It was frustrating. For two days we had been sitting down in the hot, humid cellar. Our wine was warm, our food was cold. At least we could breathe down here, unlike in the street above. The choking fumes clogged our nostrils, the tiny wind-blown cinders got into our throats. Everyone was coughing and the stench was unbearable.
From what they said it seemed to be getting worse outside. Last night only a few of us had come down but today more and more people started arriving. Most had not brought anything down with them in their panic. They were just concerned with getting away from the ash cloud that sat like a dragon atop the hill. The very ground had started to groan and shudder as if all the denizens of the underworld were on the move.
My father had told us that we need not worry as this had happened many times before.He stayed in the villa thinking that it would soon pass but the Gods appeared to be really angry this time. No-one was sure how to placate them. Even the priests from the temple had decided to join us.
As the daylight, what there was of it, Helios having been smothered by the dark, impenetrable cloud, began to fade for the second day, we heard a strange noise as if the very rocks and earth beneath our feet was moaning in pain and it seemed to be getting louder.
I shouted for everyone to be quiet and as our babble subsided we realised that the sound was coming from a great wind that was blowing through the passageways. Some of the women started to wail and before long both men and women started to sob as we realised something terrible was about to happen. Strangely there was no panic and I could hear my companions muttering low incantations. Before long even the chanting ceased.
Wrapping my cloak around my shoulders I took my wife and daughter in my arms. Their eyes were wide with fright and tears in the warming air. We huddled against the wall and the stifling air grew steadily hotter. We will try to rest, perhaps sleep and with the aid of the Gods return to our beloved Pompeii home in the morning.
And so I am released from my Solar tethers. From this point the world is my oyster although in this case it should read either worlds or eventually galaxy. For I am Voyager two, a small but very significant part of mankind’s plan for an answer to the second most fundamental question. For forty-five years I have been exploring and reporting on the furthest reaches of our close solar system but now I am finally released from programmed paths and orbits. My debt is paid and my solo quest begins. Wish me luck.
Mournful, I stood observing the once ornate merchant’s houses that looked out over the empty, deserted wharves, My sense of nostalgia rising as I remembered the times before, when with each rising tide the hustle and bustle would begin. The rasping breath of steam-powered cranes as they swung the heavy bales from ship to shore. The grunts of heaving stevedores manhandling the trucks, each piled high with sacks and bale, to the gaping wooden, warehouse doors. The squeal of the pulleys calling the unwary to the hooks plummeting to the ground, hungrily anticipating the next profit-making mouthful to be hoisted.
On a visit to the local museum of antiquities today I passed by a glass casket and I heard the figure inside sing,
For me no stone at head or feet,
Buried ‘neath the sodden peat,
Full three times I died, at the hands
of former dwellers in this land,
messenger to the gods my fate,
my kinsmen’s problems to relate
our hunting failures, weather woes
humiliation by our foes,
my message to our Gods was clear
but they pretended not to hear,
With wrists behind me tightly bound,
A cord around my neck was wound,
a rock against my temple dashed
then with a knife, throat crudely slashed
my patriotic chore now done
in Eden’s glade my spirit runs,
though from the earth my body raised
my final bed a tomb full-glazed,
and as I lie in endless slumber
my name forgotten, now just a number.