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THE KINGFISHER PRESENTS:

THE UNLUCKY BOY, PART ONE

(Transcript and visual captions below)

 

Once upon a time…

The Unlucky Boy

 

        Springtime again, and an influx of fledgling young artists were released into the professional stream. And like so many fragile minnows, most were devoured in moments. An ideal time for scouting, most of the graduates would accept a pittance to have their work published, for validation. For anyone other than their professors and parents to say they did a good job and pat their pretty little heads. And those pre-devoured hatchlings were so very tender and lovely…

        Night had not quite fallen, but the pain of daylight was worth suffering to better see the things one needed to see. Von Hechten strolled by galleries on Eichenwald Strasse. All teensy glass boxes
you could scope with a single glance from outside, highly convenient. This was the last call for graduates from the art school, the ones too lazy to sign up promptly, or the kind that had to be forced to do it
at all. The first two on the block were headlined by bland, greasy boys, displaying dreary expressionist disasters. He continued his search, if he didn’t find anything tonight, he’d make do with that
frizzy-haired girl with the textiles, perhaps she looked better without clothes.

 

 
The Unlucky Boy
 

     

        More patrons milled within the third glass box, the Schwarz-Weiss gallery. Von Hechten couldn’t pinpoint its celebrity, perhaps he or she was hidden behind a wall or off drinking away their sorrows. And they certainly couldn’t do that on-site, a single bottle of wine sat on a card table next to
a few knocked-over plastic cups. The guests were young and poorly dressed in the fashion of the day— Kunstakademie students. At least one of which he’d already printed and he avoided her needy gaze. He needed something new, someone new. The gallery was not large, but a labyrinth of movable walls could hide a little mouse. He hardly took in the art, huge sheets of paper swirling with stark ink imagery. Of course it would print just fine,
but that wasn’t the most important element.

 

 

The Unlucky Boy

 

 

        Normally it was easy to clock the artist in a gallery. The self-conscious posture, the examination of each newcomer and the nearly visible perked ears at the room’s conversation. This one though, could be the miserable lover waiting for their chance to flee, the unloved little brother. But he stood alone, ignoring the others, and conspicuously ignoring Von Hechten as he moved into sight. A pair of young ladies in chunky knits approached the loner.

        “There you are,” said the first, “It’s wonderful! Are you excited?”

The other girl glanced around, poorly feigning indifference, “I’m glad you got the lighting sorted out.”

        “Me too,” said the first, “It looks great! Did those hidden pins do the trick?”

The young man nodded weakly, and with an equally weak voice, said the exact minimum of words to make the girls retreat. He resumed his posture of staring at a blank piece of wall. Often these reluctant types were forced into their shows because of abysmal quality, but there was nothing objectionable here. The work filled all the spaces, nearly to the point of over-crowding, the edges neatly matted and the paper adhered perfectly flat to its backing. What was the issue? Von Hechten slid across the floor surreptitiously and flexed his fingers.

        “You are the unlucky one, I take it?”

The boy pretended to have not noticed his approach and glanced somewhere in his general vicinity. “Oh— I guess you might say that.”

 

 
 

He smiled perfunctorily and gazed out at the gallery as though noticing it for the first time. Von Hechten allowed the lad’s eyes this moment of escape, because he knew they would soon be trapped.    

        “Defend your thesis. The unlucky youth in these drawings, in life, is..?”

The boy laughed dryly. “I’m only an illustrator, so I have no thesis. It’s just
a reference to the story of the Curse Tree. But everyone feels unlucky,
don’t they?”

        “Some might. I never do.”

        “Oh, well, that’s nice…” The boy looked away at nothing.

The relief of sundown washed over Von Hechten, his senses blooming.
The subtle smells of the gallery amplified— cheap wine, still drying ink and nervous sweat. The boy’s head lit up like a candle, his sharp features disappearing under the blur of flame. A flame that burned weaker than those surrounding him, the chill of the unwell.

Von Hechten calmed and settled into the moment, feeling out the world in
a way closed to him moments before. A stocky woman bustled up, heels clacking on the cement.

        “Oh Anselm darling, have you met Herr Von Hechten? He’s fantastic, you know of his art books, don’t you? Fantastic, just really—"


 
The Unlucky Boy

        She clasped the young man’s hand and shoved it at Von Hechten to force a handshake between them. The boy stared at her bewildered, his out-thrust hand curled into the meaningless gesture of a mannequin.
Von Hechten himself had a moment of surprise at her impropriety, which melted into amusement.

        “Hands need to be forced sometimes, don’t they,
Frau Wollen?”

He took Anselm’s hand, nearly as cold as his own.
Bird-like bones all too fragile under thin skin. The boy gazed down at their hands’ meeting, uncomprehending.

Frau Wollen steepled her fingers eagerly.

        “It’s so wonderful for you to come see our student’s work, Herr Von Hechten. And always fabulous to
see you— I suppose I’ll leave you to enjoy the show!”

Von Hechten bowed his head. “Please do, yes, nice…”

 
 


She forced herself away, glancing over her shoulder to make sure no one would miss her too greatly. Anselm tracked her movement, brow furrowed, until she fell out of sight. He looked back to Von Hechten, still holding his cold hand.

        “Oh—”

Von Hechten raised his eyebrows, “Some people seem to have missed the rules.”

Anselm released his hand and stepped back, his gaze passing around the room restlessly before falling to the comfortably blank bit of wall he’d been studying earlier.

        “Yes, it’s…”

His words trailed off, inaudible even to supernatural ears. Von Hechten took in the details and their meanings, on the chance they’d have future use.
The boy was practiced in social invisibility— making people either comfortable or uncomfortable enough to ignore him, knowing by instinct which tactic to use and how much. A passing student glanced their way, blank-faced. Von Hechten glanced around, no one here but strangers, students and faculty. No one with the same elfin eyes or pointed nose.

        “Has your family seen your work?”

