Black clouds billowed from the mountain that overlooked the city. Lightning split the darkness with sudden flashes of white. Claudius choked on the stench of sulfur as he turned the corner to get to his villa.
Panic gripped his chest. Where was his new bride? Florence couldn’t be at the market now.
A retching sound came from inside. Claudius burst through the doorway to see Florence bent over a pot. She wiped her mouth with her arm.
Her eyes widened. “Claudius, what’s going on?”
“The mountain is on fire. We must flee.”
“What about finding shelter?” Her eyes darted around the home he’d purchased when he retired from being a gladiator.
“I don’t think that’s possible. Come with me. I promised to take care of you.”
Claudius knew the expectant look on his wife’s face – the same look he received when he said he would marry her. He’d conquered the arenas—he would keep her safe. She reached out her hand, and Claudius led her outside.
A ball of flame exploded on their villa, the force of impact smashing through the roof.
Florence shrieked as stone fragments pelted them.
“This way. We’ll find a ship at the docks. It’s our best chance.”
They coughed with the foul dust that lingered in the air. Claudius led her down the road, but their progress slowed as they passed the market. He forced his wide frame through the panicked crowds.
Florence stumbled on the cobblestone and retched again. Claudius scooped her into his arms and pushed toward a side road.
Despite the ash burning his lungs, Claudius continued to carry his bride. Her color had drained, and her eyes threatened to roll back. Her black curls danced along his arm.
He stroked her face. “Stay awake. We’re close now.”
The air near the harbor still carried the sulfur stench, but the brine wafted through as well.
Claudius rounded a corner and stopped.
The crush of people storming the docks overwhelmed him. Too many were trying to flee.
He spied a few smaller fishing vessels away from the larger boats. Perhaps he could find someone there. His muscles screamed from exertion, but he pushed his way to the smallest dock.
People ran by, their voices cracking with stress and smoke.
Fire shot from the top of the cursed Vesuvius.
“Do you have room for us?” Every answer: no.
His heart pounded. He coughed hard with a sudden inhalation of soot. He’d fought all comers in the coliseum. He would keep his wife from harm. But how?
Florence cupped his face. “My love, it’s all right. Let’s go toward the countryside. We may find shelter there.”
No. Claudius gave her an extra squeeze, because he knew there was only one answer. His height and bulk scared off any potential rescue. But one petite woman?
One boat at the end wasn’t as full as the others. Claudius strode to it, where the owner loosed the ropes to push off. The older man sighed as Claudius approached. “I’m truly sorry, but I can’t take you both.”
“What about my wife? Can you get her to safety?”
He gently set Florence’s feet on the ground.
She whirled to face him. “No! I can’t leave you. I have to tell you something!”
A loud rumble emanated from the mountain. Fire shot from the top of the cursed Vesuvius.
“There’s no room for both of us, Florence. But I can give you the gift of life. Please.”
The owner waved his arms. “I can take her, but we must hurry!”
Florence shook her head violently, but Claudius scooped her into a fierce hug. “I love you. I will find you if I can.”
With that, he picked her up again and set her into the boat. She fought to get to the edge.
“Thank you.” Claudius gave the boat a shove and it bobbed away from the dock. The sails caught the wind blowing from the mountain and the boat cut through the waves.
Claudius leaned out, desperate to catch one last glance of his beloved.
Florence’s tears formed streaks through the ash on her face. “I have a gift for you as well. We are going to have a child!”
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Meet the Author
Jason C. Joyner is a physician assistant living in the high desert country of Idaho. He has traveled the world—from the jungles of Thailand to the cities of Australia and the Bavarian Alps of Germany.
He has written both suspense and YA speculative novels and is seeking publication. He’s had previous flash fiction stories published in Splickety magazines before.
He may have watched Star Wars one too many times.