Uptown Local and Other Interventions

BOOK: Uptown Local and Other Interventions
4.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

 

UPTOWN LOCAL

and Other Interventions

 

Diane Duane

 

http://www.dianeduane.com

 

 

Uptown Local and Other Interventions

Badfort Press ebook edition

copyright Diane Duane 2011

 

 

 

 
“Out of the Frying Pan…” originally appeared in Enchantment Place, edited by Denise Little, published by DAW Books, 2008.

 

“Theobroma” originally appeared in
Wizards Inc.,
edited by Denise Little, published by DAW Books, 2007.

 

“The Fix” originally appeared in
The Magic Toybox,
edited by
Denise Little, published by DAW Books, 2006

 

“Herself” originally appeared in
Emerald Magic: Great Tales of Irish Fantasy,
edited by Andrew Greeley, published by Tor Books, 2004 

 

“Hopper Painting” originally appeared in
Stars: Original Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian,
edited by Janis Ian and Mike Resnick, published by DAW Books, 2003.

 

“In The Company of Heroes” originally appeared in
Past Imperfect,
edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Segriff, published by DAW Books, 2001

 

“The Back Door” originally appeared in
Dragon’s Eye,
edited by Christopher Stasheff, published by Baen Books, July 1994

 

“Uptown Local” originally appeared in
Dragons and Dreams,
edited by Jane Yolen, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh, published by Harper & Row, 1986

 

 

 

 
 

Foreword

 

When you’re a novelist, it’s really fun to write short stories sometimes.

The problem with novels is that when you start one, you’re stuck being committed to a single basic theme, or group of themes, for quite a while. No matter how quickly you write a book’s first draft, you will be at close quarters with it for at least a year or so of editing, revision, and going over various stages of copyedited manuscripts and page proofs—until you’re heartily sick of the thing, and more than glad to kiss it goodbye. (At which point, paradoxically, you’re expected to get all excited over it for the publicity stage.)

Short story work, though, rarely entails such wholesale co-opting of your life. Normally it gets worked in between other projects. It can arise from a chance phone call, a whim, a purposeful commission from an editor who likes your work. In my case, short story work and /or ideas have tended to come in more or less from left field, and have usually been a welcome break from whatever other novel or film project has been running my life at that point in time.

And since nothing in a storyteller’s life happens in a vacuum, the short work affects the novels in ways that sometimes catch the novelist by surprise. This strikes me as a good thing: it’s too easy for the prolonged labor that a book requires to leave a writer suffering from creative tunnel vision.

The eleven stories in this collection have some interconnecting threads and themes. A lot of them are what one reviewer some time back—a kindly person who wasn’t above some gentle irony—described as “the usual life-affirming Duane stuff.” Yeah, well. Another thing that amused me a little when I started pulling this collection together is how often the stories veer toward Switzerland. Sometimes this was always intended from the start (as in “Bears” and “The Back Door”). Sometimes it happens by accident—I
swear
I didn’t see it happening in the middle of “Herself” until it was too late. (“Honest, officer, I was just driving along and all of a sudden Zürich jumped out in the road in front of me—!”) …The only thing I can say about this is that many people have a “home of the heart” that they return to whenever they can, and Switzerland is one of mine. Zürich in particular is a location it’s hard for me to avoid when I’m having fun—it’s probably the only city I know and like as well as I know and like New York. And since its airport is routinely a gateway to other destinations for me when I take a week or two away from home to write, Zürich’s presence underlies a lot of my work. Just so that you know what’s going on when it keeps popping up…

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these!

 

…D.D. / February 2011

 

For more than a decade and a half now my husband Peter Morwood and I have been working on a project that involves a very detailed look at a particular aspect of life in ancient Rome. In 2001 the project almost turned into a TV series that would have been truly massive (and which would probably have destroyed our marriage had it gone forward in the way the putative producers wanted. Fortunately we were spared that).

 

But we were both still acutely aware of the stories that could be told in the Rome of the first century A.D. Here’s one of them. (By the way, for the curious, the sign in “Arno’s” is real: the original is in the remains of an ancient sports bar in Pompeii. There really is nothing new in the world…)

 

 

 

 

The Fix

 

 

 

           

The sand underfoot was burning hot and blinding to look at, glittering with jewel-dust and dust of gold: the only place it didn’t hurt to look at was where it was browned with blood. Above and all around him, the crowd roared so that he could hardly think…and the band behind him, blaring away, wasn’t helping either. Lucius tried to ignore it all. What was happening in front of him was far more important than the noise or the smell or his burning eyes.

The
murmillo
gladiator in the red crest feinted at his opponent and cut hard. The white-crested Thracian sidestepped. That second blow should have landed, but it only sliced shoulder-padding as he dodged; the crowd screamed at the miss. Lucius could hear knights and senators in the ringside boxes shouting for the bookies to come and take new bets.

“Go on,” Lucius shouted, “go on, don’t let him—” Red-crest was already moving forward, jabbing at the Thracian’s small shield, tempting him to use it to batter the
murmillo
’s shortsword out of his hand. The shield flickered up and around in a move that Lucius and his
murmillo
had been discussing for the past week—hoping it would happen, not daring to count on it. “Now!” Lucius yelled, and his
murmillo
struck. Not alongside the shield, but over it, at the Thracian’s left eye—

            The man ducked, but not enough, and his scream was drowned by that of the crowd. Shield went one way, curved
sica
saber the other, and he dropped to the glittering sand, blood gushing past fingers that clawed at his helmet’s faceplate—

            The band blew a fanfare as the umpire raised his fist, then extended the first two fingers. It was the signal that someone needed help; the medics came running. The Thracian’s coach yanked at the big bronze helmet’s fastenings and threw it aside, then swore…

Lucius felt sorry for the guy, but not much. He’d noticed, a week back, that this particular Thracian’s helmet didn’t have the riveted-on plate over the leading eyehole that others had been adding. He liked to play to the highborn ringside ladies, to let them see his eyes….

