Gods and Monsters Installment 7: Heaven Can Wait

Reading Time: 8 minutes

THE STORY TO NOW: River adopts a crow, Huck.  He rescues Lisa from being raped by three boys. Gabriel, a vampire-hybrid begins growing orchids. Meanwhile the sisters—the fates—spin human destiny.
Read last week’s installment hereSee all installments here. Read the next installment here.

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

Chapter: 15

River

Healdsburg — 1972

Heaven Can Wait

River opens his eyes. He is enclosed by whiteness. The edges of the world are fuzzy.  Perhaps this is heaven, he thinks. Not my heaven, though… I miss the green and trees… the dank smell of mushrooms, the bitter freshness of pine and Huck… 

A sharp rap makes River turn. His face throbs, sharp as a knife, bitter as loss. This is no one’s heaven. But in spite of the burning fire that trails down his cheek, he’s happy to see Huck’s razor-black beak tapping against his window, happy to see the soft green world through the cloudy glass, happy to be alive.

River has been in the hospital for three days. Huck remains outside his window pecking at the transparent barrier. The constant tapping is an auditory caress.

Alma visits, her face swollen with tears, puffy with resentment.

“What were you doing in the woods, River? Thank God you’re alive! I couldn’t take another loss. They’re saying horrible things happened up there. Lisa Handel was found running into the town in the early morning half crazy, dirty, no underwear… seems she’d been up in the woods all night with a pack of wild boys and…”

“Now, now Mrs. Jones, I know you’re upset,” a doughy nurse puts a gentle, firm hand on Alma’s shoulder. “It’s completely understandable. But your boy needs his rest. You should not be worrying and tiring him out right now.”

“But…” Nurse’s hand tightens, propelling Alma from the room.

River is torn. He wants his mother to leave. He wants peace. But he also wants to know. What happened? How was Lisa? Did she escape more or less, less or more unscathed, or would she, like him, be forever scarred, albeit invisibly, by that night?

Chapter: 16

Gabriel

San Francisco — 1981

Pac-Man and Galaxia

At the back of The Vamp two metal sentinels, Pac-Man and Galaxia, flank the bar. They are getting old, but still bring in a fair amount of change most nights. Both are on the fritz. They still willingly gobble up coins, but instead of hungry yellow mouths, or alien-insect invaders, only black and white static appears on the screen. The static actually has a much more violent history than that of the constantly ravening Pac-Man or the Galaxia alien space wars. The static is left over from the biggest explosion ever, the Big Bang. The static comes from particles of light, photons so hot they are still cooling fifteen billion years after the Big Bang. These photons are so hot they can never connect with the atoms that cooled and joined together to form matter. Like Gabriel, they are perpetually alone.

But the customers are not considering the big bang. They do not know about heat, light, and the stardust they are made of. If they did, they would not care. The customers are drunk. The customers are angry. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting altered outcomes, then the customers are insane. They push coins into the machines as if the machines suffer from hunger, not electrical misconnections.

Gabriel enters and passes by on his way into the D.J. booth. He looks at the ailing Pac-Man. He strokes the screen as if it were a lover who might grow warm and wet under his touch.  It does not, but slowly, the machine hums, the pixels crackle with electricity and the neon-blue maze glows brighter than it has ever been. A snapping golden circle strains to devour fleeing dots. The dots have always been white but now they change color frantically like metamorphosing electric rainbows, scarlet flecks of light spatter from Pac-Man’s mouth as he bites and swallows. The dots shriek as they are consumed. In the maze, instead of the solid orange, red, pink, and blue ice-cream scooped shaped forms of “ghosts,” translucent phantoms lurk. When one drifts over Pac-Man, a mute wail drifts from the screen, soundless but felt.

Gabriel wanders toward Galaxia. Once again, he caresses the inert screen. Although there is no sound, although this is just a game, the battle that blazes into action beneath his touch is somehow horrible and real.

Frankie is overjoyed. So are the gamers. But that night, they have nightmares full of death and emptiness. They are adrift in the cold, dark vacuum of space where ravenous spirits wait to consume their souls.

The players return nightly to their games. They are hungry for battle and defeat. Their eyes have the vacant hollow stare of daytime gamblers. They grow gaunt, bones evident as a metal frame beneath taut flesh.

Frankie is making as much money from the games now as on drinks. He should be elated. He should be electrified. But he dreads even passing the glowing monitors. Their colors, lurid and unnatural, haunt his imaginings and tint his dreams.

Chapter: 17

River

Healdsburg — 1972

Questions

River lies in a fog of pain. He is heavily sedated. The edges of the world are indistinct. He is jarred into semi-consciousness by a knock. The door opens. The solid blue bodies of Sheriff Jackson and Officer Briggs fill the room.

“Hey River,” Jackson says, gently laying a large hand on River’s shoulder. “How do you feel?”

River blinks up at the wall of blue.

“Feel up to answering a few questions for us?”

River nods slightly.

“Good boy. We just want to know what you remember. Everything and anything… think back.”

River’s throat is scratched, his voice rusty from lack of use. “I found Chip, with Brian and Tom… they were holding Lisa Handel down… all of them. Chip was on top of her. How is Lisa? Is she alright?”

“She’s fine son, fine,” Jackson says … “Now what happened after that?”

