...Um, I really have no excuse for this one. It was a weird dream from years back that I turned into a short story that never got published. And if it's not clear enough, blame my writing style. I tend to assume that y'all already know stuff. And this was speculative fiction, anyway. Got questions? Comment. I'll write back.
And prepare for my nanowrimo chapters next month. It'll be a doozy.
I'll never forget that name.
His life was the reason I was at Ana's house on April 22nd.
His death was the reason I almost got arrested later that night.
Dante was a writer. A writer, a poet, and a legend.
He had won two Pulitzers by the time he'd hit twenty, and eight more by the time he'd turned forty. Then he had vanished in 1942, never to be seen again. Some people speculated that he had committed suicide. Others, like Ana, preferred the theory that he'd gotten tired of all the attention and had chosen to vanish into obscurity. A less-popular train of thought supposed that he had been murdered by the Mafia for some obscure reason.
I myself rather liked the suicide theory. It was a fitting and dramatic end for a writer whose life's works had been dedicated to creating works of fiction to do with Hell, Heaven, Earth, and the lives of those who bounced from one to the other incessantly.
Ana's house was the home of a club where we all met to discuss Dante. Her house was the best option because it was within walking distance of his actual house, which had been preserved by an enterprising neighbor and her family. We had gone over during the last meeting to poke around and just ooh and aah over the entire tall, thin brownstone until the descendant of the neighbor--who looked creepily like the original neighbor, her mother--kicked us out.
It was only our seventh meeting--maybe our fourth, since three of the meetings had devolved into discussions of Dante's namesake, the original Dante Alighieri or political views. Why I was out on Ana's back dock--she lived on the edge of the Delaware Bay--I can't really remember. I think it was because Tess had made a rude comment about my eating habits, but I'm not quite sure. Most of that night--well, before the dock--is a blur to me.
In the house they were still talking about the dog that had been run over by the off-duty prostitute who had hit the bus station where the dog had been left tied-up by its owner.
Outside I was sitting on the dock with my back against a support pole, sipping my soda and staring out towards what I thought might have been the distant lights of Lewes. When I heard a splash I figured it was probably nothing more than a catfish. When it happened again I figured, Okay, a big catfish. After the third time I started thinking about those monster catfish you read about in the paper that are bigger than a man and could probably suck up a medium-sized dog.
I scooted toward the edge of the dock, soda can in hand and ready to throw when a pale hand reached up and grasped the edge of the dock. My first instinct was to recoil, and then I remembered that it might be someone who had attempted suicide by jumping off of the Tower Road bridge and then reconsidered. So I grabbed the hand and helped the attached body haul itself up onto the deck.
We both had to catch our breaths at this point--the guy, kind of rotund like your stereotypical Italian opera singer--just lay facedown on the dock, breathing hard through the chinks in the wood before he managed to groan and roll over. I was leaning back against my pole, staring at him and wondering why the man's profile--distorted by being pressed between wood and the weight of his head though it was--seemed somewhat familiar to me.
So when he finally rolled over and looked at me I almost screamed. He wasn't an infamous wanted serial killer, but he was someone I knew was missing and presumed dead, though the case had been considered closed for more than fifty years.
Dante Alghieri. Or at least a man who looked freakishly like him.
"Thank you," he rasped. "I've been out there for far too long."
He sat up and I tried not to squeak.
He was fairly short for a man--I could see that, at least, and I supposed that he was only at most three inches taller than I was. Dante had been 5'5, too.
"How long have you been out there?" I queried curiously.
"I don't know," he said. "But I should go home and change." He looked down at his black formal clothes, which were sopping wet and slightly salt-stained. His shoes were miraculously still on, although his white shirt was slightly dirty from the dingy waters of the rather particular waters of the bay outside Ana's house.
"Are you--" I asked, voice quavering. "D-Dante Alghieri?"
"Why yes, yes I am."
He looked affronted. "I most certainly am not."
"You most certainly am are," I told him firmly. "You disappeared in 1942, and even if you came out of hiding or whatever now you would be over a hundred." I thought for a minute. "A hundred and three, actually. Your birthday's in a month."
"I know perfectly well what year it is, miss, and I know when my birthday is. And now I should most likely be going. After all, I have another Pulitzer to win."
