I will be away at the time Jason will officially declare open his new contest, but his superb photograph told me a story that I couldn't resist. So here it is, my version of it...
“Bellissimo,” she whispered. “How old are they?”
Constellations unravelled luxuriously under the gold of candles spread on the polychrome marble floor.
“Signora, I give you the tomb of Balbillus, astrologist to the emperors Claudius, Nero and Vespasian. We are the first to see it. Tomorrow is for the world…”
“Imagine, this could be the air they breathed. A bubble of perfectly preserved time…”
A sparkling table was set in the middle of the room.
“A romantic dinner in an ancient tomb. How wicked, Dr. Beecham!”
“Just for you, contessina.”
He worked the seal of a dusty amphora.
“A taste of what they drank. Maybe a glimpse into… their Rome.
“How do you know it’s wine?”
“I accidentally broke one yesterday…”
He pointed at the bottle of Laffite on the table. “We have a backup in case it’s turned sour.”
He poured into the crystal glasses, a blood-red honey surprisingly translucent after 2000 years.
“To you, contessa.”
“To ancient Rome.”
They sipped. It was the strongest cognac, the sweetest.
She saw Harry fall before her world turned into a whirlwind.
Strident noises funnelling into shouts, into thundering steps. Smoke.
Harry’s voice above her, with quiet urgency. “Dearest, we must run. It’s the fire.”
At last, she understood, beyond reason.
“No, we must see if he’s… playing the fiddle.”
They stumbled, half-carrying each other, against the crowd in tunics and togas, barely shunning chariots and horses.
Before them, the Palatine loomed enormous, darkness punctuated with incandescence.