River is silent; the only sound is the perpetual tapping of Huck at his window. It is steady as a metronome. It keeps time with River’s heart. He raises his hand to his bandaged cheek. It burns like fire, like hate, like betrayal.

“I was cut, by a bottle. That’s all I remember.”

The two men exchange glances.

“Try, River,” Sheriff Jackson says… “Think back.”

“Now, now officers,” the nurse is back, placid, but firm. “River needs his rest. That’s all the questions we can answer today.”

Jackson wants to protest, he wants to insist that River remembers more, but he allows himself to be propelled from the room. He worries about River. The boy seems to attract bad luck like lightning attracts metal.

When River returns home, Officer Jackson calls him into the station. But River has nothing to say. His secret is a howl echoing in his head, baying in his dreams, predicting dire futures. River never learns exactly what happened that night. He hears only bits and pieces, random and unconnected as Huck’s silver collection.

He remembers how the walls whispered in the night after Ryo’s disappearance. Now they are whispering again.

Chip, Tom, and Brian are never found, or at least not most of them. There are only remnants: a stray finger, a discarded shoe with a foot still inside… Only one entire body is discovered amidst the carnage. It is that of an unknown man, naked and unmarked, save for a hole through his heart. It’s odd, there are no signs of heat or gunpowder, only a clean, small passage through his chest into the earth, as if a bullet had fallen from the heavens, from a great height.

Chapter: 18

Gabriel

San Francisco — 1981

Color

The dreams of Frankie and the gamers, indeed anyone who patronizes The Vamp, have become Technicolor nightmares. Gabriel, if he knew, would not understand. He sees the world in black and white, for him there are no colors, tints, hues, or even shades of gray. His world is as stark and clean as a wood cut. Divisions are absolute. He sees details without gradation, particulars without nuance. The world holds no mystery, sorrow, or joy. His father’s DNA, with its confusion of color, lust and longing, its bewilderment of desire and fear, lie dormant within him. They provide only protection from the sun, an interior umbrella of humanity.

His mother’s legacy cloaks his emotions, although she could see color. Many night creatures sacrifice color for the ability to see in darkness. A few however, moths, geckos, and vampires, see the colors in the night. They, like cats, crocodiles, and creatures of the deep, have a bright tapestry, a tapetum lucidum, behind their retina. It amplifies and reflects, making their eyes glow like jewels in the night. Gabriel does not. His world is unambiguous. His reality is unembellished by the play of light on leaves, or the orange embrace of a sunset. He is light and dark, shadow and form.

Chapter: 19

River

Healdsburg — 1972

Leaving Home

River’s wound heals in a raised jagged scar that ascends his face from the corner of his mouth to his sandy hair. It makes him appear more dangerous, more unapproachable, and more desirable.

Tired of unasked and unanswerable questions, River leaves. He has nothing to hold him to Healdsburg, not friends, not his vanished father nor his bitter mother. He packs a few clothes and Huck’s most precious bits of glitter. The only treasure he cannot find is Huck’s prized silver bullet.

He hitches rides, Huck on his shoulder, wandering down the winding California coast, losing himself in the ribbon of sand and sea beside the asphalt of endless road. He picks up odd jobs here and there; cutting wood, cleaning windows, bussing tables. He never stays long in one place. When he leaves, the memory of his and Huck’s presence fades slowly, like a lover’s scent on unwashed, sex-damp sheets.

River spends hours wandering the beaches. He likes discovering perfect shells and oddly- colored stones on deserted windswept beaches. Picking them up, he memorizes their shape and texture before tossing them back to sea or shore.  He and Huck explore ancient coastal redwood groves.

“The Miwok and Ohlone who inhabited California thought that the redwoods housed evil spirits,” a voice in the wind says. “They would not live beneath the towering giants that kept sun and stars from shining on them. They feared the perpetual twilight of the forest. The dampness crept into their dreams. The wind was trapped in the giant branches, sounding like unseen monstrosities. They preferred the rocky coasts full of sun and seafood, or the open oak lands where they could see approaching food or danger.”

River knows Ryo’s voice. He is not afraid; he feels protected in the redwoods’ shadow. They are love without argument, relationship without compromise. They climb up toward heaven reaching the stars, straight and unafraid. Under their boughs, he is part of the earth. He likes the constant evening, feeling most comfortable at the vespertine hour when dawn kisses night. He loves the rich damp moss, the mushrooms lurking in shadows, stained with lurid colors, a warning to hungry mouths that they might be deadly. He is comforted by his uncle’s voice in the breeze.

Huck is less at ease. Like the Miwok, and Ohlone, he favors open spaces where he can freely glide, searching for food, shiny objects, and scouting threats.

Often, just when River is beginning to feel a place might become home, a midnight wind blows chasing clouds away from the stars. A full moon illuminates the rocky shore. The night is brilliant. Small creatures scuttle for cover hiding from killing claws and sharp teeth. A howl rises from some dark night place making the tiny hairs rise on River’s neck and arms prickle. The next day he’ll pack his bags and wander further down the coast, fleeing a nameless fear, traveling toward an unknown destiny.


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

NEXT WEEK: River discovers a supernatural talent for baking. One sip of his coffee and old men begin to dream of spring breezes. Some put weathervanes on their roofs and build model airplanes. Just a nibble of his chocolate chip cookies give children dreams of flight so real, many leap from the top of houses or rooftops. Miraculously, none are hurt.

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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