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THE LAST ANSELM TALE FOR NOW...

AFTER THIS UPDATE, KINGFISHING RESUMES!

 

KINGFISHER TALES PRESENTS:

THE THREE QUEENS, PART TWO

(Transcript and visual captions below)

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CONTENT WARNING: Gore, Reference to Sexual Victimization

 

The Three Queens

 

          Pieter was already asleep and the sun gleamed vaguely through closed blinds. It wasn't a sunshine mood and the sharp spring day would be needles in their slowed minds.
          “Read die Blaue Tür,” Anselm said.
A pleasant evening, here in bed with two of his favorite people and exquisite toxins lingering in their veins. Susanna let them stay in her guest room as long as they didn’t make too much noise during her programs. They were willing to exploit her good nature, her appreciation of them as young and beautiful wastrels who just needed a place to sleep. They behaved as well
as addicts could; no one broke anything or bled on anything. Anselm recognized a leather-bound book on the shelf. He hadn’t heard these
stories anywhere outside his own memory in ages.
          Edi flipped through the book, struggling to recognize the words until she found the corresponding illustration, a big blue square that even a sleepy junkie could recognize. She blinked a few times and read aloud.
          “The boy always wondered what was behind the blue wooden door
at the back of his house.”

          “Hmm,” Anselm released a stream of smoke through his nostrils.
Pieter snored softly.
          “He asked his mother and father often, ‘what is inside there?’
and they only reprimanded him to never open it…”

 

          “What’s wrong?”
          “He’s not breathing!”
          “Shit— really? Oh god…”
          “Do you hear me? Wake up! Oh no… it’s happened before but—”
          “He’s not breathing? Are you sure?”
          “Yes! Oh no, no… Get Susanna—”

The Three Queens

 

          Anselm lurched awake. His lungs stretched and deflated shakily, straining to remember what it was to breathe. Then he remembered,
he didn’t have to.

          Darkness was his alarm bell; no sleeping in for him ever again.
Moth wings against his window instead of a rooster’s cry. He had to
meet his murderer in an hour.

 

The Three Queens

 

        Lame de Rasoir, so expensive, so fancy. His cracked and worn raincoat was assumed to be designer rags, rather than a musty castoff. Von Hechten put a hand on his back and shepherded him straight to the coat check. Had he matched his outfit to the club’s design? White and silver vinyl, even a ridiculous pair of metallic Antearctan cowboy boots. Anselm passed his raincoat to the distracted androgyne behind the counter. Von Hechten raised
an eyebrow at him.
        “That look is better suited for men with more… upper body. Learn to work with what you have.”
       “What look?”
       “You know, the ‘rough trade.’ ”
What was he talking about? It was just a simple white t-shirt,
no pack of cigarettes rolled in the cuff.
       Von Hechten looked him over again and shook his head.        “Fashion. You don’t want your style to be an accident. It serves
a purpose.”
       “But who cares what I…” he trailed off as Von Hechten’s expression tightened.
       “Every creature needs to eat, and you can no longer just pop into a…. food… store. The peacock has his plumage, and so should you.”
       “A peacock has plumage for mating, not to eat.”
       “These things go hand in hand! At least for you.”
Anselm grimaced. “I’d prefer to not think about that.”
       “Then don’t, just listen to me.”

       They moved to the edges of the dance floor. Anselm felt like a spectator at a roaring house fire, barely discerning the limbs and faces from the crackling flames. New wave-ish music thrummed from the speakers and the clientele was far more scrubbed than the clubs he frequented. Black velvet draped from the walls and silvery streaks of shattered mirror sparkled and refracted the colorful lighting.
       “Enough ado,” Von Hechten said, “Let’s discuss the techniques. We’ll start with seduction.”
       Anselm’s forehead drew up. Von Hechten seemed to note it, but made no comment.
       “Get someone into an intimate situation,” he said, “It’s easiest if they’re intoxicated. When they’re unconscious, drink their blood. Much as with our pizza man.”
       “I hope there’s some supernatural trick for this.” Anselm strained to recognize a human’s face.
       “What? Don’t be silly. The beautiful require no trickery. I’ve never lied to you about your beauty. Except perhaps when lying was necessary. Did I insult your beauty during— never mind.”
       Anselm frowned. “I don't do this.”
      “Don’t be a coquette. Everybody seduces sometimes. Watch me.”


 

       Anselm found a wall to lean against. A passing fireball brushed against him, leaving a lick of fire on his t-shirt. Before the flame extinguished, Von Hechten already had a dance partner. He cast a look back as he danced with an excitable, fiery figure. Anselm made himself watch, though his eyes wanted to skim past and space out into the wall of fire. Sure, he went dancing sometimes, he went to clubs. But it took ten or twenty shared smoke breaks to even consider asking someone to go home with him. Or more likely, wait for someone to ask him. Now he didn’t have time to build that kind of camaraderie.
       Some humans shouldered by him and he pressed into the wall. They passed without a backwards glance. So easy to disappear now that he could stand still as a street lamp.
       Von Hechten touched the side of the fiery man’s face, as if to kiss him. The human’s body language went limp and Anselm thought he would witness public vampirism. Rather, Von Hechten gestured for the man to stay in place, and turned away.

The Three Queens

 

 

 

 

 

 

       “So you see,” he approached Anselm, “I can get him to a private place. Get him intoxicated if I want and perhaps I will later. I’ll dismiss him for now to focus on you. Let your beauty work to your favor. Get out there, be seen dancing. Someone will want to dance with you. When they’re ready, leave them, but leave them thinking you will return.”
       Anselm considered a hundred ways to reject this,
but the monster would not be satisfied until he tried. He closed his eyes and trudged to the dance floor. The new-wave tune felt like a pastel ballad compared to the high-speed industrial he was used to. And the eerie sensation of Von Hechten’s attention, knowing he was searching to drain life from one of these hapless humans… he may as well be swaying to a funeral dirge.
       He moved between the fiery bodies, wishing hopelessly to lose Von Hechten’s watchful eye. He forced his body into a dance though he couldn’t shake off his melancholy expression. Maybe someone would be into that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

        A fiery pillar faced his way, he didn’t look too closely. The smell of stress-sweat and cologne. A blazer, a businessman gone straight from work. It approached, flames so close they’d be peel skin with their heat. Von Hechten caught Anselm's attention with an obscure hand gesture. Two fingers rubbing side by side. Then
he gestured to his pelvis and did it again. The fireball pulled Anselm closer, put a hand on his lower back.
       It won’t kill them. You’re not going to kill them.
Could he really take this ‘advice’? The fireball was enthusiastic, which only made it worse.
       I’m a monster, I’m a corpse. I’m going to break open your skin and drink from your wounds. The fireball did not read his thoughts, and pressed himself close, a man-sized hot water bottle with a thrumming heart.
       Go away, save yourself.
The song cross-faded into something more mellow and the fireball’s grasp loosened. Anselm nodded and slipped way and to the waiting monster.

The Three Queens

 

 

 

 

 

 


      “That’s the best you can do?”
       “What? I tried it.”
Von Hechten rubbed his face and fluttered his eyelashes
in irritation.
       “The passive act can work, but you must make them feel desired. Not in a desperate way. Hint enough to arouse them,
and bring it back. Push and pull. So to speak.”
       Anselm folded his arms, wishing he had the raincoat’s pockets to stuff his hands into.
       “Look at you,” Von Hechten waved at him, “Misery personified. How drunk was that man to not notice? And even then, you couldn’t seal the deal.”
       “Hey! Come on, I said I don’t do this. Besides, where would
I take him? Unless he wants to ride the bus with me.”
       “We need to remedy that, don’t you know how to drive?
You once said you wanted a motorcycle.”
       “Wow, yeah I guess I told you that once, years ago… I don’t have a licence but I drove my brother’s truck once when I was twelve.”
       “I should just get the blood for you.” Von Hechten whipped around and slapped a hand on the wall. “No… no. Seduction is
the best because you can isolate your prey, keep them coming back willingly. But, if that’s toooooo difficult…” He pressed into the wall and sighed deeply. A passing woman gave the scene a double-take. The lives of homosexuals were so intense.
       Anselm shifted around. “Surely not everyone does it this way. You wouldn't have time for anything else.”
Von Hechten pulled himself up, “True. Some prefer to carouse with inebriates and stay with them until they are insensate.”
       “Sounds depressing if you have to be sober through it.”
       “You won’t be sober at the end of it.” He put a hand on Anselm’s shoulder and led him toward the bar. “You drink their blood and you experience some of the effect of the drug. Isn’t that something to look forward to?”
       Anselm slumped. “They make you go through counseling
to stop thinking that way.”

