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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The Pen is Mightier than the Sword (04/08/10)

TITLE: Four Minutes
By Ruth Stromquist


Tedka studied the man quietly limping along beside him. The other guards, one walking behind the man, another on his other side, were also silent, the only sounds those of their boots and of dried leaves skittering along the ground in the icy January wind.

The man's frame was skeletal from the months on the work crew and starvation rations. His tattered, shredded prison clothes exposed many of the welts and cuts of the beatings.

Tedka could almost feel sorry for him, if he weren't one of those undermining the country he so loved. But this one had no loyalty. A writer whose books all had one target -- to convince people to pledge allegiance to his so-called "god" rather than to patriotically serve the brotherhood.

"But that's ended." Tedka hadn't intended to speak the words aloud, but once started, couldn't seem to stop. "In four minutes it'll be done. You still have time to repent, you know. The Premier could make use of your talents, properly directed."

The man looked at him, the area around one eye swollen as large as a fist, purplish and oozing -- Rinklu's fist, Tedka would bet, a good friend and family man, subject to bursts of righteous anger when it came to traitors.

"Repent?" The voice came out husky and choked, through cracked and bleeding lips. "Interesting word ... but how ... repent of truth?" he coughed..."You, my friend...are the one who needs"...he fought for breath..."My life's clock...set to eternity...not four minutes."

He was staggering now. "Your time...short."

The guard behind shoved his rifle hard into the man's back to keep him moving.

He stumbled.

Tedka's stomach churned. "Don't bother preaching at me, mister! I've heard it all before. We'll just see whose time is short, friend." Then he laughed. "That title of your last book, 'The pen is mightier than the sword'? Hah! No one uses swords nowadays." He waved his rifle toward the parade grounds ahead, where the death line stood. The guards were lined up in formation in front of the prisoners, waiting for this last one.

But the man fell to his knees, then sideways, crumpling to the earth. "You missed the"...another cough, and blood turned the collar of his filthy shirt pink, red dots splattering on pebbles near his cheek.

Tedka squatted, reaching towards him, shaken. It was against the law to let prisoners die early. It could mean death to the guards.

"...the point...You didn't read...Depends on whose pen..." the man gasped again, but choked on blood, then was still.

A week later, Tedka stood before the Premier's throne, facing the one who could end his life with a word. He looked around, stunned. His fellow guards stood at attention on his right and left.

They'd let the prisoner die. Just four minutes. They'd fallen short by only four lousy minutes! Tedka gritted his teeth, shoved icy hands deep into his pockets, clenching his fists. Years of service to his country. And this his reward? No one could be perfect. But the law was clear--

"It depends on whose pen."

Startled, Tedka whirled.

It couldn't be! The prisoner...still alive? But how...

The man's eyes were bright and clear. No blood. No welts. Clothes neat and clean.

"How? You can't..." Tedka stuttered.

The man was crying though, tears streaming steadily down his cheeks. "I tried to tell you, friend. It depends on Whose pen you're talking about. And Whose book..." He pointed up at the throne.

Tedka slowly turned to see...

It was no longer the Premier sitting there -- no longer his throne -- but a throne great and white...

And Tedka was surrounded by the dead, standing before God. And books were being opened. And the dead were being judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

And then another book was opened...the book of life...

And Tedka suddenly knew when his turn came, his life depended on being written in that book.

Words he'd heard in some church as a kid, rang in his mind, "Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."

With a start, he awoke, shivering, his army blankets scattered on the floor. He stared at the bottom of the bunk above him.

A dream...

But his upcoming hearing before the Premier was no dream.

...a Pen mightier than any sword...a Book...

Boots sounded in the courtyard, coming for him. About four minutes left...

or eternity...

Author's notes:

Revelation 20:11-15 (KJV) "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

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This article has been read 560 times
Member Comments
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Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 04/16/10
This is an incredible story. I found myself holding my breath. Well done.
Carol Penhorwood 04/19/10
So well done...a winner for sure.
Patricia Herchenroether04/19/10
My emotions bounced like a ball reading this. First relief at the believer's death, then sadness that the guard was condemned, glad it was a dream, but surprised his trial was real. 4 minutes on a roller coaster. Whew. Great read.
Beth LaBuff 04/19/10
Wow! Gripping story with a compelling title. You've so cleverly written this tale!
harvestgal Ndaguba04/20/10
Wow, gripping story, very powerful. Awesome message.
Joan Campbell04/20/10
This powerful message is very well written. It has that "haunting" quality - something that stays with you. Excellent job!
Gerald Shuler 04/21/10
This reaches deep on several levels. Gripping.
Edmond Ng 04/22/10
I hope the dream helps the MC in your story turn to God at once so that the second part of the dream need not come true! You have written very well for this story and have successfully quicken the heart of your reader to leave him or her pondering, "Am I saved? Is my name in the Lamb's Book of Life?"
Jan Ackerson 04/27/10
Ruth, I'm going to feature this in the Front Page Showcase for the week of May 17. Look for it on the FaithWriters Home Page--and congratulations!