A short story collection for anyone who feels like they're living through the collapse of civilisation. Gary Byrnes is also the author of THE GOD VIRUS and PURE MAD.
Excerpt from THE WRITER:
It was a heavy evening after the scorching day; late summer, the month of the God Emperor Augustus. The air glowed, smoke from thousands of oil lamps and open fires catching the sun's fading power. The writer's eyes burnt as he stood on the balcony of his family domus on the Palatine Hill, watching the murmuring city stretched out below. He acknowledged a peculiar beauty in the wide sweep of wretched humanity huddled together; slums and tenements hugging the banks of the Tiber, hill after hill to the glimpse of distant, burning sea.
Later, a fat moon rose from behind the imposing home, cast its cold light over the dead day, the greatest city in history, the worried man. But the writer had a fire in his belly, a new idea burning, taking shape. At last, his simmering anger had found a purpose, some kind of direction.
'Beautiful, isn't it?' said his mother, touching his elbow and rubbing it fondly.
'From up here, yes. But it is a different life in the slums,' he answered. 'It stinks like a dead dog.' 'It's said there are a million souls in the city now, Marcus. A million. They are here by choice. This is the Golden City of Dreams. Dreams of wealth, success, excitement. You cannot blame our Senators or our Emperor for the squalor that success inevitably brings.'
'Especially since we have a Senator as guest this evening, mother?' quizzed Marcus, worried for his father.
'We must be gracious. Anyway, Maximus has been very kind to us. And he's your father's best friend in the Senate.'
'That's a very beautiful stola you're wearing, mother. Where did you get it? And is that black wig from India, perhaps? Has generals' pay risen again?'
She didn't answer, just stared at the city in silence until a servant announced the Senator's arrival. 'I will welcome our guest. Please, for me, be happy.'
'I'll try,' said Marcus, as if to himself.
His mind was racing: filled with conflict, many emotions. In recent months, he had begun to question the society in which he enjoyed a privileged place. The vast majority were poor or enslaved, while he had enjoyed a Greek education, the spoils of Empire and the stability of position. But it wasn't enough. Not any more. Not since he'd started hearing the stories, the stories he'd begun to write - in Greek so that they could be read throughout the civilised world.
Would his stories bring any fairness to the casually cruel and biased system that controlled so many millions of lives? Probably not, but he knew that was not reason enough to abandon his project. The simple act of writing would purge his own guilt and, like a pebble in a pond, who knew where the ripples would end up? His heart beat louder as he lost himself in the structure, the plot, the drama. He was giddy with the idea of a bestseller.
He heard his mother calling his name repeatedly.
He drained the goblet of wine and took a deep breath. He turned from the glorious musings, hesitated, went to the dining area. During the hot summer season, evening meals were taken in the peristyle, the open garden in the centre of the domus. The servants waited in the shadows while oil lamps on the pillars illuminated the guests. Two child slaves were tasked with using large feathers to keep flying insects away from the diners. The centrepiece was an innovation: a long oak table which overflowed with gold platters of grapes and bread and many jugs of wine. The guests were seated on plush, high-backed chairs, rather than the typical lounges.