The Three Queens

 

       Two fireless beings slipped among the crowd. Von Hechten followed Anselm's gaze.
       “Never mind them. Tomorrow night you will be hungrier.
Better to practice while you still have your wits about you.”
       “Umm, yeah. So uh—”
The fireless bodies approached. Anselm recognized them—
they’d gotten well acquainted in a booth recently.
       “Fancy that, some fancy boys.” Janice said.
       “Very fancy. Shiny, anyway.” Lucio said.
Von Hechten tightened his grip on Anselm’s shoulder. “Fashion requires creativity. How many people look like you, and how many are shiny?”
    “That’s true,” Janice said, “Did you theme your outfit for this club? How thoughtful.”
       “Personally,” Lucio said, “I let the environment conform to me.  I set the tenor, and everyone else matches it.” He picked a loose thread from the cut-off sleeve of his tuxedo shirt.
       Von Hechten wrinkled his nose with distaste, “If that’s what you think you’re doing, then ‘good job.’ ”
       “Thanks,” Lucio said.
       Janice put an arm around him. “So what are you boys up to?”
       “It’s serious,” Von Hechten said. “Therefore, we should not be distracted. It’s imperative that a new vampire ‘learn the ropes,’ in
the parlance of our times.”
       “Ooh,” Janice said, “He’s learning the old school way?”
Lucio flicked the hair out of his face and it fell right back where
it had been.
       “Pft, too much work.”
       Von Hechten curled his lip. “We shouldn’t be wasting our time explaining the situation to you. Eichel, the inebriates are this way.”
       Lucio shrugged. “If you’re thirsty, we can share.”
       Anselm looked up. “What—”
       “No no,” Janice said. “He should have the full vampire experience. You gotta draw the marble busts before you get
to the naked chicks.”
       Lucio blinked. “Now I’m distracted too.”
       “Anyway,” Janice continued, “He can always cheat later.
Good luck, Anselm! You still owe us that date, you know.”
       “Oh— oh yeah,” Anselm said, “Heh— bye.”
       Von Hechten pulled him some distance away and feigned
a shiver. “Some people.”
       “What does 'cheat' mean? Do I even want to know?”
       “If you can’t do it, there’s no point in learning it, is there?”
       “They can do something I can’t?”
       “That, they can. Now over here, we have one of the club’s lounges. Sit here, study…”

       Anselm sat at the table flicking his fingers over a tealight's flame, listening to Von Hechten's mean-spirited advice. Maddened and bored and cajoled into attempts at socialization that fell flat every time. He was a potential narc, creeper or pick-pocket. While his animal companions had been quiet as promised, were those hooves he felt stamping over his feet?
       “I’m not good at these things,” he told a finger-tapping
Von Hechten, “No one wants to talk to someone like me.”
The finger-tapping became a fist wrapping against the table.
        “Ugh! You remind me of— Don’t be a whining nanny-goat.
It will be a self-fulfilling prophecy, don’t be that type of person.”

       Janice leaned against the wall in a patch of darkness. She looked up at nothing— a swarm of particles buzzed around her head. They swirled into a corner and transformed into a Lucio. Anselm blinked at the sight. Janice popped the top off a fast-food drink cup and handed it to Lucio. He bowed his head and spit dark fluid into it
with a steady stream. She grinned and both of them took a straw—
       “Well?” Von Hechten’s fist ground into the table.
       “Yes, fine. I’ll try again…”

       He wandered through the lounge; he'd already annoyed
the most likely candidates, leaving the surlier drunks who would probably gay bash him or call security. Past the leather booths, around the corner of the dance floor. He made his way to that dark corner and caught Janice’s eye. She met him halfway, Lucio at her side, still licking his lips.

 

 

The Three Queens

 


       “Ready to do the Janice Lombard method?” she asked.
       Lucio frowned. “Hey, Bomba is at least half. Lomba?”
       Janice shook the cup and ice cubes rattled.
       “Want a drink?”
       “How does it work?” Anselm asked, “What were you doing?”
       “Our massage technique is not the only special trick we have.”
       “Yep,” Lucio said, “And it is special. Only the two of us and Willem can do this.”
       “Not even your progenitor?” Anselm asked.
       “Nope,” Janice said, “We are just that clever.”
       Lucio took the cup from her for another sip. “Or just that lazy.”
       “But what was it?” Anselm asked. “What's the secret trick?”
       “Heh heh,” Janice lowered her eyelids, “You’ll have to take us on a date to find out. But here—” She snatched the cup from Lucio and held it out.
       Even through the club sweat and stale cigarettes, Anselm sensed the coldness of the ice, the meaty scent, and sweet alcohol. He took the cup, beaded with condensation. He was thirstier than he’d thought. As strange as cold blood vodka seemed, he didn't hesitate
to drink it.
       “Have all you want,” Janice said, “We’re just doing it for kicks
at the mo,' getting a little buzz. We had our dinner earlier.”
       Anselm lowered the cup. “How do you get this much?
—You don't…”
       Janice waved her hands, “Don’t worry baby, it’s totally ethical.” She gestured at the crowd, “It's like a buffet, and we’re just taking a nibble here and there.”
       Anselm furrowed his brow and sipped.
       “They didn’t feel a thing,” Lucio said, “Except a tiny bit
of pleasure. Maybe a little itch in the morning.”
       Anselm took one more drink, though his body longed for more.
       “So, a date, huh?”
       Janice grinned and slapped him on the arm.
       “That’s right! We could get you some snacks while you’re learning. It’s super easy.”
       Lucio took the cup back and shook it, “Hardest part is keeping the ice from melting.”
       “Ooh,” Janice said, “You gotta try it on snow. It’s soooo good. Gets kinda coagulated but—”

The Three Queens

 

       “Now see,” Von Hechten said, “You’ve cheated! How are you going to learn? It’s not like you can learn these lineage powers.
You cannot!”
       Anselm turned slowly.
       “—And you’ve gotten him high!”
       “I am?” Anselm asked. Whoa. So he was!
       “Aww, sorry,” Janice said, “We don’t wanna wreck up your lesson. We should scoot.”
       “Yeah,” Lucio said, “We cleaned this place out already.”
       They waved friendly goodbyes and Von Hechten spun Anselm
on his heels. “Now— inebriates!”

 

***

 

       Anselm pulled his raincoat tight to hide the bloodstains on his shirt as he hurried from the car and to his apartment. Von Hechten sighed and took the cellphone from the front console.

 

The Three Queens  

       “Hello?” Regen answered.
       “Brff— rff—”
       “I can’t hear you so I’m going to hang up.”
       “I’m— calling from the— ll phone.”
       “Oh lord. I guess I’ve got nothing better to do.”
       “He got their number— total waste. Won't work.”
       “Whose number?”
       “Those Finsterwald mosquitoes! And he enjoyed their magnanimity. Do you get me? With blood!”
       Ugh. He won't always have them around.”
       “Yes, by then he'll know hypnotism, no need of a Von Hechten.”
       “Damn, I guess that lesson couldn’t last. Doesn’t take long to learn to eat.”
       “What use will the young lord have for us then?”
       “Those two can get him blood, but what else can they do? They're useless libertines. What about combat, defense, movement… everything else a vampire needs to know?”
       “Mn, I can impress upon him the dangers presented by villains and teach him those powers. That will work.”
       “There you go, no trouble at all.”
       “What? I’m going— to a tunn— BRFFF *beepbeepbeep*”

 

 

       The stench of toxic chemicals hung heavy on Birke Strasse, turning stomachs even as the billowing tarps tried to contain the fumes. Every window in the neighborhood was shut tight. The rank vapors swirled around the roof, terrible especially for those with supernaturally keen senses.

