Back to Pompeii by Kim M. Kimselius
English edition released in April 2013
Book 1 in the historical Theo and Ramona series
Text on the back cover of Back to Pompeii:
Ramona can hardly believe her eyes! She stares at Theo and a sense of dread starts to well upp inside her. What began as an eagerly-awaited school trip to Italy has now turned into a nightmare.
The class has just visited the museum in Pompeii, the ruined Roman city that was buried beneath volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted nearly two thousand years ago. Ramona is feeling queasy from looking at the casts of people who died in the eruption that destroyed the city. Suddenly, a strange sensation comes over her and she sits down to rest. Within minutes, she falls into a deep sleep.
When she wakes up, she finds that everything is different. Pompeii is no longer in ruins. The city is bustling with life and Ramona realises that this is Pompeii before the eruption! She also knows that Vesuvius will soon undergo a terrifying transformation. Glowing lava and choking hot ash will come raining don and bury the entire city and its inhabitants. Will she and Theo be able to get away in time? Ramona has no idea when the vulcano will erupt. It could happen in a hundred years' time, in ten years or in ten minutes...
Back to Pompeii is Kim M. Kimselius' first book. It has enjoyed great success and beeen translated into many languages and is popular with readers of all ages. Kimselius skilfully brings the history of Pompeii to life and takes the readers on a thrilling journey back in time. It's a book you won't want to put down!
Here at last! The much longed-for new edition of Kim M. Kimselius's success "Back to Pompeii", her blockbuster debut of Christmas 1997.
An independent historical adventure featuring Theo and Ramona.
Back to Pompeii was voted one of the best youth books of 2009 by booksellers on Iceland.
What the reviewers had to say about Back to Pompeii:
"The choking ash that finally and inevitably lays a suffocating blanket over the city is frighteningly described. Back to Pompeii is a good read and a book I would happily put in the hands of any 12-to-15-year-old. (And it wouldn’t bore the pants off their parents either.)" Teacher and translator John Nixon
"I just finished Back to Pompeii. Wow! What an exciting (and fairly terrifying) story! I would really love to know more about the adventures of Theo, Pluto and Ramona." Dr. Sarah Russell
"Has Blekinge got an Astrid Lindgren of its own? Having read Kim M. Kimselius' debut you might start to wonder." Blekinge Läns Tidning.
"Brings story to life... Inspiring description of the people and places..." Bohuslänningen
"A pleasant book of knowledge"... a fun way of learning..." Mitt Livs Novell
"What a success! Kim M. Kimselius' debut 'Back to Pompeii' has reached several thousand copies sold!" Hemmets Journal
"This book is great! Thrilling, amusing, sad and horryfying too - just as a good book should be!"
"The suspense grows through the unexpected turns in the story."
Åbo Underrättelse, Finland
"Back to Pompeii - the most successful book of the year in the children's and teenagers' category." Smålandsposten
"This is the debut of Kim M. Kimselius - the immense success of Christmas 1997 that gave her the honourable nickname 'the Astrid Lindgren of Blekinge'."
Read 5 chapters from Back to Pompeii
“Ladies and gentlemen, we will shortly be landing in Rome and would kindly ask you to fasten your seat belts. The captain and his crew thank you for travelling with us and wish you a safe and happy onward journey.”
Ulrika leaned against the window to have a better look. “Oh, this is so exciting, let me see. Look, you can see the airport down there. COOL!”
Ramona did not think it was exciting at all. She thought it was awful. It was the first time she had flown and she was sure it would be the last too. The flight had been very bumpy, with lots of air turbulence and Ulrika had been laughing and shouting COOL! all the time.
At this moment, she hated Ulrika. Why wasn’t she afraid of the air-pockets? Didn’t she want to throw up every time the floor of the airplane appeared to drop away beneath her feet? And now Ulrika was pressing Ramona against the window so that she could see as much as possible.
This meant that Ramona couldn’t help seeing the ground far below. I hate this, she thought.
If it wasn’t for the fact that we are going to see the ruined city of Pompeii, I would take the train back home as soon as we land.
“Look, Ramona, do you see how small the cars are? My God, it’s COOL!”
“Excuse me; you have to fasten your seat belt now.” Ramona turned and saw a friendly smiling stewardess putting her hand on Ulrika’s arm. Thank goodness, thought Ramona, when Ulrika finally sat back in her seat with the safety belt fastened tightly around her body, now she won’t be able to push me out through the window.
Ramona leaned back. She appeared calm to other people, but lots of scary thoughts were tumbling around in her head. She was very nervous about the landing. She knew that most air accidents happened on take off and landing. What if the plane crashed? What if the pilot didn’t manage to stop the plane before the landing strip ended? Her body stiffened as she waited for the crash.
