Gods and Monsters Installment 5: Hotel Tail Gate

Reading Time: 6 minutes

THE STORY TO NOW: Gabriel, a vampire-human infant, is discovered by a young boy named River and sent to be raised by nuns.  At 18, Gabriel moves to San Francisco and becomes a DJ.  River adopts a pet crow and names him Huck.
Read last week’s installment hereSee all installments here.

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

Chapter: 10

Gabriel

 San Francisco — 1981

The Thirteenth Floor

Gabriel has rented a room in a nearby dive, The Hotel Tailgate. It’s a tall building. It was orange once, but now wears an overcoat of grime. Outside, drunks and beggars harass passers-by, but no one bothers Gabriel. He shines like a cold earth star, beautiful and untouchable.

The Hotel Tailgate rents rooms by the day, week, or month. The manager, Marco, is a large man, dark and hairy. His brows join together in a single line, shading suspicious, tiny, watery eyes. Thick black whorls curl out over the top of his dirty Tee shirt. They twist out of his ears and nose in dark, greasy ringlets.

When a guest is due to check out, Marco sends in a complimentary farewell cocktail. The guests, being patrons of Hotel Tailgate, are never the type to refuse free liquor.

“He must have a touch of generosity in him after all,” they mutter.

“Will wonders never cease,” they say, raising chipped mugs in mock salute. “Free booze from Marco-the-Miser.”

The cocktail is a Hotel Tailgate special, concocted from cheap tequila, lime, syrup, and a pinch of Special K. It’s guaranteed to make for a good night’s sleep and more, resulting in a very late checkout and an extra day, week, or month of rent owed, depending on the lease agreement. Arguments and protests are met with rock hard retorts from Marco’s fist. As, post-cocktail, even the most athletic guests, are not in prime fighting shape, the fee is usually paid.

Gabriel’s apartment is a single. He shares a bathroom with his next-door neighbor, Kristjan, and with old Mr. Flannery, who lives in the apartment across the way.

Gabriel lives on the thirteenth floor, ascended by means of a creaky elevator which has always complained as antique pulleys hoist and lower. But after Gabriel moves in, the elevator glides up and down on soundless cat paws. It only gets stuck once, when Mr. Flannery, who has lived in the building for almost forty years, long before it was disreputable, is traveling up to his apartment. He is trapped for almost an hour and never completely recovers. After that harrowing excursion, he refuses to get back in the elevator. Attempting to navigate the dank stairway that leads to the street, he trips and breaks his hip. Unable to care for himself and having no family willing or able to take him in, he is sent to a state facility and soon sinks into unconsciousness. A mysterious windfall enables him to be moved to a private clinic, The Quiet Dignity Coma Care Residential Facility, a discrete hospice in one of San Francisco’s best residential neighborhoods.

Gabriel’s other bathroom-mate, Kristjan, had been an actor in light years past. He’d been handsome and vital, but that was long, long ago. Now he is a broken creature, pale and sad.

A week after Gabriel moves in, Kristjan leaps from the window. He hangs in the air, twisting for a moment like an autumn leaf, before falling thirteen floors to the hard, hard pavement. Miraculously, he survives. Incredibly, he is unhurt.

He awakes in the hospital. Doctors and nurses are bending over him in uniforms, green as the pistachio ice cream he loved when he was young. They are wearing caps, faces covered by masks.

They must have put some drops in my eyes, thinks Kristjan. He cannot close the lids. It’s probably some procedure to check my reflexes.  

“I feel ok,” he says. They have him restrained, bound with cloth so soft he cannot even feel the ties.

“I’m fine,” he says again. How typical of them to ignore me, as if being a doctor makes you God.

“Really”, he says, “you can let me up.”

He is beginning to wonder if they’ll let him go or insist on holding him for psychiatric tests. Pinching and probing his mind as they are pinching and probing his body, even though, due to the numbing agents coursing through his system, he cannot feel it.

“His spinal column is completely shattered,” says one of the pistachio-suited men. “He’ll never move again.”

“Well, it doesn’t much matter,” says another. “His EEG is flat. No brain activity at all. Unless there’s a miracle. . . ”

“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. The doctors turn to go. Kristjan tries to turn his head to watch them, but he can’t.

“Wait,” he screams. “I’m in here. Come back!”