         The Three Queens
The Three Queens

       “Did we really have to meet here?” Regen held her sweater sleeve over her nose.
       “It seemed the most private location,” Von Hechten said. “Any humans come skulking around, they’ll be knocked dead!”
       “HA!” Otumbo bounced on his heels. “Eichel, any signs of your secret powers?”
       “Not that I’m aware of,” Anselm said, grimacing at the horrid smell. It wasn't the first time he’d been around a fumigation, but never so intimately. “I'm still not even used to the normal powers.”
       “Don’t look so down in the mouth! It is a joyous occasion! Coming into your own! Feel your might! Ah ha ha ha!”

 

       “Yes, it’s quite impressive,” said Von Hechten. “Now Eichel, we must teach you the rudiments of your new condition, that you may go about preying upon the human world to sustain your eternal life.”
     Otumbo raised his fists, “It’s great!”
     Anselm turned his head to watch the tarps billowing in the night wind.
       “There’s nothing to fear,” Von Hechten said, “You shan’t transform into a little deer again, shall you?”
       “As long as you don’t turn into a towering abomination with swords for fingers.”
      “Even if we could, there is nothing to fear because we are teaching you, not trying to kill you.”
       “Fine. I am ready to learn.”
       “GREAT!” Otumbo said, “First you must learn
to fly.”

The Three Queens

       He swept Anselm off his feet, tossed him off
the roof and sent him plummeting to the courtyard below. Anselm flailed through the air and snatched at stringy suspended nets but they barely slowed his descent. He crashed into a tree and skidded onto patchy grass, bouncing and rolling as fragile bones snapped. He landed in a sad heap, his dead eyes stared up at the gaseous fumes releasing into the starry night. Why did it have to be this way? If he jumped off a roof, it should be on his own terms.
       A tiny man floated in front of the moon like an uncanny balloon.
       “You were supposed to fly!” Otumbo’s voice carried from on high. “Shall we try again?”

    

 

 

       Anselm grew hungrier as his broken jaw healed enough for him
to speak. “Maybe— more— rudi— mentary…”
       “Simple, you mean? I’m not sure what could be more so!” Otumbo
still hovered in the sky, stretching his short limbs, “I don't recall ever not
knowing how to fly. You are a baby bird, Eichel!”
       Von Hechten’s called from the rooftop, “We must work our
way up to such things. Can you bring him back up here?”
       Anselm peeled himself out of the indentation he’d left in the earth, healing his disjointed spine. The toxic gas would have made him retch if he had any ability to. The tarp whipped and Otumbo lit on the ground beside him.
       “Take two. Just float!”
Anselm found himself hurtling through the air again, upward this time. Plastic sheets rattled around him and he arced high, all the city sparkling around him. He landed hard on the cement roof, bouncing and rolling until he crashed against a pipe with a metallic clank. Regen bent to look down at him.
       “At least no injury is permanent.”
       Anselm nodded, neck crackling like a dry breadstick.
       “Where to begin…” Von Hechten folded his hands behind his back,
a thoughtful look on his face. “Movement powers, as Otumbo was un-
successfully demonstrating. You’ve already done such things, climbing
down from your apartment. That wasn’t so challenging, was it?”
       Anselm sat up, burning away blood to heal the sundry fractures.
       “No.”
       “Good. Climb this chimney.”
       Anselm rolled to his heels and laid his hands against the cold metal. He’d climbed down a wall, but he’d never climbed up before. He fumbled around, feeling the undead eyes upon him. Just climb? He pressed a boot against the surface, and felt a sense of suction, as though they had a rubber grip that his hands did not. He hopped and flitted his way up the chimney in jerky leaps. Just like that, huh?
       “Good,” Von Hechten said down below, “How does that feel?”
       “It’s a little strange. Better if there were ledges.”
       “I meant more philosophically, but oh well. That is an excellent skill to have, for it directly flows into other abilities— falling, gliding, levitation and ultimately flying. And not that bird business— I’ve always considered that cheating. I mean real, supernatural power.”

    
The Three Queens

       He began to levitate in a cruciform pose. Anselm watched with a furrowed brow. Damn, if that wasn’t so creepy, it would look silly. But creepy was winning out.
       Von Hechten hovered ever higher. “In this form there is
a suggestion of our animal spirit selves. You may notice the
powerful wingspan of the mighty vulture within me.”
       He’d reached Anselm’s level, appearing not so much as a mighty vulture as a mannequin falling in reverse. Otumbo flew
up from the ground with a somersault and landed on the roof.
       “It is important to always do a cool landing when you fly! When the golden eagle lands upon his prey, his wings are a cloak of badass feathers! The vaulted ceiling of doom over the mewling foodstuff!”
       Von Hechten batted his arms to go higher and higher.

 
 

        Regen grumbled and slumped against the chimney, the impact rattling all the way to where Anselm clung. He let go and dropped to the ground beside her. He looked up at the increasingly distant Von Hechten.
       “It would be terrible if he were hit by a low-flying jet.”
       “DAHAHA!” Otumbo threw his head back with laughter.
“That would be hilarious! Higher, Von Hechten! Higher!”
It was hard to tell at that distance, but Von Hechten may have been pouting as he glided down.
       “What’s next?” Otumbo posed with arms akimbo, “What feat shall we demonstrate?”
       “Stealth,” Regen said, “You two could go hide.”
       “Ahhahaha! We’ll hide, but we will not go! You see, the shadows we pull to ourselves as lords of the night allow us to conceal ourselves in plain sight!” He turned into an inky spot, his wild teeth chomping. “But that is not the pinnacle! Witness this!”
       Zwoop! He slipped through the roof.
       Regen watched impassively. “That's hard to learn and you'd better have an invitation.”
       Von Hechten came to land on sneakered ballerino feet.
       “To use these powers, you must pull the sh—”
Otumbo emerged from the concrete and brought up a cloud of stinking pesticide.
       “These demonstrations are not just practical, they are to inspire, to show the lad what he could become! And what is more inspiring than the tale of how the great Otumbo came to be!”
       He tore his own head off and it spoke.
 

 

The Three Queens

 

       “Long after Donbo’s imperial glory faded, my mighty ancestors held the reins of power. But in time, scheming upstarts brought war to us.  In this era of strife,  I was born into a fallen noble family. I knew one must take what one is due and became the greatest bandit-king the country had ever seen! Men trembled in fear of Otumbo! Jealous conspirators used the treachery of the age to trap me, pin
me with spears and behead me.”
       He juggled his head to demonstrate. Anselm couldn’t process anything until it was reattached.
       “I awoke,” Otumbo continued, “I wonder whether it is possible
to come back from decapitation if the head is far removed from the body. All my fellow beheadees were close to their heads on reawakening.”
       Beheadees… what a word, and plural?
       “—I like to imagine it is because our heads roll to us!” He let out
a booming laugh. “After I was reborn, powerful beasts taught me a scant bit of my nature before abandoning me to my own resources. Within a few weeks, a fierce fight led me to discover my own hidden talent. So what shall it take to discover your own? Ha ha ha!”
       “I wonder…” Anselm said. How had that head had been separate from the body for so long? “What can the rest of you do?”
       Von Hechten folded his arms. “Some lineages ‘special’ talents are of no interest.”
       “No, no!” Otumbo punched him in the side and sent him wobbling. “Everything is interesting, even if doesn’t seem practical. They are unique, the defining characteristic of a lineage.”
       Regen grimaced. “The O’Meara power. We’re better at one aspect of mesmerism. Anyone could do it if they tried. Von Hechten’s can kill a person if he tries really hard, just as easily done with a knife.”
       “Ah—” Von Hechten raised a finger, “But my power can mystify the police. A knife, not so much. How was the victim utterly desiccated in a matter of moments? I wish the opportunity
came more often.”
       “It’s all so interesting!” Otumbo said, “Were you paying attention earlier? Did you see what I can do?”
       “Yes,” Anselm said, “The hea—”
Otumbo popped his own arms off with a shrug of his shoulders. They fell to the ground and grew larger than his entire body, flopping around like giant salmon.
       Anselm watched with wide eyes. At least they weren’t flying
at him this time.

The Three Queens

 

        Regen settled next to Anselm as the older vampires demonstrated shadowy abilities.
       “Just imagine the shadows are tangible, pull them to you
and do stuff with them. You’ll figure that shit out.”

