Topic: Write from the perspective of a criminal who is in jail during the eruption. Do they see it as an opportunity for escape? Do they resign themselves to this end?
Grammarly mods, a note:
If a chapter title is needed, I think a good one is "Unbroken" or "Lucky".
-wjw42, Vignette 16 mod
This is the story of my last day in prison. I had been in prison for almost seven years before I escaped. I've lived in Pompeii all my days, but they have not treated me well. The days seemed to turn into weeks and into months without me taking notice of the sunrises and sunsets. We couldn't tell much anyway since the prison cells were mostly underground. I didn't care much either. My days were consumed with thoughts of my demise and my children. Just like that, for seven years.
All I was doing was trying to provide for and protect them. They were still young when I entered this place, although by now they will be grown up into young men and women. Thinking about the days before everything fell apart, as a single mother with no family around, every day was a struggle. Wondering if each meal would be my children's last. Wondering if anyone would want to buy my body anymore. Waking up hopeful each morning, only to be met with the fact that likely there was no hope. But getting out of bed, anyway. Putting on a smile anyway. Covering my bruises, concealing my pain. Loving my children in such a way that they didn't didn't know the truth. The ugly reality. And I didn't know how much longer I could play this game. Or what would happen when my mind told my body that it simply couldn't take it anymore. And when I believed it.
The day that I "believed" is still a blur, a whirlwind. He hit me, there was a knife. He was a military General. I knew I'd get caught. That there was no longer any use in trying to hide. But I still tried. Later on that day more of his kind found me tucked away in a closet, with my four children shielding me from the eventuality of what I had done. I had killed a man. It didn't matter that he was trying to kill me. It didn't matter that if I had stayed with him his anger would have carved me up into a thousand pieces. I was a woman. And I had killed a man. An important man.
And then the earthquakes came. We had earthquakes a few times a year, but never so often as these. A day was filled with two or three. So there I sat, listening to the earth as it kept trembling. We did not know what was going on in the city, but I felt something was wrong. Could my actions have brought about this? Did I anger the god by shedding the blood of a vile man? Slowly, the thoughts that consume me shifted from "Will I ever get out?" to "Will I ever get out alive?".
We were kept on the outskirts of Pompeii. If you could reach it, the tiny hole they called a window had a view of the whole city, with the large mountain to its left.
"Vipsania, anything special?" I called to my roomate, who was tall enough to see through the hole.
"Nothing much, Felix." My full name was Lucilla Felix, but everyone called me by my surname. A surname which, when translated, means "luck". I never really liked that name. I was far from lucky.
"It's the same city as ever. I don't know why you are so worried, the guards told us everything was fine."
But she didn't understand. She had no family, no friends, and no other ties that bound her to life outside the prison cell. Yet I could only sit there, trapped in my self-loathing. And then the earth shook like it never had before. But not only could I feel it, I could hear it too.
"F... Feli... Felix...." she could barely, breathlessly articulate. "Vesuvius... exploded. Jupiter's wrath is upon us."
Emotions flooded me. I needed to do so much - save my family, my friends, even myself - yet there was so little I could do trapped in that cell. We could only sit, wait, sit some more, and watch as the sky grew darker. Or rather, Vipsania could, as I sat aside, only knowing what she could tell me. Hours passed that felt like years. The thick, black clouds rolled over the city until they met us.
Suddenly, black and grey ash shot through the hole. The room grew hot, cramped, the air unbreathable. The ash covered Vispania's face and got in her eyes and mouth. She screamed, but I didn't know what to do, then-
Darkness. The hole had been plugged up by the ash. It settled, but it was only slightly easier to breath. Like the ash that filled our cell, moans from the other prison cells filled the air. I reached out for Vispania but I couldn't find her.
"Lucilla!" she screamed. I didn't even know she knew my first name. I grabbed her and hugged her tight. "My eyes... they feel as if they are on fire! Help me!" But like before, I could not do anything. I felt so hopeless, so alone, meandering in the dark void.
Again, we waited for endless hours. We sat on the floor, she crying out of pain, me crying out of fear. We had seen and gone through so much, yet it was the waiting that seemed the worst. Hours would pass by with no activity, but you knew something would happen. Something you could not prepare for. Always helpless.
We waited. I had no idea what time of day it was, it was continually dark for us. The only thing that permeated the silence was the screams of others. So many others. I had no idea how many - dozens? Hundreds? All locked behind a veil of darkness, no way to escape. The screams were contstant and unceasing.
But slowly the screams loudened. Something was different, something in the severity of the sound. I looked to the hallway. Only very faintly I could see the iron bar door again. A glow grew brighter, from the right side of the hall. Had a guard come to save us? The screams discounted this. And then I heard it, from down the hall. Liquid fire.
I had heard of it before, coming from deep beneath the ground. It was red, hot, and it had to be deadly. The glow was brighter still.
