“Long ago before our time,
When mere mortals were not of thought.
The greatest forces of nature came together
To create the seas and islands of the earth.
But one stood alone in the isles
Waiting to be tamed.
It would remain peaceful for its time
Then on the day when Artemis cries
Then the ashes come falling down.”
The voice was melodic, almost hypnotic. The low hum from her lips lured Troy’s attention away from the soaked herbs that shivered under the cool drops in the garden. He knew that song. His brothers often recited it as they ran around the garden in their childish romps. But she sang the song in such a melodic way. How would his four year old mind describe this feeling? If only he could hold onto the sensation it brought. For him, it appeared that he could freeze the moment in a memory; only for it to slip through his hands like water. He turned to face his mother. A look of serenity had graced the woman’s face before her arched brows scrunched into a frown. The song stopped. He looked back at his eldest brother Barbarius, who was chasing Apollus around the garden before coming to a halt. What was wrong?
A low rumble penetrated the silence. His legs wobbled as the earth began to quiver. One by one, the clay vessels sitting on the garden benches began rattling towards the edges.—
Shards of debris flew in all directions.
“Run for cover!” she shouted. Screams filled the air. Their shouts became indistinguishable, swallowing his mother’s voice in a mass of noise. Troy and his siblings ran to the side of the portico bordering the garden to find the entrance crumbling around them. Just as the tiled roof came crashing down, his mother raced to push him out of harm’s way.
Troy swung around to see what happened to his mother. A pillar pinned her against the cold tiles. He wanted to help, but Barbarius grabbed the sleeve of his tunic and pulled him to the outer edge of the courtyard. Their father rushed into the garden from another side entrance to move the pillar. The ground splintered around the father, making a loud cracking sound.
“Hold on!” his father shouted as he struggled to lift the fallen pillar. Troy’s brothers scurried underneath a wooden bench where they shouted for help. As their father pried the pillar from the mother’s chest, the ground disintegrated beneath their feet. There was no time to run. No time to even scream.
“Down to Hades they will go!” a deep voice bellowed.
“No!” Troy shouted as he watched the earth devour his parents alive.
“You cannot take them!” Troy said as his small limbs flailed out the wrinkled sheets of the bed. Beads of sweat trickled down the forehead as he opened his eyelids. The shaking had stopped. He blinked once more, but he still trembled. Yet not a sound could be heard in all the rooms of the domus they resided. Was he the only one to have felt the tremors?
He looked around his room, searching for the slightest vibrations. The once colorful, fresco-covered walls, now dimmed by the darkness, stood motionless. He was alone. The thought itself made him shudder. Why must he be banished to his own bedroom? His first night alone and he was already having a nightmare! He had to find his parents. He climbed out of bed and crept to the adjacent bedroom, trying to ignore the looming shadows from the marble statues that adorned the corridor. He tiptoed into the dark room to find his parents slumbering away underneath thin sheets. They would not notice if he snuck inside and curled up for the night, he thought. He glanced at his mother’s face as he hoisted himself over the bronze bed frame. Even in her sleep, a smile found its way on her lips. Soon it vanished as a moan escaped her mouth.
“Troy, not on the bed. You are too big for that!” his mother sighed in a tired tone as he crawled over her legs. He glanced at her face. Her eyes were still shut.
She knew him too well.
“But Mummy, I had a bad dream. I am scared to go to sleep. Please, let me stay with you tonight,” he said. Troy watched his mother’s eyelids flicker open to see his wide-eyed expression as he balanced his knees on her legs.
“Dreams are not real, Troy. They cannot hurt you,” she said in a soft tone. Troy stuck out his bottom lip at her words.
“All right, just this once,” she whispered. Troy snuggled closer to his mother’s bosom just as the father shifted in his sleep to face her. A loud snore escaped his father’s parted lips as Troy was squished by his father’s stirrings.
“I do not know if this will work,” his mother muttered under her breath.
“Ow,” Troy whimpered as his hand was caught under his father’s elbow. Acropolus’ eyes peeked open.
“What are you doing, Troy? Why are you not in your own bed?” he asked, rubbing his deep-set eyes.
“I am scared, Dad. I had a nightmare that the ground opened, and swallowed—” he began.
“Troy, I do not want to hear it,” he said shaking his head. Troy sat motionless as he stared at his father’s agitated face amidst the darkness. Acropolus lifted his hands to clap for the slaves in the nearby rooms. “Slaves, take the boy out of our bed!”
“But I gave him permission to sleep here just for tonight,” Helen interrupted in a soft tone. Troy shared a sheepish grin with his mother. Acropolus’ hands froze mid-clap.
“Why? He is almost five. If his days for weaning are ending, then he is old enough to sleep by himself,” Acropolus responded with a frown. He pulled the linen sheet over his exposed chest only to have it cascade to his hips. “The boy will continue to come here again and again. He needs to learn to grow up!”
“How would you feel if you were his age? Look at him. He is frightened. He wants his parents to comfort him. Otherwise he will not go to sleep!” his mother protested. His father let out a loud sigh as she spoke.
“Helen, I want to share this bed with you, not my children. I do not want to be disturbed.”
“So is this the real reason?” she asked, raising her voice.
Acropolus opened his mouth to say something in response, but paused as Troy cowered behind the foot of the bed.
“I am sorry. You should not be hearing this. Please, just go to bed,” his father said, gentling his voice.
Troy scampered from the room without waiting for the slaves to accompany him. He had never seen his parents fight before. He never considered that his parents would be mad at each other. And of all things, Troy was the cause for their argument. Was he the problem? After all, his parents did not want him in their bedroom anymore. What if they wanted him to disappear? He crawled inside his bed, waiting for worse things to come. Everything was changing. He sensed it.