“Oh, look! We’ll be on the ground soon. COOL!”
Ulrika tried to lean as far as she could towards the window, despite the safety belt.
This word COOL is driving me mad thought Ramona. If she doesn’t stop soon I will strangle her. What if the brakes don’t work, what if… A small thud and a screech from the wheels confirmed that the plane was now on the ground.
The plane slowed down and she suddenly realised that her classmates around her were cheering and clapping. She opened her eyes and looked across the aisle. Had they also been afraid? Was that the reason they were all so happy? Ramona looked at Ulrika with a gentle smile on her lips and got a big smile back.
“That went well,” she said relieved. “Very well!” Then she sank back exhausted into her seat.
“Keep together! Do not run away!”
Ramona heard her teacher, Elisabeth, calling to her classmates. She almost felt sorry for Elisabeth. The teacher kept on calling to keep the class together.
Although she had three parents along to help her, she was still the one who carried the responsibility.
Ramona saw her classmates running around like maniacs in the airport terminal. They were certainly as happy as her to get off the plane, but her feet were as heavy as lead and she did not feel like running at all.
“Come on, hurry up,” said Ulrika.
Grabbing Ramona she started to force a way through the crowd of passengers.
“What is the matter with you today?” Ulrika asked. “Nothing, I am just tired,” said Ramona.
Her stomach felt uneasy and her legs felt like jelly, they just would not stop shaking. Otherwise everything was fine, just fine.
“In the showcase to the right, you can see a cast of a dog that belonged to the House of Primus. As you can see from the animal’s posture, it must have been struggling for air as the ash was burying it. The dog was chained, which explains why its head is lower than the rest of its body. You can imagine what pain the animal was suffering as it was fighting for its life. And over on your left…”
Oh, how terrible. What an awful experience it must have been, Ramona thought. Poor, poor dog. Why couldn’t the owners have unchained their dog so it had a chance to escape? Some people shouldn’t have dogs. Ramona wished she’d been there to save the defenceless creature.
Everywhere they wandered, there were plaster casts of people who had died when the volcanic ashes rained down on the city of Pompeii. None of the inhabitants had ever imagined that peaceful Mount Vesuvius would become active and bury their city under deadly ashes.
Ramona could see by the way they held their hands and arms over their faces that they had tried to protect themselves from the ashes. Many of the people looked as though they were sleeping.
For others, the end had not been so peaceful. One man sat on the ground, his knees pulled up to his stomach, his hands held over his mouth and nose. But to no avail.
The air had run out and the man had died in that position. A pregnant woman lay face down, her feet straining against the ground and her hands covering her face. She had probably been trying to protect her unborn baby. But her brave efforts were futile.
Some reached towards the sky, their hands out- stretched in anguish. Were they trying to hold back the ashes or were they praying to their gods for help?
Others lay with their mouths open in a last desperate attempt to breathe air into their lungs. Their features were contorted. Ramona could sense their terror. She was deeply saddened and upset by what she saw.
What a terrible way to die. What were they thinking when the ashes started to come down on them? Did they feel any pain as their mouths and noses were gradually filled with choking ashes? That was a question no living person could answer.
But Ramona was sure that it must have been a ter- rifying experience.
“Elisabeth,” Ulrika shouted, waving her arms to attract the teacher’s attention. “Elisabeth, I know we read that there were four earthquakes before Vesuvius erupted. But how long after the last earthquake did the eruption happen?”
“The volcano erupted on the following day. I thought you had learned that before we came on this trip,” Elisabeth said reproachfully.
“What date did it erupt?” Ulrika whispered in Ramona’s ear. She didn’t dare ask Elisabeth any more questions as she was sure to get another brusque reply!
“It was the 24th of August, 79 AD,” Ramona answered. It surprised her that she could remember the date so well. Numbers were not usually her strongest point. But this was a date that seemed to have become etched in her memory because of all the dreadful things she had seen. As Ramona was thinking about that poor dog, chained up outside the house, and the mother who had been trying to protect her child, her thoughts were suddenly inter- rupted by a smack on her head.
“Ouch, what are you doing?” she said turning around to face Mathias, who stood there smiling at her.
“You seemed lost in your dreams, so I thought I’d bring you back to earth,” he said.
“I was thinking how terrible it must have been for these people when it all happened. I’m glad that we don’t have volcanoes in Sweden,” Ramona said.
She was feeling sad because of all the things they had seen. But Mathias seemed to have a different view.
“Sure, it was terrible for them. But think how exciting it is for us to see how it looked in their time. How they lived, what they ate, what tools they had. I think it’s good the volcano erupted, otherwise we’d never have known about any of this,” Mathias said.
“You are horrible!” Ramona said and hurried away from Mathias.
