Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Surprised( 09/06/07)
By Jan Ackerson
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I dictate these words as a commander of the guards in the army of Rome. On my shield I swear that every word is true.
When I was a young soldier, I tramped about in the provinces, quelling uprisings and collecting tributes by day, harrying the local peasants like a young wolf. How I loved to growl and show my teeth, and to see the cowering fear of the rabbit-like villagers!
By night, I enjoyed such wine and women as were available in whichever filthy province I found myself. If none could be bought, I took them. Who would dare to stand against Rome’s finest? Well-muscled I was in those days—don’t snort, boy, your youth too will fade, just as the light fades in this room. More ink, then, and keep writing.
Well-muscled, I say, and with a fine head of black hair and a gleaming sword. When Rome strides through a town in full armor, women avert their eyes and the hearts of grown men drum wildly in their chests. Even chickens cover their heads with their wings—hah! Did you get that, scribe?
My soldiering skills pleased my superior officers; in my prime I was called to command a guard. I had hoped to return to Rome, where I spent my boyhood—to the seven shining hills that turn purple in the twilight. But I was sent instead to Jerusalem, where constant unrest called for constant application of Rome’s iron fist.
So passed the months, and just such an unpleasant situation occurred in the twelfth year of my stay in Jerusalem. I played a small part in the surprising events that unfolded there, and so this poor scribe sits at my bedside instead of with his wife, a smudge of ink on his nose. Yes, write that, too.
There had been three crucifixions—an ugly business, but necessary to maintain order. Two petty criminals and a religious fanatic had been put to death, and it was the itinerant preacher at whose grave I was ordered to set a guard. It seemed a ridiculous task; still, four of my strongest men levered an immense rock against the opening of his tomb. I left them to their task—the broken ghost inside would not hear them as they passed around their wineskins and sang their bawdy songs.
A day and a half passed before I returned to check on my men, and as I neared the tomb in the mist of dawn, I beheld an amazing sight—the boulder lay at least twenty paces away, as if flung aside by a giant’s hand.
My scribe’s eyes widen; perhaps he thinks that my imminent death has addled my brains. I am entirely myself—let us continue.
I rushed to the tomb. My guards lay on the ground, senseless. Rousing them, I urged them back to Jerusalem, listening with distaste to their drunken tale of angels and a resurrected man. How, I thought, would I explain this to my centurion?
As it happens, my men were flogged and I was demoted to this backwater town, but it matters little. I have spent my waning years here, and I have given much thought to the holy man, the stone, and the tomb. Rumors fly about—the sect of his followers is flourishing, and they worship not a ghost but a living man.
I have reached a surprising conclusion. I cannot ignore the testimony of the boulder--that man was God.
Scribe, pick up your reed from the floor, and do not stare at me so. Bring me some water—I am nearly finished.
Yes. The man was God. I have lived a life of violence, and I cannot hope to attain His forgiveness. So I offer Him the allegiance of a Roman soldier with my last feeble gasps.
The day grows dark—yet I see a glow there—there, scribe, behind you, where the roof meets the wall. Do you see it? Can you hear…I am astonished…
Sir, I salute You--
Here ends the transcription of the last words of Cassius, soldier of Rome.
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