It’s so hot that the air hurts to breathe. I swipe a hand across my forehead, and glance fearfully toward the open window. There’s no breeze, just the steadily increasing odor of burning and the vile stench of rotten eggs.
I feel as if I’m burning up; I’ve never known it to be so hot.
I look around the small room, nervously jiggling the baby. I wish my mistress would return. The baby starts screaming again. I let it suck on my finger, but that only distracts it momentarily. It is also having difficulty breathing, and, I think, it senses my fear.
I wonder if I should risk leaving the apartment, as a slave I am bound to do what my mistress has ordered. Yet, she is not here, and the air is so thick and hot. I do not think she would want her son to suffer so.
I pace across the floor constantly looking toward the window and the noises of the frightened people I hear out in the streets. To the door, then back towards the window. I stop to look outside. I can see the shoreline in the distance. Perhaps the air will be less stifling if we go towards the sea.
I grab one of my mistress’s mantiles and toss it over my head. Perhaps covered thus, no will notice that I am a slave wandering on my own. I scurry down the stairs, the baby held close to me. Although quieter now, he is still fussy, and threatens to begin screaming again any moment.
At the exit, I pause, frightened of what I am about to do, but unable to think of any other course, I plunge out into the street. Many people are fleeing. Some are staggering further into the city, while others, like me, are heading down towards the sea.
No one is paying much attention to me, as I join a throng of what appear to be merchants and slaves. Rocks seem to come from nowhere, hitting my back, my head, my shoulders. I hunch over to protect the baby, whose breathing has the sounds of those mongrel dogs when they become too warm.
The man beside me stumbles, and I reach out to steady him. He pats my hand and we continue racing down the street, a pack of people with no class and no societal barriers. We are merely frightened people trying to survive the anger of the gods.
The air, though a bit cooler—or is it just my imagination?—is now filled with soot and ash. It is as if the gods have decided to clean a gigantic fireplace and dump the debris onto our little corner of the world. I hear a woman sobbing, and I work my way over to her, as my feet continue to find their way through the rubble that lays strewn across the roadway. A woman, clutching the hand of a small boy—perhaps five or six—sobs as she runs. When I ask her why, she explains that she has lost her other two children, and fears for their safety. I try to comfort her, but what can I say? I am only 12, I have never had children, though I would fear for my life if I let anything happen to my mistress’s son. But I do not know what it is to lose a child of my own.
We can see the bay far ahead of us, as the street wends it way downward. Suddenly, the ground is shaking violently, and we all dance and jig in an effort to stay on our feet. I look behind me where the mountain roars. Large balls of flame shoot skyward, and as I watch, these balls land on the city, which bursts into flames. Even more terrified, I grab the lady’s hand and help her back to her feet, and we begin running again.
Now the fire balls land closer and the brief spat of coolness I thought I felt is completely gone. There is only heat, ash, and fire. The smell of rotten eggs permeates the air, and that combined with the ash that still rains down takes away my breath. I cough and stumble, and those around me do likewise. Leaning against a building, my chest heaving, I realize that I haven’t heard any sound from the baby in quite some time. I look down and the baby is still, his cheeks abnormally red and rosy, he makes no sound. Surprised that he can sleep through all of this, I push on.
The ground shakes again, and I am tossed to the ground. The air is so thick, and so vile, I curl into a ball, the baby in my arms, and think, “…Just for a moment…I’ll rest just for moment.”
Gray ash, light as down covers me, and I imagine I am back home in my bed. My back against the wall of the building, I look once more at the small boy I hold and think, he is safe. I have done what I could to make sure he is safe. Then I let the darkness pull me under.