How could she ever have thought that he was cute? How could he think it was good that thousands of people had died, just so that he could see what it looked like before the eruption?
“Elisabeth, can we go to see the excavations soon?” Per was eager to get away to the excavation site.
“Yes, soon, but first we have to see the rest of the museum, so you can get an idea of how people lived in Pompeii,” Elisabeth said.
Ulrika pushed Per teasingly.
“Listen to the genius, always eager to learn new things, aren’t you?”
“Leave him alone, Ulrika.”
Ramona grabbed Ulrika and pulled her away from Per. “Don’t take any notice of him. Come and look over here instead. Look!”
Ramona pointed at a showcase containing food which had been found during the excavation of the site.
“Can you believe that this food is so well preserved after all these centuries?”
“It is only a bluff, surely you can see that? Even I know that food doesn’t last that long,” Ulrika said, shaking her head at Ramona’s unbelievable stupidity.
“It’s true. It was preserved because of the sea of mud that swept in and covered the city. But Pompeii was buried in ash so it must have been the other city which wasn’t that far away from here. What was it called?”
Per was walking just behind Ramona and his stage whisper reached her ear at the right moment. She turned and looked at him. He’s fun, she thought. It’s a pity that everyone teases him because he’s a bit of a swot..
“I remember it now. Herculaneum was the name,” Ramona said and turned smiling towards Ulrika.
“Don’t you think I heard Per whisper to you?”
Ulrika was jealous. It seemed that everyone liked Ramona; they were all so kind to her. If they teased her it was only to get her attention, which is what good- looking Mathias did. I wish he would tease me instead, Ulrika thought.
“And in this showcase you can see a bulla of gold. The bulla was a symbol worn from birth by men to show they were born free and were not slaves.”
The guide pointed at a big, round medallion in the showcase.
It must have been very heavy to wear, Ramona thought. Couldn’t they have had something lighter to show that they were not slaves, a bracelet around their arm for example? The guide kept on talking:
“These small ivory pins with their decorated heads were used by women to put up their hair. And if you look over here…”
Ramona walked closer to the showcase to look at the hairpins. They were beautiful!
“Look!” she said to Ulrika, pointing at the head on the end of one of the pins and the figure of a woman on the other. I wonder why they were made like that. Do you think it was simply for decoration?”
“Yes, I suppose it was because they wanted to look nice and pretty. Think of all the hair grips and hair slides with flowers and other things we have today,” Ulrika answered.
“Now we are heading to the furniture section.”
The guide kept on talking in a monotonous voice as the group entered the next room.
“The people in Pompeii did not use as much furniture as we do today. They moved their chairs and tables around as they needed them, which I personally think is a very economical and highly practical way to live,” the guide said. He turned around and pointed at a sofa made of wood and leather.
“This well-preserved sofa was found at Herculaneum. As you probably know, most of the wooden furniture was destroyed, but the excavators discovered imprints in the ash and from these they have been able to make castings and reconstructions of the furniture. Now, look at this…” Ramona thought it was boring to look at the furniture.
It was more exciting to look at the casts of the dead people, even if they were rather scary.
As long as she thought about them as plaster casts she was all right. It was when she thought about them as living people who had died and left imprints in the ash that she felt awful.
Ramona’s conscience was bothering her because she was fascinated by the casts of the bodies. What Mathias had said earlier contained some truth. If Pompeii had never been struck by this disaster, she and her class would not have been able to see all this.
She tried to push these thoughts away. How could she think like this?
These were once living people. They had lived, eaten, played and had families just like her. But everyone dies, a little voice said inside her head, even you. Is it not good that these people were preserved for posterity, so that later generations could get some idea of how people used to live all those years ago?
Ramona struggled with her thoughts. She was quite exhausted with the weight on her conscience and from walking through these great rooms. Both her head and legs felt weary. It was so noisy. Voices reverberated off the stone walls and echoed in the big halls. If only she could sit down for a minute.
“Now we are back at the entrance, and I would like to thank you all for the pleasure of showing your group around,” the guide said in a loud, pompous voice.
Tremendous! At last, it was time to go in and see the actual ruins of the city of Pompeii. They were about to step into the past. The excitement was high as they walked towards the gates to Pompeii Scavi, as the ruined city was called in Italian.
“Elisabeth, aren’t we going to buy ice-creams first?”
It was Ann who asked.
“Of course, those of you who wish to buy an ice-cream can do that. The rest of you can sit on the benches and take the weight off your feet,” Elisabeth said.
Good idea, Ramona thought as she sat down on a bench in the sunshine.
“Don’t you want an ice-cream?” Ulrika asked her in a surprised voice.
“No, I don’t think so. I’m still rather full up from break- fast,” Ramona said.