        “I don’t know…” Anselm blinked a few times. “I mean, no. They don’t care about it. Art. In general.”

        “Of course. The masses know little.”

        “No matter. I don’t think about it.”

        “And neither will I.”

Frau Wollen peered back into sight, judgmental eyes glinting behind her glasses. The boy seemed to read something into it, and and parted his lips
to speak.

        “Well…”

He searched around for a conversation topic, and on finding nothing,
pressed down the edge of a label that had begun to peel. Von Hechten startled him with sudden, loud words.

        “—Oh yes, wise beyond your years. I could use someone like you in
my book on illustration of the Queen’s Age. Just a few panels, no big commitment…”

Anselm cast him a skeptical look, then to Frau Wollen and back, slight amusement creeping in to his expression.

        “How very generous.”

        “It’s nothing, we should talk more, at length, yes?”

Wollen got her momentary fill of self-satisfaction and faded away.

        “Sure,” Anselm shifted on his heels, “I have cards in the front with
my information.”

        “She’s gone.”

        “Oh, yes. So…”

He got the nerve to look higher than Von Hechten’s collar. The unearthly rich man revealed nothing with his pleasant corpse expression. Anselm turned away with thinly veiled discomfort.
        “Were we talking about something? I forgot, with the interruption.”

Von Hechten considered his words for a moment.

        “…You make the safe assumption.”

        “Of…? Oh, the printing. Well, yes. Of course.”

        “That’s wise but sad.”

He smiled faintly. “It’s okay. It’s less Queen’s Age influenced than
Late-Decoration.”

Von Hechten took that as a launching point for discussing Anselm’s artwork
at length. The work was elaborately detailed with a particular emphasis on hidden creatures among the design elements. This was inspired by the whimsies tucked away in Holy Ages manuscripts, Anselm said. At the broaching of any conceptual discussion, he’d repeat his mantra, ‘I’m just an illustrator.’ Von Hechten only accepted his self-deprecating dismissals as far as they didn’t shut down lines of conversation.

He pulled out a silver cigarette case and offered it.

        “Would you like some cocaine?”

Anselm raised his eyebrows and glanced around. The patrons had thinned, engaged in their own private discussions by now, no artist to lead them. He tentatively reached for the case.

Von Hechten held it back.

        “Allow me.”

He opened it and pulled out a business card with gold lettering. Total fakeout.

Anselm smiled and took the card. “That’s not nice.”

His fingers ran over a bit of plastic on the back. A small baggie of powder taped in place. He laughed quietly.

Von Hechten checked his watch. “So call me about the illustration contract whenever you like. I’ve got things to do, as they say.”

Anselm glanced back to see if Frau Wollen had re-manifested spectre-like to goad the man into false offers, but there was no sign of her. He turned the card around in his hand. It was his real card, show-offy printing techniques, explicit reference to the publishing house and a number that was directly associated with his name. A direct line.

        “Thank you.”

        “It’s nothing.”

Then the man was gone.

 

 

The Unlucky Boy

 

        Anselm tucked the cocaine packet into his wallet. He didn’t have interest in using it, but it seemed polite to accept it. The rest of the art show had been unthrilling. Cosette came to talk to him, and was mildly enthusiastic about the contract. She said he should get together with ‘all we lucky ones,’ a celebratory party for all those who’d landed residencies and impressive commissions. He gave his typical pleasant yet non-committal response.
No worse fate than being stuck in a room with a bunch of
self-congratulating heirs.

        Nothing sold, but he hadn’t priced anything to move. The social stress of dealing with a buyer was not worth the meager payment, and he’d rather just roll everything up and keep it close. He tried to not think of the offer,
but his mind drifted back to it, an elaborate joke, surely. He worked in his studio the next day, but could only bring himself to listlessly fill in black areas. Don’t come off too eager, let it set for a while, don’t come off as desperate. The morning after that, he called. He reached an answering machine.

        Herr Von Hechten is out of the office today, please leave
a detailed message.

It was both relieving, and alarming as he hadn’t formulated a coherent thought.

        “Hello— ah, this is Anselm Eichel, we met at the Schwarz/Weiss gallery the other night. I’d like to discuss the possible contract— at… your convenience. My um, number is…”

He worried for a time he’d gotten the number wrong in his panic, but was fairly certain it was right. Fairly… It bothered him all day.

After dark he received a call. He almost wished he hadn’t, but gathered his courage to pick up.

        “Hello, this is Anselm?”

        “Hello, I am returning phone calls.”

An awkward silence.

        “Yes, ah, we spoke at the uh, Schwarz/Weiss gallery… about a contract.”

        “… That’s right. Decoration. So, what do you think?”

        “Well…” What did he think? “I’m not sure on the terms, but whatever suits you.”

        “Of course, I never do anything to which I am unsuited. We should meet tonight. Do you have a restaurant that you favor?”

 

They set up the meeting with an uncomfortable exchange, le Loup it was.
At least he could pay for a meal there if he had to.

        Anselm hurried from the bus and got in line behind a couple dressed in androgynous hobo chic. Their haircuts surely cost more than his rent.
Le Loup was a trendy diner/bar hybrid, the dim booths lit by weak amber lamps, cigarette smoke swirled in the air. The line crept forward and he was seated in a booth after an interminable wait. He glanced back and forth to the door, stomach burning with acid. He crunched on ice cubes from his water glass and obsessively mopped up the condensation it left.

        Fifteen minutes tardy, his ‘date’ breezed in the door and right past
the queue. Anselm waved, as faux-casually as he could manage. He’d long ago tucked away his coat, but the place still felt humid and airless. Was he sweating? He’d been running the ice cubes along his pulse points, don’t look like a red-cheeked child, look natural, look cool! Von Hechten took note of him and approached.

 

The Unlucky Boy

 

He slid in the booth across from Anselm, a thousand Graumark blazer buttoned over nothing. “Did you want to get right to business, or order some sustenance?”

