… if I woke up in the Gladiatorial School of Rome?
/written by Maggie E./
I awake to the sounds of swords sharpening and trumpets blasting. I turn, fully expecting to see my alarm clock flashing its aggressive “7:30 am,” I instead find myself face to face with an ornate metal helmet. It’s adorned with carvings of warriors, emporers, and –gulp—a few decapitated bodies. Where am I?
“Samnites, get up! Time for morning drills. The games are tonight, which I’m sure I don’t need to remind you about,” comes a booming voice behind the cot where I lay. I turn to face the voice: it’s attached to a muscular, hairy gentleman clad head to toe in armor. Other bleary-faced individuals rise from their cots, wash their faces with cold water, and playfully push each other as they exit the sleeping quarters.
“I’m hoping we can cull the herd tonight,” says the armored guy quietly before leaving the tent himself. Dread fills my stomach. Before I can stop myself, I tap a nearby man who’s donning his own ornate armor— it is decorated with a quaint scene of a gladiator slicing up a lion with a sharp sword.
“Excuse me,” I say in almost a whimper, “Is this the, uh, is this the Colosseum or something?”
The man laughs. “It’s Ludus Magnus, dummy. You must have had some deep sleep to forget that.”
Ludus Magnus. The gladiatorial school? I am so dead.
Outside of the sleeping tent, men are already jumping right in. Groups of two and three gladiators are fighting with short swords, dodging and prodding as casually as if playing pickup basketball in the park across from my house. One group of two tosses me a dagger, which I catch without cutting myself, much to my surprise. Could it be that I’m a good gladiator?!
The others and I practice lunging, jabbing, dodging, and shielding for a little while. While in our pickup game of stabbing at each other, my mind wanders to what I need to do back home if there is such a thing as back home. My cat’s vet appointment was supposed to be today at 4 pm. He hates the vet, but I usually bribe him with a trip to the pet store to pick out some new toy stuffed with catnip after. Say what you will about using drugs to fix your problem, but when it comes to cats, it gets things done. I wonder if anyone has fed him. He gets so whiny in the mornings if I don’t put food in the bowl promptly at 8 am—stupid, sweet old cat. I miss him.
“Sorry!” One of my practice mates gets a good jab in at my shoulder, and it pierces between two pieces of my armor, though I don’t feel anything. The other one looks at me with a wince. “That’s got to hurt, mate, I’m sorry. We should save it for the games tonight.” I sense that despite feeling nothing, I shouldn’t let on.
Hours pass, I think. The hairy armored man—revealed to be the doctore—gathers us up. The games tonight, he warns, will be attended by Domitian himself. I see the faces of my fellow gladiators go pale. Some shed silent tears. At that moment, it’s clear that Domitian doesn’t tolerate many survivors in the games he attends.
The opening ceremony is filled with much pomp and much circumstance. Heaps of spectators fill the Colosseum, which is more glorious in real life– if this is real life– than in any of the photos of it I’ve seen. After a ceremonial toot of the tuba and honk of the horns, Domitian makes his first selection of gladiators for a bout. He points to a hulking beast of a man decked out in the thickest armor I’ve ever seen and me.
“Me?” I say in Domitian’s direction. The gladiators glare at me; talkback is not tolerated in the Colosseum. I step forward to face my Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson-as-a-gladiator competitor, somehow feeling the sweat through my chest plate.
Then, it feels like some unknown energy is moving my body for me. I see myself from above, grabbing a long sword, steadying myself, and running full speed toward my colossal opponent. The blade tip is headed straight for his stomach, but I feel it in mine when it pierces him, too. How is this possible? I did everything right! I’m an excellent gladiator. I—
The alarm clock bleeps. It’s 7:30 am. My cat pounces on my abdomen, and I cough for air.
“What have you done, Marcus Attilius? I could have taken him,” I mumble to my cat as I hit the snooze button and return to Rome.