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The Sign
by Julie Michaelson
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And Pilate
wrote a title,
and put it
on the cross.
And the writing
.....and it was written in
Hebrew, and Greek,
and Latin.
[John 19:19-20]
Time: Time of The Crucifixion
Place: Behind the Hill of Calvary
Characters: Lucas, a Greek
slave of the Romans;
Zoeth, an angel of The Most High.
The burning smell of the
small bonfire covered up the heavy smell of human stench, and blood, and rotting bodies. It was also helping to alleviate some of his nausea. Lucas stood in the rocky valley behind the hill of Calvary, poking a stick into the pile of burning debris. His Roman master,
an officer in the Roman army, had pulled him away
from his regular in-house
duties to do this loathesome job. Lucas
had merely nodded, without saying a word, and made straightway to the execution site. Lucas, at age 14, had been a slave for several years, and was beginning to forget his happy childhood as a free Greek. Most of his family
had been killed by the Romans, and Lucas had only survived because he was big for his age, handsome, and healthy-looking: a good
prospect for a Roman slave
in higher quarters. His older, very beautiful sister had been taken as a slave also; Demias was now one of the handmaids of Pilate's wife in the palace; she and Lucas never saw each other, though sometimes they were able to send messages
to one another through another servant at the palace. Lucas knew that
he and Demias considered
themselves lucky: many
slaves of the Romans did not live in such pleasant conditions; Lucas ate the same food as his master,
and was given good clothes to wear since he was serving in the officers'
quarters. But, as a slave,
Lucas had to do whatever
he was bidden by his master.......and, today it
was to burn refuse after
an execution.

The sharp smell of the
smoke and hot fingers of
flame didn't quench
all of the nausea in Lucas'
stomach, however. He had
never seen a crucifixion up
close, though he, and others, had often
seen the dead bodies hanging on the wooden poles for days: deathly white, hanging and rotting flesh stained with dried blood, urine, feces, open veins, and being picked and ripped apart by hungry vultures. The birds would eat their eyeballs as if they were exotic, delicious delicacies. Today, however, was different: two of the bodies were only newly dead: their broken legs hanging limply, their skin still swollen, and covered in gangrenous bruises, and clots of freshly-smelling blood.

Suddenly Lucas bent over
and vomited. Still coughing, he looked up quickly to see if anyone at
the site had seen him, and
then continued to poke his
stick into the slow fire. Thankfully, the only other people at the site were a few weeping women, and a handful of
other slaves: taking down one of the cross-beams, and burying
other debri in the rocky soil. Lucas stared at the bonfire he had made: it
seemed to be slow-burning, that was for certain; one of
the wooden signs, that had
been taken down from a
cross, was still in the pile
of refuse and didn't appear
to be burning, or disintegrating at all.

"What is THIS?" Lucas
murmured to himself. He
knelt down carefully, in front of the bonfire, and
began to poke at the wooden placard with his
long stick. He squinted
through the smoke and flames, moving his face
away from the dancing
licks of fire: his sweaty,
dirty face feeling the prickly heat of the flames. What WAS this?

One of the wooden signs,
which the Roman soldiers
always nailed above the
victim's head on his cross -
claiming to all sightseers
the reason for his execution - was still sitting
at the bottom of the burning pile of sticks. It
should have been one of the first pieces of refuse to
burn; Lucas had even placed
it there at the bottom, to
help fuel the fire and make
it burn more evenly, and

Anything he could
do to make haste of this
gruesome task, the better.
A heavy, quiet darkness still hung over the city, and the stormy winds, which had precipitated a small earthquake only hours before, hadn't yet
subsided. About three o'clock that afternoon, the
earth had shook violently:
sending people out of their
homes and into the streets.
Lucas heard that there had
been severe damage within
the Jewish Temple, and its
surroundings. He never
went near the Temple, so
it had only been hearsay.
And now, in the dark lonely valley behind Calvary, named Golgotha by the peculiar Jews,
Lucas was discovering that
he wasn't finishing up this
horrible task very quickly,
at all.

Still kneeling on the hard,
skin-scratching gravel and
dirt, Lucas leaned forward
and poked at the wooden
plaque, once more.

What WAS this?

The sign was untouched
by the flames; not even
one of its edges was burnt or singed.

How could this BE?

Lucas knelt there: waiting
for the fire to go down
a little. Then, he crawled
forward on his hands and
knees, and gently and carefully nudged the block
of wood with his long stick:
pushing and nudging it carefully, until it was out of
the refuse pile and on the
rocky dirt just in front of
his sandaled toes.

".........King of the Jews....."
Lucas read slowly and quietly to himself, in his native Greek. He frowned, and rubbed his dirty mouth, still sticky with vomit, with the back of his trembling hand. He read the lines below the Greek letters, that were in Latin, his slave-language. Under the threat of harsh punishment, Greek slaves
were not permitted to use
their native language, and
so quickly learned their
masters' tongue. With ease, Lucas read the the
simply-printed Latin letters. He could only assume that the Hebrew
letters said the same thing:
he was not familiar with
the bizaare language, at all.

Lucas, with a shaking finger, cautiously touched
the bottom right edge of the wooden sign.