        “Might as well while we’re here, right?”

On cue, the waitress returned. Anselm ordered a cinnamon roll and black coffee. They both looked to
Von Hechten.

        “Eh, no thanks,” he waved a dismissive hand,
“I’m too strung out right now.”

The waitress smirked and left with no comment.

        “This early in the night, hm?” Anselm twisted
a straw wrapper around one skinny finger.

        “Oh you know how it is. Everyone does whatever
it is they can get away with.”

        “Ha, you think so? I guess some people can get away with more than others.”

        “Yes, the wealthy, such as myself. And the beautiful, such as yourself.”

 

Anselm looked down at the mess he was creating with the straw wrapper, wondering if he should say ‘thank you,’ but only managed
a low chuckle.

        “It’s true,” Von Hechten said, “People like you and I, everything turns on us. See that fellow over there with the spotty face and misshapen beard? Nothing turns on him.”

Anselm glanced that way and clicked his tongue sympathetically.
        “I’m not sure much turns on me, but I appreciate being included
in the sentiment.”

        “Tsk tsk. You’ve allowed people to take your power from you.
You’ll get nowhere in life doing that.”

Anselm wanted to argue the point, but nodded and regretted destroying his sole distraction into fine shreds. The waitress brought his coffee and cast a curious glance at Von Hechten before retreating.

        “They have a bar here, you know,” Anselm said.

        “I wouldn’t want to mix intoxicants. No internal chemistry experiments.”

Anselm laughed. But was it even a joke? The coffee was acrid;
the powerful taste washed over him and overwhelmed his senses.

Von Hechten’s voice took on that business-y air, “Your art will
be published by Von Hechten Press, the question is how we want to go about it.”

        “I have many more pieces I didn’t put in the show. Might have something better suited. What’s the topic?”

        “What should it be?”

Anselm furrowed his brow, “That wouldn’t be up to me, would it?”

        “I don’t seek out commissions. I see the sort of talent that can move paper and build a project to suit them. So think— a compilation of young artists, a review of contemporary illustration… something on the influence of the late-decoration era on hipster aesthetics.”

        “Heh, I don’t know about that last one, it was a pretty unpopular topic among my peers.”

        “Well, whatever you could see on a table at an upscale coffee shop.”

Anselm leaned back, holding the mug to his chest. “Maybe… ink and paper works? It’s not very popular either, so it would be easy to narrow down pieces.”

        “Perfect. And so it is done.” Von Hechten gesticulated vaguely.

        “That was simple—”Anselm raised his eyebrows, “Oh, well, I’m sure there are plenty of other things to work out.”

        “Yes, but we’re not going to waste our time with trivia tonight.
We should get to know each other. What do you do for fun?”

        “Oh ah— it’s funny, when someone asks you that and you forget everything about yourself.”

        “Yes, that it is. But we don’t have time for that. I did mention that I’m strung-out.”

        “Um… typical stuff, concerts and reading. I’m saving up for
a motorcycle. Suddenly finding myself with much more free time after graduating.”

Von Hechten nodded. “Concerts. Shall we check the listings?”

        “Oh…! Really? Well, sure. What do you like?”

The waitress brought his cinnamon roll— a mountain of pastry and frosting. More daunting than appealing at the moment.

Von Hechten gazed blankly, “ ‘Cinnamon roll’…”

        “Oh yes, do they not have them in Zuriland?” Anselm scraped
a forkful of icing off the top, “I’m not really hungry but they’re pretty good, you should try one next time— well, you probably don’t come
here often.”

        “Mn. Music. Baroque chamber music.”

Anselm struggled to remember what they had been talking about.
“Oh! That’s interesting. I don’t hear that much.”

        “But you understand what it is. What is the closest thing to it
in the event listings?” He gestured to the stand of newspapers up front.

Anselm rose from his seat, “A challenging game, at the least.”

He rifled through the unruly mess of papers. There wouldn’t be anything like that of course, what a strange man. He found Nightlife Weekly and returned to the booth. He unfolded the paper, hands shaking a little,
so he laid it flat.

Von Hechten glanced out at the front door, “Hurry. Shows are bound
to be starting.”

Anselm pored over the listings, the middle of the week wasn’t peak time for concerts. The same dodgy jazz bars that played seven days a week, some punk groups at the usual scuzzy clubs, oh— a few Grau-wave bands at a tolerable bar. It had already started but he hadn’t heard of
the openers anyway. Not chamber music but it had complex orchestration in its way.

        “Do you mind electronic music?” he asked.

        “Not at all. Some of my best friends are electronic.”

Anselm smiled at his blithe expression, “Don’t tell me you’re a robot…”

        “Does it show?”

        “No no, very lifelike. I’m impressed.”

        “Excellent, then I’m getting my money’s worth.”

Anselm took another bite of his cinnamon roll, the stare of the robot man made it taste distinctly inedible.

He sat down his fork, “I hate to waste food but maybe we should
just go?”

        “Yes, let’s. The night is young and so are… we…” Von Hechten gazed at his reflection in the window. “—Yes, rather young.”

***

Anselm paid for his meal, and Von Hechten drove them in his rumbly sportscar. The type that Anselm probably couldn’t buy with his lifetime wages twice over. He felt that he was being shuttled in a spacecraft, uncanny gadgets and electric lights all over the dash. He was hardly used to being in cars of any kind.

        “You own the company?” he asked, to break the uncomfortable silence.

        “Yes indeed. It’s a family business.”

        “That makes sense, not just the name, but at your age.”

        “That’s right. It all makes sense…”

        The two walked to the concert, and Von Hechten persisted with his pleasant smiles and hollow conversation. He was surely deriving pleasure from the uncomfortable tension.

