Orphic Phantasia

20: Poison

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A few minutes later, she sat at the table, a smoking cigarette in her hand and a scowl on her lips. “I’m going to kill him,” she said. She reached into her leather bag and pulled out a cellular. She thumbed a few gestures onto the screen. “This is what he had to say about you.”

Dante glanced at the screen. There was that photograph Joel had taken of him. The message alongside it read:

‘This is my m8 I told u bout. Donaran. Well ripped. Wanna take him 4 a ride? Totes ur type. Bit shy, proper goer tho. Well into u.’

“And, before that, he told me you’d had a rough day with the graduation exams,” she said. “That you’d been inside the Scar.” She thrust the cellular back into her bag. “Guess that was a lie too. Bastard.”

Not entirely, but Dante didn’t want to interrupt her, especially when it became clear just how far Joel’s flair for exaggeration had taken him.

“I can understand using a pseudonym, because we all do it,” she said, clutching her temples. She glanced at Dante and managed a half smile, “What, did you honestly think my name was ‘Arachne du Sade’?” She drew a breath of nicotine and released it across the room. The smoke lingered like fog. “That’s just the way things are down here. But there are limits.”

Dante didn’t understand it himself. His mother always taught him to cherish his name. Names were important. Names had power. A person who lied about their name lied about their soul, and a person with too many names told too many lies to ever be trusted.

“And pretending your girlfriend is nothing but a clingy groupie so you can shag around behind her back is one of them.” She flicked her lighter. “Bet the fucker’s out there right now, trying it on with anyone who’s willing.” The flame lived then died then lived again with one snap-hiss after another. “Tried it on with me a couple months back. Bastard.”

Dante had vague recollections of Joel’s disastrous relationship with Shelley Eoghan and the rumours that he spent several months cavorting with Kaori behind her back. In hindsight, his love of lies didn’t seem so surprising. Dante thought of all those outfits he’d collected and wondered how many aliases his childhood friend might have collected over the years. Surely, though, he knew the real Joel?

Arachne stood up and bundled the rest of her things into her bag. “Well, I don’t know about you,” she said, tossing her cigarette into the corner of the room, “but I’d like to express my gratitude to our mutual friend with a nice kick to the bollocks.”

Still too afraid to speak, Dante followed her back to club, where the assault of violent music reaffirmed his sobriety. Arachne glanced at him and smiled. “Maybe you should head off home,” she said. “I don’t think this place agrees with you, does it? Probably best to stay off the drink, too. You’re cuter when you’re not some emotional maelstrom.”

She took out her cellular. “Dant, wasn’t it? That your real name?” He nodded. “I might hunt you down,” she said, “but maybe not as ‘Arachne’.”

And then she leaned over and brushed her lips against his cheek. He was still buzzing from the touch—so much more than anything they shared in private—as she disappeared into the crowd. Dante looked to his hand to check the time, then remembered he’d left his cellular back in his room.

Maybe she was right, maybe he wasn’t cut out for this sort of thing. Maybe he was still just a boy after all. Somewhere, out in that sea of bodies, floated a weathered hat with a wide brim, and beneath it a handsome poet with a killer wit, laughing at him.

He felt a hand on his shoulder and jumped around.

“You okay, son?” asked the Duke. “You look like you could use a drink.”

Chapter 20 End

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Her real name is Charlotte.

So yeah, as I’ve said these chapters (19 through 21) are the ones I usually show people when they ask about my writing, partially because they lack a lot of the genre stuff (faeries, high technology) and are more ‘relatable’, but also because (I think) they capture the heart of the story: that is, a story of broken people in a broken world and how, through creativity, they can forge an identity that lifts them above the entropic spiral that threatens to lead humanity down into the world of Nietzsche’s Last Man.

And, you know, drunk people are funny.

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