“But that was ages ago. Are you sure you are all right? You normally love ice-cream. And this is Ita- lian ice-cream,” Ulrika said, looking bewildered at Ramona.
“I just don’t fancy one right now!”
It was as though yesterday’s air travel was still affec- ting Ramona’s body. Her stomach didn’t want any food, especially ice-cream.
“You go. I’ll sit here and wait for you,” Ramona said. “I can buy you one if you don’t feel like getting one yourself,” Ulrika said.
Ulrika is so kind, Ramona thought and smiled at her. “Thanks, but I don’t want one at the moment. Thanks anyway, you go now and get yourself an ice-cream. Go!” Ramona said.
Suddenly, Ramona felt a strange tingling sensation run through her body. It felt as if she was sitting in an electric field and as though her hair was standing on end. Slowly she lifted her hand to her head to touch her hair. She tried to make the movement look as natural as possible. As if she just wanted to put her hair right.No, there was nothing wrong with her hair, but it still felt like it was standing straight up.
Ramona looked round at her classmates. None of them were looking or acting differently and nobody else was touching their hair. Was she the only one who was feeling this way?
“Are you all right, Ramona?”
Ramona felt a hand on her shoulder and turned her head. With the sun in her eyes, she peered up to see who was standing beside her. It was her teacher Elisabeth.
“I’m OK. I’ve got a slight headache and I’m still feeling a bit tired after the flight. Otherwise I’m fine. It’s all really interesting and I’m so happy that we came on this trip,” Ramona said.
She felt like standing up and hugging Elisabeth out of gratitude. She always felt that way when she liked someone. Sometimes she would hug people she didn’t really know that well. But this time she resisted the urge.
Ulrika would tease her to death if she hugged their teacher!
“Yes, almost everyone seems very pleased. I certainly am. Everything has gone much better than I thought. You are all fantastic. But are you sure you are feeling well? Don’t you want an ice-cream? You’re not thinking about your figure, are you?”
Elisabeth gazed with some concern at Ramona.
“No, I just don’t feel like having one at the moment,” Ramona said.
“All right, I will leave you here to rest. I’m off to buy an ice-cream for myself,” Elisabeth said and smiled at Ramona before she went to join the ice-cream queue.
“What was all that about?” Ulrika asked as she threw herself down beside Ramona on the bench.
“She was wondering why I didn’t want an ice-cream; she thought I was thinking about my figure!”
Ramona giggled. She never needed to think about her figure. She could eat whatever she wanted and still look the same. But perhaps not feel so well.
“Well, we can’t sit here all day!”
Ulrika jumped up from the bench, grabbed Ramona’s arm firmly and pulled her up.
“Hold this!” she said, pushing her ice-cream at Ramona.
“Why? What are you going to do?” Ramona asked as she took the ice-cream.
“It’s these blasted sandals. The straps have come loose again. Thank goodness for trainers,” Ulrika said, rolling her eyes heavenwards. “My mother is hopeless. She in- sisted that I should have sandals for the trip. She said my feet would get too hot in trainers. Mothers!”
“Yes, I agree with you.” Ramona had also been forced to wear sandals. She watched as Ulrika undid the straps and then tightened them again.
“Well, if everyone is ready, let’s go! We don’t have all day and we haven’t come here just for the ice-cream. Let’s move on,” Elisabeth said.
Ulrika held firmly on to Ramona’s arm and marched off with her.
Why does she always have to pull me like this? Ramona thought. She noticed that she was feeling easily irritated. It must be because of her headache. Or was it because of the strange feeling that she was standing inside a gigantic electric field.
If there was anything that Ramona hated, it was walking arm-in-arm. She wondered why she had never told Ulrika that she didn’t like being pulled about all over the place. Why did she always have to put up with every- thing that everyone else did? However, since Ramona didn’t want to offend Ulrika, she said nothing.
She simply walked unsuspectingly with Ulrika through the gateway to the ruined city of Pompeii. Ramona was totally unaware of the inexplicable event that she was
about to encounter inside the walls of Pompeii.
Entering the gates to Pompeii was like going back centu- ries in time. You could almost smell the excrement that the donkeys had left behind as they struggled up through the steep paved tunnel which brought them through the city walls and into Pompeii itself.
Ramona stepped out into the sunshine at the other end of the tunnel and was almost surprised by the ruined city in front of her.
Everything had felt so alive in the long, dark tunnel which led through the wall. It had felt as though the city would still be there, intact and shimmering in the heavy heat.
Ramona caught her breath. In a strange way she felt so close to the people who had lost their lives here. As if in a trance, she followed her group along the main street which led to the heart of the city.
Elisabeth was reading aloud from the guidebook, “And here we have the Forum. Around the Forum lay many important temples, the court Basilica and a large market hall”.