The wood, though scratched and gnarled, and rough, was as cool to the touch as one of the gray pebbles on the rocky hill, that Lucas had descended a short time ago following his master's command. It felt even a bit cold, probably due to the rough chilly wind that had enveloped the city all afternoon, and into the
moonless night.

Lucas put down the stick
he had been using, and
cradled both hands around
the heavy piece of wood. He lifted it to his chest,
and then stood up. He looked around, again: the
same people, making up
of a few mourners, and occupied slaves, were yet present but further up the hill, and not seemingly curious about Lucas, at all.

What should he DO? This
placard was from an execution of an enemy of
Rome! If he came back to
the officers' quarters, hugging this bit of wood
under his arm, he could
be flogged for disobedience: even for
rebellion! What if they
accused him and believed
that his sister was somehow part of the rebellion, too? The Romans would surely snatch her! And, they could BOTH die!

Lucas, heavily sweating in spite of the cold wind whipping across his face
and over the waning bonfire, knelt down again
and began crawling backwards down the hilly
slope. His plan was to bury the wretched thing, and
be done with it once and
for all. He hated it. Why
was it refusing to BURN?
Was it a bad OMEN? Some sort of TRICKERY from the
Hebrews' GOD? What
WAS their god anyway:
just an invisible thing.....
something in the WIND!

Lucas stopped dead still
in his tracks on the rough
and rocky hill. He crouched
down, letting himself slide
toward a rocky ledge of
the steep slope. It WAS
in the wind, this god! It WAS! It was REAL! And
it was AFTER this.....this
THING...that he was holding! Lucas
stared up, for a moment, at the top
of Calvary's hill: was it TRUE
what he had HEARD? That...that
REVOLUTIONARY.....had been the Son of
the Hebrew GOD?

Lucas shivered. The sweat and vomit
on his face had dried, and he began to
have chills. Lucas' teeth began to hammer
against each other as if he were in the
middle of terrible fever.

Suddenly, the rough, night wind began
to swirl about him. It was as if he were
suddenly in the middle of a whirling dust
storm: created specifically just for him.

A soft, quiet voice came out of the swirling
clouds of dust.

Lucas, whose teeth were still chattering
with cold and fright, looked up into the
swirling walls of dust and clouds. In his
line of vision, up above, was a tall figure.
Lucas began to scream with fright. He cried, "Who.....who.........
......who ARE YOU?"

"I am Zoeth." The tall figure spoke
with great gentleness, and patience,
and kindness.
"I have come from the Most High God."

"Is THIS......what....what.....what you
WANT?" Lucas could barely speak the
words: his teeth were chattering so
rapidly. His skinned knees, battered from
kneeling and sliding down the sharp rocks
of Calvary, felt as weak as a newborn calf's
and were slamming against each other with
terrible verocity. He held up the wooden
sign with a shaking hand; he felt the
square piece of rough wood being torn from
his grasp by the strong winds; it was a
strength such like he had never seen or
felt: even as a slave in the officers' quarters
of a Roman army. Lucas squeezed his eyes
shut, afraid to see what was happening.

The wind subsided.

And, then Lucas heard the kind and
gentle voice again.

"Now go, Lucas.
You are no longer a slave.

The dust storm suddenly evaporated.

All was quiet.

Lucas slowly opened his eyes: everything
was the same as it had been just moments
earlier. It was cold and dark out on the
steep hill; behind him were the dying sparks
of his bonfire, snapping and popping in the
still air. Only the tangy aroma of smoke and
fire remained. Lucas looked around; no one
had seen him, or heard his scream. Everything
was quiet, and gloomy, just as before.

But something was different. Lucas noticed
that his neck felt lighter.

The slave cuff, that was always around his
neck, was gone. It had been a heavy thing
of stained and sweat-darkened leather, and had been around his neck since the time his parents had been killed and he and his lovely sister had been taken by the Romans.

And now, it was gone.

Alarmed, Lucas quickly looked around and
felt with trembling fingertips on the rocky
ground beneath him.

Nothing. He groped around again in the
dark: on the ground behind and in front
of him.


His slave neck-cuff was gone. It had

Heart beating as rapidly as the battle
drums from the Roman legions, Lucas
continued crawling along the cold rocky
dirt, down the steep slope away from Calvary Hill, and away from the city.....and, his
Roman master. As soon as he felt safely
to do so, he stood up, knees amazingly feeling
strong and sturdy again, and ran as fast as
he could for a stocky fourteen year old.

And, away.

No one ever saw Lucas again.

His sister heard some rumors, strange
rumors: that he had escaped somehow,
and joined a band of intinerant members
of the Nazarene Jews: going about the
countryside, and proclaiming the Crucified
Revolutionary as Lord and God.

But, they were only rumors.....and, of
course no one ever found him. And,
Demias never spoke of him.

said the chief priests
of the Jews
to Pilate,
"Write not,
'The King of the Jews'
but that 'He said I am
the King of the Jews'!"

Pilate answered,
What I have
I have written.
[John 19:21-22]

Copyright 2012.

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Sunny Loomis  06 Apr 2012
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