        Chilly music thrummed through the concrete a block away. They would soon be enveloped in sound, the awkward silences obliterated. Anselm relaxed as they approached the Greyline Bar. Von Hechten obviously had the most luxurious car in the lot, but the drinks were still wildly out of a reasonable price range, so nearly an even compromise.
A crowd of gothics lurked at the entrance in their shapeless black robes, smoking clove cigarettes and clanking their silver jewelry. Oh, there was Andre. Anselm gave him a nod. Andre nodded back and cast an appraising glance at Von Hechten before averting his eyes.

Von Hechten smiled and drew a circle through the air.
“The world turns…”

Anselm hadn’t heard of the current band, unglamorous enough to be hidden behind a curtain. A silent expressionist film was projected on it,
stark faces with intense eyes flickered over the cloth. The singer huskily intoned Glennish words over the synthesizers.

Von Hechten spoke softly into Anselm’s ear, “Would you like to get
a drink?”

        “Oh, sure. You’re probably still not…”

        “That’s right, chemistry.”

        “It will corrode your circuits.”

        “You are a quick study.”

Anselm ordered a whiskey, the second cheapest as he was loath to ask who was going to pay for it, and he didn’t need to bankrupt himself before he got his first check. Von Hechten made no moves to pay and waited patiently for him to finish the drink before asking him to dance. Anselm was momentarily surprised, though why should he be? He had asked him to the concert after all, not something your typical hetero businessman would arrange. And he had called Anselm beautiful... Well... Not surprising at all, was it? Luckily enough people actually danced to this music. On another night, it would be full of head bobbers and gentle swayers at best. He left his rain coat on the back of a neglected chair, and they went to the dance floor.

 

 

The Unlucky Boy

 

        Von Hechten took Anselm’s arm and led him into a waltz. How funny… Anselm went with it, and they weren’t the strangest dancers in the avant-garde crowd. Most times
Von Hechten seemed to look past him, rather than at him. Sometimes for a moment he had an inscrutable look, still half-lidded as ever. His cold hands warmed in time and Anselm enjoyed himself once he relaxed into the odd turning movements. As the concert went on, Von Hechten held him a little closer until their torsos touched more often than not.
His body felt solid, muscular but strangely empty. A well formed mannequin.

        After a few dances, he started paying for drinks.

        Two drinks in, Anselm realized it. Oh, that’s why. Why everything… He looked down
at the ice in his drink, falling apart in the sweltering atmosphere of warm bodies and bright lights. He hadn’t even gotten the contract in writing. But what now? He was stuck here. Stuck with him. He felt the man’s eyes on him, waiting for him to finish his drink.
It wasn’t surprising, was it? The biggest surprise was that anyone thought he was sexy enough to bother with the charade. Little Anselm, in his charity clothing and ill-kempt hair. If he could just stop to think, he could figure out what to do. He feigned drunkenness, moving toward the tables.

        Von Hechten caught his arm, balancing him. He didn’t let him escape. Forcing eye contact, invading his headspace, pointing out a person in the crowd, directing him to different locations. Anselm was careful, not blackout drunk by the time the man suggested they leave. Maybe drinking alone all these evenings had built up his constitution.
Even then, he dropped his coat twice as he pulled it from the back of the chair.

        The alcohol was mixing with his medication all wrong. His stomach turned, what if
he vomited in the guy’s fancy car? Of course, the vulture would assassinate him over it, but it could be worth it. That was true art, to destroy something beautiful. Come on, is it so bad? You wouldn’t get the contract anyway, may as well have some fun— was that his own thought? Could the robot project his will? The cold night air burned his skin and his mind floated away on boozy daydreams.

Von Hechten spoke as the engine came to life. “Direct me to your home.”

Anselm held his head wearily. “Ah… uh…” Shit, where was it! “Get um, get on Grünstrasse— east…”

Von Hechten complied. “Tell me about your living situation.”

Anselm leaned back, being en-route to his home relaxed him just a bit. Just a tiny bit.
        “It’s a studio, in the office district. I’m— haha, I’m not supposed to live there…”

        “Mm, that can be complicated. Would you say, you’ve taken it up as your home, despite the legality? That you have a sense of propriety about the space?”

        “Huh? Uh… I guess so. I sleep there.”

Von Hechten still wore his mask of cool indifference.
        “Since I am giving you this contract — and I am giving you this contract — would you feel obligated to allow me in, if I were to ask it of you?”

What was this? Anselm’s mind began to put it together, but not quite.
        “I don’t understand… why would…”

        “Well, how else are we to decide what will be printed? I doubt you want to cart around a roll of oversized papers and lay them on a greasy diner table.

        “Oh… um, true.”

        “So tell me more about this studio. Is it just more convenient to live there?”

        “In part…” Anselm resettled in his seat, had he been clocking this whole thing wrong? “It’s cheaper too, I already have to rent it so why pay two bills?”

        “Thrift is the lifeblood of business.”

        “That’s… an interesting way to put it.”

They discussed bland topics, he was surely drinking in those delicious awkward silences. They drove deeper into the office district, away from anything remotely home-y, no restaurants or clubs or laundromats. Just blank dead businesses and a few sad apartments above them. Von Hechten parked his expensive ride in the grimy alley. There was plenty of room, very few here could afford their own cars. Several windows in the building were still lit, other artists enjoying the same rule-bending as Anselm. Von Hechten killed the engine, turning to look at him, his eyes with a strange character in the dark. Pale opals peering between his heavy eyelids.

        “Well…” Anselm put a hand on the seatbelt, finger on the release. “Thanks, that was—”

Von Hechten caught his gaze with an uncanny monster look. “Will you allow me into
the studio where you sleep?”

Anselm froze. The eyes, something wrong with them. What is he? Just say it. Whatever is easiest, whatever lets you escape. Say it, just say it.

        “Wh—uh, do you…?”

His heart thudded, what was happening? His fingers shook until he dropped his keys and they slid to his feet. He couldn’t bring himself to pick them up again, nor did he seem able to wrench his gaze away. Von Hechten leaned forward.

        “Shh, just sleep.”

