The sunlight slips through the curtains, wrapping me up in cozy warmth. I slowly move one of my eyelids, but it seems too heavy. I decide to stay here a bit longer, but the noise that comes from the kitchen won’t let me enjoy the peace of sleeping.
In some weeks the harvest time will come. I love the aroma and the sight of our blossoming olive trees so beautiful and peaceful. This year we couldn’t hire many men to do the collection of fruits but my father believes we will be able to do it. My mother and I will have to check that the leaves are removed and the olives are properly washed to take them to the trapetum. She always advises me to be sure that additional oil is kept to go to the temple. I can’t tell her I lost my lunula, the amulet given for my protection! My mother will be furious if I tell her I've lost it. It's my only protection from evil forces, like demons and, worst of all, the evil eye. But I'm sure I'll find it before too long, and my mother will never need to know it's lost.
The noise from the kitchen doesn't get any quieter, and I can still hear it no matter how much I try to cover my ears, so I sit up, resigning myself to the fact that I'll actually have to get up. Covering a yawn with my hand, I pad out of the room, heading towards the kitchen where I know the others will be. I adjust the neckline of my tunic as I go, hoping to hide the fact that my lunula isn't hanging around my neck.
As I enter the kitchen, I feel the earth below me tremor. My heart drops and the first thought that comes to my mind is that this is an effect of loosing my lunula. I shake my head and realize that I'm being paranoid. After all, Pompeii is known for it's tremors. This is normal.
Looking around, I notice that there are extra members in the kitchen today. This explains the unusual amount of noise.
"Hi uncle Alanzo, aunt Livia!" I acknowledge them and take my seat at the table where fresh cheese and hot bread are presented to me by my nonna and I look at her gratefully. This is not a regular breakfast.
I look at them, my dear ones, and I'm grateful to be here in this wonderful place surrounded by love. I look at my mother and she looks back at me...something is wrong. Her look is swamped in sadness. I have never seen those remorseful eyes before. I try to ask her what is this all about but before I can say anything she tells me: "My pretty little girl, it's your birthday...your last birthday here...please try to understand us". She starts crying while everyone's faces turn white, red and then white again.
My slice of bread and cheese stills halfway to mouth as my head shoots up. There are few possibilities: it is my fourteenth birthday, and many girls are betrothed and married by fifteen!
"But I've barely started weaving my tunica recta" I stutter. Aunt Livia knows how much trouble I'm having with that blasted loom.
"Sweetheart -" Papa begins, as my beloved Mama turns into his arms and starts to weep.
The words are cut off as another tremor rumbles through the house, far stronger than the first. My uncle and I dive under the table, Mama and Aunt Livia clutch the solid outer doorframe, and Papa races to protected the lares familiares, the small statues representing the gods who care for our household, while plaster rains down from the walls on all sides. My hand automatically reaches for my lunula - it isn't there, of course, but Uncle Alanzo holds me close while gripping the dancing table with his other hand.
We stumble outside as soon as we dare, still wobbly and choking on the dust, each one of us staring toward the apparently placid Mons Vesuvius. It is the feast of Vulcanalia as well as my birthday - what could this mean?
My little brother Claudius must have seen me reaching for my lunula by reflex.
”You lost your lunula! This is your fault!” he says with a look that makes me realize he probably knows where it is - why else would he say I've lost it? Wouldn’t he have said I'm not wearing it?
Everyone turns and looks at me. ”Ah, um, It’s not …” I stammer. I turn to my little brother. “What did you do with it?” I yell at him. “Give it back before something else happens!”
“Claudius,” my mama says, “Do you have your sister’s lunula? You know how important it is; give it back to her.”
"N-No, mother, I... I don't have it!" And then Claudius starts to run out of the house, thus proving my hunch that he has something to do with the loss of my lunula. Everyone else calls out his name, but to no avail - he's gone like a wild horse. So, I decide to chase after him, but not after another tremor hits the ground, causing me to lose my balance and stumble to the floor.
