The Bronze KingSuzy McKee Charnas
The Bronze King
Sorcery Hall, Book 1
by Suzy McKee Charnas
THE BRONZE KING
Copyright © 1985 by Suzy McKee Charnas. All rights reserved.
Original publication: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.
Ebook edition of The Bronze King copyright © 2011 by ElectricStory.com, Inc.
EPUB ISBN: 978-1-59729-061-0
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This novel is a work of fiction. All characters, events, organizations, and locales are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously to convey a sense of realism.
Cover art by and copyright © 2011 Cory and Catska Ench.
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Grateful acknowledgment is hereby made to various people in the New York subway system who provided information used in this story, and to Greg Sandow, who knew something about that system that outsiders are not supposed to know; to Quinn Yarbro for help with magic and lots else; to Vonda McIntyre and other early readers and hearers of this tale for their comments and responses; and to the two Lindas and everybody else in Word Processing for their patient help. In addition, I owe an acknowledgment to whoever first used the eighteenth-century Norwegian word kraken to name an interstellar monster-type heavy. John Wyndham’s Out of the Deeps (published in England as The Kraken Wakes), circa 1953, has been suggested as the source. In any case, it’s a lovely usage, gratefully borrowed.
This book is dedicated with the warmest appreciation to classical musicians. These performers must know better than anyone what is magical in music, what is plain hard work, and what somehow manages to be both. I am particularly indebted to the people I’ve had the pleasure of listening to live, in concert and in rehearsal, these many summers at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. For their efforts, which are always interesting and sometimes a form of healing and nourishing wizardry, much gratitude, of which this dedication stands as a token.
1: Tuna Fish
3: The Fiddler in the Park
4: Fiddle Magic
6: Tea and Cookies
7: Mom’s Spy
8: Rooftop Magic
10: The Abandoned Station
11: Water Magic
12: Hiding Out
15: The Kraken
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THINGS STARTED TO DISAPPEAR the day of the explosion in the subway station. (At least, that was Tuesday morning and at lunch period I discovered that my tuna fish sandwich was missing.)
First though, there was this explosion. I was heading for school, trying to ignore the miserable time I knew was coming up in math class. A test was scheduled soon and I was worried. I stopped to lean on the metal skirting around the entrance to the Eighty-first Street subway station on Central Park West, and I dug around in my bookbag for the piece of paper where I’d written down some questions about the review assignment.
All of a sudden the sidewalk jumped under my feet and there was this deep, low, far-off whoof, like one giant bark from a monster hound in the center of the earth.
Earthquake, I thought, the end! I’ll never have to take a math test again. Something hard and small dinged me on the forehead, just over my left eye, and I blinked, and that was it. No smoke, no yelling, nobody running, just me standing there on the sidewalk next to the subway entrance across from the park and rocking a little.
Still alive, I thought, rats! There is no escape. I took the bus across the park to school. Nobody else at school knew anything about an explosion in the subway. I started thinking I’d dreamed it. Maybe I’d had a moment of mental fugue, which seems to mean nuttiness, imagining what I would like to do to math as a subject: blow it up.
At lunch, it was my sandwich that was gone. I had to spend allowance money on school cafeteria slop, which I did not like because I am picky about what I put in my stomach except for special days when I declare a junk-food blitz. I tried to make this into one of those days, but not very successfully. The stuff in the school cafeteria isn’t nice, spicy, fattening junk. It’s just crud.
My best friend Megan sat with me at lunch, but she might as well have been on the moon. She was madly in love with a boy named Micky in the grade ahead of us and wouldn’t talk about anything else. In fact she had begun treating me like a baby for not being all dopey over some boy myself, and we had not been hanging around together much lately.
My other best friend, Barbara, had suddenly started getting into her roots, which meant wearing her hair in cornrows and talking street Black and hanging around with a very slick clique that didn’t welcome white kids. So I was pretty much on my own with this disappearing problem. It made me so nervous that I took the bus home too, instead of walking through the park as I usually did if the weather was nice.
That evening, I told Mom about the explosion and she fussed and patted me all over to make sure I was all right. Since I was, she forgot all about it. She was in a burn about the landlord and how our building was going to hell. That’s what was mostly on her mind these days, which suited me. It kept her from riding me.
All through dinner I heard about how the evening doorman was being replaced again as part of the landlord’s systematic effort to force us all to move out so he could turn the place into a luxury condo. I tried to get interested. I was, in a way. I sure did not want to go and live in the Bronx like Mom was always threatening we would have to.