The Three Queens

 

       “Be aware of your center of gravity. Try to make it… do stuff.”

The Three Queens

       “Well… You know. You’ll figure it out.”

 

 

***

 

 

       Some awful Antearctan soap opera began on the television and Regen couldn't be bothered to change the channel. Her clothes were washed twice and soaking in the other room, but the vile scent still disgusted her. Her phone rang.

       “I don’t understand it at all,” Von Hechten said, “I invited him to learn hypnosis, but he said he was too exhausted. How can a vampire be exhausted?”
       “Uh, we can’t.”
       “What then? Moral qualms about the manipulation of human beings? He’s a strange character, no telling what he might feel ‘ethical’ about next.”
       “I'm… not sure how good we are at education.”
       “I don’t believe I’m hearing you right— maybe it’s to do with— CHRRRKKRK boop boop boop boop.” 

The Three Queens


The phone rang again. “Regen, are you there?
       “On the cellular again?”
       “It was the tunnel,” he said, “I'm on the cellular again!”
       “Uh huh…”
       “You see, the other night I came to the tunnel later in the conversation— but tonight the traffic was more clear.”
       “Oh yeah?”
       “Yes! Yes, I’m on the cellular telephone. Regen! I don’t think I understood you before. You were saying something.”
       “Can you hear me?”
       “—es. —ear as a— ell.”
       “I said I don’t know—”
       SCRRRRRRRRRWWWWWWRRRRRRR
Regen pulled the shrieking receiver away from her ear.
       “Hello?”
       “—understand. I —ell. I can hear you— learly. — ear me—”
       “Uh, I’ll take your word for it. I said I don’t know how good we are at teaching.”
       “Think we’re not —ood at teaching? I— come again?”
       “My god, this is torturous.”
       “But did I hear you ri—”
       “Yes!”
       “—reposterous!”

 
 

        “There is only so much he can learn from us.”
       “—bsurd! Wh— good with all the —ines of pow— —tumbo has hun— perience of —ing all kind of —trange and unnat— experience. —knows up—”
A howling wind backed his words.
       “Uh, not sure how much of that I’m getting, but maybe we can do something else. Something more focused on our strong suits.”
       “Show— powerf— wrong powers— can’t believe— trong suits!
What then?
SCWRRRWRRRRR
       “What do you have that the others don’t? You’re always the one to organize events, the one with all the contacts.”
       “Pft. —doesn’t even like g— events. —cidentally, a bit off t—pic, —an’t believe— ow good of recept— —eally quite clear.”
       “He seemed to enjoy himself fine at the last party, maybe it’s just the situation.”
       “Oh— there went the reception. Could you say that again? Faster, fewer syllables. I’m on the Fair Strasse, I was angled right toward your apartment. Who knows where the bloody relay antennas are.”
       “Another event!” Regen shouted, “He had a good time before!”
       “A good time? He had a good time? At what?”
       “The party at Hauptheime!”
       “I suppose he didn’t seem too miserable.”
       “You could show him around, give him some contacts.”
       “Contacts? What do you mean?”
       “Show him around!”
       “Can you hear me? You were saying something about contacts.
My contacts?”

       “Yes! Show him around like before.”
       “Hmm, I’ve my doubts. At any rate— BOOP BOOP BOOP BOOP

 

 

The Three Queens

        At least this outfit wasn’t as flamboyant. Von Hechten led Anselm from the tailor’s, spinning him about and scrutinizing him.
       “This will do,” he picked a tiny bit of lint off Anselm’s lapel.
       “I’m concerned,” Anselm said, “Am I going to be presented with something?”
       “Only people.”
       “Better than being presented to them.”
Von Hechten scowled. “You’re so obsessed with this ‘presentation’ thing. I make one slightly off comment ages ago and you’ll remember it forever.”
       “Well, that was when you murd—”
       “Not that again!” Von Hechten wrenched open the passenger door, “Let’s keep it pleasant, shall we?”
       Anselm sat in the car with a sigh. “Nothing but.”

       Von Hechten tossed the keys to a valet without a second look and started nattering on about how important it was to stay connected in these modern times. But Anselm’s gaze had met with a stocky man in a vest— another valet? The man gasped, eyes growing wide. Von Hechten rotated Anselm
around and marched him to the front door.

 
 


       “What’s going on?” Anselm asked.
       “Foolishness we can investigate another time. Tonight is for the erudite! My theory is you should learn to interact with the wealthy, as many of your kind are. So here we are, the two hundred and twelfth convocation of ‘The Friends of the Vernictian Lodge Society Gala.’ ”
       “What does that mean?”
       “It means everyone here is ‘old money.’ Not as old as our kind can be,
but quite old, I tell you.”
Jewelry glittered in the human's fire-light. An occasional sash or row of medals or a sceptre of the barony decorated shoulders. They spoke in lilting tones and harrumphed about unknowable topics.
       “What am I going to do?” Anselm asked.
       “Get to know people as people. It’s easy for those of opposed classes
to see past each other, to not apprehend their shared core of humanity. These are people, just like you. Well, somewhat. Minus the people part.
I'm trying to say that the only difference is your backgrounds.”
       “Backgrounds of having died.” Anselm glanced around at the crowd closing in on him. “Tell me what to do.”
       “Just talk. Find something you have in common; listen to the conversations and adapt them to your own interests. Butt in. You can use this line— ‘Did you say ‘such-and-such?’ As it happens, I ‘such-and-such as well!’ What was your experience of ‘such-and-such?’ ’ Understand? Now, repeat that back to me.”
       “Uh, you uh, you… Did you say… uh, something? I… do… Something…”
       “And?”
       “Uh, uh… What do you think… of… something.”
       “Close enough. I will observe you. Speak with three different groups. Better if they are of three different classes. We've got the nobility, the wealthy, and the wealthy nobility.”
       Von Hechten took a seat and watched from that great distance,
past the glint of polished wood and chandelier glass.

 

The Three Queens

Anselm wavered, listening to the surrounding conversations.

       “They told me, ‘It’s not as if you’re bloody ‘Invisible Hand,’ and I said
to them, ‘I don’t know, am I?’ Hahaha!”

       “This event is tremendous— this caviar is forty thousand Graumarks, and this is two thousand Graumarks. There is a reason! The rarity. You can taste the rarity, I tell you.”
       “I believe you can! What does it come from again?”
       “Some manner of aquatic snake, if I recall.”

       “They want to make a stud of him! I said, ‘That’s all well and good, but only for the most prestigious mares,’ and he had the temerity to suggest that we only charge twenty-five Graumarks per ejaculation! Why, who knows what swaybacked nags they would try to mate with our little
Poopie-Poo?”

       “My collection simply needs more mid-sixth century.”
       “Why sixth century again? Isn’t it all clay pots?”
       “Not just clay pots! It’s about the minerals they used. The firing technique was at least ten degrees colder than later eras when they'd given up on quality.”
       “Let’s get down to brass tacks. I don’t care about the quality of the pots, it’s not like I’m using them to store my pickled kippers. What’s the difference, in paper?”
       “If you’ve established provenance, it’s worth five times as much as
the previous century.”
       “Five times as much? Mid-sixth century it is!”

       Anselm wished he could drink the wines and sample the expensive foods. Just have something to do. But he could only have the memory of their comfort. He wandered through the crowd, letting his eyes glaze over.

       “Have you met Von Puttel’s daughter?”
       “What was it— Sabine? I forget.”
       “Zabrina. She’s getting her second PhD! Can you believe it?”
       “Goodness! How talented!”
       “And she doesn’t even need to, she’s gorgeous!”
       “What wonderful genes the Von Puttels have.”
       “Well, she takes after his third wife. The Kastanian nobility
have such powerful genes.”

A waiter offered Anselm a tray.

