LUCIA REFERRED to her patron goddess as Father. It was more respectful, a gesture
insisted upon to mirror and mock Lucia’s upbringing: the Roman father is the family’s absolute
authority. His power is unquestioned. The lives of his family are to do with as he wishes. In
essence, he is the god of the family.
Lucia howled in rage on the hills; it wasn’t a wholly unique incident, but it wasn’t
uninspired by Rust and Maro either. Lucia had grown accustomed to venting her rage in loud
spectacles in nature. Her Father was pleased and Lucia could hear Her approval. She liked
Lucia to explode: to remain pent up, repressed, and quiet not only kept the emotions in, it kept
her power in.
Lucia wanted to wander the fields and find Father in the wilderness, but she was nervous
to stray too far from the villa. On the edge of the woods, now darkening in dusk, Lucia could
smell Bacchus out there; He was running toward her at full speed, like an animal galloping
toward its prey. She could hear blood engorge His Penis, and the sound was a storm in her ears.
If she stepped into His wilderness, He would fall upon her. Father would think the action, the
willingness to enter the realm of another god, as disloyalty, a kind of cheating, and give Lucia up
to His angry hunger.
Walking the opposite direction, Lucia started on the road back toward the city, to the
necropolis she had visited during the night. The trip had been fruitless—the dead shrinking in
terror from her like beaten dogs. She was used to fear, but nothing this intense or reckless. The
dead were insulting in their terror, shrieking silent obscenities at her. Rather than taking it badly,
and snuffing out what little power their trapped souls possessed, she walked away silently and
Lucia returned to the entombed urns, and felt them quake from her approach. Normally,
having received such hostility and unwillingness from the dead to be helpful, Lucia would
respond with threats and violence. Perhaps seduction was more in order.
In the language of the dead, Lucia said, “Don’t be afraid. I need your help.”
In their language (with Latin accents from the freshly deceased, who still retained
memories of Latin), they replied in an overlapping, echoing gaggle of sounds: “Keep away.”
“I only want to speak with one of you.”
“Away,” they whimpered dusty, silent heaves.
“One of you approached me. One of you has been haunting my dreams. One of you
brought me back to Pompeii. I want to speak with her. If you help me find her so I can speak to
her, I will do you no harm. I swear by my Father.” Lucia, of course, didn’t use the term Father
to the dead—she used one of her goddess’s real name, the name in the language of the dead. It
made the dead shake, the necropolis stones tremble. Her seriousness startled them; she was
trapped by her oath, and they knew her Father would make her keep it.
They had no choice really but to answer her, for by refusing would bring her wrath down
upon them. They echoed and reechoed, chanted one word which became for them a plead for
Repeating the name to herself, Lucia let Ibis bring her to her. There was a small
entombment on the east side where the dead poor lodged. The tombs were less than tombs, less
than places for remembering, inhabited by people who were hardly regarded in their lifetimes;
but these were ghettos for ashes also thought too powerful to allow in the city, or cast aside in a
rubbish heap. Dead beggars, madmen, slaves, whores, and gladiators there trembled at Lucia’s
approach. Her voice thundered Ibis and the souls swept aside as if by a blast of wind, leaving
Ibis alone to face her. Invisible, but a clear, solid form to Lucia herself, Ibis stood facing this
woman she knew in life only as a legend.
Lucia glared through Ibis’s formlessness and forced the soul of the dead prostitute to
assume a physical form. Only so Lucia would have something to look at and speak to. Even
Lucia preferred to have a face when having a conversation: Lucia treasured the luxury of
normalcy and insisted upon it whenever dealing with the dead—no matter what pain it caused.
Ibis winced in the cramped confinement being in her former shape.
“Tell me what you want.”
Ibis’s mouth moved, and Lucia knew it would require a few moments for Ibis to
accustom herself to her form again. She sighed impatiently: she had no patience for the dead,
and their suffering, struggles, and pain angered and annoyed her. At first, speaking with the dead
had been a horror. Repetition made it an annoyance, and sometimes Lucia wondered if her
severe irritation was only self-protection.
Ibis was especially bothersome to Lucia. In form and in formlessness, Ibis was stained as
murdered souls are.
“Help. Julius,” Ibis said with trembling lips. She spoke not normally, but in a shrieking
rage. The stones quivered.
Lucia sighed. “Julius who?”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“Tell. Him. Go. To. Rome.”
“I have no time to be running errands for you,” Lucia said.
“I have been begged by more pathetic souls than you and if you annoy me more I will
“Then why speak to me at all?” Ibis asked.
She advanced on Ibis but Ibis didn’t move. Lucia found herself staring closely into the
pained face struggling to hold itself together. Lucia could see how Ibis’s pale cheeks swarmed in
flesh colors like millions of bees. There was even a small buzz of energy. It was more
disturbing that Ibis didn’t flinch. Lucia wasn’t accustomed to seeing the dead this close. Lucia
arched her eyebrows. It was rare to find a dead soul with the ability to think quickly. “You
brought me to Pompeii for a reason. I thought it was for something more important than carrying
“I didn’t bring you,” Ibis said. “You came on your own. You wanted to come home.”
Lucia opened her mouth to argue, but couldn’t find anything to say. She felt shame, as it
was entirely possible it was true.
Ibis said, “Help Julius. Something horrible will happen to him.”
“I don’t care about the Aedile.”
“Something horrible. Something horrible.”
Lucia stepped back as Ibis began to cry. Ibis’s tears were bloody.
Normally, this would not be enough to move Lucia. She had heard more virulent
entreaties and extinguished these souls who asked for less. But as Ibis cried—an unusual
occurrence for a soul—the other dead echoed her “Something horrible”. Then it became a chant
of “horrible horrible horrible”, not just in this necropolis, but all over Pompeii. As if all the dead
were chanting to Lucia.
This had never happened before, and Lucia felt afraid.