Anselm went limp, his fear-tightened muscles gone slack and his head dropped against
the cushioned seat.

        There you go, Von Hechten scolded himself. Let yourself get carried away again. It’s too soon.

 
The Unlucky Boy

  

        Might as well make use of the situation. He placed his hand on Anselm’s neck, spreading out his thumb and index finger.
Any thoughts of the boy’s good looks or utility disintegrated as
the vampire anticipated his meal. The neck was dangerous, the blood flowed fast, the hose of an artery if you were unlucky. But it was what real vampires did, and the neck was here, lovely and so accessible. He put his tongue into the crook of his hand so that when his vampire-beak pierced the skin, the blood would be contained, flowing directly into his villainous mouth.

        The boy’s blood was sweet with metabolizing alcohol, but tinged by an acrid medicinal taste. The chalky bitterness of your typical strains of antidepressants, but something more unusual, more volatile. Not the sleepy delirium of an opioid, something that sanded down the vampire's nerves and slowed his thoughts. Some unknown class of medication, nothing anyone would do for fun. He could overcome it, but he had a moment of distaste at the pharmaceutical industry, what were they doing to the youth these days? It couldn’t be good for a person, certainly not good for his palate. It nearly put him off his meal.

        After he had his fill, he pierced the pad of his own thumb and rubbed his blood into the boy’s wound. It closed, and he licked any
last traces away. Waste not, want not. And he wasted very little
in life. After a few minutes of inspection by the dashlight, he spoke.

        “Here we are…”

 
 

 

Anselm blinked awake, his hand instantly scratching the bite mark.
Oh well, not like he’d know where he’d gotten it. Youths still got their random blemishes, if he was even the type to look in the mirror at all with that messy style.

        “Oh— I’m sorry… Did I…”

        “Nodded off a bit, apparently. I’ll forgive you.”

Anselm laughed self-consciously and rubbed his sleepy face.
        “I guess, um, well, thanks for the ride— well, you know, for everything.” His head lolled a bit, loose on his neck.

        “Enjoy your rest.”

Anselm smiled weakly and undid the seat belt. Before he’d shut the door behind him, Von Hechten called out.
        “You dropped your keys.”

Anselm cocked his head and leaned back inside to see them down on the floor mat.
        “Oh, ah, thanks, haha…”

He pocketed them. A strange memory— or a memory of a dream returned
to him. Von Hechten started the car’s thunderous engine, and Anselm tottered to the alley door, thoughts a jumbled mess.

 

 

The Unlucky Boy

 

 

        Time passed and the phone tag carried on. Back and forth, leaving messages and missing calls. Von Hechten only seemed to return calls long after dark, sometimes when even night-owl Anselm was in bed. Some days the strange man was chatty, engaging in conversations and pleasantries, other nights as brisk and stern as the robot he claimed to be.

        Soon it would be time to choose the pieces to be printed, and Von Hechten seemed to not even care, just making the trip out of formality.
Was it offensive, or not? Was he trusting of Anselm’s competence, or
beyond giving a shit?

        Anselm wished he had a studio mate to run interference. Half the other overnight tenants were heroin addicts and the other half alcoholics, with a lot of crossover. None of them cared if you threw a raging all night party, and there would likely be one or two going on that very night. Not much good if he had to call for help. —But why would he need to call for help anyway?

        He took stock of his room, would it be better to clean or not? If it were filthy and full of solvent vapors, it might cut any lingering short. But he didn’t want to offend or look like a sloppy peasant, even if he was one.
He covered the mattress on the floor with reams of paper and uncovered the sofa from beneath a pile of laundry. Seeing how flecked with stains it was— just ink, he hoped— he buried it under a blanket.

        An hour before the meeting, he stepped into the communal showers. The pipes clanked and rattled as ever, and the water came out in choking spurts, but it was better than using the tiny studio sink to bathe. The studios were a post-apocalyptic dorm, everything coated in colorful debris, splotches of paint and fiery rust wherever it could collect. The cement floor beneath him was stained with a giant blue splatter from some reckless soul years long past. But there was a vague camaraderie among its dissolute residents, and signs of more personal habitation. Worn out sandals left by the entryway, a woman’s makeup kit balanced on the ledge of a mirror. Sometimes they left unwanted items for the needy. Leftover art supplies,
half-used laundry detergent.

        Outside the showers was an ancient sign explaining how to clean toxic chemicals from one’s eyes —the original purpose of these showers.
Back when the building was an arcane factory. The studio dwellers had tacked up thin plastic sheeting as shower curtains, but there was little to guard you from the open air and the eyes of your loving neighbors. Anselm shivered under the lukewarm water, but not willing to venture away from
its protection yet. His toes curled over the rusty drain in the floor.

What would he wear tonight? These stupid decisions, they should give
the students etiquette books for dealing with weird rich fuckers. A thought intruded — make sure it’s something difficult to take off. He ran his head under the water, letting his hair fall into his eyes and run a torrent off his chin. A straight-jacket. No, that might be some creepy kink he has. Something ugly. A stained sweatshirt. Pajamas. Too easy to take off…

        Finally he was too cold even under the tepid water and turned off
the tap. The old pipes shuddered and groaned, the last trickles splattered
on the ground as he stepped past the rustling plastic. He huddled in his worn-out towel and rung his hair out on to the cement. Something caught his attention, the way the light reflected off a puddle. A movement of darkness. He shivered, seeing nothing lurking in the shadows. He tossed
his dirty clothes over his shoulder, and wrapped the towel around his waist. At least the studio was a quick trip, and he’d left the radiator belching out
as much heat as he was allowed.

He stepped into the hall, and a tall, pale figure loomed from nowhere.

        “Anselm…”

 

The Unlucky Boy

 

Anselm gasped and staggered back, bumping against the door frame.

The monster was nonplussed. “Is this not a good time?” Von Hechten wore a neon-yellow vinyl coat and a black ballet leotard beneath. How did he sneak up in that garish outfit?

