Gods and Monsters Installment 8: Sweet Dreams are Made of These

Reading Time: 6 minutes

THE STORY TO NOW: Gabriel, a vampire-human hybrid, has the power to fix broken objects, but most living creatures die around him. The only exception are orchids. River leaves home and wanders down the Northern Californian coast with his crow, Huck.
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(Image created by E.E. King with Adobe Firefly.)

Chapter 20


Bodega Bay — 1980

Betty’s Bakery

River takes work wherever he can find it. In the seaside town of Bodega Bay, he sees a “Help Wanted” notice neatly lettered in blue and white on the window of Betty’s Bakery. River wanders in. The memory of his mother’s cooking lingers, making his mouth pucker even when he tastes the sweetest desserts. For him, the kitchen is a dangerous place where even the best intentions might boil over in bitterness and acrimony. He hopes he will be hired to cashier or maybe to wash dishes. He doesn’t want to work in a kitchen, but Betty is offering meals, a salary, and a cot in the back of her shop. It’s too good a deal to pass up.

After two weeks, Betty departs for an afternoon’s shopping, leaving River in charge. She gives him a recipe for banana-nut muffins that she claims is foolproof. Even River, she says, cannot fail to craft a luscious treat. River is more nervous than he has ever been. He feels like a fool, but he cannot shake the residue of resentment lingering in his taste buds.

Though River follows recipes spoon for spoon and measure for measure, his concoctions are unique. One bite of his banana-nut muffin makes Betty remember how much she misses her sister Sara, whom she has not seen for twelve years. She can no longer even recollect the name of the boy they’d quarreled over. She gets right in her car and drives one hundred miles to Sacramento where Sara lives without even grabbing a snack or stopping to reconsider. River is left in charge with a box of recipes.

One sip of his coffee and old men begin to dream of spring breezes. Some put weathervanes on their roofs and build model airplanes. Others make kites in anticipation of warm winds. When River’s moist squares of chewy dark brownies are sold, whole neighborhoods forgive never-returned lawn mowers and garden shears. 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. River’s caramels melt in mouths like love and longing. There have never before been so many August marriages in Bodega.

Huck gets fat from bits of cornbread, brownies, and muffins dropped or fed to him by the customers. He has learned that gathering dropped napkins or bags (which he scours for grease and crumbs) and depositing them into the paper recycling bin is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, sure to garner some good-sized bits of whatever sweet is handy.

When Betty returns two weeks later, Sara in tow, she begs River to stay. She offers a good salary, healthcare, a cottage rent-free. But River is restless. He wants to move on.  He needs to continue his quest, for what he does not know. But he is grateful. He has found a gift. The kitchen, which at home smelled of disappointment and lost hope, is now a place of amelioration. He stays in Bodega for three more weeks. But when the full moon rises, he hears the night call his name. It sounds like fear. It smells like nightmare. It tastes like death. He departs with the sun.

Arriving in San Francisco, Huck hidden beneath his shirt, he rents a room by the week in the Tenderloin. River, like Gabriel, knows nothing about the Tenderloin. He sees only that rooms are cheap. He roams the cool gray city, colorful with painted Victorian ladies and hidden alleys, becoming familiar with secret streets and arcane corners. He wanders up crooked alleyways, rounding corners to discover unsuspected vistas, city and bay spread out like an architect’s model. He misses the woods, but when a single finger of light probes through a cloak of mist illuminating the bay, he knows he has arrived, at least for a time, at his destination.

Chapter 21


San Francisco 1981

White Men Walking

It is dusk, daylight has faded. The world is monochromatic. Steam rises from the round vents of manhole covers like ghosts. Neon yellow and fiery red light falls from The Vamp, transforming the mist into hellish flames. River pushes open the club doors, just catching a glimpse of Gabriel disappearing into the booth. River recognizes Gabriel immediately, even though it has been twenty years between sightings, even though River had been only seven. River does not know how he recognizes Gabriel. Is it Gabriel’s unearthly beauty, flawless skin and unnatural grace, or the scent of mortality that seemed to rise from his pores? Gabriel makes River feel clumsy, imperfect, and more than one step closer to death. River does not know his purpose, but he knows that fate has somehow connected him to Gabriel as clearly as the scar that connects his lip to his scalp.