       “Drimbichwa? Would you like a drimbichwa?”
The platter was arranged with purple scallop-sized objects.
       “What is it?” The musky smell was beyond unappealing.
       “Thin-sliced jaguar testes, braised in a vintage white-wine aioli and breaded with shaved eighty-year-old Zurisch stone bread.”
      “Uh, no thank you. I already ate.”
      “Your loss,” the waiter’s eyes narrowed, “It’s the hot dish of the season.”
       “I’m sure…”
Perhaps he got a sick thrill from imposing this vile food upon the gullible richies, and was disappointed it didn't work. Now Anselm couldn’t stop thinking about the poor jaguars. Maybe they just needed to be neutered…
       A fluffy pigeon of a man approached. (Ugh, pigeon.)
       “That’s a well-tailored suit,” he said. “Who are you with?”
       “Uh, thank you. Von Hechten? The publisher.”
       “Ah yes, the Von Hechtens. They’ve quite a history with the society.”
       “Is that so?”
       “Astounding how distinct their bloodline has remained, have you seen paintings of his ancestors?”
       “No I haven’t, a strong likeness?”
       “Quite!”
       “Must be powerful genes.”
       “Mm-hmm. I take it you are not a Von Hechten then?”
       “No, I… work with him.”
       “Work. Yes.”
       The man walked away without another word. Anselm twisted up his face and glanced around for his cruel warden. Some bosomy old woman had captured Von Hechten's attention with insistent syllables and hand gestures. The perfect opportunity.
       Anselm followed the wall, searching for a door. Just going on a little jaunt outside. ‘Get some air.’ That would work. If all else failed, he could hide in the kitchen or a broom closet. He felt for the shadows, a cool veil running over him. He wrapped them around himself in a dark robe. A door— a door! He slipped through it, down a hall and to a concrete stairwell. He flopped against a metal railing and the shadows released like so many startled crows. The din of the crowd became a distant thunderstorm. Time to find shelter.
       He followed the twisting stairs, the crowd’s rumble barely in his notice now as moving air and traffic overtook them. Exit. He stepped outside and the stench of garbage and petrol overwhelmed the expensive colognes that had rubbed off on his suit. He emerged from between the dumpsters filled with rotting drimbichwa, most likely. Cigarette smoke circled a pair of fireballs in red vests.

       “Gotta hit the head. Peace, brotha.”
       “I bid thee farewell, Paul.”

       Anselm chuckled. Old Grauisch, what a weirdo. The weirdo in question whipped around and did a wild take at Anselm, eyeballs bugged.

 

The Three Queens

 

       “NOOOO! BEAUTIFUL BOY! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?”
He took a few halting steps forward. “VON HECHTEN, YOU MONSTER!”
       Anselm jolted. “What— What do you mean?”
       “He turned you into a vampire, has he not?” The man trembled visibly.
       “How…”
       “In front of the club. I recognized him, which brought me to pay closer attention to his company. His sad company, whose cold breath would not bring vapor to this night of autumnal air.”
       Anselm widened his eyes. “How do you know these things?”
The back door creaked and light feet stepped behind him.
       “Oh, he knows about us. Or so he thinks.” Von Hechten said.

 

The Three Queens

 

       Anselm looked between the two.
       “Beautiful young man,” the fireball quaked with sobs. “What hast befallen you? Torn from the bosom of your VERY HUMANITY and cast into this baleful existence? The night is seductive but once you have fallen THERE IS NO RETURN!”
       “How?” Anselm said, “But they’re not supposed to—”
       “I am not religious,” said the man, “Nay, I know full well that god is dead, and the world is adrift in an ocean of hollow tears. Yet the SOUL IS REAL! You may feel fine now, but when THE DEMON overthrows the vaunted powers of the higher self—”
       “Piffle,” said Von Hechten, “Punkthagen, how do you still live? This is terribly dreary even to me and I'm centuries dead.”
       Anselm scrutinized the odd man. “Where did you learn all this?”
       “My soul is stained with darkness, ever since my true love perished in the tender flower of her youth. This has given me insight into the fathomless oubliette of the collective unconscious and to the dark underbelly of the world we share.”
       Von Hechten said, “Most humans rationalize away the supernatural but this little aberrant does not.”
       “Sad, fair creature, I BESEECH YOU! Your fight is doomed to
be lost, but fight you must! Drink enough to resist the call of hunger though it shall erode your soul. To give into the demons will burn it too quickly! Like a pitiful whisper in the da—”
       “Ugh, this tortured poetry,” Von Hechten said, “I agree with the advice, but not the motive. Caving into hunger is undignified.”
       “IT IS THE DEATH OF THE SOUL! The tragedy is done! Now there is only inexorable damnation. I weep for you!”
       Anselm sighed. “It’s nice to have some sympathy, at least.”
       “Well then,” said Von Hechten, “If it is over save for the tears, we should return to the party. It is always a pleasure, Punkthagen. I’ll see you again if you have not been slain.”
       He escorted Anselm back into the building as Punkthagen indeed wept. “So, I'm given to understand that the earl of West Gewewerre has an interest in the arts…”

 

***


       “Regen? Regen, hello?”

       Click.

       “Must have dropped the connection,” Von Hechten murmured
to himself as he redialed.
       A small fowl flew in his window and landed in the seat next to him. It transformed into a woman, who punched the cell phone out
of his hand and sent it shattering to the street nearby.

 
The Three Queens


       “That was twelve hundred Graumarks!”
       “Not worth it,” Regen said.
       Von Hechten let out a long sigh.
       “I’ve been using my contacts per your suggestion, introducing him to the crème de la crème. People so fancy they look down their nose at even me.”
       “It didn’t go well?”
       “I know he’s an ingrate, but one would imagine he could avail himself of something offered freely, no matter who the benefactor.”
       “Hm. Maybe it’s that it's ‘offered.’”
       “You have more insight into the modern mind, but what sense does that have?”
       She looked him over. “I'd like to make an analogy, but I don’t want to upset you.”
       He groaned and made several unhappy poses. “Think on it very carefully and continue.”

 

       “Alright, let’s say a child has to go to the doctor for an exam.
If his mother asked if he'd like to go, would he?”
       “So you are saying that I must force him?”
       “Not quite. If the boy was ill, he would go without question. Perhaps our young lord needs to feel the need first.”
       “So I’m to follow him around like a debased dog, waiting for
him to call upon me?”
       “Of course not. You’re a clever man, find out his schedule and 'happen by.'”
       “Schedule? He does nothing!” Von Hechten looked thoughtful. “Doesn’t he…?”

 

The Three Queens

 


       Anselm circled past the Schwarz/Weiss gallery again, around and around the block. Why did it have to be here? Cosette… she knew, didn't she? He kept moving, wishing he had a cigarette to busy his hands, wishing he could shiver in the cold night air, anything to take him away from this anxiety. Just a group show, two pieces out of twenty, a small section of a small gallery. But he could see the gathering crowd, the smokers idling with unknown intentions. Artists, or onlookers?
     No one is thinking about you. No one. You are only one of many.
    There she was, casting about, searching for him. She caught sight of him like a falcon spotting the fleeing field mouse and hurried across the street.
       “Anselm, Anselm!” Cosette approached him. “You should be inside, everyone’s here!”
      He looked away, then somewhere near her feet. “It’s so busy.”
       “That’s good! All these people, eager to take in the art. And they can because the artist is there to help them understand.”
       He grimaced and rocked back and forth.
       “There’s great news,” she said, “But I won’t tell you unless you come inside.”
He couldn’t imagine great enough news to warrant this torment,
but there would be no turning her down.
       “Alright.”

 

The Three Queens

         She led him to the front doors and the fire demons burned brighter at the sight of him. He recoiled, but Cosette held his wrist. Someone in the back clapped, and the crowd parted to allow him entry. Brows knitted, smiles leered. Voices layered over each other to get in their well-wishes or poignant thoughts on mortality. Cosette pulled him along even as his feet skidded. The scared dog being dragged to the veterinarian. A bag of dried leaves to throw on the bonfire.
 

       “Anselm! You poor thing!” A squat woman blocked
their path.
       “Frau Wollen,” Cosette waved back.
       “However we can help, just say the word,” Wollen said, “The Kunstakademie is deeply moved by the situation, how it affects not just one individual, but the whole art community. If a survivor is to recover, it will help all of us survive this grievous moment.”
       Anselm could hardly make himself heard, “It’s fine,
thank you. Very kind of you.”
       “It’s not kind, it’s necessary! You are such an important figure, especially now. A phoenix rising from— Well, you’re special. A newly-minted star!”
Cosette kept a hand on his shoulder. “Indeed! We’re all here for you!”
       “What’s—” his voice was swallowed by the crowd. He felt their stares even through the fire.

