Orphic Phantasia

47: The Impossible Artist

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A few days ago, he had struggled to tell the difference between a computer-simulated illusion and reality—now he was convinced reality an illusion. Shelley sighed. There was only one way they would get through this.

“What if I’m with you?” she said. “I—I can anchor you, and if we both see the same thing, you’ll know it had to be real, right?”

Shelley couldn’t look him in the eye. All she could see was the Dante from six years ago, telling her to grow up, to get over her silly fantasies and embrace the Real World. “No,” she said, “never mind. It’s a stupid idea. I—”

“You can take us to Emily?”

There was no hint of dismissal of disbelief in his voice, no condescending sneer, just genuine concern. Interest. For the first time in a long time, Shelley almost saw the boy she once knew, holding up a drawing for her approval.

“I—I don’t think so,” she replied. “Not Emily. There’s…” Issues, she thought. Issues like how she would appear to somebody who expected her to be so much more than she really was. The Fourth Daughter of Ernmas? Ha! When Shelley looked in the mirror, the last thing she saw was some vigilante hero.

“There’s what?”

“I—it’s nothing,” she replied. “I just—I need to know where I’m going, and I don’t know where Emily is.” It wasn’t a lie, at least; Shelley had only ever projected to places she knew from the real world. “But there is a place I do know, and there’s somebody there who wants to meet you. I think—I think he can help you!”

Oh gods, she was going there! She was really going there! What the hell’re ye playing at Shelley Eoghan, ye bloody damned fool?

Before she could stop herself, she offered him her hands. “He—he knew your parents!” she said. “He was there the night your mother left! He knows what really happened!”

Dante froze, breath caught in his throat, eyes wide. Shelley grabbed his numb hands and smiled as broad a smile as she could manage.

Now ye’ve gone and done it, Shelley Eoghan, said the voice in the back of her head. Now ye’ve gone and bloody done it.


Shelley’s Eoghan’s hands felt like frail sculptures of snow that might crumble beneath the slightest of pressures. Letting them rest in his own, Dante closed his eyes and eased his breathing into the usual pattern. His veins throbbed with anxiety.

“He was there the night your mother left! He knows what really happened!”

As the mists of ignorance rose around him, Dante pictured his mother hanging naked and alone, barely a shadow in a world of nothing. He couldn’t help it; it was instinct.

“Dante?” It was Shelley’s voice. “I want you t—to picture a room,” she said. “Picture us standing in a room.”

With each word, the image of his mother slipped into the shadows until only the light of her eyes remained, sorrowful stars in a vacant sky.

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I had a creative writing professor who used a similar visualisation technique to Shelley. Obviously it didn’t involve astral projection… OR DID IT?