A flaming sword ravenous for my blood came slashing down. A deep gash lacerated my chest cracking my armour. Blood streaks appeared, trailing down to my belly. I was losing sight of my despicable opponent. His obsidian eyes penetrated mine through his heavy headgear. “No, Adrian!” A lilting feminine voice full of concern and guilt echoed through the vast space. As I turned, a pair of brilliant blue eyes bored into mine.
I woke up panting for breath.
A nightmare? What evoked it? Why did it feel so real? Who were they?
Unwavering questions bounced off my fuzzy brain that night. Even as I fell into a disturbed sleep, the same bizarre dream reappeared determinedly, jerking me awake. Sleep remained elusive.
The dream was just the beginning of a series of incomprehensible episodes that happened the very next day. As though it provided for a vague prologue to an intriguing book full of unbelievable events. Events that culminated into a life-altering rendezvous.
The next day dawned with confusion. I decided to make peace with my restless mind at a library that I usually went to. The one where I knew almost everyone who visited.
Yet, as I entered the space that afternoon, disquieting vibes crept over me. I moved through the long bookracks trying to distract myself.
That was when I noticed her. The one with the same striking pair of blue eyes from my dream. A blur of thoughts accosted me as illusions of a battle popped up. Even as I stood there stunned at the sight, a mystifying feeling of familiarity lingered behind nevertheless, after I saw her. A feeling that doused me in certain warmth hitherto unknown.
I clutched rack P for support and looked at her. She whispered to a friend seated beside her and chuckled. My heart raced with the rush of adrenaline.
I peeked at her angelic face and brilliant blue eyes. Those eyes… I could feel my sweaty palms rub each other nervously. My eyes gathered every possible detail that accessorised her looks. The stylish danglers dancing with joy as she nodded her head. The soft blush that added a pink tinge to her heart-shaped face. Her embellished clasps that played peekaboo with her lush shoulder-length black hair. Her luscious lips that pouted too often to ignore. Her mauve nail colour that crowned her fingers caressing her cheeks more than necessary. I felt a sudden urge to touch those delicate cheeks and bury my head into her bosom.
She turned at once, as if on cue, and gave me a sharp look. Her piercing gaze might as well have read my thoughts. She furrowed her brows. Her lips parted indicative of a mild surprise. She looked away immediately shaking her head vigorously.
I took a deep breath and swallowed.
A debilitating storm raged inside my mind. I was thoroughly aroused. My knuckles had turned pale with the effort not to reach out to her and feel her glassy skin on my palms.
What’s happening with me? Why did I feel drawn to her? Was it love? Love at first sight? Was it first sight, at all?
“Andra,” a gruff voice called her from near the librarian’s table. He hushed him down pointing to a signboard to maintain silence.
Andra! The name tugged at my heartstrings.
The lady looked up in response.
My vision followed her until she met the owner of the voice. A burly man with a pair of obsidian orbs for eyes welcomed her with a rigid smile. As he took her hand in his and pulled her closer, she squirmed uncomfortably and walked out.
He went after her, but, not before surveying the library in a brisk glance.
Our eyes met for a brief moment. And, it was enough to kindle an unfathomable vengeance inside me. The worst part was to recognize one of the same magnitude in his.
Our eyes met for a brief moment. It made me a little dizzy.
Haphazard images of men involved in duels bumped into each other inside my mind. I looked into his brown eyes following Andra as she exited. It seemed to hold back tons of untold tales. Blood boiled with an inexplicable vengeance, more so when his attention fell on Andra.
Did I know him? Who was he?
I had been feeling a little insecure since morning. A nagging feeling I had been unable to point a finger at.
Insecure? Duh! Andra was all mine. Wholly and solely.
My mind was quick at associating my insecurity to the relationship I shared with Andra. I closed my eyes and told myself that she was mine forever, yet again.
Andra, my angel from heaven who made my life worth living.
I owned her. I ruled her being, in and out. I tasted her lips on mine.
Those deliberate visions of our intimacy were a trove that I secured myself in, quite often. They kept me sane as a source of reassurance of her love for me.
My lips curved into a hungry smile remembering the times I had wanted to get close to her. The more she tried to shy away, the more I had felt the urge to cling on to her. I had convinced myself that she was the missing chunk in my life, supposed to deliver the happiness that I had lost while growing up.
