Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Cross (as in the Cross of Christ) (08/17/06)
TITLE: Scarred by Sacrifice
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Cobwebs fell from the walls of the garage attic as Sam clawed his way along, looking for the box of old Christmas decorations. It had to be there - somewhere. As he stumbled here and there beneath the rafters, bent over like an old man, his friend Ben stood tall under the roof ridge with his hands on his hips. Uncertainty shone in Ben’s eyes as he tapped his foot nervously. “Man, it’s over a hundred degrees up here Sam – are you crazy? I mean, are you sure you want to go through with this? Now?”
Mid-summer humidity hung heavy as Sam gestured for Ben to join him. “C’mere; it’s the box!” The two teenagers lifted the dusty lid and proceeded to dig through well-used decorations and ornaments. It wasn’t long before they found a half-burned red pillar candle with three charred wicks. “There…just what I was looking for.” Sam looked at Ben. “And yeah, to answer your question, this has to happen today. I knew last week I had to do this…remember…you were the one who confronted me…and I told you I’d been thinking…”
Sam’s voice trailed off as he placed the candle on a wooden beam supporting the roof and lit the wicks with a cigarette lighter. Reluctant flames flickered to life and then wagged with each breath as he spoke to them.
“Burn, baby, burn…burn hot…”
In the darkened room, jumpy shadows played across Sam’s cheeks and illuminated his dark eyes as the triune flames performed a hypnotic dance. Sam scanned the room quickly, remembering various objects from the past that were now stored under the eaves…Boy Scout ropes and knives, Halloween costumes, a hand saw he took on his first camping trip. Hidden under the floorboards were hate letters to his parents and books on Satan-worship and witchcraft.
He turned swiftly back to the candle and addressed it. “Hot is good…hotter is better…”
Ben cringed in the background, breathing heavily. Why did he feel suspended in time and space, as if this moment had always been – or else would never be? He hurriedly made a miniature sign of the cross on his chest.
With a pair of needle-nose pliers in his right hand Sam carefully held a sparkly object – something the size of a large ivy leaf – over the three flames. At first it reflected brilliant golden glints, but soon submitted to a somber gray. He twisted and turned it in every direction, subjecting it to the fire, and yet it was not consumed. Instead, the piece of metal seemed to jeer at him as it became smoking hot. C’mon…you want me fiery? Angry? Hostile?? I can take it…I can take whatever you dish out.
Sam stared at the now ashen-colored shape. “Are you ready yet, baby? Oh man…are you ready for this?”
Minutes passed and the wick grew taller as molten red wax dripped like blood onto the scarred wooden cross-beam serving as a table. Acrid smoke curled away from the candle in long stringy strands, blackening the two faces poised above it.
“So… are you hot enough? Heh?” Sam spoke directly to the victim of his pliers.
Beads of perspiration stood on Sam’s forehead and upper lip like boiling dewdrops from the underworld. His shoulders twitched; his hands shook. The pliers wavered in his unsteady grip and scarred the softened wax at the edge of the candle.
Sam studied the captive medallion immersed in the blue base of the flames. He turned it one more time to make sure the temperature was uniformly hot. Then he carefully transferred the pliers to Ben.
“Tight, Ben…don’t drop it…you know what to do.”
Ben clutched the pliers, positioned the smoking cross pendant like a branding iron, and pressed it into Sam’s bare chest - searing him just above his heart. The putrid odor of burning flesh rose like a messenger of death. Sam fell to the floor, writhing. “JEEE-SUUUUUS!”
As Sam cried out in his moment of pain he knew his three-inch cross-shaped scar would forever bear testimony to a much greater sacrifice – and his decision to yield his own life to the Sacrificial Lamb.
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