Gods and Monsters Installment 4: Club Vamp

Reading Time: 5 minutes

THE STORY TO NOW: Gabriel, a vampire hybrid, has a supernatural talent for fixing broken objects, although the refurbished items are cursed. River, the boy who discovered Gabriel and is forever haunted by the image of a silent white baby cradled in the arms of a charred body, has a rare talent for healing animals.
Read last week’s installment hereSee all installments here.

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

Chapter: 8

Gabriel

 San Francisco — 1986

The Tenderloin

Gabriel hitches his way to San Francisco. Truckers desperate for company, or lonely men drawn by his shining beauty, pull over and throw their doors open wide. But, after only a few miles, they turn off into small towns, muttering about relatives to visit or business to attend to. Some wait in roadside diners for hours before sneaking back to their cars. They take small dirt roads, adding days to their trip, in order to avoid Gabriel’s bloodless presence and bottomless eyes.

Gabriel arrives in San Francisco at dusk. He’s dropped off in the Tenderloin by a man desperate to be rid of him. Gabriel’s presence in his car is like the scent of mortality. In the twilight, large red and blue neon breasts flash from dirty bars, igniting the night. Giant muscled men guard dark, curtained doorways.

The Tenderloin has always been a rough neighborhood, hot with neon and prostitutes. It gets its name from police captain, Alexander S. Williams, who said, “On a policeman’s salary, I can only afford chuck steak. But after transfer here, I make so much in bribes, I eat tenderloin every night.”

Most of the buildings contain single-occupancy hotels and studio apartments. After the Vietnam War, refugees from Southeast Asia; Chinese from Vietnam, Khmer from Cambodia, and Hmong from Laos moved in. Studio apartments became vertical villages, overflowing with entire extended families.  Asian restaurants, Vietnamese sandwich shops, and ethnic grocery stores blossomed. But the strip clubs remained.

Gabriel, of course, knows nothing of this. If he had, he wouldn’t have cared. He stands beneath the yellow and red glow of “Club Vamp” lit like a Halloween tree.

Frankie, Club Vamp’s manager, is in a hole. His current bouncer, Lou, has just staggered off the job. Lou had gotten soused and punched out a patron who’d been making eyes at a waitress that Lou fancied.

Despite Gabriel’s spare frame, despite the fact that Gabriel has no resume, no work history, not even an address or a telephone number, Frankie hires him on the spot. Gabriel doesn’t look like someone who would ever get drunk or lose his head over a girl. He doesn’t look like a fighter. Nor does he look like a bouncer. He is lean and esthetic. Yet, despite his leanness, Gabriel radiates menace. Frankie thinks this is good. It’s not. Prospective clients, looking into Gabriel’s fathomless indigo eyes bring no trouble… and no business. They skirt the doorway of the Vamp, trying to avoid Gabriel’s gaze.

Frankie’s in a bind. He doesn’t want to lose business, nor does he fancy firing Gabriel.  He fears the space that seems to fall away into forever behind those eyes.

One night, a D.J. doesn’t show.

“Hey,” says Frankie smiling, his eyes moving side to side searching for escape.  “How’d you like to try your hand at D.J.-ing tonight?”

He reaches up to pat Gabriel on the back but stops. His hand remains flat in space as if he’s miming a wall.

He knows putting Gabriel in the booth is a stupid thing to do. He knows that if Gabriel breaks his equipment he can’t afford to buy more, but he must, if only for a moment, get away from those bottomless eyes.

It turns out to be a perfect solution. Behind the glass, Gabriel’s no more visible than a dream. And Gabriel spins disks as naturally as breath. In fact, under Gabriel’s fingers, the ancient stereo that has always skipped and sputtered skims smooth as a bird over water.  The Vamp is loud, and its patron’s drunk, so perhaps it’s not surprising that no one realizes that the songs are all slightly slow. The customers don’t connect the melodies that begin to haunt their dreams with the background noise that accompanies their nightly binges. Pop tunes so distorted by tempo, so twisted by harmonics as to be unrecognizable. They are the soundtrack to nightmare.

Chapter: 9

River

Healdsburg — 1976

Ebony Angel

Sometimes River finds a baby squirrel, possum, or crow that he nurtures. Some of the babies live, most don’t. River releases the survivors into the woods. One of the crows, though fully fledged, refuses to leave. He returns each night to River’s window, pecking on the glass and crowing loudly until River lets him in. When River sleeps, the crow rests on his head. River is awakened by needle claws digging into his head, dark green and white guano oozing thickly down his face. Cursing softly, River lines a cardboard box with twigs, hair from his comb, and old socks, and sets it on the window ledge. River names the crow Huck.

Now when River wanders the woods, looking for mushrooms or animals, Huck flies above him or perches on his shoulder. They are constant companions. In fact, Huck is River’s only companion. River has no friends and rarely dates, although due to a detachment alluring as the memory of a lover’s embrace, he’s desired. He is unaware of how many girls watch him, how many dreams he has starred in, or how many hearts he has broken.

Huck often follows River to school or work, flying low, searching the ground for food and shiny objects. Huck is particularly fond of silver — silver coins, silver wrappers, even the tiny silver minnows sold at Chip & Bill’s Bait & Tackle. Sometimes they leap from a careless fisherman’s pail and lie twisting on the ground like fractured sunbeams, beckoning to Huck.

River buries the fish in the garden, letting their frail bones nourish his vegetables. That year, the marigolds that River plants in between his crops to ward off pests and which have always blossomed large and orange as a setting sun, have a silvery gleam to them. His green summer squash grow bigger than ever, glinting like stars in a moonless night. The squash are delicious, even raw, and melt like candy in River’s mouth. They’re so sweet that Alma, who’s begun to avoid the kitchen, makes a soup from the last of them, but when cooked, they turn bitter and tough, tasting of vinegar and resentment.

Huck also scavenges at school. Many a misplaced ring or dropped coin ends up tucked into the nest box. River always tries to return the jewelry, which gains him even more secret admirers. His brooding good looks, strength, and faraway air have always made girls sigh. And when River, Huck perched on his shoulder like a noisy, ebony angel, presses a missing earring or lost necklace into outstretched hands, the girls are spellbound. More than one keeps a secretly snapped photo of River beside her bed.  Huck objects to the division of his treasures by cawing and hopping about, flapping his glossy wings in disgust.

“I know, I know boy, you think ‘finders’ keepers,’ but trust me, you’ll get more treats out of the girls if you give them jewelry.”

And it’s true. Many a girl happily divides her lunch with Huck in hopes of garnering favor with his master. River, to make amends for stealing Huck’s stolen treasures, lets Huck keep his wrappers and coins. Sometimes he even contributes a stray dime to Huck’s hoard.


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

 

NEXT WEEK:  “His spinal column is completely shattered. His EEG is flat. No brain activity at all.” “Wait,” Kristjan cries, “that’s not true. I can think. I can talk. I’m fine!” But the words might as well be echoes in the wind.

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.