Anyway, with one thing and another, I forgot about the subway explosion.
I did notice though, before I went to bed, that the knob was missing from the closet door in my bedroom.
“Well, look around for it,” Mom said, when I told her. “Find it and call up Sam to come put it back on.”
Sam was our building’s handyman, and he was pretty hard to find himself a lot of the time. The doorknob was impossible. I gave up.
The next morning my sneakers were gone. I mean gone, disappeared. Not my new sneaks, but my old beat-up ones that I wore all summer in camp. I was really upset. It was not great, having to go to school in my stiff new running shoes instead of my sneaks. I’d been saving the new ones for some special occasion.
Everything that had gone on so far had to do with me. Was it my fault somehow? Was I supposed to be putting out a dish of milk for the leprechaun? When I was little I kept a little bed and tiny cardboard furniture in the drawer of the old drop leaf table in the hall for the elf I made believe lived there. That was years ago. But now I kept thinking, Is it something I did? That’s exactly the kind of question Dr. Morely got me to quit asking about things that plainly were other peop
le’s business—like my parents’ divorce—when I spent a large part of my third-grade year talking with her.
So it’s not surprising that I actually thought about calling up Dr. Morely about the disappearances. She’s pretty good, though of course you can never tell if you got better on your own or because of a shrink. But I didn’t want my mom involved, and Dr. Morely cost more than my allowance would buy.
Anyway, the disappearing problem was on my mind all the way through school that day, and on into the park on my way home afterwards.
I always walk between the Metropolitan Museum on one side and the playground on the other, and down under the stone arch and up again to cross the center of the park. That’s the high part that has the statue of King Jagiello at its eastern edge and the little Belvedere Castle and the Delacorte Theatre on the western edge, with the shallow lake between them. The big open playing field runs north from the lake, and sometimes people play soccer there, which I love to look at. It’s a graceful game, not like mad-bull football which I mainly like to watch when I am furious about something.
Then I go down the hill past the stone cottage with the rest rooms in it, across the bridle path, and out past the other playground to the West Side. From there, it’s only a few blocks to home.
Today I came out from under the stone arch and there was a crowd milling around on the rise to my left, on Jagiello’s paved terrace. Two police cars and a Parks Department truck were parked on the stone flagging at that end of the lake, where all of a sudden I noticed that there was no statue of Jagiello.
Now, I am not talking about some little figurine here that a person could stick in their pocket and take home. I’m not even talking about something like the duck that somebody sawed off the Hans Christian Andersen statue down by the boat pond and stole (but it was found and put back later). The statue of Jagiello is a bigger-than-life-size horse carrying a huge bronze warrior in armor and a great big flowing bronze cape. This medieval king on horseback holds up two swords with their blades crossed high over the head of his horse, sort of like somebody fending off a vampire with the sign of the cross.
This was my favorite statue in the park, maybe because it was ugly and lumpy and there was something wrong with the perspective of the horse’s back legs. But in spite of that people always stopped and looked. They walked around and read the inscription on the pink marble block the horse stood on and they took pictures. Everybody stopped and took notice of Jagiello.
Only today they were taking notice of where Jagiello used to be but wasn’t anymore. The pink marble block was bare on top.
I couldn’t believe it. We all have to put up with a lot of vandalism in the park, but this was too much.
“What’s everybody staring at?” somebody next to me said.
It was Megan. She still walked home with me sometimes, the way we used to, if Micky was busy or had stood her up or whatever. Today she was red in the face and miserable-looking, which meant that Micky was doing one of his numbers on her. Why she put up with him I could not imagine, but at least I wouldn’t have to hear all about it, because here was something different and much more interesting to talk about.
“Jagiello’s gone,” I said.
“That ugly old statue? So what? They probably took it down to clean it.”
“Then what are all these cops doing here?” I said.
What they were doing was measuring things and taking pictures and talking on their shoulder radios.
“Move along, please,” a cop with a megaphone said. “It’s all over; we think the statue’s been missing at least a day, so there’s nothing to see and you’re blocking the pedestrians.”
“We are pedestrians,” I said, but not loud. I’d seen the statue on Monday. So it was gone since sometime yesterday, I thought, like everything else that was missing. That it hadn’t been officially noticed until today was just—well, New York.
Megan said, “Probably somebody forgot to pass along some stupid piece of paper telling everybody where the statue was being taken, that’s all.”
“No,” I said, as we walked on. “Things are disappearing.”
“Sure,” she said. “Like you, when you’re supposed to be waiting for me in the library. It’s Wednesday, remember? What about the test tomorrow?”