Anselm caught his breath, holding his towel tighter. “Oh — ha, you scared me.
It’s… it’s another hour, isn’t it?”

        “I was in the neighborhood.”

        “Ah, uh… I guess that’s okay. I need to get dressed.”

        “Must you? …That’s fine. I can wait.”

The man stared openly. Anselm swallowed and stepped aside, looking back over his shoulder at the wraith who lingered behind. What... just happened? When he was safe inside his studio, Anselm dressed in his windowless closet. He didn’t have anything in the ballpark of vinyl ballet dancer, so he wore a baggy sweater and dark jeans. Bland enough to not be commented on, he hoped.

Wait… how did that guy show up like that, anyway? Someone could have let him in, but
how did he know Anselm was in the showers? Just heard the water running? But how did
he know what floor to go to?

He combed his wet hair back, and looked out into the hall, no sense delaying the inevitable. Von Hechten stood casually in the foyer, examining the wall.

        “This is all very artistic.” He gestured loosely.

        “Heh, I guess they get more paint on the floors than on the walls.”

        “And it’s all for the most intellectual of reasons, I’m sure. So, to the business at hand—”

        “Yes, uh, come in…”

He stepped aside for Von Hechten to enter. He had a half a memory about that guy having
a weird issue with welcoming etiquette.

        Von Hechten took his offer, “Thank you very much…”

The extra furniture was pushed against the walls, leaving plenty of space to put the paper-rack in the center of the room for easy access. A work in progress was on the easel, angled away, humbly. He’d shot a stack of instant photos of his work, each labeled with titles, dates and dimensions. They sat on his desk, ready to be taken. His single large window looked out on an unimpressive view of the building across the street, and hanging plants spread their tendrils out, jungle-like, hardy for their daily exposure to toxic chemicals.

Von Hechten walked about, examining the work on the walls like he was in a gallery.
Anselm closed the door behind himself. He invited guests from time to time, but the kind who’d be cool with flopping on the mattress or on the floor. He wished he had some kind of drink to offer, but the man was probably beyond sipping off-brand whiskey in a coffee mug.

Von Hechten made no note of Anselm as he slipped by. “Is anything in here beneath your current standard?”

        “Mostly these are fine, I got rid of the ones I don’t like the most. Hm, this one by
the bed— er, over here I mean, is not my favorite.”

        “For the sake of completeness, I will look at it.

Anselm tightened his jaw, but moved his stool aside for the man to examine it.

It looked about the same as the others, but with a slightly cramped composition. A male nude surrounded by blooming roses, the linework rougher, the face vague and stylized, perhaps before he’d developed the ideal design he used in the other pictures. But the body
was detailed, and elegant. If the thing under that pile of papers was a bed, the picture would be directly in line of sight of the sleeper.

Von Hechten spoke without turning from it, “Hmm… interesting placement for ‘not your favorite.’ ”

        “Oh— oh, well, it’s alright but…”

The other male figures had about the same proportions as Anselm himself. A full-length mirror hung next to his supply table. The women were more idealized than that, probably done with quick glances at reference in a book. They weren’t without their loving attention, but more attention was paid to their faces and flowing hair than their demurely robed figures. The newer pieces were less figurative, focusing more on animals and
animal-headed humans. Everything was alive with motion, leaping and striving and falling into vortexes of fine lines.

Von Hechten examined them with a maddeningly thorough perusal.
        “Do you think of people as beasts?”

Anselm smiled lightly. “Aren’t they? Humans are animals, in our way.”

        “What do you think of people? Of humanity?”

        “Hm, that’s a heavy question,” Anselm swung his feet idly as he thought. Von Hechten seemed unperturbed by the silence. “I don’t mind them, not really. Can’t get away from them. But… sometimes I imagine it like if the pigeons outside were gigantic and potentially dangerous. Moving around me, but I hope they don’t step on my feet. I have friends of course…”

Von Hechten absently repeated the phrase ‘of course.’

Anselm continued, “I like animals, don’t see them much here in the city, but I like the way they can reflect people. Someone might be a mouse, a rabbit, a wolf…”

        “Hm… What if they really were beasts?”

        “Dangerous people? The sort of person you cross the street to avoid?”

        “Do people cross the street to avoid you?” Von Hechten was blithe, blank-eyed as he observed the art.

        “Ha, they’d have to be pretty sensitive for that. I don’t think people notice me.”

Von Hechten examined a stack of papers left on Anselm’s desk, what was it— oh, just mail… He took in the environment as equal, the ashtray as interesting as the artwork beside it. Anselm couldn’t bear watching him lurk about, so he took a brush from the rack, and went back to work on his latest piece.

The Unlucky Boy

 

        “What are you doing?” Von Hechten asked.

        “Hm? I’m just working on—” Anselm pulled the brush from his lips.

        “That’s white— lead white, isn’t it?”

        “Uh… I know you’re not supposed to but… it’s just
a bad habit. Easier to get a point on the brush that way.”

        “Tsk, dangerous and pointless. Less fun than smoking.”

        “Who says you can’t do both?”

He felt the man’s eyes on him from behind, but tried to ignore it. He ran the white paint along the edge of a line, smoothing out little imperfections.

Von Hechten spoke again, “Have you heard of Jessi Hartmann?”

        “No, sorry.” Anselm didn’t turn.

        “Your work is very similar.”

        “Huh. Contemporary?”

        “Yes.”

        “Ah, I’ll need to look her up, I suppose.”

 
 

 

        “I’m surprised you don’t know of her. I guess there must be a lot of people doing this.”

        “Doing what?”

        “This style. It’s quite trendy, isn’t it?”

Anselm furrowed his brow, but didn’t dare look back, continuing his stroke with the brush. “Not that I’m aware of.”

        “Really? I feel like I’ve seen it a lot lately.”

        “Where?”

        “We must not be running in the same circles.”

        “Was there any doubt?”

