Gods and Monsters Installment 15: The Dog Star

Reading Time: 9 minutes

THE STORY TO NOW: In San Francisco in the 1980’s, Gabriel, a hybrid between human and vampire, has the ability to make vampires forget time and stay up till dawn. When they turn to dust in the sunlight, he makes jewelry out of the rainbow crystal teeth that are all that remain. He sells these in a shop run by the three Fates.

River, who has a supernatural gift for baking sweets that cause happiness, and his crow Huck, have followed Gabriel to San Francisco. In a 24 hour diner, River falls in love with a red-haired waitress named Pam.

In the following weeks, San Francisco is rocked by a series of killings that seem to target gay men. The men have all had their blood drained from their bodies. The newspapers talk of vampires.
Read last week’s installment hereSee all installments here. Read the next installment here.

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

PART II

Discovery: Jim

“I believe myth is more potent than history… And… that love is stronger than death.”– Robert Fulghum 

Chapter 44

Jim

Ray Brook, New York — 1980 – 1983

Ancient History

My dad was a policeman, and my older brother Eddie was planning to be one. Mom and Dad were so proud. Eddie played football in high school. He was a halfback, married his high school sweetheart, and went to Santa Rosa State. I think he coached football in college, but by then, I was already out of touch. He was going to join the force after school. I don’t know if he ever did. We’ve been out of touch for a long, long time.

Let’s get something straight: I’m not. And I come from the kind of family that’s a whole lot happier seeing their son cradling a gun than another man. Funny how you’re a paragon if you kill a man, but a pariah if you love one.

I was born different. I never fit. I tried—though they might tell you a different story—I grew up in Healdsburg, a small town about two hours north of the city. It’s got a population of about 11,000 but it seemed even smaller. Small-town minds. Small-town interests. Small-town girls and small-town boys. The only thing I liked in school was the drama club. What a shock, a fag who likes theater.

I didn’t admit that I was gay, not even to myself. Especially to myself. But deep inside, I knew. I had my first crush in high school… and it wasn’t on a girl. I still remember his name: River. He was unreachable and distant as the sun. I think the only one he was close to was his pet crow. He was a nice guy as well as being a hunk, which is pretty rare.  He stood up for me. He and his uncle Ryo were the only ones who ever did.

I remember Ryo taking a few of us kids on hikes when I was young—so young that no one had yet scented my differentness.

I got beat up a lot in high school… never was much of a fighter. Now I’m in a different struggle: the battle to be me in this world which fights, spring and fall, summer, and winter, to make me somebody else… anybody else… everybody else.

I left home as soon as I could. There was nothing for me there. I hitched across the country to New York. It was on the road that I had my first man. I liked it. I guess I had always known but tried not to. It’s like not seeing what’s right in front of you because it’s too big, and too scary.

I liked traveling the country. All that space made me feel like maybe, just maybe, there was someplace where I’d belong.

I liked seeing the land where natives roamed and wolves ran free. Sometimes I thought I heard voices in the wind, the voices of the dead, but they didn’t scare me. It was more of a comfort really—the thought that something continues—the hope that what’s gone is not lost. Maybe I should have stayed out there, but I didn’t.

I got to the city, tried some more men. Then I met Kristjan and fell in love. People seem to think that gay men have sex and straight men fall in love… that’s not true.  I’ve had a lot of sex, but only a couple of loves… I think that’s probably true for most. Kristjan was my first. An actor, vibrant, alive, and mine.

I tried some acting too. It was an adventure, stepping into someone else’s personality, trying on a different life. Those were good times. It seemed like anything was possible.

I still dream of Kristjan sometimes. He came from money, old money, from New York or somewhere, but he never mentioned his family, and when I asked, he’d just clam up.

I didn’t blame him; I didn’t talk about my family either. I bet most men of our persuasion and our time have too many memories of rejection to want to recall the past.

I like remembering him, though… tumbling into my ancient Ford. We were like wild creatures, in lust and in love. It was like a fever. The windows of the car clouded with passion thick as a Tule fog.  Afterward, we tried to stretch out in between the seats. It wasn’t a comfortable place to make love, and we had an empty bedroom not even half a block away.

“What got into us?” I laughed.

Kristjan reached over me. I could smell him. I can smell him still. He smelled like longing and memory, like hot chocolate and love. 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.

We joined a theater company, and I met other men. But it’s never the same as your first.

I ran a little wild… did some drugs… lots of drugs, actually. Kristjan and I both did. It was like stepping into a magical kingdom together… nothing will ever be the same again… nothing will ever be as good.… Say what you will, drugs are fun. Only people who never tried them think they’re not. It’s why those anti-drug campaigns never work. Reality sucks.

I’ve had friends who say, “As long as I have books and sex, (or ‘love and wine,’ or ‘music and sex’…) why would I try drugs?  I’m happy. That’s all I need.” And maybe they’re lucky, never knowing what they missed.  I’m fairly content now too… but it doesn’t mean I don’t remember.…

At the beginning, it seemed like doorways into new worlds were opening, the “doors of perception.” You feel like people on the other side are duller, less aware, less open.

The world will never be as simple as it was, how can it? How can you trust that what you see is real after the alterations of acid? How can you hear music in the same way after becoming part of a melody with Mary Jane? How can you not miss the exuberant mind-sharpening acuity of coke or meth?

