Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: The Importance of Being Earnest (not about the play) (08/04/11)
TITLE: The Mark of the Beast
By Jenna Dawn
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“On the ground, face down, hands on your head!”
Jolted from slumber, two men stumbled out of their beds and onto the floor. Ryan squinted from the glare of the flashlights. Scott winced with pain at the end of a rifle smacking into his skull, while handcuffs were slapped onto his wrists. The men were blindfolded and thrust into the back of a military vehicle, barefoot with only a t-shirt and pajama bottoms.
During the hour-long ride, the prisoners trembled in silence while listening to guards chat about some movie.
The vehicle lurched to a stop and the captives were escorted into a building, down a hall and into a cold, damp room. The handcuffs and blindfolds came off and the cell door slammed shut.
“Are you alright?” Ryan rubbed his wrists.
“Yeah, I think my head is bleeding.” Scott touched his head where the rifle had struck him.
“I think this is it, man. This is where we choose.”
“You … you mean…”
“The mark. They’re going to make us take the mark or…”
“Or kill us, right? Just say it.”
“Look, it’s not like we have much of a life here anyway. Always looking over our shoulder, trying to survive without the mark. We can’t buy food. We can’t buy … anything.”
“But dude. They’re gonna cut off our heads!”
“Does that really matter? The moment we die, we’ll be with the Father. What can be better than that? But take the mark and … “
Two armed guards appeared.
“The Magistrate is waiting.”
The men were lead into a dimly lit room. They nearly gagged from the chemical odor emanating from the wet surfaces of the cement floor and walls. A man adorned in formal military attire stood erect, hands behind his back.
“Have a seat.” He gestured to the only two chairs in the otherwise empty room.
“Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that neither of you have been to a registration office to be coded. Why is this?”
Scott’s blood coursed through his body. He looked to Ryan. Ryan always knew what to do. Maybe he could get them out of this.
“Answer me!” The Magistrate struck Scott across the face.
Ryan spoke up. “We have been unable to comply.”
“Unable?” The Magistrate spoke in a calm, eerie voice. “Or unwilling?”
“Both. In choosing to be coded, we deny our Lord. In denying our Lord, we face eternal damnation.”
“And so you choose to defy the commanding order of His Supreme Imminence, Premier Ramsey. You are aware, are you not, that refusal of the code is punishable by execution?”
Ryan’s heart slammed in his chest. “Yes, sir.”
“So, you’re a Christian. Is that right?”
“And what about you?” He peered at Scott. “Do you choose your Lord over death by beheading?”
Hot and cold flashes ripped up and down Scott’s spine. He swallowed hard.
“I … I um…“ His head was spinning. “I don’t want to die.”
“So, you’ll be coded then, yes?”
Ryan grabbed Scott’s arm. “Scott, think about it, man? You do this and you – “
“I’ll take the code.”
“Very well then. And you, my friend?” The Magistrate scrutinized Ryan. “What do you choose?”
Ryan’s quivering body stood. He looked the Magistrate in the eye.
“I choose Jesus,” he said with earnest conviction.
“Then that is your choice. Down on your knees!” the Magistrate ordered, pointing to the ground.
Ryan complied. Tears rolled off his face. He clenched eyes and whispered, “Help me, Jesus. Be with me now.”
“Ryan, no!” Scott lunged toward him, only to be jerked back by a guard.
Ryan could hear the ringing of a sword being removed from its sheath. The Magistrate gave a nod to a guard standing behind Ryan. With swift force the guard wielded his sword into the air and swept it from one side to the other.
And then it was over.
“No!” Scott fell to the ground in gut wrenching anguish.
He was given no time to mourn his friend, however. In a whirlwind of motion, guards hoisted him and drug him into another room.
Sitting at a brightly lit table across from a woman, he was curtly asked, “Right arm or forehead?”
Dizzy with confusion, he was drenched with sweat and tears, and a spattering of blood. The blood of his friend.
At last he gave a barely audible reply.
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