Gods and Monsters Installment 14: Queer Beer

Reading Time: 9 minutes

LAST WEEK: Gabriel sells his necklaces in the Fates’ occult shop. River falls hard for 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 40

River

San Francisco — 1983

Jiangshi

River is at Jo-Jo’s crafting lemon squares, which he has added to the menu. He has the door propped open with an orange crate so Huck can fly in or out as he pleases.

Wang Lijun is mopping the countertops, glowering at Huck like an angry bulldog. A single eyebrow forms a solid bridge above his nose. He has hungry, gaunt cheeks, sleek black hair, and low-set, small ears with hairy lobes. River tries not to feel dislike. He licks the frosting, which is mostly whipped cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar. He hopes to ingest empathy. He wants to feel friendship. But all he tastes is the too-cloying richness of sugar and cream. He feels slightly ill.

Maybe, he thinks, if I add more lemon, a pinch of zest to make the sweetness palatable… But he fears the icing may be beyond redemption.

Jo-Jo stumbles down the stairs into the kitchen waving a newspaper. “There is a jiangshi loose in city,” he cries. “Already three dead in the Castro!”

“Whoa… slow down there Jo-Jo,” River says. “What is a jang-shee?”

“A hopping… what you call a vampire.”

“Hopping?” River lifts one leg and hops toward Jo-Jo, who laughs.

“No, hopping, like stiff.” Jo-Jo tightens his body and staggers towards River, arms outstretched, mouth agape.

“Oh…” says River. “Like rigor mortus?”

Jo-Jo nods. “In the day, jiangshi rests in coffin or hides in dark. At night, it kills living. It drinks blood, absorbs qi.”

“Chee?”

“Qi—life essence. Hopping need live blood.”

River reaches for the paper. It is the Sing Tao Daily. It is written in Mandarin.

“What does it say?”

“Three men found. They gay. Wear leather. All blood gone.”

River thoughtfully flattens the yellow batter into the dish. He sprinkles powdered sugar over it, deciding to leave off the frosting.

“These need to bake for thirty or thirty-five minutes,” he says. “If I’m not back by then, take them out for me, please.”

He extends his hand to Huck, who hops onto his shoulder, then runs up the stairs, two at a time, into the day-lit street. One block over, River sees a newspaper stand.

“Hey Jiang,” River says.

“Mr. River,” replies the newsman. “Busy day, hopping busy,” he cackles, opening his mouth wide in a semi-toothed grin. He is a small wiry man, face wrinkled as an old apple.

“Here,” River hands Jiang a napkin filled with five-spiced walnuts.

Jiang smiles and bows. “You make me remember home,” he says.

River studies the papers. The San Francisco Chronicle.

Grim scene:

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 was just unbelievable,’ said Officer Douglas, chief investigator for SFPD homicide. ‘These three men were obviously murdered by the same person. 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. 

Officers are questioning suspects.

Next to The Chronicle was The San Francisco Examiner. An extremely disgruntled eagle, wings spread, holding an American flag, shield, and arrows in each claw topped its masthead.

“Well, I guess you’d look pissed off, too, if you had to fly around lugging that, eh Huck?” River asks. Huck squawks.

Three Murdered in Ritualistic Killings

Three men, Steven Keller (26), Jack Fielding (24), and Fredrick Rollins (27), were found brutally murdered in the Castro District of San Francisco this morning. 

All had been killed in a similar fashion in what police said appeared to be a ‘ritualistic’ murder. 

All were found near Castro and 18th Streets, an area known for its wild club scene. The men were openly gay and appeared to have been returning home from one of the nearby discos.  Time of death appeared to be about 3:00 am. Police are questioning suspects.

Below these newspapers in bigger, brighter, and bolder headlines, River spots The National Enquirer. Lurid photos of men clad in black leather and chains being attacked by Bella Lugosi smear the front page. “Gay Vampire Loose in Castro” reads the caption.

River purchases all three papers. He reads The National Enquirer first. He can’t help it.

The bodies of three men were found in San Francisco’s notoriously gay night club zone, The Castro. All three were handsome, buff, and wearing black leather. All three had spent the night at The Blow Bar, a noted hook-up spot. All three had two puncture wounds about one and a half inches apart on the left side of their necks. ‘They looked like teeth marks,’ an unidentified source revealed. All had had the blood mysteriously, diabolically, drained from their bodies. All had chain marks clearly visible on their necks. 

Are the chains the missing link? Is this a gay vampire out for blood? Or is this a homophobic bloodsucker on a rampage? Enquiring minds want to know.

