The Black Gondolier and Other Stories
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by Fritz Leiber
Category: Horror/Dark Fantasy
Description: Announcing a new collection of stories by Fritz Leiber. Assembled here is a selection of Mr. Leiber's best horrific tales, many of which have been virtually unobtainable for decades. From the riveting "Spider Mansion" and "The Phantom Slayer" from Weird Tales to the more recent "Lie Still, Snow White" and "Black Has Its Charms" from rare, small-press magazines, this collection provides an overview of Leiber's fifty-plus years as an acknowledged master of the weird tale. While much of Leiber's seminal science-fiction and fantasy remains in print, his work in the field of supernatural horror has been sadly neglected until now. Edited by John Pelan and Steve Savile.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads, 2000 Midnight House
eBookwise Release Date: November 2002
26 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [494 KB]
Reading time: 318-446 min.
"Wonderful, magical Fritz Leiber, before whom Bradbury and Sturgeon and Norton and Goldman and Barth and Vonnegut bow, not to mention Robinson, Busby, Anderson and even yours truly, the maddest egomaniac of them all. Fritz Leiber, very likely the best of all of us, the man who has won more awards than anyone else in the genre, the man whose words have lifted this too often wretched category to Olympian heights more than anyone cares to mention."--Harlan Ellison
THE BLACK GONDOLIER
Daloway lived alone in a broken-down trailer beside an oil well on the bank of a canal in Venice near the café La Gondola Negra on the Grand Canal not five blocks from St. Mark's Plaza.
I mean, he lived there until after the fashion of intellectual lone wolves he got the wander-urge and took himself off, abruptly and irresponsibly, to parts unknown. That is the theory of the police, who refuse to take seriously my story of Daloway's strange dreads and my hints at the weird world-spanning power which was menacing him. The police even make light of the very material clues which I pointed out to them.
Or else Daloway was taken off, grimly and against his will, to parts utterly unknown and blackly horrible. That is my own theory, especially on lonely nights when I remember the dreams he told me of the Black Gondolier.
Of course the canal is a rather small one, showing much of its rough gravel bottom strewn with rusted cans and blackened paper, except when it is briefly filled by one of our big winter rains. But gondolas did travel it in the illusion-packed old days and it is still spanned by a little sharply humped concrete bridge wide enough for only one car. I used to cross that bridge coming to visit Daloway and I remember how I'd slow down and tap my horn to warn a possible car coming the other way, and the momentary roller-coaster illusion I'd get as my car heaved to the top and poised there and then hurtled down the opposite dusty slope for all of a breathless second. From the top of the little bridge I'd get my first glimpse of the crowded bungalows and Daloway's weed-footed trailer and close behind it the black hunch-shouldered oil well which figured so strangely in his dreads. "Their closest listening post," he sometimes called it during the final week, when he felt positively besieged.
And of course the Grand Canal is pretty dismal these days, with its several gracefully arching Bridges of Sighs raddled with holes showing their cement-shell construction and blocked off at either end by heavy wire barricades to keep off small boys, and with both its banks lined with oil wells, some still with their towering derricks and some--mostly those next to beach side houses--with their derricks dismantled, but all of them wearily pumping twenty-four hours a day with a soft slow syncopated thumping that the residents don't hear for its monotony, interminably sucking up the black petroleum that underlies Venice, lazily ducking and lifting their angularly oval metal heads like so many iron dinosaurs or donkeys forever drinking--donkeys moving in the somnambulistic rhythm of Ferde Grofe's Grand-Canyon donkey when it does its sleepy hee ... haw. Daloway had a very weird theory about that--about the crude oil, I mean--a theory which became the core of his dreads and which for all its utter black wildness may still best explain his disappearance.
And La Gondola Negra is only a beatnik coffee house, successor to the fabulous Gashouse, though it did boast a rather interesting dirty drunken guitarist, whose face always had blacker smears on it than those of his stubbly beard and who wore a sweatshirt that looked like the working garment of a coal miner and whom Daloway and I would hear trailing off (I won't venture to say home) in the small hours of the morning, picking out on his twangy instrument his dinky "Texas Oilman Suite", which he'd composed very much in imitation of Ferde Grofe's one about the Grand Canyon, or raucously wailing his eerie beatnik ballad of the Black Gondola. He got very much on Daloway's nerves, especially towards the end, though I was rather amused by him and at the same time saw no harm in his caterwauling, except to would-be sleepers. Well, he's gone now, like Daloway, though not by the same route ... I think. At least Daloway never suggested that the guitarist was one of their agents. No, as it turned out, their agent was a rather more formidable figure.
And they don't call the plaza St. Mark's, but it was obviously laid out to approximate that Adriatic-lapped area when it was created a half century ago. The porticos still shade the sidewalks in front of the two blocks of bars and grimy shops and there are still authentic Venetian pillars, now painted salmon pink and turquoise blue--you may have seen them in a horror movie called Delirium where a beautiful crazy slim Mexican girl is chased round and round the deserted porticos by a car flashing its headlights between the pillars.
And of course the Venice isn't Venice, Italy, but Venice, USA--Venice, California--now just another district and postal address in the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, but once a proud little beach side city embodying the laughably charming if grotesque dream of creating Venice, Italy, scaled down but complete with canals and arched bridges and porticos, on the shores of the Pacific.
Yet for all the childish innocence of its bizarre glamor, Venice developed an atmosphere, or became the outpost of a sinister deep-rooted power, that did in Daloway. It is a place of dreams, not only the tinseled ones, but also the darker sort such as tormented and terrified my friend at the end.
For a while toward the beginning of this century the movie folk and real estate agents and retired farmers and the sailors from San Pedro went to spanking-new Venice to ride the gondolas--they had authentic ones poled by Italian types possibly hired from Central Casting--and eat exotic spaghetti and gambol romantically a bit with their wide-hatted long-skirted lady friends who also wore daring bathing suits with bare arms and rather short skirts and long black stockings--and gamble too with piled big yellow-backed green bills--and, with their caps turned front to rear, roar their wooden-spoked or wire-wheeled open touring cars along the Speedway, which is now a cramped one-way street that changes direction every block.
But then Redondo and Laguna and Malibu called away the film folk and the other people with fat pocketbooks, but as if to compensate for that they struck oil in Venice and built wells almost everywhere, yet despite this influx of money the gambling never regained its éclat, it became just bingo for housewives, and the Los Angeles police fought that homely extramural vice for a weary decade, until sprawling LA reached out a pseudopod one day and swallowed Venice up. Then the bingo stopped and Venice became very crowded indeed with a beach home or a beach apartment or a beach shack on every square yard that wasn't sidewalk or street--or oil well!--and with establishments as disparate as Bible Tabernacle and Colonic Irrigation Clinic and Mother Goldberg's Home for the Aged. It would have been going too far to have called Venice a beach slum, but it was trending in that direction.
And then, much later, the beats came, the gutter geniuses, the holy barbarians, migrating south in driblets from Big Sur and from North Beach in Frisco and from Disillusion, USA, everywhere, bringing their ratty art galleries and meager avant garde bookstalls and their black-trousered insolent women and their Zen and their guitars, including the one on which was strummed the Ballad of the Black Gondola.
And with the beats, but emphatically not of them, came the solitary oddballs and lone-wolf intellectuals like Daloway.