Too bad,
Lucius thought,
but you only play one game when you walk in here.
“You okay?” His
murmillo
nodded, waiting for the umpire to get confirmation from the Imperial box. He got it, took the
murmillo
’s arm and held it up for the crowd to see.

            “The winner,” shouted the repeater-criers all around the arena, “the
murmillo
Cestinius, tyro, first victory with crown for technical merit…
and 
the editor’s purse for the best new fighter of the Games!”

            The crowd roared again as the payoff crew came out with the
murmillo
’s winnings on a tray—only bags of coin at first, but as they started the victory lap, jewels and rings and other gewgaws thrown from the stands started to pile up on it too. The winnings came closer, and closer. Lucius glowed with pride. Finally.
Finally.
He reached out—

            And banged into cold rough brick, skinning his knuckles. His eyes flew open, and saw only darkness.

            Lucius groaned, his disappointment too great for words, and closed his eyes again.
Almost. We almost got it. Oh, let me get back to sleep, and maybe this time…

            But the dream was gone, and it was dawn outside. This deep into Level One, there was no way to tell that by sight or hearing…but bitter necessity had long ago taught Lucius how to know the time without needing light to do it. He turned over in his sleeping-space, a narrow, airless, sloping-roofed tunnel of stone just barely longer than he was.

            Not far away, doors slammed and voices shouted under the arches and vaults of the long brick-walled arcades. Cattle lowed, their dark warm scent and the smell of  manure mingling with other aromas—the bitter-musk big cat smell, and the scents of olive oil and hot metal, of bread baking and someone boiling honey. The work day had already begun.

            Lucius rolled over onto his hands and knees and wriggled backwards off his blanket. He groped to one side for the only things he owned, his household gods and his lamp, and wrapped them in the blanket before pushing the bundle up to the far end of the alcove. It was unlikely that anybody would steal the meager possessions of a nine-year-old slave, but there were always new people here, and you could never tell.

            Lucius wriggled further back until he could kneel upright, and felt for his sponge-stick where he’d left it the night before. Around him, in tiny crawlways like his own, Lucius could hear grunts and groans as other slaves woke up. There were maybe thirty of them, young and old, who slept in this empty set of nooks between gates fifty and fifty-one. Like him, they were corporate slaves and didn’t have personal owners, just overseers.
Not that an overseer can’t beat you as hard as dead as an owner,
Lucius thought as he headed for the arch that led to the inner aisle.
At least Mancipuer doesn’t do that much…

            A ten-cubit-high brick arch materialized from the gloom. Through it, the shallow dish of a tall bronze pedestal-lamp cast unsteady light from the twisted hemp wicks that hung over its edges. Lucius made his way around the great aisle and past the east-side brothel, where lights and noise told him that the whores were at their laundry. Beyond that was the arched tunnel connecting the aisle to the center ring. Lucius trotted through it.

The pale marble floors were empty, but not for much longer. Shops and snack bars would open in the bare cubicles and, in a couple of hours, this whole place would be full of city people coming in early for a bath, a drink, a meal or a business meeting. Lucius passed the drink-seller’s, with its stand-up bar and deep vats to cool the wine. Next was the broad table of the custom tunic seller. And just beyond that…

Lucius slowed down and stopped, as he did every day, whether anyone was there or not. He imagined what it would be like, later, when the stallholder set up shop.

I wish,
he thought.
I wish…
The items that Tullius Strabo laid out there just before the lunch break were almost the best things in the whole Colosseum—better than food, or wine, or a day without being slapped around.
Especially the
murmillo

But for a penniless slave, Strabo’s wares were as unobtainable as the Moon. Lucius sighed and headed on to the slaves’ bath and toilet between gates forty-six and forty-seven. He trotted into the toilet room—a plain stone place with a bench around three sides and holes cut through—and had a squat; then rinsed his sponge-stick in the little paved stream that ran in front of the benches, then hurried out and back the way he’d come.

You could always smell the downstairs bakery a long time before you saw it. Tall, skinny Delia the baker worked there, in a flicker of lamps and an occasional hot glare as the oven opened. The first loaves and specialty rolls were already piled up on the counter. “Those for you,” Delia said, catching sight of Lucius and pointing.
Those
were the fennel sausage rolls his overseer liked, and he took two. “Tell your boss I need his tally sticks for this week!”

“I will,” Lucius said, and ran off with the rolls. Mancipuer was always in a better mood when they got to him still warm.

The place where the draft beasts were stabled was nearly an eighth of the way around the arena. There, in a pen mostly swept clean, Lucius found Mancipuer the beast-dresser amid a crowd of other slaves, gilding the horns of the first of a triple hitch of oxen. His back was hunched from some old injury, making him smaller than he really was: dark and hairy, he reminded Lucius of the big apes that the management sometimes brought in for expensive beast-shows. Right now Mancipuer was using a thick soft brush to dab shreds of gold leaf onto the ox’s right horn. One slave held a lamp over the work: another carried a pot of the gesso used to make the gold-leaf stick.

BOOK: Uptown Local and Other Interventions
4.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

DREAM by Mary Smith
Mark Clodi by Kathy
Dark Desires: Sold by D. Cristiana
Larry's Party by Carol Shields
Play Me Wild by Tracy Wolff
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
Miss Suki Is Kooky! by Dan Gutman
Friends ForNever by Katy Grant