The Three Queens
 

       “Isn’t it wonderful,” Cosette said, “So many people here to express their well-wishes, specifically for you. To help you feel better. She’s right, you know, your healing will heal us all from this great tragedy. Isn’t it inspiring to see the community come together like this?”
       “W-wonderful, yes, wonderful,” Anselm murmured as though a mantra. His name echoed as figures waved to get his attention.
       She deposited him in front of a man and vanished. He studied the man’s shoes— the door, where was the door? He was lost in the sea of bodies.
       “Anselm, dear Anselm,” a scalding hand touched his arm.
“You sounded so different on the phone.”
Pieter, Helmut, Jan, Victor— no.
       “Herr Schumer…”

The Three Queens

     “Don’t Herr me— ah, it doesn’t have to be this way! You’re the real thing. You’re a beautiful artist and we almost lost you! I… almost lost you.”
       “Why is— Why is everyone here?” Anselm stammered. “I didn’t d— I’m here, now, so why
the fuss?”
       “Don’t be so curt. What of tenderness? Don’t you need comfort? Life is so precious.”
       Anselm looked away, but the fire surrounded him on all sides.
       “I would just be one more name on the list. What does it matter? If I hadn’t… lived, no one would do this for me. ”
       “See, you don’t even know your own value.
This is why you need love. Not just romantically,
of course.”
       Anselm cast about — No Cosette and as he looked up, more ghastly, burning masks turned
his way.

 

       “Let’s talk more,” Schumer said, “Tell me what you love, and what gives you pleasure. Later tonight perhaps, or sometime tomorrow.”
       “Why would you want to?”
       “If you cannot believe in yourself, trust that I have my reasons.
Trust that we all have reasons to care.”
     “I’d rather no one thought about me at all.”
     “I can’t bear to see you in such pain. Whatever I can do, personally,
to help you through this, I must! I have no choice. Tomorrow. Say, two o’clock. I can cancel the class, it’s just the section on post-heterodox orthography.”
       “I’ll be sleeping,” Anselm said, “Sleeping all day.”
       “What? It’s not healthy! But what of the night? Tomorrow night. We will meet, alone, just you and I, and you will see the other side of this, I swear.”
       Anselm tilted on his feet, he might slip beneath everyone’s notice if he crawled on the floor. Years ago, looking at the art on Schumer’s walls. Sipping wine together and a hand on his back.
       
Cosette took his arm again.
       “Wonderful to see you, Dieter. He really needed this.”
       “Yes, yes, we will see to his every need.”
       Back into the crowd. Words repeated over each other in an echoing cacophony. Voices turning up on the ends, clotted with tears and mucus.
       “The good news—” Cosette pulled Anselm along, “Your drawings sold!”
       “That’s nice.”
       “Better still, there’s a waiting list for more! More than ten! I’ll give
you their numbers, but everyone wants your work. Commissions, prints, anything, isn’t that wonderful?”
       “Yes, wonderful.”
       “People are here to see you— Over here— I tried to get a hold of your mother, but she wasn’t sure if she could make it to the—”
Anselm swayed as a particular voice cut through the racket. A tired woman and a small child lingering behind her. Five, or six years, was it? The baby he’d never seen, probably in school already.
       “I’m so sorry,” she said, “I heard about everything”
He closed the distance and embraced her. She was breathing, wind rushed through her esophagus, her heart beat in her chest and blood pulsed through her veins. Wisps of her fire escaped between his fingers. His
dead fingers. She was still alive, and he was a walking corpse.
       “You didn’t have to come here,” he murmured in her shoulder.
       “I know, I wanted to see you. Um, how are you? Other than…”
       “—I’m fine. Edi…”

The Three Queens

 

       He glanced to the child, no resemblance to him. So it was true.
Of course it was. Back then, in the car. Both of them sobbing at the news. What would they do? He said through tears that they would figure it out, together. And she reminded him, it wasn't possible. Not with him. They didn't even get high together anymore, let alone do anything that could cause… Maybe it was Jan or Pieter's brother but it didn't matter. It was a good excuse to get out, to be normal again. For her, at least. And she was gone and he was alone. She didn't lie, but somehow he had always wondered. The years passed and he hadn't had the heart to confirm it.
       The child stepped behind his mother to avoid the monster’s gaze.
       “I’m so sorry,” Anselm said into the cloth of Edi’s dress, “I can’t— I can’t do this right now.”
       “Oh, well, if—”
He tried to give her a friendly wave as he pulled away, resembling more of a drowning victim clawing for the surface. He slipped away, tossed by scorching bodies as he followed the scent of fresh air. The door— the monsters released him and he spilled into the alley.
       Without a thought, he gripped the rough wall and clambered
up like a scuttling spider. The roof rushed with ventilation units and whirling pinwheels and rattling machinery. He sat on a utility box, looking out at the squat buildings around him. The humans walking below, unaware of undead monsters watching them from on high. Voices echoed up the pipes, he hummed to blot out the words, to disguise how often his name was repeated.

The Three Queens

 

        The crowd was left adrift, searching for their artist. How terrible. Von Hechten emerged from a shadowy corner and squinted through the flames. No little mice lingered behind
walls or hid in corners.
       “Oh, Von Hechten!” Frau Wollen said, “You’re here too? That’s so great! But what of the controversy—”
      He seized her attention with his eyes, “What’s going on here?”
      “We all heard Anselm survived the terrible tragedy and came
out to show support from all of us. Telling him how we feel, expressing our hearts.”
       “Doesn’t seem like something he’d enjoy, does it? He's rather the shy sort, I don't get it myself.”
       “Everyone needs compassion! Even if he doesn’t realize it,
his soul—”
       “Whatever, you can go away.”
       She smiled politely, unmoved by the dismissal, and went back to her previous conversation. Von Hechten turned to a cluster of academy students.
       “You, you, you, look at me. Sleep.” They fell, plastic wine cups clattered to the floor.
       “Oh no,” he called out, “There must be a gas leak. Could another tragedy be unfolding in front of our eyes?”

The Three Queens
 

 

       Gasps echoed up the ventilation shaft. Sobbing, feet pounding cement. What the hell? Anselm leaned down to the vent, nothing but hot dust. Gas? Who said that? Down below, people milled in the distance. How dreadful, they said. Oh the terrible luck. Someone would call the owner, poor Anselm.
       What happened? He hopped down to the deserted alley
and peered in the back door.

The Three Queens

 

       An empty floor, scattered cups and puddles of spilled wine.
Von Hechten leaned against a nearby wall.
       “Human nature at its best today. Look, some brave souls
risked the hazardous gas to retrieve the unconscious.”
       “What is this?” Anselm stepped inside. “There’s not…”
Dropped crackers snapped under his shoes. A faint ghost
of body odor remained, the subtle tinge of oils and inks from
the abandoned art.
       Von Hechten gestured loosely, “I couldn’t imagine you were enjoying this scene, so I sent it away.”
       Anselm looked about as though the crowd might blink back into existence. “Oh— ah, yeah.”
       “You don’t have to thank me. It was effortless. But you should use your supernatural abilities to depart before ‘emergency services’ come in the front door.”        
       Anselm pushed the back door open in a daze. The distant voices grew diffuse, a siren wailed.
       “Call shadows to yourself,” Von Hechten said, “Let us walk
to my car.”
       Anselm nodded vaguely and absorbed a dumpster's shadow until he was only a shadow himself. Von Hechten joined him in inky invisibility. In the streetlight they became grey phantoms, an indistinct patch that eyes passed right over as the crowd waited for the firetrucks. The invisible boy. Von Hechten opened the passenger door to yet another extravagant car. Anselm took a seat, releasing his shadows in a formless puff of darkness. All of that— the words, the faces, the closeness, the heat— vanished in a dreamy haze. This sports car felt more familiar in its factory-sealed sterility than dozens of familiar voices calling his name. The engine rumbled and snapped him back to reality.