He uncrossed his legs and looked straight at me. "But before I go, there is something I must do." He moved around towards me until his face was directly in front of mine. "In fairy tales, one always must kiss their rescuer, right?" He leaned in and clumsily kissed me.
I jerked back and scrambled away until I nearly fell off the dock. "You sick freak!" I exclaimed.
"You're DEAD! D-E-A-D dead! And you--ugh! I can't believe this!" I ranted. Without thinking, I rose to my feet and advanced on him. He stood up, too, looking almost as insulted as I felt pissed, and I grabbed his hand. "C'mon." I jerked him after me and stalked back down the dock towards the house. I dragged him across the lawn, through the house, and even more quickly past the curious faces of the Dante club.
When I'm stressed, I eat. So on my way out the door I grabbed a bagel that had been loaded with cream cheese and nibbled at it as I pulled Dante down the street.
In less than three minutes--I told you Ana lived close to his house, didn't I?--we had reached Dante's brownstone and I led him around the back.
"You led me to my own home. So what?" he sneered.
"Got a key?"
He produced one and proceeded to unlock the door.
I dragged him past the dark wood of the small kitchen and through the comfortable-looking sitting room with the baby grand, and then up the narrow wooden stairs, which he navigated with some difficulty. I had been turning on lights as I went, revealing that the old electrical wiring had been replaced by modern wiring that wouldn't fail. We reached the upstairs bedroom, and then he led me into the connected bathroom. "Do you like it? It was my pride and joy," he said. The bathroom was decorates in golds and dark reds.
"Um, sure, it's nice," I said. In truth, I had thought that the bathroom sucked. It was small, ugly, and the tiles hadn't been in a very appealing pattern.
We left the bathroom, and I avoided looking at the bed. He looked out the window and must have gotten quite a nasty shock. All of the city lights that he had probably known were gone, replaced with the baseball park in the middle of the parking lot lit up the night from three streets away. The original brownstones across the street had been torn down and replaced a large pink apartment building less than ten years ago, so the view was almost completely changed.
Without a word he turned and left the window and walked into the small study across the hall. I found him staring at the chair next to the window there. That particular window faced the bay and held a view that had been unchanged since before his house had even been built.
"I loved this chair," he said in an odd voice as he ran his fingers down the plush velvet of the armrest.
"Loved? You finally realize that you're dead?"
Dante groaned. "It was a boating accident. I rented a small boat anonymouslyout for a short day on the bay, and all I can remember is something going wrong and the boat started sinking."
"Oh. So I guess you didn't kill yourself."
"Heavens no!" he exclaimed, looking at me and looking offended. "I had altogether nine books I wanted to write and hundreds more ideas. I would never kill myself!"
"Whose idea was it that I had committed suicide?" he asked.
"Probably the same person who put forward the Mafia theory," I said.
"But I never--" before he could finish the sentence, there was a shout from downstairs.
"Whoever is upstairs, come down now! I will call the police if you don't!"
My eyes widened as I remembered that the neighbor also had a key and must have noticed the lights going on. "Shit!" I hissed.
We crept out of the room to the head of the stairs, and sure enough at the foot stood an old lady with a gun. The "curator" and the neighbor's daughter. "Please come downstairs slowly," she said. I moved down the stairs first, and then as I heard him start down behind me, the neighbor's eyes widened and she stifled a gasp. "Mr. Alghieri, is that you?"
"Yes," he said uncertainly.
Well, no wonder, since she was sixty-six years older than she'd been when he had last seen her.
"I always knew you would come back," she whispered, and we reached the foot of the stairs.
She pulled him into a hug which he received stiffly, and then as she pulled away she stared at me. "You brought him home," she whispered, "oh, thank you."
I walked forward to stand next to the piano next to him. No matter what he had tried earlier, I felt a kinship with him, and knew that I was probably the only person who had seen Dante Alghieri after 1942.
I looked over at Dante, and then noticed with alarm that he seemed to be growing transparent.
"Dante, you're going."
He looked. "So I am."
"But before you go," I said hesitantly.
Oh screw it, I thought when I couldn't think of a way to phrase it.
I snaked a hand around his neck and pulled his head down and then pressed my lips to his.
His mouth moved against mine for a moment, and then we both pulled away.
"Goodbye," he said.
"Nice meeting you."