Elisabeth pointed to a long row of pillars.
“Before the volcano erupted, this building would have had two floors with pillars. The merchants would have had their stalls within the huge stone pillars that you can see here. This is also where teachers would have sat with their students.”
Ramona tried to imagine it, bustling with life and activity, but she found it hard to concentrate.
Her headache had become worse since she had enter- ed the city. The funny tingling feeling inside her had returned.
Perhaps she was sickening for some foreign illness? “Look down at the street,” Elisabeth said and stopped.
“They had boardwalks even as early as the year 79 AD. If you look very closely you can also see the water pipes which were laid underneath them.”
Elisabeth was beginning to sound like a very expe- rienced tour guide now. It was obvious she had read up on the subject before the trip.
Ramona looked down in amazement at the boardwalks and water pipes!
“Look at the street again. Can you see the big stones there?”
“Pelle, Mats and Tobias, get off the stones please so the others can see them. Thank you. As you can see, there are three, large, flat stones. They were laid there as stepping stones so that people could cross the street without getting dirty. Now, can you see those deep im- prints beside the stones? They were made by wagons which had to drive in exactly the same place every time they needed to pass the stones. Isn’t it amazing?” Elisa- beth said fascinated.
“Come on! Let’s jump over the stones,” Ulrika said.
“No, you can. I don’t feel like it,” Ramona said wearily. “You’re not much fun today. What’s wrong with you?
Has something annoyed you?” Ulrika asked.
“No, I’ve got a terrible headache. Please, just leave me alone!” Ramona answered.
She was surprised at how bad tempered she sounded and that she had dared to say something like that to her friend.
“All right, sourpuss. I can manage without you,” Ulrika huffed and skipped over the flat stones to the other side of the street to talk to Ann and Maria.
That’s fine by me, Ramona thought, shrugging her shoulders as she turned away from them. Yet at the same time she felt a pang of conscience because she didn’t want to be unfriendly towards Ulrika.
They walked slowly along the stone street. The air was shimmering with the heat. A light dust of ash swirled around their feet and made them black.
Elisabeth carried on talking, pointing out one building after another. It was very interesting but the heat was exhausting.
All Ramona wanted to do right now was to sit down in a cool, shady spot and just gaze at the scene before her. She also wanted silence, but that was impossible with a whole school class around her.
“The building in front of you was a bakery.”
Elisabeth pointed to a building with a beautiful vaulted arch.
Looking inside, they could see a huge oven made of stone. It was big enough for a grown up to sit inside. The front of the oven also had a vaulted arch, edged by upright bricks, which were a different colour to the rest of the oven. It was beautiful.
Inside the bakery, Ramona caught a glimpse of some cone-shaped stones that reminded her of up-side-down mushrooms and had square holes in the middle.
Elisabeth pointed to the stones and said,
“These stones were used for grinding corn. A wooden pole would have been placed in the holes and then two men, one on either side, would have pushed the pole to turn the stone. Or a donkey, strapped to the pole and led by a boy, would have turned the stone to make the flour.”
Elisabeth pointed to the beautiful oven.
“When they excavated the bakery, they found eighty loaves of bread inside the oven. They were as hard as stone, but otherwise perfectly preserved by the ash that had penetrated the oven. The amazing thing about this bread is that it looks just like the bread they bake now- adays, hundreds of years later. Have a look inside if you want. The bread isn’t there any more, we saw it earlier at the museum, but take a look around and see what a bakery was like in those days,” Elisabeth said.
Ramona looked longingly at the dark oven and the stone bench beside it. It seemed the perfect place to sit down and rest.
She hung back from the group as they entered the bakery and while her school friends were looking around, she slowly withdrew into a dark corner.
She looked around.
No one seemed to have noticed her there. Quickly she bent down and crawled under the stone bench where it was cool and dark.
Ramona leaned against the cold bakery wall. She longed for a few moments of peace and quiet. I’ll just rest here for a short while then I’ll go and catch up with the others again. Just a short while, until my headache’s gone, until my headache…
“What are you doing here brat? Go away. You aren’t allowed in here!”
Ramona woke up suddenly. Someone was shaking and pulling her. She looked up and saw a suntanned, dark haired man leaning over her. He looked angry, he was frowning deeply and he stared threateningly at her with his dark eyes.
There was something peculiar about him. At first she didn’t quite understand what it was, but then she real- ised it was his clothes. He was wearing what looked like a sheet draped around him and tied with thick string round his waist.
Seriously weird! thought Ramona as she scrambled to her feet.
“Get out. NOW! You should not be in here. I should have you beaten. However, you look harmless enough and you don’t seem to have stolen anything… But if I find you here again, then…” the man said, clenching his fist in front of Ramona’s face.