The Three Queens

        “Perhaps we should go somewhere without people.” Von Hechten said. “The bindery is closed for the night. Do you want to see it?”
       “The printer— um, sure.”
       “Not much for conversation, are we? Do you have a favorite radio station?”
       “Ah, sorry… my mind was erased. All that, it was a nightmare.”
       “Hm? You may tell me about it, if you like.” He rolled the car onto the Strasse, face impassive as ever.
       “I’ve had actual nightmares like that, everyone looking at me.” Anselm rubbed his neck, foreign oil and breath vapors still clung to his skin.
       “I can’t say I understand it, but I’m glad I was of some use.”
       “Yes, yes definitely.”

 
 

 

       Low, historic buildings lined Bowling Strasse in neat rows. They once housed candy shops and hatters, now for lease with unaffordable rent. No one even bothered, save for the occasional fleeting boutique. Trees loomed out over the deserted sidewalks and century-old brick. Von Hechten Verlagshaus was solid as a hollowed-out rock as they stepped inside the
old building. Curving shapes and twists and cords overwhelmed the senses, ancient technology next to modern desks buried in orderly documentation. Windows ran along the edge of the roof, framing the starry sky.

The Three Queens

 


       “Wow,” Anselm folded his hands like a child on a field trip. He took in the sights, the startling complexity of textures and smells and shapes.
       “I know of this process in broad strokes,” Von Hechten said, “But many things here are beyond me. For instance, what does this do?” He tapped a blocky, beige machine with a finger and shrugged.
       Anselm chuckled. The overhead lights fizzed to life and illuminated jars of mysterious colorful fluids.
       “This has been here a long time?” he asked.
       “Yes, it has changed considerably. The brickwork was extensively revamped, oh, about a century ago. These pipes were redone only recently, so expensive.”
       “Did your family really own this?”
       “No, international trade was far more difficult then. But the Von Hechtens did own the largest press in Zuriland. You see, I’m not like the people in the Vernictian Lodge, I am of the middle class and had to learn
to function in higher society as I hoped to help you with.”
       “I can’t function in any society, don’t worry about it.”
       “Hm. So it seems. And your interest here, is it that these machines have no eyes to look at you?”
       Anselm laughed. “I'm not sure if I’m quite so whimsical, but perhaps.”
       “No lips to speak to you?”
       “Can’t hurt.” He examined a gigantic metal roller, how must it look in motion? Rain tapped against the glass high above.
       Von Hechten followed at a distance. “I suppose as an artisan of the word, it shouldn't surprise me that words can harm. But it still seems foreign to me, the fear of such.”
       “I’m not afraid of words. Those people don’t really want to talk to me. They want me to act a certain way, to feel a certain way, to cry on their shoulder so they can feel better.”
       “That does sound vile.”
Anselm smiled for the briefest moment before he returned to running a finger along a curling cord.
       Von Hechten gave him the tour. Some machines hadn't been used in decades, some were freshly grimy. Some were thoroughly modern, with electronic components. He explained the process to create Anselm’s book, recalling those details years later. And at the end, he came to a simple work-table surrounded by jars and brushes and styluses. It seemed more fit for painting than printing.
       “What’s this?” Anselm asked.
       “This is the handwork area. Anything that cannot be performed with machinery is done here. As you can imagine, that’s very little these days. Mostly it's used by employees for personal art projects of limited run.
One employee likes to lay gold leaf on art prints. Hmm, here’s one.”
       He pulled a vellum-covered board from a slotted storage under the desk. Beneath the tissue was a tame, Orientalist artwork but in the center an elaborate Songese symbol gleamed, embossed in gold leaf.
       Anselm cocked his head to examine its shine. “Oh wow, that’s nostalgic.
I haven’t used leaf in forever.”
       “You used it before?”
       “Once or twice back in school. It’s too expensive.”
       Von Hechten pointed to him, “Stay here.” He turned into the darker parts of the building. Anselm leaned against the table, running his fingers over the rough-hewn wood, gouged by years of labor. Who worked back here? Worked for Von Hechten. He’d want to pity them, but how nice would it be to have a gigantic place like this as your after-hours studio?
       Von Hechten laid a familiar book upon the desk. Anselm looked down at the back cover of his book; he hadn’t seen a copy in years. He gestured to it, “This space in the middle— we can add value to this.” He flipped on a nearby lamp and gathered a brush and a brown glass jar. “Paint your signature with this adhesive, take this gold leaf and you know what to do.”
       “Sure,” Anselm pulled up a stool, “Sure, okay.”

The Three Queens

The Three Queens

       In time, he stopped glancing back and got into the craft of it. Von Hechten wandered about, taking random jars off the wall and swirling them under his nose like a sommelier at a wine-tasting. The tissuey gold leaf adhered to Anselm’s fingertips and sparkling flakes danced through the air, pleasantly sharp with the adhesive's scent. He brushed away the fragments and revealed a glittery rendition of his signature.
       “That was fun,” he said, “You never do new things after you graduate. You get into your niche and stay there.”
       “Good,” Von Hechten said, “Very good. I’d offer you a job here but would you even be interested? It’s one thing to play, another thing to have responsibilities.”
       “To work here?” Anselm gazed off. “I never had a job, would I be any good?”
       “Only one way to find out.”

 
 

       “It would be nice to have more than five or ten Graumarks a week.”
       “Very well, I’ll add a late shift. We'll need new employees to work
with you.”
       “Working with people?” He held the book in his lap and flipped through it idly. “What would I do?”
       “You don’t seem confident to run the show, you could do whatever the manager suggested. We aren’t a very active press, so it’s not a high pressure environment.”
       “That would be good. Huh.” Anselm leaned against the desk, eyes turning in thought. “No one ever gave me a job before.”
       “I know we’re not expecting gratitude from Eichel to Von Hechten for
the time being, but perhaps this will edge things in that direction.”
       Anselm cycled through a few subtle expressions. “Ha. Um, maybe.”
Something scraped up the back of his neck, little pin pricks. Little talons.
He brushed the sensation away.
       I know. I haven’t forgotten…

***

       The night sky lightened, the foreboding sign of the coming sun. Anselm blotted it out with his new, heavy curtains. He was only halfway done with this new drawing, but there was no point working in the state he'd be in when morning came. He gathered his brushes to wash in the bathroom sink. He'd have to invest in better cleaning methods if he was going to start drawing more like this. Inky water flowed down the drain and grey droplets splattered the sides of the basin. It'd been so long since he'd had the desire to work, maybe it was all that gold leaf's doing. A knock at the door. This late?
       Regen stared back on the other side of the peephole. Strange, he wasn't vain enough to assume an impromptu sexy assignation, but why was she here? Morning vampire-sex must be a dreary time for everyone.
       He parted the door, “Is something the matter?”
       “Can I come in? Only for a few minutes, I think we should talk.”
       He tried to engage her eyes, but her gaze was steady and blank.
       “Okay?” He stepped aside and she entered, hands in pockets, a granite statue in a hoodie.

The Three Queens

       “So,” she said, “As a progenitor, you’re in the inner circle, the halls of power, and you could exchange favors with some powerful vampires.”
       Anselm took a seat and said nothing.
       She continued, “I don’t have any authority or power over you, Von Hechten certainly doesn’t. The only thing keeping him alive is making himself useful to you.”
       Anselm put his chin on his knee. Oh. That's what this was about.
       Regen considered her words with a hand on her temple. “There’s a reason why he’s my best friend. You’ve met O’Meara, seen my sisters. Seen why there might be
a problem.”
       Anselm nodded. O'Meara was a man with a particular taste.

 

The Three Queens

 

       “Aside from the obvious moral horror there, the indignity is the worst. This fucking clown reducing you to a prop in his clownish existence. I'd been suffering for, what, five years? Other vampires were cordial but didn't do anything to help. Von Hechten didn't either, for a while. But he devised a plan to save my life, and it worked.”