***

The three sisters sit in the small shop where it is always dusk.  Morta tightens her lips, thin as a seam. Her iron-grey hair is twisted into a tight knot that rests on the nape of her neck. Her dress lacks ornament of any kind. She wears a carpenter’s apron, the leather pockets brimming over with scissors. There are fine gold manicurists’ clippers; others sport black handles and silver blades strong as knives. There are few children’s toys with dull edges and plastic handles, colorful as jellybeans. From a chain around her waist, dangles a much-used seamstress’ shears, sharp as razors, ready for use.

Decima sits at a table; her faded jeans are shopworn. White threads stretch over sturdy knees. Her plaid flannel shirt, sleeves rolled up past her elbows, is also worn. Her clear hazel eyes contract with concentration. She is measuring a thread as insubstantial as morning light.

Nona is weaving. The pattern’s end, or perhaps the beginning, is pale pastel. It builds to a crescendo of brief wild color before descending into rain-cloud shades of grey.

“Are you cutting the thread?” Nona asks.

“Just a notch, sister,” Morta says, delicately fraying the warp with a fine silver knife, “just a slight notch.”

***

The state is not equipped to care for Kristjan’s drift downward into breathing unconsciousness. Nor are they prepared to decide his end. A search is made for his family. To the surprise of the staff, Kristjan’s parents are wealthy New York Socialites, Ami, and Spencer Cabot. They have long ceased to have any contact with their son. His transformation from prep school scion to sybaritic thespian did not meet their notions of propriety. They had argued and disapproved. They had threatened withdrawal of affection and finance. The break was gradual but total, like the wearing away of a thick rope, braid by braid, cord by cord, fiber by fiber. When finally torn, the split was complete. Kristjan was disinherited. Ami and Spencer have not even been aware of his descent into poverty and depression.

But now, instead of a rebellious hedonist, Ami has a silent invalid. After applying waterproof mascara, she weeps, dabbing carefully brimming eyes with a delicately uplifted handkerchief, a motion guaranteed to cause maximum eyelash curl.

“My darling boy was climbing some high mountain in San Francisco or Marin. . .  Mount Tamalpais or some such place in California. . .  He always was such a daredevil. . .  So athletic. . .  so handsome,” she sobs. “I must go to him at once!”

In public, Ami’s friends commiserate and comfort. In private, they snicker at the sudden emergence of a fully-grown mountaineer.  Spencer remains in his New York clubhouse smoking a pipe. He sighs into his scotch and water, wondering how his beautiful, athletic son had ended up a crippled poofter.

Ami has Kristjan transferred to The Quiet Dignity Coma Care Residential Facility. Now, installed in a place she can visit with decorum, she arrives, coiled in mink, smelling of lavender and grief.

“So, you came,” Kristjan says. It is odd to see his mother. It’s been so long. So many spiteful and unspoken words lie between them.

“Does this mean you. . . ”

“My Baby,” Ami sobs, flinging her arms wide. She embraces him, gloved hands smooth as ivory.

“You look remarkably unchanged, Mother,” Kristjan says, but Ami does not reply.

Will I ever get used to this? Kristjan wonders. Being a phantom, locked inside myself?

Jim would say ‘We are all locked inside ourselves.’  Then he would take me in his arms and make his words a lie. Tears pour from his eyes, so hot they might burn holes in the clean cotton sheets, but only he knows they are there.

“Can’t he even blink?” asks Ami.

“No ma’am, but we keep him real comfortable with these drops. Don’t we, sugar?” A starched nurse answers.

Ami departs in a half-hour. The scent of lavender, leather, and mink lingers in her wake like wraiths.

Hefty men raise and lower Kristjan’s once muscular body onto rubber sheets. He sees but cannot feel the needles in his arms.

“I want to feel the pain,” he screams. “To know I’m alive. . . or else I want to die.”

Looking into the space behind his eyes, backward he sees Jim, a corporeal love poem. He remembers a time when he was young, strong, and in love. A time when they’d strode the stage together, wearing other lives, moving as easily as breath.

He wonders if statues think and feel, trapped inside of stories they have not designed or desired. If rocks cry out their anguish in a language only they understand. If stones mourn in a frequency only they can hear.


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

 

NEXT WEEK: Out of the night rises a howl. It is the sound of River’s worst nightmare and childhood fear. In his mind he sees Gabriel’s pale, perfect body, unmarked and unmarkable. 

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.