Saturday, April 07, 2012


Vesuvius by moonlight
It all started with the dreams. I had been having them for months. Well you couldn't really call them dreams once you saw what was inside them. It was fire and rivers of flaming death, people of Pompeii being engulfed by the blaze in the horrific streets and children screaming for their guardians with black sooty tears streaming down their blackened cheeks.

I used to wake from those dreams in a cold sweat, trying to shake off the nightmarish visions shooting like daggers into my mind. I shakily sat up and looked around with bleary eyes, and breathed a sigh of comfort.

I was not in a Hade's furnace but in the cool moonlit bedroom of our house in Pompeii. I threw back the light covers of the bed and silently slid my feet over the edge of the bed and onto the cold, stone floor panels. I needed a drink.

As quietly as I could I navigated my way through the dimly lit Atrium to the kitchen, my bare feet echoed through the house. I quickly got hold of the rope hanging like a snake over the top of the well, it was a modern inside well so the cook and maids would not have to go outside to wash or for water. I looked over the side and tried to see the bottom of the well, but it seemed to go to the centre of the earth, (good job the world is flat.) I said to myself recalling what my father had said to me the day before. The bucket came into view, I couldn't be bothered to get a glass. I lifted the heavy pale to my lips and let the water run down my parched throat.

I felt more alert now, and then I noticed a sound. There was a small growling coming from outside. I dropped the bucket back down the well and winced as it sploshed loudly into the water below, (guess it did have a bottom after all).

I warily tip-toed over to the window; the stars were glinting like precious stones in the velvet of the sky. Leaning out of the granite sill I peered down the street, expecting to see a stray dog wandering around, but there was nothing but the monochrome streets of Pompeii stretching far into the out of sight shadows.

I listened.... There it was again I scanned the horizon of moon swathed hills and a movement caught my eye. It was over the biggest mountain of all. Vesuvius. Squinting into the darkness I stared for a moment, then a burst of fiery, glowing sparks made me jump. I just froze with my eyes wide in terror. The ground shuddered beneath me. It jerked me into action I took to my heels and ran through the door and was over taken by the dog as I dashed back through the atrium, down the corridor and into my room and leaped like a hurdler into the covers. I yanked the covers over my head and clamped my hands over my ears, trying to block out the terrifying sound that had been haunting my dreams only minutes ago, the rumbling had grown louder but now it was calming into nothing again. The only thing that could keep me from screaming was the thin belief that this was not real and that I was dreaming." I'm dreaming" I whispered as the world fell away.Tm just dreaming..."

I opened my eyes groggily and pullingthe sheet off my head sat up. A maid bustled past the doorway and there were voices in the street outside, of merchants, slave dealers and children. I fell back against the pillows again, and studied the ceiling. Had it all been a dream? It was so real though, the shudder of the earth, the sparks, the cold of the stone floor. My little brother Acanthus rushed in pulling a wooden horse on heels behind him. He held it up to my face and attempted to make horse noises. I smiled and picked him up " Good morning Acan'" I said tickling his chubby tummy "Cassia!" he gurgled through ticklish laughs. He seemed to only be able to pronounce people's names so far.

Father seemed to be a little concerned about Acanthus, saying that most children aged 3 could speak fluently but Acanthus could only squeal and play make believe games with his toy animals. But to me he was the best little brother ever born. He ran out again, making unsuccessful dog noises as he went.

I fetched my robes from a neatly folded pile near the door, then promptly dropped them as a crash sounded from the street. I ran to the window clutching the crumpled garments round my bare arms. The crash had come from a stall selling chickens, one of the crates holding the birds had seemingly fallen off and the merchant was leaning down to pick it up, but no sooner than he had stooped, another chicken crate rolled off the pile. The merchant looked on in bewilderment before the chickens could escape any further down the street. I looked in the other direction and noticed the pandemonium that was breaking out with the animals. Bulls pulling at their nose rings, dogs yanking savagely on their leads and weirdest of all was the centurions sleek black horses rearing up in terror and making in gallop for the gates of Pompeii.

I ducked inside the window again and shivered, something wasn't right. The thing that unnerved me the most was the horses, they usually didn't flinch is they were prodded with a hot poker. But this was different, it seemed that they thought the only way to live was to get out of Pompeii. It was just so surreal.

Father suggested that we went around the market that day. I protested that I had a head ache in attempt to stay inside and ponder about the odd happenings. But my mother only said that the fresh air would do me good.

So after worshiping the house hold gods for the morning, we set out in our good robes and Acanthus in my mother's arms with pinched cheeks to make them look rosier than usual. We strolled down through the different stalls and tents browsing at the assorted merchandise that was on sale.

As we walked I noticed the air was anything but fresh, there was a stench of rotten eggs in the air and still the animals in the street were acting oddly. It seemed to me that any animal that was not tethered or ridden had disappeared. I shook my head, no it was just a coincidence.

I stopped at a stall selling bread and a plump woman smiled warmly at me from behind the table. The rolls were golden and risen so I smiled back and reached for my purse, then jumped back in alarm as a small brown object landed with a thump on the table. The woman screeched and I took a closer look at the thing, then gasped. It was a sparrow.

I picked it up, it was dead, but still warm. As I stroked the tiny bird, more soft thumps were happening around us. There were a few screams and then a stunned silence fell over the town. I turned round, to my horror the cobbles were strewn with feathered bodies. I put down the sparrow under a tree stump and choked back a tear. Suddenly the silence was broken and the townspeople started to chatter again. Some pinched themselves dazedly.

I was the first to move. I simply ran, I heard my father call after me but I didn't turn around I carried on running dodging around d the birds lying in my path. All of a sudden there was a sound, not quite a rumble, not quite a growl. Then I screamed that scream I had bottled up. All manner of living creatures came scuttling, running, crawling, running and slithering up behind me the townspeople had not screamed, but simply parted like the red sea in awe to let the creatures past. They were all heading for the gates and so was I. in the crowd of animals there were mice, rats, snakes, worms, lizards, cats, insects, and so many others. Then I turned to face them and the animals rushed past, in a stampede of fear, but I stood my ground the ground shuddered violently and in front of me the road buckled and I fell over as the earth itself tried to regain control of itself. Then my head snapped upward. And the sight was incredible. The mountain was swelling at the peak. The animals continued to flash past me but I could only hear my own heart in my ears. Then the summit exploded, sending boulders flying into the air and tumbling down onto nearby houses, the mountain started to bleed molten rock and I suddenly Knew the end was hear, with that my heart tried to beat out a life time's worth of beats in one minute, then one last rock came falling down towards me, I didn't try to move I just let it's shadow grow bigger around me and closed my eyes, what happened was right it was meant to be. It is destiny.

I love this entry in the 2011 Golden Sponge-stick Writing Competition by 12 year old Anna from Stamford High School. It is so descriptive and dramatic. It puts you right there during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Bene fecisti, Anna! 

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