A drunkard father; a physically abusive mother who directed all her energy to keep her married life intact. I had turned into an orphan in my own home. With them killing each other one dreaded night, the word had become the very definition of my existence. Shuttling from one foster home to another, I had survived bullies and abuses enough to last a lifetime. And then, one fine day, she came into my life. Like a rainbow shining through the sky after a storm that I had never expected to end. I had held on to her to discover a meaning to my life. A lifeless one, until then.
I had charmed her into accepting my love. She pitied me. She liked me. And, fell in love with me. I had made sure of that.
I wanted her only for myself. In life and beyond.
But, that morning, something shifted inside me that tried to uproot the happy castle that I had built in my heart for us.
I decided to check on her. Although I knew her day-to-day schedule by heart, I messaged her to confirm if she was in the library and dropped by to pick her up. As expected, she was with her good-for-nothing friend; her bestie or so she referred.
Bestie? Nobody in this world could match my care and affection for Andra. I was the one meant for her.
As I saw her trudging through the rows of books with a cherubic smile, all I wanted was to hug her, keep her safe, and ensure that nothing faded that smile away. The timid person that she was, she loosened my grip and ambled out of the library. I turned to glance around the place for one more time and that was when my eyes fell on the lanky man surveying my angel with lustful eyes. I wanted to punch him hard right there.
A bout of giddiness suddenly overcame me as trumpet sounds and the clashing of swords rumbled through me. I swayed losing my balance. Those brown eyes cut through mine. I felt like a naked sword out of a scabbard. Whispers of ‘Love you, Rayner’ jarred on my nerves menacingly.
Sword? Scabbard? Whispers? Those eyes? Rayner? Who? What was wrong with me?
To top it all, my mind began churning out vicious images of my Andra in a tight embrace with Rayner.
My legs became wobbly. My knees gave way. The next thing I knew was a strangulating darkness engulfing me in the ringing sound of swords.
The thirst for revenge visible in his eyes was unnerving. I felt like a naked sword out of a scabbard, waiting to be slashed at any moment.
Sword? Scabbard? Where did that come from? Was the nightmare coming true?
But, there was something disconcerting about him. His face and his eyes revealed not even a trace of love for her.
It was eerie and unsettling… Could it be an obsession? What was that overwhelming feeling to protect her from him?
With his apparent closeness to the woman in public that she was obviously awkward about, I couldn’t really bring myself to appreciate the balance of affection in their relationship. I concluded that they were not meant to be. No. I surmised that she was not happy with him.
The sudden overkill of conflicting emotions of love, protectiveness, hatred, and vengeance seemed to exhaust me. As I clutched the rack for support, I saw the burly man slump down unconscious at the door.
“Adrian!”The panicked voice of the woman calling out to him pushed me into a reverie. The dream appeared more real at the inflection of her voice.
The name. The lilting feminine voice full of concern and guilt. Did we have a past together? A past where we lost each other in a battle for love?
I didn’t remember how long I stood there holding the rack, trying to process my thoughts bombarding me at an unimaginable pace. I didn’t even remember when my legs began taking long strides across the rack back and forth. My thoughts strayed on those blue eyes and the mesmerizing voice. My fingers rhythmically tapped the books as I unseeingly registered their titles. That’s when I noticed a book titled ‘Pompeii and the Vesuvius’.
Pompeii. The mention of the place had a magnetic appeal to me. My head swam in a sea of faces calling out to me and goading me on to battle and win. I could hear slogans of ‘Go, Rayner, go!’ bang my head. I seemed to experience the onset of a pounding headache.
I picked up the book in a reflex and collapsed into a chair. I turned a few pages. The words zoomed into my mind magnifying itself a thousand times more. I wasn’t just reading the book. I was living through it for the hour that I clasped it tight, as if hanging on to a thin gossamer fragment that connected me to a past, centuries ago.
As I turned page after page, I could see myself inside the Roman town walking through its streets at the foothills of the great Mount Vesuvius. One of the pages had a sketch of a colossal amphitheatre. As my eyes absorbed the piece of art, I could almost hear the sounds of the musical instruments and trumpets welcome me into it. My heart thundered against my ribs. I swallowed hard to bring my ragged breathing under control. I closed my ears and shut my eyes to distance myself from the scene looming large inside my head. My head was waiting to split open, unable to bear the searing pain.