Vispania's cries grew even louder. "We are going to die, now, aren't we... aren't we Felix?"
I knew we didn't have much of a chance, but I had not given up. This was a time, not for death, but for freedom! I frantically began searching my mind for ways of escape.
As I desperately scanned the room, I noticed that the latch on the door was not on the sides, but at the bottom. I knew these metal bars were not particularly strong, and if it were heated just hot enough...
"No," I told her with a confidence I had not felt in years. "We are going to escape."
Soon, the liquid-fire made its way to our cell, but much slower than I had anticipated, and the metal bar was starting to glow at its touch. I could see already that the bars were starting to mangle. As the molten rock would flood our cell, it would heat up the iron door hot enough to bend.
I looked for something to protect my hands, but in the darkness, I could not see anything suited for the purpose; only a clay bowl and some broken pieces of pitcher which the quake had knocked over lay on the floor. I had to think of something. And quickly.
I pulled up my robe and made an incision on the hem with my teeth. And I tore off a rather large piece of cloth with a loud ripping sound. I tore it up further into six pieces.
I tied the bigger ones over our mouths, covering the noses. I threw the rest onto the floor and squatted over it. I realized I was close to bursting, as I had been kept busy since the initial tremor.
"Vispania, here, quickly, tie these around your hands!" I gave her two of the dripping pieces of cloth. I tied the remaining around mine.
"Grab onto the bars! We cannot touch the floor for much longer!" I made it easily, but she, having trouble seeing clearly, was slow to finally secure herself. The heat was becoming almost unbearable. The metal had better soften quick, or else we would be burned alive. As it started to glow, I pulled with all my might, and the door opened! Thank the gods! We would be saved! We forced the door all the way open, but our next problem was waiting for us. The molten rock had flowed down past our prison cell.
"We have to climb as far as we can, Vispania!"
"I know, but the bars stop here! We cannot go any further!"
We had to jump. Further than I had ever before. But we could not wait any longer. She was scared, I knew, but the longer we waited the further the jump. "Go, Vispania, hurry!"
She jumped, but only barely made it. "Felix! Now!"
I rushed over to where the bars stopped, and looked over. There was no way I could make it. She was even taller than me, so how was I supposed to escape now?
"Felix. Now. You have to! For your family."
Somehow, for some reason, I jumped. I flew. Like never before. I was escaping, I was free! Or almost, until a pain soared through my left foot. I had made it, but my bare foot was not so lucky. Felix, the unlucky girl with the unlucky foot.
Vispania screamed my name and rushed to pull me out of the molten earth. I told her I would be fine, that I just needed to wrap my foot, but I wasn't so sure of myself. And while everything was telling me to stop caring, to sit there and rest my foot, to be buried in that prison - I knew I had to escape, for my kids. They were my only hope, my light in the darkness that smothered that prison cell. They kept me alive.
By the glow of the liquid red rock, we barely made it to the door. I was limping so badly you could barely call it walking anymore. I shook the door. "It's not opening but it's not locked. There's probably something on the other side."
We both pushed as hard as we could, and it budged a little. "Okay, Felix, we're onto something. Just a couple more pushes."
Every push moved the door just a bit more. But it wasn't enough. "The liquid fire. It's getting close again. We must hurry."
We both pushed with all our might, each time moving it some more, but it moved too quickly toward us. We had opened it just enough to let my tiny frame slip through, but Vispania was too tall to fit.
"Here, I can hold it open. Felix, just go. To your family. Save them."
I shook my head. "No, I will not, no, I cannot just leave you here!"
"We'll never make it out before the fire finds us. Please, just go. Don't fight it."
We both pushed against the door and it opened that few inches yet again. I made my way to the opening. Hesistantly, I stepped my foot outside, but I couldn't do it.
"Vispania, I will not leave you here! We-" Whatever I would have said was drowned out by another of the thunderous roars that enveloped the prison. The mountain must have exploded again. It was not as large as the previous ones, but it still made my heart race. I heard something fall from the other side of the door, and suddenly we were being thrown outside. The quaking earth must have shifted something that was blocking our way. No one had to die just yet! We looked at each other with relief, but not for long. I could see why the door had been jammed. Rubble and ruins were everywhere. Grey ash covered the ground and the sky matched its color. Thick clouds bellowed from the mountain, which now was sporting a rather large crater at the top, from the explosion I assumed. In the distance I could even see some rocks spewing from the top.
I looked around - there were people everywhere, running from the terror that was Vesuvius. Screams of the citizens filled the air, or at least that which wasn't filled with ash or smoke. How would I make it into the city? Would I ever see my children again? Were they already-
No, I couldn't think like that. Not now. They had been keeping me alive, and now it was my turn to save them.
"Vispania, how will we get to my family? I would never make it if went on foot."
She spat out some ash that had found their way onto her tongue. "With all these people running away, there must be some abandoned cart around here. We can figure something out."
