Orphic Phantasia

19: Distraction

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The last drop of adrenaline withered away at the worst possible moment. A second earlier and Dante could have changed his mind, but now he had pressed the doorbell there was no going back. Right about now, Joel — or his father — would be peering at his nervous face through the security system as it waited for them to confirm their visitor both trusted and welcome. You couldn’t take your chances in a place like this. Dante thought it less a street and more a subterranean prison. The derelict-green lighting didn’t help, nor did the lingering scent of tobacco or the trails of liquid that laced the path, and sometimes even the walls. Dante was thankful he didn’t have his visor to confirm what they really were.

With a grunt of grinding gears and a hiss of escaping air, the door ahead of him opened a crack, revealing the slither of a face, as withered as an old tree and topped with a ragged bough of autumn leaves. The man narrowed a beady eye, then grinned, his smile a portrait of broken stones left to face the ravages of time.

“En’t seen you in a while,” said Joel’s father, the stench of alcohol following his words. “Here to see the runt?”

Dante nodded and the old man — he must have been pushing forty — pulled the door open. As Dante stepped inside, the family dog waddled over and pawed at his leg, its saliva-drenched tongue lolling out of a grin as toothy as its master’s.

“Leave the poor kid alone, Jude,” said Joel’s father, waving Dante deeper into his den with a gnarled hand. “Fancy a cuppa before you brave the basement? Kettle’s just boiled.”

Not wanting to be rude, Dante accepted, but the moment he set eyes on the Gibson family’s kitchen, stuffed as it was with grease-stained fast food boxes and at least a month’s worth of dirty cutlery, he winced with regret.

“Extra spice?” asked Joel’s father, waving an unmarked bottle of black liquor. He splashed some in a mug and stirred with a spoon he fished out of the sink, then thrust the concoction into Dante’s hands. The offer of a biscuit from a clay pot shaped like a goblin’s face followed. Dante nibbled on the end. It was soft with age.

Joel’s father dunked his in his tea. “Tell the bastard to turn his vents on when you get down there,” he said. “Place smells like a rat’s arse. Don’t know how that Kaori girl sticks it, meself. Woman like her could do plenty better than him, that’s for sure.” He knocked back a mouthful of tea with a hint of a sneer. “Guess they teach you some pretty clever tricks in Seelie, huh?”

Jude the dog should be a main character.