Authors: Walter Knight
“Superstitious yarns told to scare old women and children,” I scoffed dismissively. “I’ve been across the ocean many times. It’s safe, except for hurricanes and sea monsters in the Bermuda Triangle.”
“Sea monsters?” asked a passing crewman, ready to mutiny. “I did not sign on for sea monsters!”
“Chain that fool to an oar,” ordered Admiral Tiberius. “Let the lash temper his mouth for next time.”
“Someone get a rope for the Polack!” called another mutinous sailor in the back row.
“Who said that?” demanded Admiral Tiberius, pacing between the oarsmen. “Increase the rowing count!”
The lash echoed throughout the ship as a slave beat faster on a drum. She ship’s speed doubled, but the frantic pace was interrupted by a warning from the lookout. “Whitewater ahead! Neptune save us, it’s the edge of the world!”
Sure enough, for as far as the eye could see, a great waterfall consumed the Atlantic. Fish jumped high into the air, trying to escape.
“I told you so!” exclaimed Admiral Tiberius, striking me with his whip. “I’ll have you strung up to the mast!”
I shot Admiral Tiberius with my nine-millimeter, but he was right. It was the edge of the world, and we were all going to fall off and die. Not good.
“Row faster!” I ordered, taking command after watching the other ships drop off the edge. “Put your backs into it!”
As we were swept to our deaths, an observation drone hovering above lowered a cable and lifted me to safety. “Rescues cost extra,” admonished a metallic voice over the intercom from the Time Travel Center. “Why can’t you seem to stay out of trouble?”
“Did you see that?” I asked, mesmerized by the massive spectacle below. “It really is the edge of the world. How is that possible?”
“We’re looking into the matter.”
“I want my money back. Time travel is not supposed to be this dangerous!”
“There are no refunds. Shut up and enjoy the rest of your vacation. You’re going to Pompeii next.”
“Have a nice day.”
* * * * *
A week before Mount Vesuvius was scheduled to erupt and destroy Pompeii, my tour group gathered at Pizza Hut for pizza and salad bar. A pretty serving girl brought Canadian pizza with extra goat cheese. I smoothly struck up a conversation. “Did you know the volcano is going to erupt next week?” I asked.
“The manager says customers are always correct, but clearly you are touched in the head,” she answered flirtatiously.
“Sometimes I wrestle with my demons,” I conceded, realizing my question was not so smooth. “Other times, we just hug and dance.”
“Is that so? Are you married?”
“Not yet, but I’m looking.”
“Why is a good looking patrician like you not married?”
“When the god Jupiter promised man that good and obedient wives would be found in all corners of the world, he made the world round.”
“The world is round? I don’t think so.”
“Your manager, Joe Bonanno, is a personal friend of mine,” I mentioned, changing the subject. “He says he’s closing Pizza Hut next week for the volcano explosion, and leaving town. I assume you are leaving too?”
“Where would I go?”
“Anywhere but here,” I reasoned. “You will die if you stay.”
“I am a slave. I am not allowed to leave.”
“I will talk to Joe. I’m sure he wants all Pizza Hut employees and slaves to get out safe.”
“Are you and Mr. Bonanno members of some sort of doomsday cult? It’s against the law. The Emperor feeds cultists to the lions.”
“Trust me. I know what I’m talking about. Bonanno will let you go.”
“I hate Mr. Bonanno. He takes up too much space in the air.”
“You are very beautiful,” I said, trying to be smooth again. “What is your name?”
“Maria. Don’t be getting any ideas. I’m not joining your cult.”
“But you must leave Pompeii,” I insisted. “The volcano will kill everyone.”
“I’ll light a candle to appease Vulcan, God of Fire, if that will make you happy,” replied Maria sarcastically. “I’m not leaving my home.”
“No, that will not make me happy. Let me give you a ride north.”
“What about my mama? It would be so wrong to abandon Mama and travel without a chaperone.”
“Your mother can come, too,” I promised desperately.
“She won’t leave Pompeii either. Mama has never left Pompeii.”
“Is she a slave, too?”
“Yes, of course. Mama cooks on day shift.”
“Good. I will buy you both and force you to come with me to Rome.”
“Ha! Good luck with that. Mama still won’t go. She’ll think you are a perv. Are you a perv?”
“What? No! I just want to save your life, and maybe date you later.”
a perv. I knew it!”
“I’m buying you from Joe in the morning. It’s a done deal. Get used to it. Pack you things, and be ready to go.”
* * * * *
Maria still refused to leave without Mama, so I threw a bag over Maria, tied her up, and tossed her into the back of a pizza delivery wagon. Then I contacted Mama, a big pizza-loving woman, at her servants quarters.
So that’s what Maria is going to look like years from now
, I pondered.
“I purchased you and Maria,” I announced in my most authoritative patrician slave-master tone. “Pack your bags, you’re going to Rome.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” argued Mama, a pizza slice in hand. “Pizza Hut is my home. I would starve in Rome.”
“I’ll feed you.”
“You say that now.”
“Maria won’t leave without you, so you’re coming, whether you want to or not.”
“What are you, a perv?”
“Stop saying that! Why does everyone think I’m a perv just because I want to save your lives from the volcano?”
“You’re a cultist?” asked Mama, swallowing the last of her pizza and backing away. “I’m calling the cops!”
I kicked in the door as she tried to slam it shut. I attempted to throw a bag over Mama, but the bag was too small. She kicked and screamed, rousing the neighbors. “Help! He’s a perv!”