We ran up to the main street the prison was right by and saw, just a few paces away, was a cart with a small, but healthy horse. How lucky was I! Maybe my name was for me.
I turned around, ready to congratulate us on our success in freedom, when the unthinkable happened. Quickly, suddenly. She was on the ground. Still. Lifeless. The smouldering black rock was still rolling away from her.
I stood there, as still as she was, unable to comprehend what had just happened. We had just found the cart, we were going to be free! Destiny had called us to escape!
But apparently it had only called me. A larger rock flew past me. Another hit the cart. I came to my senses. Another rock flared by. They were getting larger. I checked the cart. The wheel was torn to shreds. One came smashing through the prison roof. I cut the cart from the horse. More rock fell. I fumbled onto the back of the horse. More rocks. I pulled the reigns. Rocks. They must have been from that last explosion. Rocks.
Going into the city was harder than I thought it would be. Not that I was really thinking anyway, I just wanted to save my family. Unless they had already left the city. It was likely that orphanage had moved them out days ago when the earthquakes started. But what if they hadn't? What if they didn't make it because I selfishly saved myself instead? Was it wrong to save myself?
Was it wrong to save myself with a dagger? Everyone else thought so. He was military, he was a man - he was important, and I was not. Are the less important less entitled to life?
"No," I said audibly. I was entitled too.
"No." I would not abandon my children.
"No!" They would not die today.
I whipped the reigns and we raced into the city. We ran past grey ash, flying rocks, more rubble and ruins. Pompeii was being destroyed.
And yet the horse raced on. He was braver than I, probably. He never even knew me and he was ready to face death with me.
The closer I got to the heart of the city the harder it became to breath. The air was filled with as much ash as the city was with bodies. Surely they hadn't just died of suffocation? Why did it look like there was no struggle? I seemed to be the last one in the city. The last one alive, that is. Blocks ago I stopped seeing any more people running. They were all still now.
Finally I found the orphanage. I walked inside. My foot still hurt but my body somehow forgot that as I searched for my children. I looked around.
"Empty," I said. Not one soul, alive or dead. Everything was covered in ash, but neat. Where were they now? I looked around some more but found nothing. Defeated, I walked back to the front. There was a small notice on the desk there. Gone on trip to Neapolis. Returning at the end of the Month of Agustus.
They were safe! Tears filled my eyes, but soon they became tears of rage. Why had the orphanage not told me!? Wasn't I their mother? Their only piece of family they knew? I should know where they are at all times! If I had known I would have never come back to this ruined city! I would be safe! I would be free! Yet they somehow captured me again. Imprisoned, behind bars and under ash.
I wiped my cheeks. Self pity was not the way out of here. Courage was. I could still be with my kids. I hobbled as quickly as I could outside to the poor horse, covered in a black layer of ash. I dusted him off the best I could and we made our way back out of the city. We rode, even faster than before. This little buddy was one of the bravest souls I ever knew, man or beast. We rode and rode, past burning house and crumbled ruins. The ruins so great and the evening approaching, I couldn't even tell which street was which. Or had that knowledge left me after these seven long years?
I heard a large rumble. Another earthquake. I glanced back. The mountain had not erupted, but it was bound to soon. Suddenly, the horse jumped up on its hind legs and sent me through the air backwards. I was bruised, but nothing had broken. The horse seemed fine, just startled. Even the brave horse was scared now. Slowly, I got up.
Even after all these years, not all of Pompeii had left my mind. And I remembered. Right in front of me. It couldn't be. I limped across the street. Down the stairs. To the door.
I turned the knob. Unlocked. I walked in. It was almost how I had left it. It was covered in ash, yes, but essentially the same. This was the room that had changed my life just seven years ago. Had it really only been seven years? That was a lifetime ago, and yet here I was, still the same. Small. Frail. Bruised.
But there's a key difference between old and new me. I may be bruised, but I am not broken. I came a long way to get here. I leaped. Burned. I saw her die. Torn. I made it to the ashen city. Choked. I was thrown to the ground. Bruised. But never broken. I made it so far to be with my family. I made it here. And I will make it back. I will be with them, whether in this life or in the next.
Now, I sit here, writing the story of my freedom on this wax table. I hope, somehow, that it will be preserved until the next person finds it. By then the city will be ruined, covered in ash, and these people forgotten, but I may not be. I may not see another day but my memory will. Through my children or this tablet I will live on. Fate brought me here, and it will bring me back.
I just heard the mountain erupt again, this time larger than any of the others. The room is growing hotter, like a wave of heat has hit the city. It must be much worse, even deadly, above ground. Once the air has cooled again I hope to make it back. I am not sure where my trusty horse is, but I can expect nothing good. With my lame foot, it will be hard to travel, but I can make it. All I know is that I am lucky. I was lucky to escape the prison, I was lucky to find that horse, and I'm lucky to be down here while the buildings above me burn. I am lucky.
I am Felix.