Zibby leaned back against the shelf of fiction, hands scrambling against the hardcover books as if searching for something to grab on to so she wouldn’t fall from the face of the earth. One L, a book by Scott Turow showcasing his harrowing law school experience, haunted Zibby for the third day in a row of unbearable heat that kept customers away from Oak Street Books. It was so hot, she questioned why they had even opened. She had imagined putting a sign up on the front door: Stay Inside with the Books You Already Have. Be Back When It Cools Down. But Liv had a mountain range of used novels that needed to be checked and priced and placed on the shelves, so Zibby had to get to work.
After taking a few deep breaths and returning to Uptown New Orleans from the frigid halls of Harvard Law, Zibby put down the horror story and dove into the stacks of unalphabetized Dead White Men.
The door opened, the bell jingled, and Zibby stopped herself from telling the customer that they were closed. Margaret Atwood, the calico who could usually be found curled up under the self-help shelf, came trotting out from her dwelling and headed toward the door.
“Where can I find the fountains of agiorgitiko? Pardon? Is anyone here? I need to find…”
“Excuse me?” she said, the crown of her head poking out above a copy of Heart of Darkness. Zibby rose to her feet with a furrowed brow, not breaking eye contact with the toga-clad customer. He had a thick black beard and black hair that curled around his ears and eyebrows. His olive skin glowed like a corporeal halo. Under the beard, she could make out a face that belonged on a boy-band poster, accentuated by eyes the color of toasted almonds.
“Sorry? Fountains of Agi… Agior… just… who’s the author?”
“Author? I didn’t come here in search of a scribe! I came for wine!”
“But this is a bookstore.”
Zibby thought she had seen it all growing up in New Orleans — “home to every shade of crazy,” as her father would say. She had grown accustomed to the Tulane kids who blew daddy’s money at the numerous bars that dotted Uptown and the regular characters who sold them their drugs. But she had never witnessed a frat boy so coked out of his mind that he had his toga on at noon and had mistaken a bookstore for a bar and was shouting that he was some sort of god of vines.
“Excuse me… excuse… Hey! You have to leave.”
The toga-clad man had lowered his flailing arms and bent down to pet Margaret Atwood, who had curled up next to his sandal and flipped onto her back, exposing a white belly.
“She likes you. Shit, she doesn’t even do that for me. Hey, so, are you okay? If you really need a drink, there’s a bar on Magazine that’s open 24–7.”
Zibby watched as he stopped petting the cat and gravitated to the shrinking Mythology section, sandwiched between religion and poetry. He picked up a picture book that Zibby remembered checking out of the library as a child. It told ancient tales of gods and heroes like Theseus and the Minotaur and Perseus and Medusa — Zibby especially liked the illustration of the chiseled blond Apollo who graced the cover, and would sometimes, as a hidden guilty pleasure, seek out the book into her late teens when she wandered away from YA fiction about vampires and werewolves and other fantastical creatures.
The book’s sudden drop onto the shelf woke Zibby from her memory of adolescent furtiveness.
“Hey! Can you at least… Where are you going?!”
The strange entrant had rushed out the door with such reckless abandon he almost launched Margaret Atwood onto the sidewalk like he was kicking a field goal.
“Hey!” she shouted from the storefront, watching the stranger sprint down Oak Street and turn onto South Carrollton Ave.
Zibby crouched to her knees, petted Margaret Atwood behind the ear, and picked up the picture that had fallen onto the floor — the toned god hadn’t lost his luster and appeared just as tasty as when she was thirteen.
From the back cover:
In the suffocating bosom of August, Dionysus arrives in New Orleans. For too long, the Greek God of Revelry and Wine has endured the incessant bickering atop Mt. Olympus, and so he descends to be with the mortals and indulge himself in the city’s reputed decadence and vice.
When Dionysus is parched and aching for even a drop of the vine, he mistakenly stumbles into a bookstore and begs an employee who reminds him of the last pharaoh of Egypt — Cleopatra — to point him in the direction of wine. Zibby Dufossat, on the cusp of her first year of law school and desperate for a distraction, sets aside her anxieties to peel back the layers of the esoteric, anachronistic, and often offensive beautiful stranger, only to find heartache and pain. But before she can decipher this enigma, he disappears into the French Quarter fray of sweaty, gyrating lovers.
With grapevines sprouting from the path he walks and an unexplainable, addictive libido placing the city under his spell, the god deflects his retinue of Olympians and fantastical creatures attempting to deliver him back home. But it soon becomes clear that Dionysus alone can determine his fate, and the fates of Zibby and New Orleans with it.
The Neon God is Ben D’Alessio’s third novel. His other two books, Binge Until Tragedy and Lunchmeat, are available in paperback and e-book formats. He lives in Ocean City, New Jersey, where he is also a lawyer, amateur film critic, and personal throne for his cat, Kennedy.
15% of profits from all sales will be donated to The Kitty Krusade, a non-profit dedicated to supporting cats who are the victims of abuse.
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