I could see Andra seated at one of those bleachers waving at me as I entered the amphitheatre through one of its tunnels. My armour was in place covering my torso and thighs. I held a blazing sword in one hand and my heavy headgear on the other. A magnified voice announced, ‘Welcoming Rayner, the warring gladiator to the last show of the event to meet his opponent, Adrian, the star.’ Amidst all the cheer and chaos, all I could gather was Andra’s kisses blown in my direction. My heart filled with love that enervated me for the ensuing combat. The last thing that remained etched into my memory before I straightened my headgear was the heart-shaped angelic face with eyes full of longing and love. Only for me.
I was yanked back to the present with a sudden force. I could hear myself murmuring ‘Andra’ under my breath. I was at a loss for words at the epiphany that I just experienced. I could feel her hands on me as I opened my eyes to find myself in the library back again.
I blinked furiously to push back the unshed tears from an unfulfilled past life.
Andra. The love of my life from aeons ago? Past life remembrances? Did they really happen? How did I chance upon her and the book on Pompeii at the same time? Was it a twist of fate to reunite lost love?
I stood up determined to find Andra and Adrian.
I could see Rayner smile at Andra from his entry point. The occupants of the colossal amphitheatre cheered on enthusiastically screaming over the exaggerated music from the instruments. Mount Vesuvius sneered at me from a distance reminding me of the previous night at its foothills. I shuddered at the memory; the sight of the woman I wanted for myself being relished by Rayner. I retched at the sight of their lips locked in a delicious kiss. My heartache was on a crescendo. Didn’t I deserve love and to be loved? Rayner had snatched it from me. How I had always hated him. The combat was going to be mine. My hands itched to slit his throat, rip his chest, chop his head and slash him to pieces.
When I woke up an hour later at a room bleached in white, on top of my mind was Andra. I searched for her, but, in vain. A nurse stopped by, checked my vitals, and left to call the doctor.
A prolonged headache reminded me of the incident at the library. Images of swords swashing at the hands of armoured men increased the pounding pain. A throbbing nerve in my temple pulsated maniacally as glimpses from my past replayed in horrifying loops.
Pompeii? Past life remembrances? Did they really happen? Was it a twist of fate to have met Rayner at the same place where Andra was? Would they unite in this birth?
A lanky figure of a man floated into my mind smiling at my Andra lecherously.
I stood up determined to find Andra and Rayner.
I left an unconscious Adrian at the hospital under the care of its nurses and began walking home.
I needed a breath of fresh air to sort my thoughts out. I was desperate for some solitude away from Adrian who always managed to swoop down on me from out of nowhere. To pleasantly surprise me, he often claimed. It indeed was, initially. But, when the uncanny hovering around turned into an unbearable distress, alarms went up. I started feeling claustrophobic.
He was probably sincere in his feelings, but, I began to question my love for him. I wondered if it was even right to call it love when it was born out of pity. I could feel Adrian’s possessiveness suffocating me too often to be elated about. I wanted to know if it was true love at all when it was reciprocated with… an obsession.
I had to talk to a doctor about his condition. He needed medical help.
I felt drained of every bit of energy. The cold cobblestone pavement offered immediate respite. I sat down cross-legged at an elevated step and rid myself of my sandals to feel the coldness on my bare feet. As I revelled in my rare private moment, a blaring horn and approaching headlights broke into it unceremoniously. I looked up to find the man from the library slowing down his heavy machine and coming to a stop beside me.
My heart skipped several beats at the sight of those deep-set brown eyes. I stood up in a trance as I absorbed his appearance. A voice from a distant memory surfaced with renewed vigour. Whispers loaded with the sweetness of love seemed to resurrect themselves around me. A breezy past played in my mind. I was trying hard not to drown myself in his eyes.
I harrumphed at my thoughts, more to pinch myself back to the present than to break the dreamy silence that enveloped us.
“I’m Rayner. Andra, right?” his husky voice brought with it a fresh dose of memories from a familiar, yet, enigmatic past. His name was music to my ears.
“Yes,” I replied shakily.
“Adrian’s fine?” he continued unblinkingly. The librarian must have supplied his name and whereabouts, I convinced myself with a plausible thought.
“He is,” I stuttered.
