Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.
Anderson brushed the last bastion of dust from the charred wall. The clear, undamaged portions revealed its horrific self.
“Oh, God,” he muttered.
Sue, his assistant, was busy photographing the excavated remains of a nearby brick building when she heard his utterance over her headset. She rushed to his side.
“They were running,” he said morosely, “They were playing.”
“If there's any consolation,” Sue answered. “They didn’t know what hit them.”
The blackened wall had several unblemished regions. These “shadows” as they had come to be known, took on the shape of children. Some were playing with a ball, others were running. Others appeared to have their heads turned, flinching. Anderson pointed to these latter images.
He turned to her: “The people there saw the volcano erupting, but didn’t heed its warning. It wasn’t until the projectiles fell, the hot ashes smothered, and the gases poisoned them, did they realize they were in harm’s way
“Some knew.” He said. “But it was too late. They didn’t know time was running out for them.”
“But, there’s no way,” Sue finally said, “for them to prepare. We haven’t found any remnants of air-raid sirens, warning systems, or shelters.”
“Doesn’t matter,” he responded. “They put their faith in the notion they were protected from such dangers. It reminds me of Pompeii.”
“Pompeii?” Sue Asked.
He turned to her: “The people there saw the volcano erupting, but didn’t heed its warning. It wasn’t until the projectiles fell, the hot ashes smothered, and the gases poisoned them, did they realize they were in harm’s way. Even then, some still stayed, believing they would be saved by their gods.”
Sue glanced at the wall, again: “And what happened to those who stayed?”
“They were buried under a blanket of cinder with only the impression of their bodies in the dust remaining.”
A somber silence fell between the two.
“Just like the shadows before us? But they were kids.”
“They believed their parents and the adults (who knew better) would protect them from harm. They put their faith in the ones who caused the great war.”
Anderson checked indicator: “We better wrap things up. With all the radiation we can’t stay too long. Take some photos of this so others will remember.”
Sue ruminated for a moment, and then started snapping away.
A Lesson in Allegory?
Listen closely to the lyrics for "Cities in Dust (the inspiration for this story)." It sounds like the Siouxsie and the Banshees song is about a city destroyed by nuclear war. But, if one reads the lyrics or hear interviews with Siouxsie and other bandmembers, another story unfolds.
The lyrics were inspired by a visit to the ruins of Pompeii, the ancient Roman city destroyed and buried under volcanic ashes. Does this mean the song doesn't have a post-apocalyptic theme? Not quite. It was probably not an accident.
The song was released during the early 1980s. This was a time when tension between the cold-war superpowers were rising. It was also a time when many in Europe demonstrated and protested against the U.S. and Soviet Union's military and nuclear proliferation.
"Cities in Dust" can be best described as an example of allegory.This particular literary device is symbolic. It refers to events or characters within a story that actually symbolize actual events, people, religion, or other literary works. In other words, "Cities in Dust" may focus on the destruction of Pompeii, but it may represent what could happen to a modern city if the button had ever been pushed.
© 2014 Dean Traylor