 

The Three Queens

 

       “After that, I was free and Von Hechten kept me company, helped me make a life for myself.”
       Anselm wanted to give her a sympathetic look, but would it even matter? Would she even notice?
       “It’s true,” she said, “If it weren’t for him, I'd be a sex slave right now. And now, if one of your new friends set their mind to it, his days could be numbered. The only hope is that you’re more reasonable than the little beasts in your ears. He made you immortal, took away your illnesses, all your human limitations. The process was painful, but so was mine.”
       Anselm didn't look up, “I didn’t ask him to do anything.”
       “He made you a lord. Wolz, Dallmann, Teufelkunst, they’ve
made people into slaves. No freedom in sight.”
       “I didn’t ask anything of them either,” Anselm strained to hide the irritation in his voice. “He might be your friend, but the only ‘good’ things he’s done for me are like an ice cream cone from an abusive father. An ice pack for my black eye. I won't be grateful
for a gift I never wanted.”
       “You haven’t been in this circumstance long enough to appreciate it. You'll see humans come and go so easily, suffer so greatly, and you'll appreciate being a vampire. You'll see the cruelty of vampire society and you’re going to appreciate being a progenitor. And I hope you do, I hope my best friend can be spared, whatever knives may be sharpening.”
       The finches rattled their cage bars and Anselm didn't hush them. “If I wanted to call in these favors, I could have done it three times over the other night. I didn’t.”
       “Good. That’s all I ever want of you. I’ll show myself out.”
She headed to his window and Anselm didn’t turn to watch.


TELL HER TELL HER TELL HER

       “Don’t cross the river or an owl might catch you.”
       “…I’ll watch out,” she said, brows knitted. She fluttered out in
the shape of a silly little bird. Anselm waited a moment and shut
the window a little too hard.

***

       Reckenburg slept fitfully, moments from waking. Windows lit up as sad humans dragged themselves from their beds too early. Regen flapped over the city on her way home. The talk wouldn't be enough, she'd have to keep an eye on that guy. At least he knew someone was watching, knew that he couldn't just get away with murder like that. She came to the river crossing. Owls prefer lower flying prey and they'd never bothered her before. Why would he even say that? What a bizarre person. Par for the course with progenitors, easy to forget, in some ways. The wind ruffled through her feathers, jostling her in its wake. A shadow spun around her and knives pierced through her plumage.

The Three Queens

 

       Massive talons squeezed her tiny body. She twisted and flapped, but its grip was unbreakable. The owl dragged her toward a rooftop to get its beak in and finish the job. She slipped from its claws in a pool of shadow and tumbled to the roof. The confused owl flapped around her until she slapped it away. It dove off, still hungry. And now she was as well, healing her wounded torso.
       How was that possible? How did he know?


 

The Three Queens

 


END - PART TWO - THE THREE QUEENS

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     June 29th, 2017
     By:  Christopher

This is it! And what an it it is. The last Anselm chapter for a while. Next update, which will hopefully be much less delayed than this one, will be a return to actual bona fide Kingfishin'. I don't know if I'm prepared mentally and physically, but the new air conditioner in my room might help. Oh, and the fact I personally will not be contributing to the writing and art at all. I'm on easy street, I tells ya. Kelly,
on the other hand, muhahaha...

Back to the matter at hand though, what did you think of this installment of Anselm's story? The drama hit some pretty serious highs, even with only a small help from Herr Punkthagen. I'm very curious what you think of it. Until next time, ...Excelsior!
 

COMMENTS

 
 

       TRANSCRIPT: This is visual description of the illustrations, for purposes such as accessibility and internet searches.

1.)

(A black and white boudoir scene opens this part. Anselm in druggier times, thin, in bed with Edi and Pieter. Edi reads from a book,
Pieter is passed out and facing away, and Anselm is picking up a cigarette. There are red touches on the cigarette box and lighter.)

2.)

(The present night, Anselm awakening from a dream, distressed.)

3.)

  (Anselm and Von Hechten enter a club, VH in a shiny blazer and Anselm in a dilapidated rain coat. The
low angle shows lighting fixtures above and a decor of intentionally broken mirrors. This club is bad luck.)

4.)

(Von Hechten dances close with a human, his body heat rendered dramatically as orange and yellow flames.)

5.)

(Anselm also attempting to dance with a fiery man, looking less enthusiastic. The crowd behind
     is visible as a wall of fire, shards of the decor mirrors are yellow in the darkness above.)

6.)

(It's Janice and Lucio, saucy in front of the broken mirrors. Janice is falling over her sexy friend.
  Janice wears a lace shirt over a black bra, Lucio a tuxedo shirt with sleeves crudely removed.
)

7.)

(Anselm has found the pair arm in arm, and regards them with a little amusement.)

8.)

(Janice and Lucio, as usual, have Anselm in the nicest of grips. He holds a frozen
   beverage of their device. Von Hechten has caught them and no one is happy.)

9.)

(Von Hechten speaks while driving, on a brick-sized cellular phone with a twisting antenna.)

10.)

    (A quiet neighborhood of apartment blocks, most with central courtyards. One such
apartment is draped with tented material and hoses to fumigate for some kind of infestation.)

11.)

(Four vampires stand on the tent cloth: Anselm, Regen, Von Hechten, and ever-grinning Otumbo.)

12.)

(Otumbo has tossed Anselm off the roof, cheerfully. The young vampire is upended.)

13.)

  (Von Hechten is in tight dark clothes with bare arms, like a ballerino in practice plus red
sneakers. He floats in the air in a T pose while Anselm barely clings to a chimney, bug-like.)

14.)

(Otumbo makes merry, with his head monster-sized and popped off, held up in his hands. Regen and Von Hechten are unmoved.)

15.)

 (The first of three images with Regen and Anselm in the foreground, watching Otumbo and
Von Hechten demonstrate powers. Here the two older vampires are figures of pure shadow.)

16.)

(Still shadowy and now hovering again, Von Hechten strikes a ballerino pose. Otumbo stands sideways on a chimney.)

17.)

 (Regen and Anselm can hardly watch as the capering ones have devolved into goony-looking monsters
with over-sized heads. License on the part of the artists, or are they really meant to look so cartoonish?)

18.)

(Regen reclines peacefully, home phone in hand, its spiralling cord trailing off panel.)

19.)

(Von Hechten and pensive Anselm as always, now back to back in tuxedos, in front of another fiery set of mortals.)

20.)

(Anselm alone, closed body language, with snooty-looking rich people silhouettes in the flames around him.)

21.)

(A portly human with thick dark hair and moustache points a dramatic finger at Anselm, who is now outside.)

22.)

(The human, a valet, is gestures dramatically in front of mild-mannered Anselm and Von Hechten.)

23.)

(Von Hechten's brick cell phone explodes.)

24.)

(Anselm has arms crossed over his chest, shadows of a crowd looming on a wall near at hand.)

25.)

(Cosette pulls tiny Anselm into a wall of moaning fire demons, a representation of human society in our hero's eye.)

26.)

(Frau Wollen from the first chapter of Anselm's story returns, this time on fire and grinning, hand reaching for a shake.)

27.)

(Who is this? Another professorial-looking human, gesturing fancifully at us in our Anselm-eye view.)

28.)

(Anselm being hugged by Edi. She lives, and as all of the living here,
 seems to Anselm blazing with fire. Her child is clinging to her arm.)

29.)

(Rooftop Anselm is huddled with hands on knees, looking quietly distraught.)

30.)

(Von Hechten in suit and mirrored shades, looming into the gallery at a canted angle.)

31.)

(Anselm peers from a stairwell door back into the gallery, pensive though everyone seems to be gone.)

32.)

(Von Hechten has Anselm at his disposal again, on another car ride.)

33.)

(The same night, the two enter a crowded brick work-space - Von Hechten's book bindery.)

34.)

(Von Hechten is pleased with himself as Anselm works gold foil over a book in the background.)

35.)

(Closer detail of Anselm's craft. The foil is held in place with light vises, and he uses a tool to press into it.)

36.)

(In Anselm's shoddy home / art studio, he sits on the bed, shy but OK. Hoodied Regen is visiting.)

37.)

(In Regen's past, she stands before her lecherous progenitor, arms crossed over her bare chest. Her bosomy sisters are at the man's sides.)

38.)

    (Regen has ripped off handfuls of her chest, bloody scraps trailing from her hands.
O'Meara is horrified to his core, Lotte shocked as well, Antonia amused at her bold gambit.)

39.)

(A great grey owl violently seizes a small fowl - Regen in the form of a corn crake.)

40.)

(Anselm's book, the vises and foil askew, revealing the text -"To be continued" and Anselm's signature in gold.)

TEXT: Fortsetzung folgt...        Anselm Eichel        (text to small to read)        VON HECHTEN

 

 
 
 
 
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