Terrified, Ramona stumbled back a step and looked at him. She felt sick with fear. Who was this man, a guard?
Ramona walked towards the light. She had an odd feeling that something wasn’t right. First, there was this man with his peculiar clothes and now she noticed that the room seemed different. It had been cold and dark when she crawled underneath the stone bench to rest. Now, it was dark and chokingly hot. And the noise! It had been silent when she’d crawled into her hiding place. Now there was so much noise. It sounded like a busload of tourists had arrived outside.
“You must get out of here now,” the man said. Holding her arm tightly, he started to drag her towards the light.
Suddenly he let go of her arm but only to push her so roughly that she fell flat on the ground.
“Get away from here and don’t you dare come back again!”
Ramona could not see a thing as she lay there with her face against the ground. She could hear many voices and taste the soil in her mouth. That made her think. Earlier the ground had been covered with ash and there hadn’t been any soil! Slowly she sat up and looked around. Tears started trickling down her cheeks. What had happened?
The room, which had previously been empty, was now crowded. People were standing at the tables, making bread, and the empty bench which she had crawled under was now piled with freshly baked bread. People were chattering and laughing and they were all wearing the same strange-looking clothes as the man who had woken her. What had happened?
A man came towards her carrying a tray of newly baked bread. He shouted angrily at her to move out of the way.
Ramona didn’t know what to do, she was so confused. Was it a dream?
“Come on, let me help you!”
A suntanned, dirty hand, about the same size as her own, reached for her. Ramona grabbed hold of the hand and looked up. A boy of about her own age was standing in front of her. His hair was black and he had bright, brown eyes. He also had a sheet draped around him, but his looked much more expensive. And he had a bulla around his neck!
She tried to concentrate and think: a bulla, what could that mean? A bulla…? Was she dreaming? She must be, because otherwise this was too unreal to be true. No, she was dreaming.
“Pinch me! I think I’m dreaming,” she burst out. “What?” the boy said with a questioning look on his
face. “Do you want me to pinch you?” With a grin, he pinched her arm.
“Ouch! That hurt,” Ramona cried in surprise.
“Well, what did you expect?” the boy said looking teasingly at her.
“Is she a friend of yours?” asked the man, who had pulled Ramona from her hiding place?
When he saw the boy nod his head, his smile became broader and warmer. The man seemed to be very friendly towards the boy, and suddenly he became friendlier to Ramona. Still smiling, he spoke to the boy.
“Well, in that case it’s fine if she wants to sit by the oven. When I found her I thought she was a troublemaker or here to steal something. But now I know she must be a good girl if she’s a friend of yours. I hope I didn’t hurt you?” the man said looking at Ramona.
Ramona shook her head. She had cut her knees, but that wasn’t the end of the world. If the man wanted to be friendly she wasn’t going to say anything that would provoke him again.
“Well, you had better get your friend out of here. It’s dangerous to play next to the oven. You can easily burn yourself. Plus you’re in the way of the workers. By the way, who is she? She is wearing such strange clothes.”
The man pointed at Ramona’s shorts and T-shirt. “She… she is from… from Rome,” the boy said hesitantly. “She is… my cousin from Rome.”
“Indeed, do they wear such odd clothes in Rome? Well, well, that’s a shame. You had better explain to her that as long as she is staying here in Pompeii she better cover her legs up, just like all the other young girls do. People might get upset otherwise. Take her home and make sure she puts some decent clothes on,” the man said, looking at Ramona’s bare legs.
Ramona stood listening in silence with big wondering eyes.
Could it be that…? No, it was too unbelievable. But how could she otherwise explain all this.
“Come,” the boy said, indicating with his hand that he wanted her to follow him.
He didn’t take hold of her and pull her as Ulrika always did, and Ramona appreciated that.
Slowly she followed him out on to the street where she stopped abruptly. It had to be that…
The street was crowded with people wearing sheets draped like togas. In the yard outside the bakery, a donkey was walking round and round a small tower grinding corn into flour.
Just like Elisabeth told us, Ramona thought.
A woman in a long dress walked past them carrying a small child. She looked critically at Ramona’s bare legs. Ramona wished she had worn a skirt or trousers.
A man came out of the bakery with another tray of fresh bread. He walked across the street and entered a shop on the other side. A shop! The Pompeii she was seeing now was very much alive.
The truth suddenly hit Ramona like a bolt of lightning.
Somehow, while she had been asleep inside the bak- ery, she had travelled back in time and woken up to a living Pompeii. This was Pompeii before the eruption that would destroy the entire city and kill all the inhabitants. Ramona realised that even she would die, if she couldn’t get away in time.
Ramona looked around in fright. She had no clue as to how long before the eruption would occur. Was it a hundred years, ten years or ten minutes?
