Vignette 8: Write from the perspective of a child who is separated from his or her parents during the eruption. Do they search for their parents? Do they run and hide?
As the molten ash came falling down, the destruction of my city was almost like a nightmare I couldn't wake up from. I happened to be coming back from a long day when there was a sudden jerk, and the entire city was covered in ash. Well, let me start from the beginning. I was about 15. I was a typical fifteen year old with her future just within grasp, but was still too little to be an adult but too big to be a kid. I had many jobs that had to be done. For example, I had to make sure all of the younger kids stay out of the street and do chores. My mom and dad drowned when I was 14, so I was basically like mom, dad, and sister rolled into one. My siblings are Arachne, Basil, Amara, and me, Cora.
Meanwhile Agrippina was watching the fundamentals of her power crumbling before her very eyes. Her temple, the city that held her in great esteem...gone. As the ship sailed away, she felt so much anger, that she wished those cold, cruel gods would actually listen to her for once, and crush to death that stupid, arrogant fool, Marcus Venetius. It was his fault. His....and Caesar's, too.
"Keep people calm, keep people happy" - these were her orders from Caesar and she had done just so. Every day people came to her with offerings and asked about the white smoke coming out of the sacred mountain. "The gods are happy, the goods are generous and send their sign of peace and benevolence." Agrippina had known it was a lie. But it was a lie coming from the highest place of human power on earth - from Rome.
On the day of the eruption I had taken my sisters with me to the market. Basil was old enough to stay home and tend to things there. My father had left us with a good fortune. The home was left in my name, but when Basil was of age the house would be moved over into his name. He protected us the best he could, but on that day no one could have protected us; only the gods and they had seemed to forsake us.
"Amara we already bought enough fabric for one day. You don't need anymore." I scolded her and handed the silk back to the merchant.
"How do you expect me to find a husband if I must wear these rags?" She tugged at her dress, which had been our mothers.
It was far from being the rags that Amara made them to be. Mother had kept her belongings orderly and neat. I, myself, had only worn the dress once.
"Don't you dare insult mother's dress. She met father in that."
"That makes it old."
I sighed and pulled her away from the merchant who was by now quite perturbed with my interruption. Archane was playing with a small doll I had purchased for her. She giggled as she made it dance. It was nice to see her smile. Those had been far and few as of late.
"Lady Cora." A man's voice came from behind me. As I turned I wish I hadn't.
Cornelius Sergius was a terrible man. Twice my age he had been pursing me since my parents passing. He wasn’t shy about it either. It wasn’t that he was much older than me, which was quite normal; it was the fact that he was so disgusting. He chewed with his mouth open and he often did that too much because he was quite robust.
Cornelius licked his lips. “Have you considered my offer any further?”
I leaned down to Arachne. “Run off with Amara.” I turned back towards to Cornelius, while Amara took their youngest sister off towards one of the food stalls. “I have.”
“I’m sorry Cornelius, but it’s just not the right time.”
“This is your only time and opportunity. You aren’t getting any younger and not many men will want you in your current state.” Cornelius sneered.
“Let me be clear, I am not, nor will I be, interested in your proposal. If that means I must remain a spinster and marry off my sisters I will. Their happiness is what matters the most.”
“We’ll see about that. The Magistrate might have a different idea little one.”
“Do what you must, but I doubt the Magistrate will want anything to do with this matter.” I turned and walked away from Cornelius.
“He won’t give up, will he?” Amara whispered.
I shook my head no and led the girls back towards our villa. We weren’t far from the market and the walk would be short. As we neared our street I stopped when I felt a rumbling of the Earth. I looked up at the mountain.
Somehow we had angered the gods as Vesuvius was starting to spew smoke. Arachne grabbed my hand and squeezed tightly. I turned to Amara who looked weary. Leaning down I scooped Arachne into my arms and hugged her tightly.
“Be a good girl and head home with Amara. I’ll be there soon.”
Amara looked at me with question, but said nothing as she took Arachne from my arms. I looked at them as they giggled with one another walking down the street. When Amara set Arachne down she skipped ahead of her playfully taunting her sister. We would be in for a long night if the gods were unhappy with them.
I headed back towards the market and into the housing district just behind it. My friend Marius lived in one of the small villas just off the market. It wasn’t ideal for him, but someday he’d be a merchant and able to provide better for his family. I hoped to be part of that family someday. Marius was much better than the atrocious Cornelius.
“Cora!” Marius exclaimed. “Why have the gods graced me with your beautiful face today.”
He pulled me close to his body and kissed my head softly. I melted into his grasp. Here I felt safe. It was in his arms that I forgot about Cornelius and the mountain both.
“Cora, you’re shaking. Does this have to do with Cornelius?” He pulled back. “Cora.”
“The mountain, it seems upset with us.”
Marius went to the door and peered out toward Vesuvius. When he leaned back in his face told me he too was worried. This meant my suspicions were right.