Mama charged, tackling and driving me back out into the street. Losing my balance, I fell as she pounded my face with her ham-hock fists. She tried to gouge out eyes with a fighting fingernail, but I blocked her jabs. Neighbors gathered to watch, taking bets. Fortunately, someone summoned the police. Urban cohorts separated us and rescued Maria from the wagon.
“I bought these two slaves,” I explained. “I was just teaching her some manners when you arrived.”
“He’s a perv!” accused Mama.
“There’s no law against being a perv,” advised the urban cohort, surveying Mama. Questioning my taste in companionship, he shrugged. “To each his own.”
“He’s also a doomsday cultist!”
That did it. Cohorts swarmed over me, administering a good old-fashioned Pompeii beat down, and placing me in chains.
I was carted off to jail in my own delivery wagon.
“Listen to me!” I shouted, rattling chains bolted to the wall. “The volcano is going to erupt any day and bury all of Pompeii!”
“Shut up, boy!” ordered the cohort, laid back, his feet kicked up on the desk.
Chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco spit.
“Do you hear me?” I asked, avoiding that last spit. “You’re all going to die!”
“So, you admit you’re a doomsday cultist? Are you a Jesus-freak, too?”
“What? No! I admit nothing. I want a lawyer, and a phone call!”
“You’re lion bait, is what you are,” commented the cohort, examining my nine-millimeter pistol from a pile of artifacts taken when I was searched. He picked up the gun. “What is this?”
“It’s a Christian flute,” I answered. “Put the end of the barrel to your lips and pull the trigger. It makes beautiful music.”
I’ll be damn if he didn’t do it. Blew his brains out all over the desk. Oh well, shit happens. I grabbed the cohort’s keys, freed myself, and offered to release other prisoners. Most refused to go.
“Oh hell, no,” replied one wretched soul. “You cultists get fed to the lions. “I’m just in for disorderly conduct and drunk in public. I’ll never piss in a fountain again.”
“I’ll go!” pleaded another prisoner, isolated in a cell by himself. “I don’t believe your volcano prophesy, I just want to be free.”
“What are you in for?” I asked suspiciously, not wanting to let a serial killer or whatever loose on society.
“I lit a candle in silent protest at a public calcification.”
“You’re a liberal Democrat?”
“No way, José. You’re staying.”
After surviving a vicious assassination plot, Emperor Julius Caesar invited me to join him in his luxury box as the Coliseum. The main event would be Brutus and several Democrat Senators being fed to the lions. Also, there would be the usual Christians on the menu.
I felt some trepidation about attending the games. I suppose Brutus and the Democrats had it coming. But the Christians? I don’t know. I suppose they were stupid for defying Rome, but it’s wrong to kill people just because they’re stupid. Romans believe there are too many stupid people in the world, and that herd should be culled and thinned out. They have a point, in that I sometimes look at people and think,
Really? That’s the sperm that won?
But I’m against labeling people. I believe in removing labels and letting the problem of stupid people sort itself out on its own, without government intervention.
“Do you have Mormons in America?” asked Caesar. “Rome has become infested with them.”
“Yes,” I answered. “But we keep most of them contained in Utah.”
“What do you know about Mormons?”
“Most are hard-working good Christians. Many raise big families.”
“Troublemakers, eh? I thought so. I’m feeding the lot to the lions, along with Brutus. That will teach them to go door to door, bothering people.”
To ease my conscience, I visited Brutus in his dungeon, to wish him luck at the games and in the afterlife. Brutus was a nervous wreck. His cell was right next to the lion cage, and the lions kept reaching through the bars, taking swipes at him. It didn’t help that the Romans placed a waiver of liability sign above all cages stating, ‘This lion appears closer than it is.’ The man literally pissed himself with each swipe. Taking pity on the condemned, I passed Brutus a small baggie of marijuana.
“Smoke this,” I offered. “It will calm you before the Grim Reaper takes you.”
“It’s the lions that need calming!” exclaimed Brutus. “They’re going to eat me!”
“Blow smoke at the lions through the bars,” I suggested, trying to be helpful. “Maybe those bad boys will mellow out.”
“That’s a good idea,” replied Brutus after taking his first drag, blowing smoke at the King of Beasts. The lion didn’t seem to mind.
“Or, maybe the weed will just give the lions the munchies.”
“Never mind. Good luck in the arena, I’ll be cheering for you. I bet five gold aurei you die last.”
* * * * *
Romans really know how to put on a good show. The matinee was hilarious. Elephants chased Dodo birds wildly around the arena, stomping the little feathered munchkins flat. The crowd cheered their approval with each splat, throwing coins to the trainers.
Next came the main event. Brutus and his conspirators huddled chained in the middle of the Coliseum. They didn’t have long to wait. The lions entered on a platform raised from an underground labyrinth of hidden tunnels and chambers. However, the biggest lion appeared to be a bit wobbly, eyes bloodshot and stoned out of his mind. His girlfriends weren’t much better. The crowd booed, throwing rotten fruit and vegetables.
“What the hell is wrong with my lions?” fumed Caesar. “Heads will roll over this debacle!”
“Does this mean Brutus is pardoned?” I asked uncomfortably.
“Fat chance of that!” he said, extending his fist to the crowd, thumb down. “Run them over with elephants, and make it quick!”
The elephant trainers prodded their charges back into the arena, squashing all the conspirators. Brutus stood his ground, defiant to the end, the last Democrat killed.
, I won my bet!
The Praetorian Guard rousted a few Christians to round out the card. The mob cheered as replacement lions sauntered in. All was right again in Imperial Rome. Advertisements already were going up about feeding pushy Mormons to the lions next week.
Following the show, I joined Caesar for an orgy. Roman orgies start with a feast. We sat at the head of a long table, eating pork and horse meat, drinking wine, and talking politics.