“Who are you and why are you dressed so strangely?” The boy’s questions snapped Ramona out of her terrible thoughts.
It would have been odd if the boy hadn’t asked about her clothes, thought Ramona. But right now she didn’t have a very good answer. What would he think if she said: I’m from the future and I seem to have travelled back through time?
Don’t ask me how, because I don’t know. All I know is that I’m here right now, but I don’t know how to get back again.
He would most likely never believe her. Besides, she had plenty of questions herself. Questions she didn’t dare to ask because she was too afraid of the answers. But one question was harmless and essential.
“Who are you?” Ramona asked to divert his thoughts. “My name is Theodore, but my friends call me Theo. And what is your name?” “Ramona.”
“Ramona! That is a beautiful name.”
Theo seemed to be tasting her name, as though he had never heard it before.
“Ramona, come with me to somewhere more private where we can talk. This is the main street. We can’t walk here, people are staring,” Theo said.
Ramona looked around and saw that it was true. People were staring at them. She tugged at her shorts. They were made of stretch cotton and it might be possible to make them a bit longer. But not long enough. She could feel everyone’s eyes burning into her legs and she felt ashamed. She didn’t like drawing attention to herself. Especially when she had not purposely done anything wrong.
Theo led Ramona towards the main city gates. Although she recognised the gateway, it looked so different now. What she had seen just half an hour ago was the ruined remains of an ancient gateway. Before them now stood an intact and well-preserved gateway with huge wooden doors.
The wall was in perfect condition too. In fact, every- thing around them was intact. None of the buildings were damaged, empty or in ruins. What she now saw was a hive of activity with ground-floor shops selling all kinds of goods.
The shutters were wide open. Birdcages hung outside the windows and flowering climbing plants added extra splashes of colour.
The roofs of the buildings were intact and the red tiles shone beautifully in the sunshine. People sat chatting with one another. Further away some young boys were chasing a cat.
This was certainly not the same desolated Pompeii that she had seen just a short while ago.
Theo and Ramona passed through the city gates on to a narrow country road. On their right was a small grove of trees and on their left the fields extended far into the distance. Theo led her to the trees.
“Can you climb?” he asked.
Ramona nodded her head silently. She was struck with amazement at all the new things around her.
An almost hidden path led them through the thick vegetation towards a large tree. It was made for climbing and Theo grabbed the lowest branch and pulled himself easily up. Climbing higher, he made himself comfortable in a fork in the branches.
“Come on!” he said, beckoning to her.
Ramona took hold of the lowest branch and jumped up. Although it wasn’t with quite the same ease as Theo, Ramona had no reason to be ashamed of the way she climbed and she was soon up in the branches sitting beside Theo.
“All right, you can now answer the question you didn’t want to answer before,” Theo said looking thoughtfully at her.
Ramona had thought he might have forgotten his question. But of course not. She realised that he must be too curious about her to forget such a thing. What should she do?
Would he believe her if she told the truth, or should she try to come up with some credible lie? Ramona pondered for a moment and decided it was probably best to stick to the truth.
“You mean the question ‘Who are you?’, don’t you?” Ramona asked.
Theo nodded his head and gazed at her in expectation. “I don’t know how much imagination you have, but hold on to your seat because here comes the truth. And I really wonder if you’re going to believe my story,” Ramona said.
I hardly believe it myself, she thought bewildered. She took a deep breath and began to explain how she had arrived in Theo’s Pompeii.
“I have come from the future. I know that sounds totally unbelievable, but it’s true. My school class was on a trip to Pompeii,” Ramona said and fell silent.
Should she tell him about the ruined city she had seen? She sat in silence, deep in thought.
“Yes. And then?”
Theo looked curiously at her.
“Do you believe me?” Ramona asked in surprise.
“I will decide that when you have finished your story,” Theo said looking full of expectation, as he sat with his legs dangling over the branch.
Ramona put her arms firmly around the tree trunk, needing something solid and real to hold on to. It still felt like she was in the middle of a dream, a nightmare. Taking a deep breath, Ramona continued her story.
“Well, the Pompeii that we saw didn’t exactly look as it does now. I am not sure how I should explain it. I have travelled back in time nearly two thousand years. The city we looked around then was very different from the city you and I are looking at now.”
She could hear how complicated it sounded and tried again.
“What I’m trying to say is… Pompeii is a city of ruins in our time, in the twenty-first century. Do you understand?” Theo looked thoughtfully at her and nodded his head. “While I was walking and looking around the ruins of Pompeii with my school friends, I suddenly got a terrible headache and a strange tingling feeling in my entire body…”
That’s odd Ramona thought, my headache and the tingling have gone!
