Luca’s day was turning out average. They’d caught his sister at the market again, trying to steal a couple of soused apples from a merchant. The fruit cost a copper a basket, but to pay the girl’s bail, her mother would have to wash other people’s clothes non-stop for a week. At least an old friend of hers, another washerwoman, had gotten sick and passed her clients on.
That was why it had been two days since Luca last ate when his mother, herself barely staying upright, fed him some hastily cooked broth of potato skins. Nemania Kovachar, the owner of the only inn in the entire district, sold potato skins and similar leavings on the side.
To help his mother collect the bail money, Luca climbed into his wheelchair with her help and slowly rolled out of the hovel they lived in, heading toward the temple. The porch there was always full of professional beggars, but if he made as if he was just rolling by, he might get a few coins.
His mother didn’t even want to discuss allowing him to join the beggars’ guild. She had been and always remained the proud wife of a gladiator. They might live in a hovel on the edge of town now, since his father’s death, but there had been a time when they had a good house almost in the center of the capital, and apart from babysitters, Luca had had a nanny that taught him his letters and various sciences.
His father had been called Severus. He fell in the Arena three years prior. Only his earnings as a professional gladiator had allowed them to buy a wheelchair for Luca in those better times.
Ignatious the Furious had killed Severus, becoming a six-time Arena champion. It was whispered that not all had been clean in that battle, but Luca did not have the power to bring back his father, no matter what people said. Severus’s bones now decayed in a tomb, and Ignatious, rumor had it, headed up the capital’s criminal underworld.
Slowly, slower than a swamp turtle, Luca wheeled himself across the small plot in front of his home and onto the street. It took him almost ten minutes to go just fifteen feet. Luca had been paralyzed from birth, or maybe even while still in his mother’s womb. Those muscles he had allowed him to move his hands; not good enough to hold anything heavy, but enough to roll the wheelchair. His legs had never moved as far as Luca could remember.
“Look, it’s the cripple again!” shouted one of a group of guys whose appearance made Luca turn around at once to run.
Although the words ‘at once’ and ‘run’ had nothing to do with it. Usually they quickly caught him and then bullied him for some time, taking advantage of his helplessness. Karim, the son of the innkeeper Nemania, was particularly cruel in his abuse.
Luca span his wheels as fast as he could, retreating homewards. He even managed to get a few feet from the yard... But he wasn’t fast enough.
Splash! A cobblestone landed in a fetid puddle nearby, throwing up a fountain of dirty water. It soaked Luca through. The boy clenched his teeth and tried to move faster. The worst of it was his mother’s wasted labor. She always tried to give him clean clothes before he went out.
He pushed the wheelchair onward. Karim and his gang stayed at a distance, kept having fun throwing stones. The same huge deep puddle blocked their path, spreading from sidewalk to sidewalk. Multitude showers had flooded the roads, and people walked at the edge of the sidewalks, where it was shallow enough to keep the water below the knees.
The stones flew one after the other, throwing up dirty water and mud, breaking spokes in the wheelchair and generously peppering Luca in cuts and bruises. The boys hollered and cackled, shouted abuse at him and got even more excited, congratulating each other on particularly good hits or insults.
One of the stones hit Luca in the shoulder. The flash of pain stopped his retreat: it was if his right arm was dead. His eyes began to sting, but not from pain; from resentment. How he hated how helpless he was! How he dreamed of standing! Even crawling! He would have crawled up to each of them and bitten them!
Luca aimed his fury at the gods, if they existed, at the injustice of the world, at his parents... His father had spent so much money trying to make his son stand, but no matter how many wise women he saw, or rare shamans specially brought in from the planes, or professional physicians from the healers’ guild, none could do anything to fix his ailment.
One fortune teller said that the sins of the parents had fallen on the son. She was probably making it up, but for some reason Luca remembered her in particular. Most likely because it was easiest to blame his parents for it all. They were close by...
They had been close by. His father was gone, his mother faded with each passing year, and his sister Kora would end her journey in a brothel. Luca was sure of that. She was light-footed, curvaceous for her fifteen years, carefree and entirely without moral principles. Her knees were always cut-up, too. Kora took everything that wasn’t nailed down, and wasn’t afraid to get into a fight with much older boys, and as for where and how she got certain expensive luxuries like makeup, jewelry, new dresses... Luca didn’t even want to know. He loved his sister and she loved him, and that was enough.
Luca turned around unwillingly. In the last second of his life, he saw a huge cobblestone flying toward him, blotting out the sun.
Alex (Aleksei) Bobl is a literary agent and a science fiction writer, author of 13 novels. An ex-paratrooper, he used his military knowledge and experience to write his debut novels for S.T.A.L.K.E.R., a bestselling science fiction action adventure series set in a post-apocalyptic Chernobyl.
This account is publishing texts written by authors of Magic Dome Books.
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