, but I’m on a diet…”

River raises one eyebrow. “You don’t need to lose weight, you know.”

Pamela smiles. “Oh, I know that. I’m not trying to lose weight, it’s to detox.”

“Oh.” River wishes he didn’t feel so disappointed.

“Yep, our Pam’s dedicated. A really healthy gal,” Thanatos laughs. “Fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she lived forever at this rate.” He winks at her. “But I can’t sit here all morning. Time’s a-wastin’ and I got to deliver more of these. A six-pack ought to keep you till tomorrow, right Pam?”

She nods. Thanatos reaches down, hoisting two more six-packs River hadn’t noticed from beneath the table. Slowly he unfurls his body from the counter. He is taller than River had supposed, at least 6’5”, all bone and sinew. He inclines his head.

“Nice ta meet ‘cha,” he says to River. “See you tomorrow, Pam.” Thanatos pushes the door open with his shoulder and shuffles into the night.

“When do you get off, Pamela?” River asks.

“Four thirty AM, then I just go home and sleep like the dead.”

“Don’t you have a day off?”

“Well, sometimes I take Sunday; sometimes Wednesday… They let me be pretty flexible here.”

“Uh… would you … what do you do on your day off?”

Pamela laughs. “Mostly I sleep. It’s kind of impossible to shift your sleeping patterns in just a day or two. I don’t mind. I’ve sort of gotten used to the night. It’s more forgiving.”

River’s eyes narrow, considering. “I guess it depends on what you need to forgive?”

Pamela smiles a bit sadly. “Less all the time, I hope.”

River nods. “Well,” he says. “I’m a baker. I work just ‘round the corner more or less, in Chinatown, just off Columbus. If you ever decide to go off your diet and want a pastry, drop by. In fact, if I know you’re coming, I’ll bake organic-bran-wheat-grass muffins… with pomegranate.”

Pamela laughs. “I’ll remember.”

Chapter 39

Gabriel

San Francisco — 1983

Consequences

Gabriel is making his second delivery. He is early and walks right by The Mystic Eye without seeing it. Odd, since he had imagined that the store would be more, not less, evident in daylight. He retraces his steps a dozen times, pacing block, repeating his route, but try as he might, he can’t find the arcane doorway of The Mystic Eye.

Gabriel wanders by the next day at noon, once again missing it. He begins frequenting the neighborhood, searching for the shop that only appears at night.

Passers-by and store owners watch Gabriel, nonchalant as a cat, prowling the neighborhood. He makes them uneasy. He is an absence, a rip in the sky, a man-shaped dark hole in the afternoon.

Diners get food poisoning, even at the finest of restaurants.

Shoppers discover that every pair of jeans they try is too tight, their hips have expanded, their stomachs have swollen like beach balls.

In The Sublime Stylist, colorists add too much ammonia. Small chunks of client’s hair fall out, littering the checkered linoleum like miniature pelts. Round, bald spots dot customer’s scalps like small bomb craters.

Gym rats pumping iron lose their grip. Two-hundred-pound weights drop on chests and faces like fallen dreams.

The first ambulance enroute to Gay’s Gym springs leaks in all four brand-new tires. The second ambulance’s engine overheats even though the day is cool and cloudy, even though the driver has just filled the radiator with coolant. When the third ambulance finally reaches the doctors’ office, crushed athletes in tow, the doors are shut tight. The doctors are at home in bed, suffering from food poisoning.

Rumors spread like influenza. Evangelists bellow from their pulpits that the Castro is cursed. The area’s bad luck is a crystal-clear sign of the Lord’s disfavor. God hates gays. They ignore the fact that the entire two-mile route, down Leavenworth and Market, where Gabriel roams suffers similar misfortunes.

All along those streets, houseplants freeze even on the warmest days.

Eucalyptus trees that have stood tall and strong since 1923 develop heart rot. Their branches crash onto the pavement, shattering into pointed stakes that burrow into the flesh of anyone who tries to remove them.

Mighty Oaks that withstood the great quake of 1906 with nary a crack develop deep fissures in every limb.

Thirsty Ficus trees send wandering roots into the water mains, breaking the pipes. Geysers shoot up from the earth, drenching the hard pavement while the city suffers drought.

The once shiny leaves of the Ficus become infected with cankers and blight. They fall onto Leavenworth, spotting the sidewalk with a smutty black fungus that clings to shoes and invades nasal passages.

Children kept home from school develop asthma. Inhalers vanish from pharmacies more quickly than mist dissolving over the bay. Frantic mothers despair and turn to drink.

Ministers, however, still focus on the Castro. Preachers grow so incensed that many have apoplectic fits, tumbling from stages and podiums like overturned idols.

Peter Popoff, a famous born-again minister, explodes on camera, plastering the cameraman and assistant minister in fat, flesh, and bodily fluids. The assistant minister and cameraman immediately convert to Islam and depart for Iran.

Despite chanting “There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah” in Farsi one hundred and ten times in rapid succession, they are immediately beheaded. This is due to their poor pronunciation rather than their religion or nationality. The executions are performed by grammar extremists at Tehran University.

The decapitations result in a surge of studiousness and a boost in test scores from all students of language and literature. Every cloud has a silver lining.

After three heart attacks, five strokes, seven apoplectic fits, the explosive televised departure of Popoff and the dual decapitation, the diminished evangelist population of San Francisco grows hushed.

Gabriel continues searching for The Mystic Eye. But, unless it is his appointed day and anointed hour, he never finds it.


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

NEXT WEEK: The bodies of three men, discovered this morning in San Francisco’s Castro District, were so gruesome that police officers sent to the scene are being offered counseling. It appeared to be some sort of ritualistic murder. We advise caution when leaving clubs and restaurants late at night, particularly in the Castro district.

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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