A Life in the Age of Pompeii
My lantern is lit and I smile happily to myself as I wind my way down the stairs into the large storerooms beneath our house. It is cooler down here – much more so than outside and I am grateful for the respite from the heat of the Augustus sun. I am thankful yet again that my father is one of the most influential men in all of Pompeii, for if he weren’t, I would not have this sanctuary.
I reach the bottom of the stairs and turn slightly so I can walk to the furthest and coolest part of the storerooms. The darkness has never bothered me; in fact, I enjoy the silence and privacy it seems to afford me. As I walk, I hear nails clacking down the stone stairs and, smiling, I pause for a moment to wait for Hercules.
Upon reaching me, he snuffles and licks my hand, causing me to giggle. I set the lamp on the floor so I can squat down and wrap my arms around him.
“I love you,” I whisper into his fur.
He whines softly and I lift my head so I can look into his face.
“What is wrong, boy?”
His tail thumps softly against the rock he sits on and his eyes are full of something, but I do not understand what he is trying to tell me.
Sighing, I stand, picking up the lantern as I do so.
“If only you could speak,” I muse aloud as I continue toward the room I have made for myself down here.
His only response is the sound of his walking as he follows along behind me.
Reaching my destination, I lift my light higher. I smile as I survey everything. Books and scrolls line many of the shelves. The shelves that do not hold books or scrolls are overflowing with loose parchment pages, which are either blank or filled with my thoughts about the things I have experienced.
I have several reclining couches in case either of my parents should choose to join me, but for the most part, they seem to recognize my need for solitude and generally leave me alone here with my thoughts.
I set my lantern on the table that sits in the middle of all this and, feeling hunger, my gaze moves to the far wall where I keep dried foods. While this underground cavern holds nothing but food, water, and supplies, I prefer to keep a small stockpile within easy reach rather than having to wander around if I am in the middle of something.
From behind me, I hear Hercules’ breath huff out and I know he has curled up on his lambskin bed. I know he will be snoring within moments.
Finally, having satisfied my hunger and having found an unread volume on the life and times of Julius Caesar, I settle down onto one of the couches. I wrap a light cover around myself while chuckling softly at the irony of needing to warm myself during the third week of one of our hottest months.
I am dreaming of my love, Talus. We stand together on the bank of the Sarnus River and discuss our upcoming wedding. As Talus talks, I begin to hear a great noise that becomes steadily louder until I cannot even hear what he is saying anymore. It sounds as if huge boulders are being twisted and ripped apart and I feel panic as the ground beneath me shakes. There is a deafening boom. I scream, but I cannot hear myself.
Talus and the river disappear and I find myself sitting upright on the couch where I had fallen asleep. I realize the shaking ground, the sound of rock grinding against rock is not a dream, but is, in fact, happening.
I am terrified for I am remembering the story a sailor told me when I first came to Pompeii. Tears stream down my face while I pray aloud to Jupiter, hoping somehow to appease him for my sake, for my family’s sake, and for the sake of my beloved city!
I feel wetness on my face and I hear a low piteous moaning. My mind is sluggish, but I can feel consciousness clawing its way into my sleep. My head throbs painfully, but I finally manage to awaken, this time for real, and I open my eyes. Would that I had kept them shut, would that I had been able to remain in my dreams with Talus, would that I had not awoken from my nightmare only to discover that my nightmare is my reality.
I scan the room which used to be my sanctuary and I recognize it for what it now is: my prison, and eventually, my tomb…
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