It’s kinda like climbing a mountain. It starts off like a nice hike; beautiful, new, a time of discovery… then you get too high. The air’s so thin you can’t breathe. And you still have to come down, but now it’s night. Supplies are low. You don’t have any water. That wonderful place you just explored is dark and cold. All the friends you hiked up the mountain with are gone. Some have turned back. Some have fallen into unseen depths below. Those who are still there are fighting over provisions….

Well, one thing led to another. Kristjan and I drifted apart. I lost my love… I lost my way. I was still traveling, but could no longer remember the reason for my journey. I’d had too many confines and boundaries in my youth; now I had too much freedom. Too much freedom and no control. Reach your arms around your back, and right and left eventually touch. Go too far in any direction and you end up in the same place.

I shot some meth, and I shot some skin flicks. They were kind of fun too. Or if they weren’t, I was too fucked up to realize it. I thought I was still having fun, but it was the exhilaration of kayaking a waterfall, almost sure to end in disaster.

One night, we were shooting, both film and meth. We were in the middle of a pretty steamy scene when the door busts open. Large men in blue uniforms flow in like a river. Funny, I still remember that what struck me most was how clothed they seemed. Man, I was so out of it, I laughed and laughed at the contrast of starched uniform and bare flesh, until they grabbed my arms, pinned my hands behind my back, and I felt the cold metal bracelets bite into my wrists. I’ve never liked being cuffed. Not sure if it was the confines or the cold, but it woke me up fast.

They pulled me into court, but I got lucky. Maybe because it was my first offense, maybe it was because the prisons were overflowing but, for whatever reason… I got off with three years of parole. All I had to do was have monthly meetings with a parole officer.

I went downtown for my first meeting, my only meeting, as it was to happen. It was in a miserable part of town, a crappy office building, dirty, cracked floors, tired ugly people drinking rot-gut coffee out of Styrofoam cups. Broken light fixtures with fluorescent bulbs dangled from the ceiling. The yellow light made everyone look jaundiced. If ever a place needed a gay decorator, it was this one.

My parole officer took my name and vitals and told me to report back once a month; tell him how I was progressing with work and stuff. That was it: pretty painless, really.

The pain came a week later. I got the flu. I lay in bed totally drained. Having a long flu is like a relationship: it starts with fever, proceeds to nausea, and ends in exhaustion… and in my case, a rash.

Illness is the most intense bond, the harshest mistress. When we fall in love, we think it will last forever, but those are only words. Relationships fade. Pain, we obey. It is real. It consumes you.

My rash was ugly. My back and legs looked like a pepperoni pizza. Big, meaty, raised, red-purple lumps. Turned out to be Kaposi’s sarcoma, a kind of skin cancer. It’s not AIDS. But usually, it means you have AIDS, and I did. At the time, it seemed like a death sentence.

I thought that death was something that happened to other people. Surely, I wouldn’t do something so ordinary, so predictable.

I had radiation. It killed the virus… or banished it for a while… but it almost killed me too, the treatment worse than the disease.

It was odd to be sick so suddenly, to be young and strong one week, and drained the next. I felt chained to a stranger who didn’t speak my language. My body had become an alien. Illness is an isolated country.

Now they have pretty good drugs to treat AIDS. They call it a cocktail, which I find kinda funny. Of course, there’s still no cure… but I got my life back. I don’t look like a monster anymore and I feel pretty good. I think that taste of mortality actually might have been a good thing in the long run, but not at first. At first, it just made me pissed off. I felt cheated. I’d been living the high life, literally, and I wanted to continue. I didn’t care that I was on parole. I didn’t care about anything.

I got reckless, did some stuff I shouldn’t have, and got caught. Nothing big. I was high, as usual. I broke into a house to get some cash and I had a gun. I never would have shot anyone. I’m not even sure if the gun was loaded. I sure was, though.

Well, that was it. Now I had a drug conviction and an arrest for possession of a firearm while on parole.

I got sent to the Adirondack Correctional Facility in Ray Brook, New York, not far from Lake Placid. The ACF had started out as a treatment center for TB patients and then became a rehab center for female druggies. Most drug rehab centers are really just prisons with sweeter names, so after a few years they dropped the pretense, changing, as most things in my life seem to, from health to punishment.

Funny how they call it doin’ time, when in reality you pretty much just sit there. The time does you. I think having AIDS probably helped me survive prison. No one wanted me to be his bitch, that’s for sure.

I worked in the shop, welding license plates and other shit. And I read. A lot. Others pumped iron. I pumped books. I read about woods and trees and night skies, all those things I had run from and was now denied. The wild places in my heart were starving. I fed them words.

Sometimes, from my prison cell, when the time of year was right and the night was clear, I could see Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Many ancient cultures thought of it as a dog, or a wolf. For me, it was a beacon of hope between the bars. Just one light in the night sky, so bright it looked like a searchlight.

Seems like I went to bed twenty-one and woke up thirty-eight.

I never got in touch with the family. What was the point? They’d always been so proud of Eddie and so ashamed of me, and that was even before I came out of the closet and went into prison. I don’t even know if they’re still alive.


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

NEXT WEEK: My back pocket rustled like old leaves. My hands closed around an envelope. On it was my name, Jim Jackson. And inside was one thousand dollars, and something else. It was a silver coin rimmed with gold. On it were raised symbols that looked ancient. In the palm of my hand, it was warm as a tiny flame. 

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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