As Pompeii exploded, the elders told everyone that it was not that big of a deal. They claimed all they needed was faith. They claimed it was Crete’s problem. And moving cost too much. Moving was a hassle. How could anyone possibly move? Besides, Pompeii didn’t have exploding earth events; that happened in other places.
Other people saw the smoke; they heard the great, thunderous clashes and watched the sky darken into a great, premature night and pleaded with them to leave. They were dismissed as radicals. They were slandered as not loving Pompeii. If they loved Pompeii, why would they be trying to get people to leave? If they didn’t like the perfect, never-before-exploded-by-volcano community, they could take their own boats away.
The sky darkened. The fires from the approaching lava lit up the low hanging clouds. But the elders said that the righteous would be spared. Pompeii didn’t get consumed by lava. It had never happened before. Any danger was the work of dissidents. Some from the foothills came running; they told tales of desolation: mountainsides on fire, skeletons of livestock and family members melting away, howling in pain. Nothing had been spared. Those survivors were thrown in jail.
Cassandra tried to get her father to go. She pleaded with him. She saw the smoke. She believed. Her father forbade her, so she left him, sneaking out a window.
The streets she entered were a jumble of bodies bumbling and bouncing together. Some were heading for the beaches, and others shouted obscenities at those trying to escape, hurled objects at them, spit at them, and grabbed at the clothes of those running by, stripping them down to their underwear. Ash began to fall from the sky.
The escapees tried to protect each other from the jeering mob, but some were lost, wrenched back by their friends, family members, and lovers who claimed that only the elders could be correct. They were always correct. They said it was nothing serious. Explosions never happened here. Everyone else was just being too sensitive. It was disrespectful to the history of Pompeii to suspect it could be consumed by fire and ash. It wasn’t one of those places to the east that occasionally got hit with fire and brimstone.
The beach was a confusion of rushing. Cassandra ended up in a boat with strangers herding together, all pressed in desperation, the boat nearly buckling under the excessive weight. The ones who stayed behind continued to shout and curse at the leaving boats. They told them never to come back. They told them they weren’t welcome. Then they turned around to look at their great town, bereft of all its bad elements. They took deep breaths of the sulfurous air, basking in the shade of the smoke cloud. They were consumed in their rightness.
From the boats, Cassandra could see some of the destruction. The houses fell, the smoke swept quickly, super hot, down onto the town. Most of the people she knew were gone. Whole beings were shattered, leaving only shadowy imprints or ash ghosts. She could see the lava striking the water, throwing a giant geyser of steam into the air. She watched as the town that never burned burned.