“Would you mind a ride home?” he asked, kicking his bike to life.
I found myself nodding vehemently.
The few minutes of ride with him left a trail of sparks like the residue of a fond past.
A past life remembrance? Did I know him?
As I alighted from his bike not wanting to bid him a farewell, I invited him to my little home.
Was I out of my mind to call home a stranger? Was he a stranger at all? Why did he seem so familiar? Why did I want to trust him? Why did I want to lose myself in his embrace and bury my head in his chest?
My thoughts overpowered me as he inched closer explaining a past life connection between us. A giant jigsaw puzzle that befuddled me since I met him that afternoon gradually fell in place, piece by piece.
Pompeii. Mount Vesuvius. Amphitheatre. Armed men. Combat. A rancorous sword ringing the death knell of the love of my life. Rayner defeated. His blood stained Adrian’s hands. I chose death over a life without Rayner.
Tears of anguish blotched my cheeks. He held my hands hesitantly. The heavy silence spoke for us, compensating for the many centuries that had stretched between our past and present.
I could feel his lips brushing mine ever so lightly.
I shut my eyes only to realize what real love was. It had found its way through centuries of agonized separation and had encompassed two long lost souls, only to bind us with the same glowing passion secluded in each other’s heart.
Our precious union didn’t last long.
I sensed disaster. It had developed into an instinct for survival through my traumatic past.
I had an inkling that I was losing her. Losing her in a duel from the past. I could not afford to. I needed her to keep myself sane.
Andra, an angel sent from God to heal me with her love. Her love was all mine.
I knew I had to act fast to secure my love for myself. I ran away from the hospital. Within the next few tensed minutes, I stood at Andra’s doorstep.
I shuddered at the sight of the woman I wanted for myself being relished by Rayner. I retched at the sight of their lips locked in a delicious kiss. My heartache was on a crescendo.
My head was about to burst into smithereens at the déjà vu moment that I had nauseated on and felt disgusted about.
Andra tore away from my adversary’s grip and rushed to my side apologetically. Her brilliant blue eyes shone with a raging passion, but, not even a hint of it was for me.
Didn’t I deserve love or to be loved? I craved for my mother’s love, but, denied of it. I longed for a fatherly affection, but, never experienced it. I asked for love. I begged for love. But, all I received at every stage in my life was resentment. A life of doom unfolded in front of my eyes. I saw you as a ray of light at the end of the darkest tunnel. I clung on to you as a last resort for a life-support. Only to be cheated of love, all over again.
I could feel my briny tears on my lips. In a moment of frenzy, I dashed into the kitchen and caught hold of a knife.
“Let me explain, Adrian…” She hollered as she followed me. “Now, can you please drop it? I don’t want you to get hurt, please.”
But, I had made up my mind by then. My mental predicament worsened at the sight of Rayner behind my Andra.
I was going to end the misery once and for all.
“You’re mine, Andra. In life and beyond,” I proclaimed as I tried to stab her.
A sudden clinking of metal on metal resounded through the kitchen as a strong hand appeared suddenly, pushing me out of her way.
“Neither in life nor beyond, you maniac,” hissed Rayner through gritted teeth. Andra backed away huddling in a corner. Her eyes brimmed with questions of my love for her.
I couldn’t take it anymore. The pain had to end.
I slit my throat with the knife.
“No, Adrian!” cried Andra, her voice full of concern and guilt.
Blood oozed out steadily as I slipped into a state of nothingness. I felt no pain as I smiled at her for one last time.
My whole life flashed in front of me that second; my longing for love staring at me from a gaping void.
Disclaimer:– This is a work of fiction and the author has exercised creative liberty in depicting scenes from a piece of history and bringing out the signs of an obsession. Any semblance to real life may be purely coincidental.
- Pompeii was a town in Rome in the 1st century C.E. which got submerged in volcanic debris in the aftermath of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 C.E. The town remained underground until excavations began in the 16th century.
- The first largest amphitheatre in Rome was built in Pompeii. It provided for the entertainment to its citizens in the form of gladiatorial combats. Some combats were also acts of assassination.
- The book mentioned in the story ‘Pompeii and the Vesuvius’ is fictional inspired by real historical fiction novels based on the town, like ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’ (released in 1834) and ‘Pompeii’ (released in 2003).
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