River takes the newspapers home. He wants to think. And he wants to forget. He decides to make a flourless chocolate cake for Pamela. He adds eggs, chocolate, sugar, butter, and heavy cream. He dusts it with confectioner’s sugar and a dash of hope, delicate as a dream.

How odd, River thinks, to name a cake after what you don’t put in. You might as well call it a pepperless chocolate cake, or an oreganoless chocolate cake, or a chickenless chocolate cake. Imagine how long menus would be if you named all the dishes for their lack of ingredients. 

He doesn’t really have any hope that Pamela will try his cake, whether it contains flour or not. He crafts his sweets more as a declaration. An edible love letter. A palatable ballad.

Chapter 41

San Francisco — 1983

The Short Happy Night of Bruce Riley

Bruce Riley is twenty-one. He is new to the city and The Castro. He has just arrived from Indiana. He’s beside himself with anticipation. He is ready for sex. He is hoping for love. He is dreaming of romance. He is prepared to open himself to the universe.

His whole life might have been a dress rehearsal for tonight. Tonight, he is dressed to kill. He wears a black leather vest with no shirt; his chest hair has been waxed into a neat triangle below his nipples, which are pierced with silver rings; his wrists are encircled by wide black leather bands, studded with silver; his black leather chaps expose cheeks as white and firm as skinned apples. The ensemble is topped by a sleek leather cap. Actually, the look is slightly passé. The ensemble was all the rage in Indiana, but Indiana is not San Francisco. Nonetheless, Bruce has the youth, the beauty, and the exuberance to pull it off.

The coup de grâce is an exquisite chain, dotted with four amethyst chips that transform daylight to violet. In the center dangles a sharp crystal, a stone icicle that separates the light into rainbows. It’s like a miniature disco ball. He saw it in The Mystic Eye and had to have it. It seemed magical. Like the key to this exciting new world.

Even The Mystic Eye had seemed like a dream. It was such a small shop he could easily have missed it. He could have walked right by, but instead, he had opened the door. Destiny had called and he had answered.

The Mystic Eye was the kind of magical shop that had existed in Bruce’s fantasy world for nearly a decade. Now it is real. Now everything is real. Bruce has lived in a world that would have offered only rejection if he had revealed himself. For twenty-one years he has hidden his truth inside himself.

Bruce’s finely cut face is trimmed by a beard which he hopes will make him look older, more sophisticated. His eyes are a light, clear brown. He is 6’2’’ and beautifully muscled. He strides into the Blow Bar, a god of flesh. He orders bourbon on the rocks and waits. The night is wild and wet. Outside, fog licks its delicate tongue over windows and forms dancing spirits round the lights. Bruce flirts. Bruce dances. He is a butterfly spreading new wings. When Bruce leaves, it is 2 am. He and Robert walk arm in arm into the night. Robert is going to be more than a fling. Bruce knows it. He’s enchanted. He has found a love as permanent and pure as a flawless gem. It will be forever.

The street is cold, but alcohol and lust heat him. Together Robert and Bruce wander toward his new apartment, dreaming of the life to come.

Suddenly, something hard and strong strikes his back, knocking the wind from him, propelling him onto the ground. He thrashes wildly. Two needle sharp spikes pierce his neck. A warm, sensuous peace floods over him. He smiles and despite the beard, looks momentarily like a small happy child.

He’s found the next day, Robert beside him. They are bloodless and pale, locked in each other’s arms, cold and stiff as crystal.

***

Nona’s face puckers. “I don’t like this shade of red,” she says, carefully brushing out the deep crimson tassels that edge the narrow scarves she has just finished weaving.

Morta sighs, snipping the thread. “Like it or not, you will be weaving many of these, I see, all cloths ending with the same fringe, no matter the pattern or design.”

Chapter 42

Gabriel

San Francisco — 1983

Creation

Gabriel is probably the only person in the city who is not following the killings. He spends his days crafting his necklaces and his nights searching for beautiful twilight strangers. His necklaces call out to vampires, sweet as blood, deadly as sunlight. They also call to Gabriel, running through his body like a song. He feels the pull like tides, like wind, like memory.  Sometimes he follows the call. And then some beautiful stranger follows him. But it always ends in dust and ashes. Nothing is as final as the end of immortality.

Gabriel feels no desire to kill: only the need to be near their pale, deadly loveliness. He is drawn to them and they to him as surely, but more fatally, than bee to orchid.