I had completely forgotten the test. Megan had agreed to go over some math notes with me. But there was no way I could do that now, not once I’d started on the subject of the disappearances.
I told her about what was gone, including first thing this morning the medicine cabinet from the big bathroom. Mom was sure the landlord had sent Sam the handyman sneaking in at night to do this, like some demented burglar, to make us move out.
Now, this is not as crazy as it sounds if you keep up with the landlord-tenant wars in New York, as Megan pointed out. She reads the Village Voice religiously, and that paper is really hipped on this particular subject.
I wasn’t worried about that, though I couldn’t say exactly what it was I was worried about. I told her how Mom had tried to get hold of Sam to get the lowdown from him—he was friendly. Only Sam hadn’t been around this morning either.
Megan said, “Oh, come on, a pair of sneakers, a handyman hiding from a pissed-off tenant. An apartment hassle, that’s all you’ve got.”
“Look, I turned down a chance to go down to the arcades with Micky to come looking for you. You want to do some math today or not?”
Which meant Micky had left her behind, in his usual casual fashion, and I was about to get told all about it in an edited version as clear as glass. Which I could not stand, because Megan always ended up figuring out that I knew what was really going on and telling me anyway and crying. I just wasn’t up to all that, and it made me mad to have her always set it up as if she were doing me a favor. All she was really doing was pinning me down so she could cry and swear about Micky to somebody.
“No,” I said. “I’m going on home, Megan. I’ve got a lot to think about.” And I wanted to see if anything else had disappeared while I’d been in school.
“Yourself, you mean,” Megan said, stopping dead in that stubborn way she had. “As usual. That’s all you ever think about anymore. Well, go ahead, but don’t expect me to walk with you. I’ve got lots of better things to do. And don’t come moaning to me when you fail that test, either!” She turned and headed back toward school, where I guessed she would try to find out where Micky had gone and go trailing after him.
I went past the theater and started down the west side of the big hill, and a guy on a skateboard came grinding past and tried to grab my pocketbook.
I yelled, yanked back on the strap, and fell into some bushes. The guy put on more speed and went roaring down the hill, across the roadway, and right down to the bridle path, where he jumped off, stuck the board under his arm, and ran away out of the park.
I stood there, rubbing my knee and yelling after him. Of course the cops didn’t come—they were all busy looking for Jagiello and what’s a kid yelling, anyhow?
I’d torn my jeans and scraped my knee in falling. One more patch to sew on.
I headed home, but slowly. I didn’t want to run into that guy again. It was funny how shaky I felt, considering all I had was a fall. It hadn’t even been as bad as getting knocked down in a basketball game.
But I could still see that guy on his board, a skinny kid wearing a gray nylon jacket with a black skull and lettering on the back that read PRINCE OF DARKNESS, speeding away from me on his wheels, sort of graceful like somebody riding a surfboard, and not looking back.
NEXT MORNING, MOM LEFT ME A NOTE: “We’re out of paper towels, detergent, sugar, and coffee. Please use note as basis for shopping list. Also no jelly. Bread without jelly = morning without sunshine. Please fix. Mom. PS. You’re on your own tonight, editorial conference.”
Which meant a, that she would be having dinner with one of the senior editors, which meant pre
tty soon she’d start bringing him home and I’d have to “relate” to him somehow or other; and b, that when she’d left for work, the linoleum was still on the kitchen floor, or she would have mentioned it. All I found there was this disgusting dried-up black glue to walk on. I mean, she would have hit the ceiling so hard you could hear it on the East Side.
So it’s not surprising that I flunked the math test. All I could think about was the kitchen floor: that and what else might suddenly disappear. Suppose somebody decided to “take” the whole sixth floor of my building, and suppose I was home at the time?
Not that there was any sensible reason to take our apartment, but what was sensible about taking the linoleum from our kitchen floor?
School was a dull blur that day, except for that nightmare math test. I dawdled home through the park, thinking about the careers open to people who simply never got out of school as a result of being math imbeciles; and also about the fireworks there would be when Mom finally did find the kitchen floor in its current state. I thought about calling her up to warn her. If she turned up with Mr. Whoever and he saw the state of that floor, she’d be fit to be tied, and I couldn’t blame her. I mean, I didn’t much like her taste in men, but I hated to see her embarrassed.
I couldn’t help wondering if the whole thing had something to do with Jagiello, but what?
Without him, the whole park felt different to me. It felt emptier, colder, with bigger spaces between one person and the next. Everybody I could see looked really alone out there.