My Pompeii

August 24th. The day the city of Pompeii crumbled to the ground. The day thousands perished beneath the raining ash. And for Isabella, the day she finally became free. An entry for the 'Inspired by a song' Competition. Inspired by Bastille's Pompeii.

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1. August 24th, 79 AD

I wake up to the sound of birds singing beautifully in the trees just outside my window. Stretching my arms lazily, I gently open my eyes to see the cloudless blue of the sky. The singing of the birds gets louder and quicker, almost with an urgency of some sort while they begin to fly away in their herd, as I sleepily force myself out of bed.

 

“Isabella,” One of the family maids, Lucia, calls up the stairs. “Isabella, your mother wishes for you to accompany me to the market and then the baths.” She says tiredly as she reaches my bedroom.

“But it's such a beautiful day!” I complain. “I wanted to lounge around in the garden and read! Oh please Lucia, do I have to come?” I clasp my hands in front of my chest, and try to make my brown eyes even bigger because Lucia hates to say no to them. But my pleading isn't budging her today.

“I'm sorry Isabella, I'm just following your mother's orders.” She says with a sigh. “You can read when we come home but for now you need to get yourself dressed and come to the bakers with me.”

 

I do as she says with my shoulders stooping because I know that if I disobey my mother's orders it will only be Lucia who gets into trouble.

 

Despite coming from a wealthy family, I do care about the maids who work in our house, especially Lucia. She's practically the one who raised me and, if I'm being honest, she's more of a mother to me than the woman who gave birth to me. And even though it's somewhat abnormal to my family, I like to treat the maids with respect. They are human after all, and it sickens me to see them treated like they're so much lower than us, even if their social ranking is.

 

The hot, humid air comes as a shock when I leave the house; I knew that it was going to be a hot day but I didn't know it was going to be this hot.

 

Lucia and I walk the short distance from my embarrassingly big house to the small bakery stall on the edge of the market. I'm instantly met with the enticing smell of the freshly baked bread laid out on the petite stand.

 

Despite complaining about having to come to the market, it really is one of my favourite places in the whole world. Most people know each other here, and the friendly stall-holders always sneak me a cookie or two from their newly finished batch – a tradition they have done since I was a small child. Here, where I am a mere face in a sea of dozens, I'm one of them; I'm not a posh snob like the rest of my family. I'm a commoner. I'm accepted.

 

“Perhaps Vulcan will be making a visit soon,” One of the elderly stall-owners contemplates. “I haven't seen that much smoke coming from Vesuvius in years!”

 

I gaze up at the volcano in the distance to see that the old woman is right: Vesuvius is smoking a lot more than usual.

 

Just like most young children growing up in Pompeii, I was constantly taught the old legend of Vulcan, the Roman God living and working in our huge volcano. It is believed that when Vesuvius begins to smoke, Vulcan is making weapons for other gods in his forge and he will be visiting us soon. And by the look of the smoke pouring peacefully out of Vesuvius' crater, Vulcan must be hard at work in his forge.

 

“Lucia,” I say, tugging on her arm gently.

“One second, dear.” She dismisses me. “How much for two of the larger loaves?”

“Lucia,” I try again, tugging slightly harder this time.

“I said one second, Isabella.” She snaps. “So I'll take two of those-”

“Lucia!” I shout urgently, my gaze fixated on Mount Vesuvius.

What is the matter-” She stops short when she follows my gaze to the smoking volcano.

 

A thick grey cloud of smoke rolls over the distant hills as bursts of bright orange and red explode from the crater of the volcano like a flame flickering in the wind. As an earth-shaking rumble erupts around us, everyone’s eyes are drawn to the colour like a moth to a flame. It feels like time freezes in that moment as dozens of eyes stare in wonder as if watching a firework display. I stop breathing as I wait for something to happen, for another rumble to sound, for the city to cave in, for everyone to flee in panic. But nothing happens. We're all fixated by the beauty of our beloved volcano as it spurts out its sunset-coloured blood while the towering cloud swirls calmly upwards.

