‘haruspex stultum’ by Alice

“deī iratissimī sunt.” He wipes his hands clean of the blood onto a piece of cloth, glancing back at the mangled wreck of the sheep’s entrails that are displayed across the altar. The misshapen liver and twisted intestines sprawl across the marble: ominous, menacing. They have told their story: there is only one possibility that could allow him to appease the Gods. “nōbīs morindum est.”

The faces that stare up at him- up to where he stands behind the ornamented, pearly altar, encrusted with gold, flawlessly hewn into a sun and moon- are an amalgamation of horror, confusion and hopelessness: the wide eyes of thousands of Pompeiians, who had arrived searching for hope- a sign that the trembling of the ground below them was not a curse, not an omen- and who would leave with nothing of the sort. A woman lets out a terrified cry towards the back of the crowd, breaking the stunned silence which had blanketed the herd of citizens, and resulting in a sudden, clamorous uproar. Haunted and paralysed by fear of his fate, the soothsayer could do nothing but stand, stupefied, and feel Pluto’s rusted nails driven through his hands, feel the inky waters of the River Styx flood his lungs, feel himself succumb to the agonising flames of Tartarus.

“moriemus.” He echoes feebly.

“MORIEMUS.” The raw shriek tears from his chest, before a venomous voice hisses behind him, accompanied by a skeletal hand gripping his shoulder. “tacē! haruspex stultum.”

. . .

Even once the crowds had been quieted, their blind fears overcome and the soothsayer’s prophecies dismissed, he remains frozen by his revelations, beneath the blanket of midnight, in the depths of that summer night, the only light emanating from the shimmering dusting of stars beyond the looming presence of a mountain as he stares at the flies that swarm the corpse on the altar. “ōrā deīs.” He whispers, voice piercing through the eerie silence of the night. “nam moriemus.” His eyes rove the wall opposite him, the stone entirely concealed by thousands of scrawled words, years and decades of indistinguishable messages blending into each other, as he traps himself in an eternal crisis of questioning his own mortality, praying silently for his life and listening to the pounding of those accursed words that reverberate around his mind. “non sum haruspex stultum.” He mutters, twirling the paintbrush between his fingers as he contemplates.

. . .

When morning arrives, and the first tendrils of golden sunlight pierce the rose clouds, the light illuminates a haunting message, painted rigidly in crimson blood, on the forum’s wall:


. . .

The first eyes that caught a glimpse of that mural were filled with horror, but no terror could compare to the dread which that afternoon plastered eternally into their faces, when ebony snow drifted down about them and the daylight surrendered to an abyss of almost blackness, lit solely by a chilling scarlet luminescence,

When the world burned around them.