I'm now in the main road, shouting out Claudius's name, but it's all hopeless - he has probably hidden himself well somewhere in Pompeii. As I continue my search, the unexpected suddenly happens: the great Mount Vesuvius spews out a dark tower of black clouds from its peak. The tremors intensify; pots fall down from everywhere; stalls suddenly collapse without warning; people are panicking and running around in circles. What if the loss of my lunula is connected to this very, very, very bad omen?
I shake off the thought and sprint down the road. Lamenting at my missing lunula will not get it back. I must find Claudius - he knows where it is. I hear my mother calling my name from afar, but I keep running. Must find Claudius. Must find Claudius. What if something happens to him? What if something has already happened to him? What if he is hurt?
I run faster still.
I try to remember where he usually hides with his friends. Outside the bathhouse where they like to hear the echo of their voices as they sing, or by the market where they usually like to toss rocks at the goats and see them buck in the enclosures. The market is closest and I run in that direction as fast as I can. People are already outside now looking over at the Mons Vesuvius. The sky is starting to darken, and more people are coming out into the street to look at the dark cloud that is rising.
I don't stop to look, I only find that my legs carry me faster towards the market. The road now is starting to fill with the chatter of people as they start to talk and some are now praying. "Claudius!" I start screaming at the top of my lungs. I no longer care about the lunula and I find that tears are now running down my cheeks.
I'm no longer sure if I am crying because Claudius is missing or because my father just told me I was being betrothed. All I want to do now is find my little brother and hug him. Hold him tight and take him back home. I can't find him I can't see him, and more tears rush down my face. "Claudius!" I scream once again as the animals in the market start to look fearful. Their eyes wide, the goats pulling on their leashes. The horses are now restless as their owners lash them to keep still.
The sound of birds now flocking as the ground shakes again scares me. There have been tremors as long as I can remember but never this long. I feel the ground now shift below my feet and I fall, my hands hit the dirt next to the enclosures. I feel as my knees scrape and my tunic is now soiled with straw and mud. I sit up on the floor, looking around as people start to pack up their stores and belongings.
Cyprian, one of the hands that works for my father during the harvest, sees me as I fall and comes rushing over to me. "Little bird, be careful," he cries out as he leaves the fence he was mending to come to my side, leaning down and lifting me back to my feet.
I try to clean my tunic but my hands are so dirty they only smudge the dirt more. Cyprian takes some water from his goat skin and pours it over my hands as he helps me clean them. The dirt is washed off as well as some of my blood. "Cyprian, have you seen Claudius, he ran off and I need to find him."
"Ah yes, I just saw him running in that direction." He points in the direction that is further into the market. "But why? Why is he running away from you?"
"It's hard to explain, Cyprian. But I have reason to believe that Claudius made off with my lunula."
A rush of cold water pours over my hands as Cyprian drops his goat skin. He has turned pale. "This is a bad omen, it's evil. It certainly is."
"I can't afford to lose him, Cyprian, not now. My family cannot lose him now. My family... I... we just can't..." I started to sob. Cyprian stands still, very close to me, but seems not sure what to do to console his master's beloved daughter. Finally he sighs and whispers, "Listen, precious, why don't we just pray to the gods? They must be able to bring Claudius back, not just alive, but safe. Come on, here's my bulla. Let's hold the bulla and join hands as we send our humble request to the powerful gods of our ancestors. May they grant him safety and guidance..."
I try to stop crying, but can't. And even as I nod to Cyprian and we join our hands to pray, I feel the dread rising in my heart. The tremors below my feet seem to be getting stronger and stronger. I try to concentrate on my prayers, but can't. My eyes just wander around, trying to spot my brother. But instead of him, they see shock and terror on every face. And then I notice it isn't just me who's crying.
"Cyprian... ," my voice sounds weak and pathetic even to my own ears. He looks up; his eyes catch mine and I glimpse his panic before he looks beyond me. An old man is moaning, knees in the dirt, hands on his head... lamenting. Two young women I recognize are holding hands and walking by so fast that they need to hold their skirts up. A darker fear grips me as it becomes clear that something far greater is happening here than a regular tremor and my runaway brother.
Vignette 1: Write from the perspective of a peasant citizen of Pompeii living his or her regular life leading up to the eruption, and then witnessing the eruption first hand. (We will submit this vignette as our official Guinness World Record attempt, so please make sure you contribute to the story!)