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Roman Hell



Roma, capital of the world, choked with summertime heat and filth, the sum and summit of earthly power and glory. This is the arena where the impoverished poet Martial struggles for money and fame.

When Titus, the “Princeps” or first citizen of Roma, asks Martial to be his spy, the shameless poet willingly accepts. Yet what first seems like a trivial assignment grows increasingly dangerous and deadly when the evil witch, Canidia, and Sagana, her ogress sister, enter into a plot with Domitian, Titus’s brother.

With the help of a brave ex-legionary, Martial tries to reveal the plot to Titus. Yet Martial’s efforts to save the Princeps only drag him deeper…into a Roman Hell…

Genre: Horror Length: 64,000 words (190 paperback pages)

Excerpt

…Dawn found Roma already hot and parched, little cooled by the brief night. A million stirred uncomfortably, most desperately poor and condemned to live close-hemmed in filth and discomfort. Many couldn’t even afford porridge. They dreaded the onset of another blindingly hot day in the city. Sparrows kept to the shadows in the eaves of temples’ pediments. Proles stayed in the shade in the courtyards of insulas, squalid five- and six-story apartment blocks, and drank cheap wine if they were lucky.

“Wife, get the cook fire going. I want my breakfast,” the cry went up.

Smoke from hundreds of thousands of ovens, braziers, and cook fires trailed upward, permeated every corner of the city, and mingled the smell of ash with a thousand other pungent stenches. Bodies lay in the narrow streets, some wrapped in rags, others naked, already stinking from putrefaction, awaiting a cart to an open pit to be tossed in without ceremony. Someone’s stray mule trotted past a row of corpses with a clump of tomb herb for a cud. A legless man painstakingly picked his way on his hands over uneven flagstones down a muddy street. Vestals tended the sacred hearth, men at the Praetorian Camp kept guard, porters grimly trod on with their loads, hastening before the sun truly rose, and slaves went about their masters’ errands. Most of the wealthy and important, the ones who really counted in Roma, were at summer homes in Baiae and Puteoli.

“Come on, you stubborn beast. Turn the wheel like you’re supposed to. Come along before I drag you to the butcher so he can cut your stupid throat.”

A slave tugged at the bit of a recalcitrant ass and urged him to mill more flour for their master. A cobbler sat at his bench and patiently nailed together another hobnailed boot. A rich man, kept in town on business, ordered his slaves to pull back his study’s curtains and to fetch water chilled with snow, packed in barrels and stored in a deep underground cellar. Despite the early hour, layabouts in low inns drank their wine and sang foul songs, the heat that day’s excuse to stay indoors and carouse. Hundreds of slaves in the public baths, rail-thin, nearly naked men, chopped and stacked dry wood to burn in furnaces to warm the hypocausts, hollow spaces beneath the baths’ floors. Patrons would come later in the day, anxious to soak in heated pools before cooling off.

“Don’t even think of cutting ahead of me in line, Caecilius.”

Despite the season and heat, clients were still out. Since most rich men weren’t in town, it was even more important to pay extra attention to the few that were. A patron’s morning greeting was not missed. Vile weather, deathbed illness, a newborn son, nothing compared to the need to secure the sportula, a day’s pittance, a handful of coins to tide the client over until tomorrow. They stood under the porticoes of great houses on the Palatine and Viminal, huddled in the shade.

Martial was too busy to visit any patrons that day. The poet sat at his desk.

“Curse this morning heat,” he said aloud, even though alone, “and only the third hour of the day.”

He thought, thought again, and finally scribbled a few lines on a wax tablet with a broken stylus. Martial pondered the lines for a few moments, scowled in disgust, and scraped the tablet clean. The couple downstairs was having another screaming argument.

“How do you expect me to cook you a meal if you won’t give me money for food?”

“Be quiet, you shrew. Fix food somehow, and let me drink my wine in peace.”

In the taberna on the ground floor, several drunks loudly belted out another chorus of the same song they’d sung for the last hour. In the street below, coppersmiths hammered away, currency exchangers jingled coins on tables, shaven-headed worshipers writhed and moaned in the throes of ecstatic rites, beggars bawled, and shopkeepers loudly advertised their wares.

Martial looked out his window at the laurel wreaths that graced the Portico of Agrippa. Life on the Quirinal was anything but restful…

Reviews

“Mark Mellon has really done his homework…His vivid descriptions of the ancient city bring it to life in all of its crowded and decadent glory. The story is a very good one full of conspiracies, backstabbing and witchcraft.”
— Colleen Wanglund, The Horror Fiction Review.
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/130505293

“Roman Hell is a fascinating read that succeeds in immersing the reader wholly in Mellon’s ancient world…”
— George Andrade, Horror News.Net.
http://horrornews.net/21913/book-review-roman-hell-by-mark-mellon/

“A fascinating journey into history, where witchcraft and elder gods rule the roost of ancient Rome.”
— Robert Duperre, Journal Of Always.
http://journalofalways.blogspot.com/2010/12/review-roman-hell-by-mark-mellon.html

“A riveting historical thriller and a bawdy, filth-infested romp, this novel depicts Rome as you have never seen it before. Great fun.”
— Adrian Brady, Morpheus Tales Reviews.
http://www.morpheustales.com/reviews.htm

“Mellon does a great job with immersing you in Rome at the time the story is
done and you could almost feel, taste and smell the very things he describes…If you love old time Rome with gladiators, witches, magic and mythology, I recommend this book for you.”
— D. W. Jones, Blood Moon Rising.
http://www.bloodmoonrisingmagazine.com/bloodybookreviews44.html

“The book was a nice surprise for me. A lot of times when you find something that is set in an era you like or deals with a favorite topic the work can fall short of what you hoped it would be. That is not the case here…So if a tale of witchcraft, betrayal, action and suspense set in ancient Rome sound interesting to you this might just be something you would want to read.”
— Larry Green, Death Head Grin.

“What is it with law degrees? Remember when I asked this question last week? Well, here is another degreed lawyer who moonlights as an excellent horror fiction writer. Mark Mellon is the author of Roman Hell; he writes a flawless horror tale…I highly recommend Mark Mellon’s Roman Hell to older teens and adults with a penchant for Roman history and affection for the sinister side of Rome.”
–Sylvia Cochran, The Deepening website:
http://www.thedeepening.com/horror/2011/09/28/book-review-roman-hell-by-mark-mellon/

“We’re left in the capable hands of a narrator who excels in describing scenes of battle, be they in the streets of Rome or in the gladiatorial arena, against supernatural foes or human adversaries, and in his depictions of magic and its results…The ceremony at which Hecate is evoked is an almost pitch perfect portrayal of the macabre and sinister.”
–Peter Tennant, Black Static magazine
http://ttapress.com/blackstatic/