Merge changes from Kitch into master

Thomas Kitchen authored
revision 9ef607034e2113c9de99717ad08b816d53213823
chapter2
*** Vignette 2

Vignette 2: Paint a literary portrait of the scene before the eruption: What does it look like? What does it smell like? What sounds does one hear? What are the animals doing? How is the natural world responding to the signs of volcanic activity? Think of this vignette as a bird’s-eye view of Pompeii in the days leading up to the eruption.

When everything is about to change, the air becomes still. The sky turns a non-descript color of grey and people throw themselves into normalcy with a sense of purpose usually reserved for special occasions. They'll walk through town and wave brightly to familiar faces, laugh a little too loudly, and buy a loaf of bread for dinner. All the while, they understand that their reality will soon shift ever-so-slightly from its axis and life will never be the same again.
They feel it in the air, and so do I.
It’s still dark when I awaken. I unfold my wings reluctantly and flap them about to warm myself up. The people will be out soon. I fly about, determined to satisfy my cravings for a morning worm. I spot a few still basking in the cold night air and scorn their foolishness as I eat. Some animals are far too easy prey.
I rise into the air and survey the half-completed re-construction of the city. My father told me that a couple years ago, right before I was born, an earthquake shook Pompeii, one much bigger than all of the little ones that occur so often. It destroyed many important structures, including homes, temples, and bridges. Even the roads broke apart and had to be repaired. Since that day, many people have moved away, and only some have stayed to help rebuild Pompeii.
I swoop over the city and perch on a rooftop. Many people are already up, getting water from fountains in the plaza. The sun is rising, and the shops are beginning to open. I catch whiffs of baking bread and hear the mounting sound of noisy chatter. Merchants are wheeling their carts into the streets. Children are running about, chasing stray dogs and other birds that are too stupid to stay out of crowds. Homeless families are huddled in street corners and alleys, hungry and empty-eyed, being passed by as if they did not exist.
I know many of them are tired. Yesterday was the festival of Vulcanalia. The people lit bonfires in celebration and sacrificed fish and other small animals to Vulcan, the god of fire. At the beginning of the day they began work by the light of a candle. As was tradition, they also hung their clothes out under the sun. Last night I picked through the remains of the sacrifices and came up with some nice dinner.
A young boy dressed in rags, perhaps six or seven years of age, darts through the crowds. I see this scene every morning. I know what he is doing. I know what he will end up with. And I pity him. He attempts to mix in with the crowds as best he can, staying near motherly-looking figures. He has his eye on one fruit stand in particular. The merchant handling the cart turns around to help a customer, and quick as a wink, the boy sprints to the cart, snatches an apple, and spins around to run when he is collared by the burly-looking merchant.
“You again!” the merchant snarls, holding the boy by the ear and grabbing the apple. “I told you to stay away!”
“I only want some food, sir,” the boy whimpers. “I haven’t eaten since yesterday morning and I’m hungry.”
“I don’t care if you starve to death! That’s no excuse for stealing, y’ little no-good thief,” the merchant growls, he was not the kindly type, “Now stay away or I’ll really get you!”
The boy nods pitifully. The man shoves him, and the he quickly makes his getaway, probably to tackle another food cart.
The sun is rising steadily now. The temperature, although higher than before, remains chilly. I fly into the shade of some trees and watch the hustle and bustle of the city.
Smoke wafts about me as I sit underneath the blanket of leaves. It is the temple, and the people of Pompeii are coming to worship Venus. She is the god of love. I know, because I have managed to fly inside; the walls are coated with paintings of all colours, and there are marble and bronze statuettes abundant. The people are bringing incense and oils of all kinds to honour her, and to ask for her presence as the city is being rebuilt. But I have a feeling she will not be here for long.
Mount Vesuvius stands tall above the city. I pick up my wings and fly again, towards the volcano, beating against the air and letting the wind guide me - a mutual agreement of sorts. The air is clear as the city beneath me fades away, and the land stretches out in front of me. Shouts and bellows from merchants and whining children have ceased, and the cry of nature is stronger. I do not resist it, and continue on to the mountain.
I let out a squawk - the squawk so many humans seem to hate - knowing that here, alone, free, there is no one to hear me but Vesuvius. And she does not hate them. Vesuvius understands. We understand each other's solitude.
I cross the landscape, the trees, the grass, the roaming animals, and I finally look below me. I see Vesuvius, and she seems troubled. She is screaming and gulping, afraid and confused. I squawk at her, but this time she doesn't respond. She simply continues on with her cries, her cries at nothing. Panic surges through me.
Something is wrong. I have never witnessed a scene like this before. And there is more to her cries, she seems angered.I circle my friend over and over as I watched her choke out loads of smoke into the lights sky. I remember what my father told me once before. He talked of the earthquake, and how Vesuvius remained calm through the destruction. But today, I have a feeling, she is ready to cause one of her own.
I don't know what to do. So I fly back. Maybe I can get away from it this way. Maybe Vesuvius will calm down. I don't know. But I do the only thing I can. As I fly, I look below. I see people, foolish people. They are going about their work as if nothing had happened, as if nothing will happen. But how am I better off than them? How will my knowledge help me? If Vesuvius destroys everything, the only thing that will separate us, is this knowledge that we will die together.
Still I can't just fly by and do nothing. How can I help them? What can I do? Maybe a warning signal for all to hear, a loud caw perhaps? I know that seems futile - I am but a bird - but I will not just fly by and do nothing. Looking around I see a few of my brothers nearby. Some are collecting food for their nests; others are teaching their young to fly. Do they sense what is happening? Flying over I call out to them, telling them of the danger that awaits their families. No one responds. I call out again, louder, as I fly over the town. Surely the townspeople can hear me. Maybe they will note my odd behaviour and wonder. Still no one pays any attention to my cries.
Looking down I see the young boy huddled in a corner of a house ruin. Maybe he can help and he can warn everyone! The little boy is crying softly, his small hands cluthing his stomach as if in pain. I watch him for a while and then fly and rest near his feet. Giving a caw I see him look over at me. Calling out to him again I begin to tell him of Vesuvius' anger. But he only smiles and gestures for me to come closer. My cries have been in vain. He doesn't know what is about to happen. Pompeii is its usual self, stuck in its usual routine.
But out there, Vesuvius is stirring. I've seen it.