        “…Well,” Von Hechten said after a lengthy pause, “I don’t mean
to say that you’re just chasing a trend. I’m just curious what the fascination is with your generation and this post-decoration style.”

        “My generation? You can’t be much older than me.
Anyway, I've never seen anyone fascinated in it.”

        “Why not? There is nothing objectionable about your work.”

        “Damned with faint praise.”

        “It’s certainly marketable. Is that not the best praise?”

Anselm dipped the paintbrush and rolled the tip between his fingers this time. “Anyway, everyone’s more into installation and mixed media.
You know that.”

        “Well, the common folk, I suppose. I mean the trendies.”

Anselm glared over his shoulder.

Von Hechten looked at the artwork, not acknowledging the head turn.
        “There are fine artists, consumers of high-end fine art, and everyone else. People with money who like to feel artistic prefer representational images. This antique look is well suited for the coffee table books as
I mentioned before.”

        “Hm…”
Was he intentionally needling him? Was it working?

        “But there is more to this work,” Von Hechten continued, “There is obviously a lot of personal expression behind these. A lot of… meaning.”

Anselm rolled his eyes to himself, but didn’t argue. The man feigned
a bad memory, but he surely remembered Anselm’s opinion on ‘meaning.’

        “What’s this picture about?” Von Hechten asked, “Why all these frogs?”

Anselm turned to look. “Oh, it’s just a scene from der Froschteich.

Von Hechten gave him an incredulous stare.
        “Anyone could just illustrate a scene, it’s how you do it. And why you chose this scene.”

        “I like the story.”

        “Is it all that simple?”

Anselm wiggled the paintbrush between his fingers. “Does it matter?”

        “So you think of yourself more as a craftsman than as an artist.”

        “I don’t like putting a bunch of conceptual bullshit behind it, everyone’s just pulling that out of their asses anyway. Who has anything worth saying anymore?”

Von Hechten chuckled. “Yes. Just because something is cynical doesn’t make it untrue. There are things worth saying in life, but I don’t expect to get into that very often.”

        “I suppose. It’s all so much ‘individual’s place in society’ to me. Asking twenty-year-olds about their deep inner thoughts on the world
at large.”

        “You don’t think anyone your age has anything worth saying on
the subject?”

        “If they do, they never say it. I don’t exclude myself from that condemnation, but I don’t bother pretending.”

        “Perhaps a person could have an unusual point of view or insight about life, regardless of their years. Say… if they had a disease or experience with life that inclined them to think more about its totality, death, and what have you.”

Anselm wiped off his brush on an old rag, tilting his head with thought.
        “Yeah, that’s true. My fellow students are pretty homogeneous, wealthy parents and impeccable health. Not a lot of cause to develop
an interesting world view.”

        “But you are different. You speak of them as if they’re a different species of animal from yourself. Perhaps, your worldview is only uninteresting to you because you are accustomed to it.”

        “No one else has seemed very interested in it either.”

        “You said that. Not that you’ve noticed, more likely.”

Anselm ‘hmmed’ and mixed the thick paint with a teaspoon.

Von Hechten took a single step forward, “So what might you say is
the difference?”

        “I don’t think I am special, if that’s what you mean. There are a lot of people like me. I guess not many of them bother to do anything but heroin.”

        “Again, what is the difference? What is it that makes you able
to bother more than the average member of your species?”

Anselm turned on his stool, eyes turned up.
        “I don’t know. Just something to do. It’s as much for me as anything, I suppose, my entertainment. Remind myself of stories I like and make little imaginary creatures come to life. Childish, I guess. And I’ve done it since I was a child.”

        “It’s that important to you? Seems like a lot of work to go through. Why not just scribble in a filthy notebook?”

        “Ha, you don’t think I do that too? I guess it’s satisfying to create something polished. The feel of putting the ink on the paper. I certainly don’t do it to earn a living.”

        “How do you live, then? A place like this must not cost much, but it must cost something. You said your family wasn’t interested in art so
I doubt you have a trust fund.”

Anselm fiddled with the paintbrush. “Well… there are social programs."

        “At such a young age?”

        “Oh… yeah. I get medical support. It’s not… really serious.”

        “Not serious? What is it then, if not serious?”

Anselm considered his words. “Oh, nothing special. Fancy diagnoses
that mean that you’re a sad, weird boy.”

        “What does that mean…?”

        “Bad circuitry, you should relate.” Anselm smiled weakly.

        “So how do they care for you with this support?”

        “Some minimal disability pay, I prefer to have it sent to a post box and use it for this studio. The housing they provide is too small. Get my medicine paid for, convenient. Well, not convenient to take of course.”

        “That’s interesting, they do that a lot these days, don’t they? Medicate. Isn’t it supposed to deaden one’s creativity?”

        “They say that, but I’d rather be able to do anything at all. Creativity is a sham anyway, it takes a second to come up with an idea, anyone can do that. I could write all my ideas in a notebook and render those ideas for the rest of my life.”

        “I’ve been a verbal artist in my time, it’s quite different. There is some element of rendering, but not nearly the same labor. I can understand not wanting to put in the work to fully realise an idea.”

        “Verbal artist—” Anselm cocked his head, “A raconteur? Wouldn’t think that paid well, but you’re obviously doing just fine for yourself.”

        “I’m quite good at it, and that’s not how I earned my wealth. Anyhow, I suppose the medicine must work if you’re able to work.”

        “At the moment. It can sound more dire than it is, well, depending on how aberrant you think I am.”

        “I haven’t crossed the street to avoid you.”

Anselm smiled a little. “Very kind of you.”

        “Strictly for selfish reasons. So…” Von Hechten turned to gaze at
a picture, “Sounds like you may be too wrapped up in the craft to guess what would be commercially viable. Perhaps I should be the one to choose?”

        “Fine by me.”