“Where are your siblings?” He asked hurriedly. Marius began moving around the villa packing things into a bag. “We’ll head back there. I fear we should think about leaving all together.”
“Leave Pompeii!?” I exclaimed.
“Vesuvius is a dangerous beast. If the gods are using her to wreak their havoc upon us, none of us are safe.”
My body froze and I frowned. “What about Arachne, Basil, and Amara? They’re all too young for this.”
“So are you Cora.”
He finished filling his two bags and grabbed my arm. I wasn’t grasping what was really going on. It wasn’t until we were outside that I saw the chaos that was starting to erupt in the streets. People were running frantically. The smoke from the mountain was getting thicker and an ash started to fall upon us. I looked up at Marius who looked as worried as I felt.
“Come on. We haven’t much time.”
We ran through the streets towards my villa. Out front a worried Basil, Amara, and Arachne stood.
“Where have you been?” Basil demanded.
Marius released me and I ran to wrap my arms around my two sisters. Both of them were crying and soon I realized I was too. Streams of salted water poured down my cheeks. Basil pulled me away from Amara and Arachne. He had been crying to, though he would never admit it.
“Leave her Basil. She came to get me. You three need to grab whatever you can carry.” Marius pushed basil towards the door. “Hurry.”
I followed the three in and it was there Basil confronted me. “Why did you bring him here?”
“Because he can help. Now do as he said and grab whatever you wish not to lose.”
Basil stomped off and went to gather whatever it was he wanted. I walked towards mother and father’s room and grabbed the small box of jewelry that mother kept. Under the bed father had kept some money. We would need this if we had to start over somewhere else.
“Cora we need to go now. The ash is falling heavier.” Marius placed a hand on the small of my back and pushed me out towards where Amara and Arachne were standing. Basil was nowhere to be found.
“Where is Basil?” I asked frantically.
“He ran off into the city.” Amara whimpered.
The day was starting to wear on her, stress lines making their way over her delicate face. I hugged her tightly. “It’ll be ok.”
“Let’s go. Basil is old enough to make his own choices.”
“He’s still just a boy. Please. We have to find him.”
“If we don’t leave now Cora we might not be able to.” Marius’ eyes were understanding, but his jaw was tight.
He was trying to help us and I was pushing him away. “Alright. Let’s go.”
“Alright girls, if we get separated head for the hill looking over the city. We’ll meet there. I have some horses in the stable.” Marius took my hand in his and squeezed tightly, just as Arachne had done earlier in the market.
People were screaming and yelling for loved ones throughout the streets. It was hard to stay close to one another. Amara had picked Arachne up and held onto her tightly. I felt like that should have been me. After our parent’s death I had become like a mother to them. Basil often argued with me as we were only a year apart. That was why he had rushed off. He wanted to prove me wrong, of all times.
I looked behind me towards Vesuvius and where Basil had run off into. The mixture of ash falling and people filling the streets I couldn’t see but a few feet behind us. Facing back towards my future I suddenly felt a pit in my stomach. Amara and Arachne were out of sight.
Pulling at Marius’ grasp I tried to run after them, but he wouldn’t let me go. “They know where to meet us. We have to keep going Cora.”
My heart sank. What if they didn’t make it? I couldn’t leave them behind. Right now I had to push on, even if I couldn’t see my sisters. They would be at the meeting point. They had to be.
The ash was becoming to think and Vesuvius kept spewing more out. When we reached the stables the clouds above the city were filled with lightening. Marius left me to get the horses and I kept watching for my sisters. We couldn’t stay here long. The gods were too angry. I feared they’d destroy the city and everyone with it. I didn’t want that for my sisters. It was a sad fact that my brother would face that fate.
Marius exited the stables. His eyes were cast down and he walked no horses behind him. At my side he took me into an embrace unlike any other he had ever given me. I kissed his cheek.
“There are no horses, are there?”
He shook his head no. I brought his lips to my own. They felt cold and wet against my own. We were both covered in ash and it was becoming increasingly heavy. Right there in that moment it didn’t matter.
“Do you remember that field we used to meet in when I was younger?” I stroked his cheek with my hand. He nodded yes. “Let’s go there.”
There was nowhere either of us could run or hide. The ash was everywhere as far as the eye could see. Rock had already started to shoot out of the mountain. Even the ocean had rebelled against the city. Its waters pouring back into the streets. I couldn’t imagine the countless number of people that had been caught in its path. My only hope is that whatever death would come it would be quick for Marius and I. Amara, Arachne, and Basil deserved their deaths to be quick too. We were all too young for this. We deserved better.
“I’m sorry I never got to propose to you.” Marius whispered. “You would have made a wonderful wife and mother.”
I rested my head in his lap. “I may not have been your wife, but I was a good mother. I just wish I could have protected those three better.”
His body covered mine suddenly. He was crying softly. I knew what was coming. It was our time. Death was welcoming us home.
“I love you Marius.”
“I love you too Cora.”