River rents a studio apartment bordering the Tenderloin near Chinatown. It’s stark and bare, containing only a single bed and stove nestled under a kitchen counter. It is all he needs. He has no trouble eking out a living. He can fix almost anything. He is reliable, clean, and frugal. He scrapes by, spending his nights in The Vamp, watching, and waiting.

He rigs up a nest box for Huck on the window. From it, Huck can fly out into the city. Sometimes River gives Huck walnuts. Huck loves the kernels, sweet as the truth inside a story, but the shells are too hard to crack. Huck swoops over the street, dropping them into a crosswalk. He lets the onrush of tires shatter the armor casing. When the tiny, white neon walking man blinks on, Huck wanders into the crosswalk. He picks out the tender meat from the fragments. From above, River watches, ready to warn Huck if someone looks dangerous. The white blinking walking man lacks hands, neck, and feet. The lack of feet bothers River. Feet are, after all, the number one prerequisite for movement. If River were designing signs, he would make certain walking men had feet.

Chapter 22


San Francisco 1981

Sweet Dreams Are Made of These

Gabriel is spinning disks at Club Vamp when he sees her. She is as beautiful as the first hour of the first frost when every leaf is outlined in a tracing of ice.

Gabriel looks at his playlist requests, “‘Sweet Dreams Are Made of These’, requested by River Jones.” It is a sweet, melancholy song. Not a dance song. Not a Vamp song. Gabriel whispers into the mic, his voice echoes as if inside a deep cavern.

“River Jones… you have won the music contest… You will be tonight’s guest D.J.”

A man walks to the door of Gabriel’s booth. He is solid and muscular. A jagged scar runs from the corner of his mouth up to his sandy hair that falls over his right eye. Gabriel has seen him before. He is there most nights, leaning on the bar and watching the crowd. He never dances. He will not go near the video games. He hardly drinks, nursing a single scotch for an entire night. Something about River twinges Gabriel’s memory, but Gabriel ignores it.

He has no time to think about River. His body aches with the need to dance with the pale, beautiful stranger. It is like hunger. He gives River a playlist and leaves the booth. He glides toward the lovely woman. His feet do not quite touch the floor. Wordlessly, they move in tandem. All eyes are watching. If anyone had been able to look away from the swaying pair, they would have seen that the dance floor reflected in the large, mirrored walls is empty.

“Gabriel. I am Gabriel,” He whispers. His breath is fresh as snow, cold as winter, final as endings. If she could feel the chill, it might be a warning. But she is long past sensing temperature. She is submerged in a sea of longing, drowning in desire.

“Cindy,” she murmurs.

Gabriel takes her home. He invites her in. They caress. It is exciting. Wet and cold, burning ice. When the morning sun rises it illuminates her perfect, pale body for one moment, before she condenses into charcoal. Gabriel had not known she was a vampire. He had not known of his power, but there is no surprise in him.

He dresses languidly. He pours purified water into his French press and adds coffee. He pours himself a cup and adds rich cream.  It rises into a perfect cappuccino. Sprinkling a cinnamon and chocolate heart over the foam, he swirls it into the sideways ∞ of infinity. Slowly he licks froth from a silver spoon. He gently taps the carbon woman with the tip of the spoon. She crumbles at a touch.

Gabriel spends the day wandering, pricing vacuum cleaners. Finally, he decides on a Shop Vac. He thinks that vampire bones, like vampire flesh, eviscerates in sunlight, but just in case… Gabriel likes a clean house.

Cindy takes surprisingly little work to clean up. The Shop Vac easily sucks up everything, everything except for two long unusually clean fangs.  In the sun, they sparkle like crystals. Created under the earth, now exposed to day, they divide white sunlight into rainbows. Even though he cannot see their colors, the teeth burrow into Gabriel’s imagination.  He puts them on his window ledge where they glint like canine stalactites.

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


NEXT WEEK: Arriving in San Francisco, Huck hidden beneath his shirt, River rents a room in the Tenderloin. He misses the woods, but when a single finger of light probes through a cloak of mist illuminating the bay, he knows he has arrived, at least for a time, at his destination. 

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.