The Unlucky Boy

  Anselm found he had been tensing his muscles at the previous conversation. He took a seat on the couch, curling his bare feet beneath him as Von Hechten went through the rack of drawings and asked about some of the more whimsical additions, little creatures that lurked among the filigree and floral. Anselm was happy to give him amusing anecdotes— unattractive beasts that resembled loathed classmates, inside jokes with close friends.

        “Hm,” Von Hechten furrowed his brow, “I don’t understand
this one.”

        “What’s that?”

        “It’s a small detail.”

Anselm walked behind him.

        “Right here…” Von Hechten pointed and put a hand on Anselm’s elbow to direct him. Anselm bristled a bit at the contact, but
allowed it.

 
 

 

        “Yes, come closer,” Von Hechten said, “See there…” He gave no ground, remaining so close that their arms touched.

        “Oh— oh my god,” Anselm’s eyes went wide.

A small drawing was hidden among a pattern of cat tails. A leaping, ugly frog with a human face and an oversized human phallus. Anselm turned red and covered up a laugh, his ear brushing Von Hechten’s shoulder.

         “I forgot that was there!”

Von Hechten smiled slyly, eyes half-lidded as ever. “I think a viewer would assume that was just a bit of cheeky fun, but it seems to bely a certain… eroticism on the artist’s part.”

Anselm curled his fingers over his mouth, holding back further laughter.
        “It’s a— kind of a mean joke. There was this professor and…”

        “Was he mean to you first?”

Anselm turned his head thoughtfully, “I guess you could say that.”

        “Is this a likeness?” Von Hechten poked a finger out, hovering over
the tip of the member. Anselm stifled another childish giggle.

        “No— I mean, heh, the face a bit…”

        “What a pity, it’s a lovely penis. What was the reference?”

Anselm couldn’t hold back his laughter now. “My imagination?”

        “Are you certain? It’s so detailed.”

        “I guess I have a good imagination!”

        “Hmm… a topic that interests you, perhaps?” Von Hechten traced
the outline with his thin finger. “We all pay special attention to the things
we love.”

Anselm clutched himself, hiding his face behind a palm. “Hahaha… God… you’re killing me…!”

        “Not yet. But it makes me curious, have you considered doing more erotic work? It’s very in vogue.”

Anselm got a hold of his laughter, taking a deep breath, “Ah, I uh, I don’t know if I would be any good.”

        “Anyone can do it, it just takes practice.”

        “Well, I don’t know. I guess if people wanted me to.”

        “Oh there are people who want that. Certainly. It’s in vogue, after all.” He was very close, his voice soft. Anselm wondered if he felt the man’s breath on his ear, but it seemed to only be a passing draft.

        “Ah… um—”

        “Consider it.” Von Hechten stepped away, his hand grazing Anselm’s lower back as he turned. Anselm almost tripped on his desk chair.

        “I’ll send for the ones I want,” Von Hechten turned to Anselm’s desk, “May I have these instant photos?”

        “Ah, yeah— that’s what they’re there for.”

        “Fantastic. You’re more professional than you give yourself credit for.
I’ll stay in touch.”

        “Mn, sure…”

Anselm rubbed his lips together and followed the man to the door.

 

Anton from across the hall stepped out of his door as Von Hechten entered
the elevator. He watched the doors close and looked to Anselm.

         “Someone’s proud of their package.”

        “Hm?” Anselm turned his way, dazed.

        “That outfit, didn’t you notice?”

        “Oh, I certainly did… Hey uh, if you see that guy around, come let me know, okay?”

Anselm felt a stomachache coming on. He nodded to the old man and returned to his studio. Somewhere, someone was highly amused about
an overheard conversation.

 

 

The Unlucky Boy

 

Part Two on its way…

 
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     June 29th, 2016
     By:  Christopher

Hey everybody, it's me! Wow! I hope you are doing well, and ready to suffer through the coming summer with me. (For those in our unlucky hemisphere.) I always liked Anselm's story and I wanted to add a bit of background, so I'm adding a two part back story to the original. I've also re-written the original story, and will post it with updated artwork when this series is done. For now, I will remove the link to the old one so y'all can hold your horses to read the next part. :) There will be more story to follow, and of course the long awaited continuation of the main KF plot.

As ever, love u guys.

COMMENTS

 
 

       TRANSCRIPT: This is the text of the comic, for purposes such as translation and internet searches.

1.)

(Close-up of a handbill advertising Anselm's art show. The style of the panel is black and white.)

2.)

      (Von Hechten rolls up in the gallery with brilliant mirrored shades. The style of these
illustrations will be strong line and shadow, with just a few grey tones and the occasional red.)

3.)

(Anselm is shy for a guy wearing a see-through tank top, clutching his throat as he stares into space, some of his art in the background.)

4.)

(Frau Wollen in silhouette is forcing Von Hechten and Anselm's hands together to shake.)

5.)

(The interstitial art between different sections of this story is in white on black with no boundaries,
         floating in the void of this black webpage. This image is of a deranged mouse leaping.)

6.)

(Von Hechten and Anselm talk at a diner table, Anselm in a shirt with little boogying
  white figures over black material, Von Hechten a blazer revealing his bare chest.)

7.)

(Glowing-eyed Von Hechten leads unobservant Anselm in a dance.)

8.)

(Von Hechten vamps out over Anselm's neck, eyes red and upper teeth turned into a beak.)

9.)

(Interstitial. A happy looking vulture with spread wings splashes about in a pile of bones.)

10.)

(Anselm is stepping out of the shower wrapped in a towel, startled by Von
  Hechten leering in with his package-revealing clothes and shiny jacket.)

11.)

(Anselm's studio, Von Hechten lurking behind Anselm with glowing eyes, while Anselm paints. Anselm's sweater is red.)

12.)

(In Anselm's studio, Von Hechten pages through prints while Anselm looks on, smiling nervously.)

13.)

(Interstitial. A happy looking frog leaps through a field of insects, lashing with its tongue.)

 

 
 
 
 
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