“…And I became dreadfully tired and suddenly I couldn’t bear listening to my school friends chattering away any more and my legs felt too weak to walk. We came to a ruined bakery. It looked so dark and cool inside, I thought that if I sat down and rested for a short while that I would soon feel better again.”
Ramona stopped telling her story to catch her breath. The words had tumbled out so quickly that she’d hardly had time to breathe.
Once she had started she wanted to finish her whole story as fast as possible. She thought that Theo was a very unusual boy with a lot of patience.
He wasn’t showering her with questions and he didn’t seem to be irritated at the way she was gabbling out her story.
“I understand,” Theo said and nodded like a wise old man.
He understands! That’s amazing, thought Ramona, who was having real difficulties understanding what was happening herself.
“I must have fallen asleep as my school friends walked on, because the next thing I remember was someone shaking me, and pulling me up and shouting angry words at me. I then discovered that I was in a real bakery with the smell of fresh bread and there were people rushing about and they were irritated with me. And everything felt wrong… really, really wrong!”
Ramona felt the panic rising inside her again and tried to force it back down. She swallowed hard to make the lump in her throat go away. The last thing she wanted was to lose her self-control in front of Theo. She took a deep breath and with an effort gave as confident a smile as she could.
“All right, and what have you decided to do now?” Theo asked.
“I don’t know. Do you? Or rather, do you have any good suggestion? Why did you help me, back there in the bakery?” Ramona asked and looked thoughtfully at the boy.
“I don’t know. A moment of compassion or something like that. You looked so lonely and pitiful lying there with your mouth full of soil and you’ve got such pretty legs! Not that I’ve seen that many.” Theo nodded towards the city and Ramona thought about all the women with their long skirts. “But yours are the best so far,” he continued.
These last words were said with a teasing smile. Pretty legs! Ramona thought. Boys are the same everywhere. It doesn’t matter which century you live in.
She found her lips curving up into a smile. It was clear that Theo understood how she was feeling and wanted to cheer her up. Her smile came easily now and she looked confidently at him. She didn’t know how, but she felt that with this boy’s help she would manage to get out of this predicament.
“And now you want me to help you!”
It was not so much a question, but more a statement of the obvious. Theo was the one who knew everybody and everything best here in Pompeii.
“The first thing we have to do,” he said slowly, “is to get you into some different clothes. Even if you have pretty legs, I don’t think it is appropriate for you to be walking around displaying them to everyone. It’s not the sort of thing we do here.”
His eyes twinkled humorously as he said this. Ramona laughed and shook her head. She felt relieved when Theo joked.
“So, do you really believe me? You think that it’s true? I hardly believe it myself!”
Ramona seemed very happy as she looked at Theo sitting beside her on the branch. Shrugging his shoulders and smiling, he said,
“Well, what do you think I should do? You’re either telling the truth or you’re one of those fools who are usually found hanging around the harbour.”
Theo scrutinized her closely.
“But you certainly do not look like a fool. And none of those that I saw were wearing clothes like yours, although come to think of it… Only someone pretty crazy would wear clothes like these.”
He nodded towards Ramona’s clothes and looked her up and down.
She thought his eyes seemed to linger on her legs, but it was probably just her imagination!
“But where do you actually come from?” Theo asked. “What do you mean with actually?” Ramona burst out, suddenly afraid that he didn’t believe her after all.
Theo immediately explained what he meant, leaving Ramona feeling somewhat reassured.
“Oh yes, I think I believe you, but I wonder where you actually come from. I mean, even if you come from, was it the twenty-first century you said? Two thousand years from now, in the future, you must live somewhere, you must have a family, play games, read…”
His sentence trailed off.
Ramona gazed out through the branches.
There was a look of longing in her eyes and Theo realised what she was thinking: Would she ever see her family again?
“We’ll work this out, don’t worry,” Theo said.
He wanted to put his hand on Ramona’s arm to comfort her but she was sitting too far away for him to reach. It also occurred to him that Ramona might not want him to touch her. He was thankful for the distance between them as it meant he didn’t have to make a decision.
“Well, I’m off then to try to get you some respectable clothes,” Theo said.
“How will you manage that?”
“I think my sister is about your size,” Theo said, his eyes wandering over her body. “Yes, I think her clothes will fit you. We’ll give it a try. Wait here. I will be back soon.”
Theo climbed down the tree.
Instead of forcing his way past Ramona where she sat pressed against the trunk, he swung easily down to the branch below her and a moment later he was on the ground. Just as he was about to disappear through the bushes, Ramona called to him:
He took a step back and looked up at her.
“Theo…? You will come back again?”
“Of course I will,” he said with a laugh, and disappeared into the bushes.
Back to Pompeii as E-book
E-Book ISBN-nr 978-91-86485-16-0
Back to the mainpage about the books >>