Working in the basement, he is completely absorbed. The act of creation focuses his existence. He is, for a brief moment, wrapped in the cosmos, at one with the universe.

Upstairs, he leaves music on for his orchids. Chopin and Debussy wrap the plants in the music of melancholy and regret. The orchids thrive. They have grown large. They reach over the window like Balinese shadow demons. Winds, felt only by them, make them bob and sway. It’s a mystery how the orchids can attract pollinators in the city, through closed windows, but the sill and floor beneath the flowers are littered with the bodies of insects.

Gabriel doesn’t mind. It is no more of a problem to suck up the fallen bugs than the dust of his prey. Often, he mixes the tiny corpses in with the ash.

Chapter 43

River

San Francisco — 1983

Queer Beer

San Francisco Chronicle

Two new victims found in Castro. Both men, openly homosexual, had spent the night dancing at The Queer Beer. The police are questioning suspects.”

San Francisco Examiner

Two men, Bruce Riley (21), and Robert Parker (23), were found murdered in San Francisco’s Castro District last night, bringing the total number of murders this week to five. The city is in a panic. San Francisco has not experienced this kind of hysteria since The Zodiac Killer terrorized the city in the late 1960’s and early 70’s.

The front page of The National Enquirer has a color shot of a Bela Lugosi look-alike staring into the camera, skin pale, eyes golden, long canines dripping blood. In his arms, he cradles the limp body of a handsome young man, scantily clad in shining black leather. Blood gushes from two holes in the handsome man’s neck.

Vampires in San Francisco!!! reads the headline. River can’t help reaching for the glossy paper.

Funny, he thinks, I can resist junk food. I rarely even eat sweets… but this…

“You want read, you buy,” a sharp voice says. “Oh, it’s you. Hello River, you got five-spice nuts?”

The old Chinese newsman grins. Jiang’s few teeth are worn and brown.

It’s a wonder he can manage those nuts, River thinks, “I don’t have any on me, but I’ll bring some by,” he says. He pulls out his wallet.

“Keep it, keep it,” says the newsman. “You are famous for your nuts.”

River grins. If only Pamela thought so, he thinks. River has taken to waking late. Arriving at Jo-Jo’s around 2:00 pm and baking late into the day and evening. Then he runs home, showers, and gets to Bert’s by 9:00 or 10:00. Pamela’s shift starts at 9:00. River spends most nights there. He has given up following Gabriel and is following his heart instead. Although he always brings a mouth-watering array of sweets, Pamela’s never tempted. Thanatos, who is almost always there, pomegranate juice in tow, is a much more appreciative audience.

“I don’t know what you mix in there, River,” Thanatos says, noisily crunching five-spice walnuts. He crumbles a saltine and offers it to Huck. Huck scoops it up eagerly. Huck has learned to avoid sweets. They never bring him lovely dreams or warm memories, only indigestion and illness. River is grateful. He’s sick of cleaning up crow puke.

“I could swear I flew with Huck last night,” Thanatos says, “my wings enormous and black as his.”

“You know you’re not allowed to have birds in here, River.” River looks up into the pink, meaty, not unfriendly face of Officer Jackson. Jackson’s partner, who seems to spend his entire shift, perhaps his entire life, snoozing over donuts, is camped at their usual table.

“Jackson,” Huck caws.

Officer Jackson steps backward, eyes wide. “Di-did you train him to do that?” he asks in a voice almost as hoarse as Huck’s.

River smiles what he is sure is a shit-eating grin. “Well… Huck’s a smart one. I never know what he’ll come up with.”

“He’s still not allowed…”

“Of course not, Officer—”

“Jackson,” interjects Huck before River can finish.

“Would you like some five-spice nuts? Or maybe Blueberry Delight?”

“Blueberries,” Officer Jackson says. “My mom always loved blueberries. Blueberries and lilacs. We’d always have blueberry pancakes on her birthday and Mother’s Day.”

He takes a slow bite, letting delight dissolve in his mouth.  “I’ve been thinking about my brother, Jim,” he adds. There doesn’t seem to be a connection, but River nods.

“He was always a wild one, Jim was. We haven’t talked for a long time, but…” Jackson’s words melt away like snowfall in June.


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

 

NEXT WEEK: We were like wild creatures, in lust and in love. The windows of the car clouded with passion thick as a Tule fog.  Kristjan reached over me. With one long, extended finger he drew roses and the silhouettes of birds flying skyward onto the perspiring glass. For months afterward, I’d see the ghostly outlines on the window, plastered across the sky like a memory of love. 

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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