 

It's when the river of orange begins to hurtle down the side of the volcano directly in our direction, that we all snap out of our mesmerised daze. At once the calm market place becomes filled with a frenzied panic; children scream as mothers scoop them up and take off in a run; stalls topple over, expensive hand-made dishes smashing in the process; women cry as they try to get as far away from the fast-flowing lava as possible. And I stand there, frozen with fear as I watch the lava racing towards me like a predator going in for the kill, and I'm the prey.

 

Lucia desperately pulls on my arm, trying to force me into a run but my feet refuse to move.

 

“ISABELLA,” She screams – a sound that sends a shiver through my spine but still doesn't manage to break me from my trance. “We have to go!”

 

I turn to face her, tears welling up in my deep brown eyes. I see the fear etched onto her face and I know that she needs to leave me. There's no way that she's going to get to safety if she doesn't leave now, and my feet are glued to the floor. I feel like I owe something to my city, my city that I love, and leaving feels like a betrayal. If something is going to destroy my beautiful Pompeii it might as well destroy me too.

 

“Go,” I choke out. “Go back to the house and get Mother and Father and Augustus and leave Pompeii.” Lucia starts crying as I push her gently away, encouraging her to flee. And just before her face gets lost among the overwhelming crowd, she screams the words 'I love you', and then she's gone, just another speck in the terrified mob.

 

Darkness quickly fills the city, the only light being the orange glow of the invader. Walls of the buildings I have known all my life tumble down almost effortlessly, as if they're made of paper when the lava eases over them. It's then that my senses kick into action. The glue that had chained me down to the floor disappears from beneath me, setting me free.

 

I run through the rumbling city, in search of some sort of light to guide me through. I hear the screams of people trapped in their houses, people who no longer have a chance to escape. Choking back a sob, I carry on running with a new found determination.

 

As I run through deserted passages, trying to find the huge herd that seemed like they knew where they were going, ash rains down all around me like feathers floating and settling gently on the ground.

 

When I close my eyes I can almost see the city as it was before; gorgeous and peaceful. I can almost hear the song that the birds were singing outside my window this very morning. If I close my eyes I don't hear the screams of my city's people, perishing in the burning lava, and I don't see the rubble which was once the ancient buildings built by our ancestors hundreds of years ago.

 

“Isabella!” A male voice calls me, surprisingly loudly over the disturbing screams.

“Oliver!” I scream when I see my best friend sprinting towards me.

 

I fall into his arms, crying hysterically into his chest as he holds me tightly against his body. I thought I'd never see him again. I thought I'd never see anyone again.

 

“We really have to leave,” He says urgently as he takes a firm grasp on my hand.

“I know-” I say between shaky breaths. “I should have gone before. I shouldn't have left Lucia. Promise me we'll get out of here, Oliver, promise me.” I beg.

 

His olive-green eyes bore into mine.

 

“I'm getting you out of here, Bella. Vesuvius may be able to take our city but it isn't taking us.”

 

With the security of his hand in mine, we speed through the ash-covered streets, blocking out the sounds of nearby cries for help. But in a split second the warmth of Oliver's hand is gone, and I'm alone.

 

“Oliver?!” I scream at the top of my lungs. My breathing gets quicker and quicker as I let out my shrieks. “Oliver where are you?!”

 

The thick cloud of smoke surrounds me from all directions, filling up my lungs and causing me to splutter out coughs. But no matter how much I try, there isn't enough air to supply oxygen to my suffocating lungs. I try to scream one last time but no sound comes out, just a final desperate gasp for air.

 

As the world around me spins and the ground beneath me rumbles, I know that I'm not going to get out, that Vesuvius was able to take my city and myself and Oliver. With my body slowly beginning to succumb under the pressure of trying to stay alive, I finally let myself go, losing myself to the enormous cloud but remaining loyal to my beloved city.

 

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