Black Ashes

In the time of the Roman Empire, in a city called Pompeii, a girl named Aelia runs from flying fire-balls and great amounts of thick black smoke, disaster has come upon their happy city, who will survive, and is just surviving enough to live on?

Written as an original entry for the 'Inspired By A Song' contest.
Song: Pompeii by Bastille.


1. Black Ashes



''Don't be silly, Aelia,'' my mother scolded me, ''the old mountain isn't coming alive anytime soon. Why would it? It has been asleep for centuries now.'' I wanted to believe my mother, I really did. I had every right to; she was a smart woman who was always right, but I knew I couldn't.

''But mother―'' I was caught off by her stern glare, but not for long. I had to say something, I had to DO something. ''Mother,'' I used my serious tone, one she rarely heard me use. Her head snapped back to me, the folding of our freshly washed clothes forgotten. ''The soothsayer said that it will, and you know that the last time he saw into tomorrow, he saw it correctly.'' As soon as I said it, I knew it was a waste of words, she wasn't listening. She didn't believe me. I didn't blame her, I did speak half-truths most of the time, and I did cause double the amount of trouble that my older brother ever did. But still, she could've at least pondered upon it. I wasn't sure I quite believed it myself, but I had a feeling that the Soothsayer wasn't talking foolishness. Not this time.

''The Vesuvius―'' I was interrupted again, only this time it proved my words, not denied it. Something small, black and round crashed through our terrace window. My first thought was, that was scary. My second one was, I sure liked that view from our balcony. The third and last logical thought I had was, it came from the sky, and there were more coming.

After that, everything is a blur. A series of images close together in time, like it was all happening under throbbing flashes of light. Me looking out the window, seeing more fire balls. My mother and I ducking back in and running to get our valuable items. Me running around like a headless chicken, looking for something frantically. Mother shouting for me to forget about it. Me not listening and rummaging threw my drawers for it. Finding what I was looking for just as my mom bounded in the room, grabbed my arm and hauled us outside into the pits of hell.

Then I remember everything again, every minuscule little detail like my life depended on it. Looking back at it, my mother's idea to pull us out into the street was a terrible idea. A horrible, horrible idea. As we stepped outside, we were both harrassed by a rush of heat and swirling pebbles of fire. I don't know if they really were fireballs, but they sure were as hot as fire. They burned like hell, excuse my language. I have nothing else I can even start to compare it to. My mother didn't enjoy the feeling either, I knew because she did something I have never heard her do before. She cursed. Not just one harmless word either, but a string of filthy words, names, and adjectives put together in a very imaginative way. It was quite original, really, I didn't know at least half of what those words meant.

She then grabbed my arm roughly again, and raced us across the street under the roofs of market booths that would've opened that morning, now left haphazardly manless. I realized that my mother was leading us to the bay, where we had a little wooden boat that my brother used to take out on Monday mornings for fresh fish. We scurried under and out of the half-safety of the sun-blocking roofs of the booths. We weren't even halfway to the docks when the originally pebble-sized fireballs turned into big, bowl-sized balls of fire. These hell-stolen objects left no mercy. Several unfortunate people were hit right in the head with them, knocking them dead and gone in an instant. I tried not to look, to not think about it, but most of all I tried not to run back to try to help or check if they were still breathing. It may sound selfish, but it wasn't. If I were to run out now, I would surely be hit dead too, and what use would I be to them then? And even if I was lucky enough to not be hit, they were hit, and I was certain it killed them right away.

We hurried along the narrow safe-haven towards the sea, and we weren't the only ones. I saw lots of people trying to get to the safety of the sea, but only a fourth of them made it. My mother and I were one of the lucky ones. Just as we were about to run out of roof to cover us, my mother put her free hand in front of me and uttered a quick, ''stop.'' I did. We were just centimeters away from the bowls of fire raining upon us. I was so close infact, that I can still remember the nasty smell of burnt flesh mixed with something similar to coal and ash. ''On my count, we will dash under that little corner of the port house as fast as humanly possible, got it?'' my mother explained. I told her I did. She started counting back and on 'Go', we ran. I like to think that I've never run faster, or that the fear of death made my limbs stronger and my speed faster, but that wasn't true. Those couple meters from the market-booths to the port house were excrutiating. They felt like centuries, my whole life sped before me, I was so terrified. Afterwards, we repeated the whole thing again, this time from the port house to our boat with a ceiling.

We made it. A few near-hits here and there, some scratches and burnt lungs from the smoke, but we survived. If only I could say that for everyone. I looked back at the crumbling city, the bowl-sized fireballs have long since become even larger, giants compared to the little pebbles in the beginning. Mother started the boat, and we were already sailing away. Grey smoke was covering the town, shielding the sun and enveloping the panic of the people as they tried to seek safety, in a fine sheet of darkness. And just when I thought it couldn't get worse, a deep, resonating rumble sounded from the depths of the beastly mountain. Black...something and fire liquid exploded from the top of the monster, spreading it onto the city like butter and swallowing it in whole. Soon after, it stopped flowing and looked like it almost....hardened? I could see once-breathing people now statues of the dead city in paused movement. The fire-like liquid had covered the frantic citizens of Pompeii and froze them in mid-motion. It was a horrifying sight. Some were just mere steps away from their boats, hands out-stretched and legs in half-step. I couldn't move, I couldn't breathe. Everything was silent, nothing moved. Only the soft swaying melody of the water below us could be heard, like a beautiful requiem of Pompeii.

I wished that I could hear something, someone who despite the fire, walked away untouched, like us. A heavy hand landed on my shoulder. "Wait till your brother and father find out, Aelia. Supper was still boiling on the stove for god's sake! What a pity, now it all goes to waste." I was quick to regret wishing for noise. I didn't answer. With seemingly impossible difficulty, I tore my gaze from dying Pompeii, and I looked down into my hands. There was the thing I so hastily searched for in our last seconds in our beloved home. It was a letter from my brother, one I've been neglecting to open before. In the heat of the moment, it seemed very important to have it, for some reason in those couple seconds, I had the urge to bring this unread letter with me. Perhaps to read it. A piece of paper. I read the ten quick words that were scribbled on it with much hesitation:

<<<I'm coming home early. Don't tell mother, it's a surprise>>>

My heart stopped. "No." I said out loud. It couldn't be. My brother would have already been close by the city, travelling to us. The curse of the mountain couldn't have missed him, he was way too close. Could he have somehow survived? But it was far too late, if only I opened the letter sooner. I might've had time to....but no, he wouldn't have believed me either. I looked back at Pompeii for the last time, frantically searching for any signs of a living, breathing brother, black curls bouncing, but the boat was already sailing on currents too far away for me to be able to decipher anything certain from afar. I closed my eyes and prayed. I prayed like no one ever before, I was sure of it. Was there enough hope left in me to make God bring mercy to my brother? I didn't know. I didn't know. I didn't know.

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