Monument Seeds

pompeii

Saturday November 10, 2018

The world grew fuzzy as the walls of reality thinned and buckled.

“Are you ok?” Mark asked.

The language was unfamiliar yet Rhea understood the words.

“Yes. I just got a little dizzy,” the response came unbidden.

“Probably allergies,” her husband said. Except she didn’t have a husband. She was a husband.

“Yeah, the air quality is awful today,” she said.

How did she speak this language? Why was she saying these things? What was she looking at?

Before her rested a grotesque sculpture—several life-size bodies contorted into various positions on the floor, their features indistinct but decidedly unpleasant. She snapped a pic with her phone.

The world grew fuzzy.

The ground shook. The tremor was stronger than usual. It was so violent it knocked the mouse pot off its shelf. It hit the floor and shattered. Some of the mice lay stunned from the impact but most scattered in terror. At least one met a quick end as it tried to skitter past Virgil, the guard dog. Terentius watched this with some irritation but little surprise. These things happened.

But these things did not happen. What the hell was a mouse pot and why wasn't he freaking out over a small army of rodents abandoning their post and scurrying all over the floor? Why the hell was he not a she? It seemed like he was only a moment ago.

The tremor, the mouse pot, his gender, these things were crazy but also made perfect sense.

The tremor ceased.

“Marcellus,” he said in a language he did not recognize but understood, “go get your sister and the two of you try to catch these mice before your mother gets home from the baths.”

Marcellus was his son, except he did not have any children.

The walls of reality thinned and buckled.

“Mice were a popular food among the Ancient Romans. It was common for some households to raise them in a container like this one,” the guide said in the strange language, gesturing toward a mouse pot similar to the one she had just seen shattered.

Rhea never knew ancient Romans liked to eat mice. Ancient? The Rome she knew was the pinnacle of civilization. Yet a brief glance around confirmed this was not true. She was surrounded by wonders that somehow were commonplace.

“Mmm, mice,” she said. “Nice and crunchy. Blech!”

The thought of eating mice was disgusting. She also knew mice were delicious.

The world grew fuzzy.

Terentius covered his face with his toga as he fled the market. The mountain was spewing so much ash today that the air was choking him. A new mouse pot would have to wait. A new mouse pot? In the middle of Armageddon? Why was he even thinking of such a thing? He should be terrified. He was not, however, because this sort of thing, while worse than usual, was not uncommon here.

The tremors were strong today and more frequent. He had never experienced an earthquake, of that he was quite certain. Yet he had experienced more than he could count.

When he reached home his wife was already there. She’d gathered the children into an inner room. They huddled in the corner with cloth over their faces to help filter out the ash in the air.

“Terentius,” her voice quivered with worry, “this is worse than it’s ever been.”

A feeling of helpless desperation washed over him. Some strong instinct to protect this woman and these children. They were his children and his wife, yet he had no children and had no wife. He was a wife.

“I know,” he assured his wife, “it will pass soon, I’m sure.”

He was not sure.

The walls of reality thinned and buckled.

Rhea was looking at another sculpture, smaller but just as grotesque as the one at the entrance. Except it wasn’t a sculpture, she knew. It was a small dog, contorted into an expression of agony and frozen in time. Something about the wretched creature was very familiar. The collar… under the layer of petrified ash the symbol could still be recognized. This was the dog from the House of Orpheus. The plaque in front of the cast confirmed this in the strange language she could somehow read.

Her dog, Virgil, came from the same litter as this dog. Except she didn’t own a dog and she knew nothing about the House of Orpheus.

The world grew fuzzy.

The city was burning. The shouts of men trying to maintain control over the chaos and screams of terror melded into a cacophony of despair. Terentius and his wife covered their children's ears as they huddled together praying for Jupiter to protect them.

Why would he pray to Jupiter? He was, more or less, an atheist. He especially didn’t believe in old gods like Jupiter. Yet he was certain if he prayed hard enough Jupiter would spare them.

The walls of reality thinned and buckled.

Vapor rolled out from behind a curtain. The screen depicted a Roman city in flames. It looked vaguely like her own city, complete with a mountain that looked like Vesuvius in the distance. But Rhea did not live in Rome, nor had she ever seen Vesuvius. A gust of wind pushed the vapor passed them and the lights came back. Someone dressed in plastic armor directed them to the exit. Plastic armor? What the hell was plastic?

The exit took them to a small gift shop. Volcano lamps and Roman soldier dolls, coffee cups and keychains, posters and t-shirts with the name of her city on them in that strange language. These items, these trinkets were celebrating the fiery destruction of her home.

The world grew fuzzy.

Terentius felt as though someone had just called his wife an ugly cow or said his children were witless dotards. The outrage rose in his chest but could only escape as another series of hacking coughs. What was the source of his outrage? He couldn’t remember.

The walls of reality thinned and buckled.

Smoke billowed from the top of a great concrete megalith looming over the crowd. Glowing red lights at the top hinted at what was to come. Rhea felt a fading sense of being offended but couldn't recall anything having offended her. She marveled at throngs of people dancing to the most bizarre music she’d ever heard. It was also, she knew, a song she’d purchased on iTunes. She did not know what iTunes meant.

The sky grew dark and the show preceded. Flames burst from the top of the simulated volcano as images of flowing lava projected on the concrete walls. The effect was spectacular but also absurdly weak compared to the real fury of Vesuvius. She felt as if she knew this from experience, as if she had been there in ancient Rome. It was as a doll is to a human—a feeble imitation, but one made out of love, not mockery. All these people gathered here to commune in sight of this spectacle as a celebration, not an insult.

The world grew fuzzy.

Terentius felt his outrage dissipate like so much smoke. A sense of calm pushed out the panic.

“Jupiter has forsaken us,” his wife wheezed. The children lay unconscious in her arms even as she lay in his.

“Do not fear my dearest,” he wheezed back. “From the seeds of our tragedy monuments will grow. Our lives will be remembered through the ages and they will celebrate the city of Pompeii.”

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