Pompeii, 79 AD - Hannah Price

The Earth shudders. The bright square of daylight visible through the villa window begins to diminish. The room dims. Silence. Dread’s frosty grasp encircles my throat; I struggle for breath. The door bursts open and Gaius, the blacksmith, appears, his features ashen. He yells emphatically at my parents, but I do not hear. My eyes are fixed on the foreboding sky. A huge, ugly black monster lurks at the summit of the mountain. My wrist is snatched, and someone is dragging me, but I cannot tear my eyes away from the bloating darkness…

Faces, voices, noise; so much noise. Every painful intake of breath assaults my nostrils with the stench of burning. The ash is just beginning its eerie descent when we reach the harbour and claw aboard the last boat to make it out intact.

My name over and over… My eyes snap open and for a moment I sit still, trying to decipher if the scent of smoke is a lingering figment of my nightmare. I jolt as Gaius enters the room summoning me to breakfast. Gaius, my preserver who dragged me through the streets, he who silenced my screaming and brought me here, to the refugee camp. I believed my parents to be on another ship, but so many burned there is little chance of their survival. My new-born brother, spending the week with my cousins in Herculaneum will be gone for sure.

I stumble free of the tent, squinting in the light. Even now, a week after the eruption, a soft grey haze blocks the sun; a fading bruise. Today a ship is returning to Pompeii to assess the damage. The camp is simmering with terror and bewilderment; survivors unable to process the ferocity which the lives they have known have been snatched from them. It is likely, certain, they whisper, that every farm, every vineyard is destroyed. Burned, buried in ash. The survivors cluster around their food, scars and burns still bright on their scorched skin. Heads bent in prayer, they mutter their grief to the Gods.

A gentle breeze ripples through the camp. We raise our eyes heavenwards to witness the ash haze slowly parting. The sky revealed is a stunning azure; the first glimpse of beauty we have seen in a week. Gradually, a single smile is formed on the lips of each survivor. The moment of beauty kindles hope.

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