47: The Impossible Artist
“It’s not much to speak of,” continued Shelley. “It’s the sort of place you might expect to find a vagrant seeking shelter for the night, but it’s not a squalor. There’s no mess, no discarded cans of food or burnt books, just a solitary bed in the corner, its sheets dry and crumpled, and, next to it, an empty chest of drawers and a pair of chairs that look like somebody cobbled them together from spare parts. The only light comes from the courtyard outside.”
Dante revised and refined the image as he would a painting, blocking out the basics with broad, monochrome strokes, then working in the details with a finer brush. As the image started to take on a more solid, three-dimensional tone, he felt his insides start to lurch, to rebel against this sheer impossibility — but Shelley’s grip, slight as it was, kept him anchored, her description a chain, binding him to her own, vague form. Her eyes, large and unblinking, watched him from the shadows of her fur-lined hood.
“This feels like a dream,” he said.
“It’s n—no dream,” she replied. “We’re back in Torsten.”
Thump! Dante’s heart struck his chest, an ominous drumbeat counting down to the inevitable moment of realisation. Thump! Thump! Thump! His eyes followed the river of light that crossed the room to its window of origin, then to the distorted shadow of a world that lay beyond. Thump! Thump! Thump! Somewhere beyond the nearby rooftops, a fog began to stir. A living, sentient fog bathed in fabricated twilight.
“Like I said,” continued Shelley, “I’ve a friend who wants to meet you. He’s—”
Dante’s gaze swivelled across the room to the doorway.
Thump! Thump! Thump!
It stood there, black fire against the light. A shadow with eyes. A shadow with teeth.
The moment its voice reached his ears, Dante wrest himself free of Shelley’s shackles and stumbled backwards, grasping for the nearest chair. With all his might, he slung it towards the beast, hoping beyond hope that, in slaying it, he could at last break its spell and free his friend, mother and home from corruptive influence, from those twelve cursed notes for twelve cursed wings.
But, if his hope struck true, Dante did not witness it. Even as the chair left his hands, he felt that sickening lurch of disbelief pull at his insides, and the room, the beast, and the frightened, panicked face of Shelley Eoghan, twisted and spun like colours dissolving in a glass of water, until there was nothing left but the murky, undefined abyss and those twelve familiar notes, ringing.
It was all in his imagination, he thought. All of it, just a dream…