It was night. I was late. Through pulled shudders I saw glimpses of families breaking bread around their tables. A rumbling began in the distance, reverberating about the streets and alleys. I turned, looking for the source. There was nothing.
I was alone in the darkness.
I pulled my Pharisee purples about me to ward off the deepening chill. My torch threw flickering streaks about the cobbles, casting long shadows against plastered walls. The sound grew near and I could feel the ground tremble beneath my feet. Something was wrong. My heart froze in a consuming dread. I began to run toward my home, my wife, my infant son.
Armored horses sped into the town square mere blocks behind me. The clatter of men dismounting, the scrape of swords being drawn, and the shouts of orders as formations split into squads all served to congeal my blood. I felt my skin grow cold.
I knew what they had come to do. The first screams confirmed it.
I ran up the hill. I needed to get to my family, to protect them from the ravaging evil. Horror rang out, the sound of wailing rolled about me like a sickening fog.
Torches erupted on a side street; uniformed men dragged a screaming mother from her home. She fell to the ground, clutching a child to her breast. They clawed at her and hit her but she refused to let them take her baby. She raised an arm to protect him from the blows.
A sword pierced the child still held to her bosom. They pressed it through him and into her heart. Her death cry echoed about the muddy streets of Bethlehem. Her eyes found mine and she reached for me. Then she was still.
My knees faltered and I stumbled, dropping my torch. I fled into the gloom.
A movement beside me in the shadows. A man leapt out shouting. His eyes were wide, his motions frantic. “Have you seen them?” He was shrouded in darkness. His voice was mindless.
“They’re from Herod.” I sprinted past him. “Run! Run home to save your children if you have any sense.”
He lunged and grabbed my robe, turning me to him. “Have you seen them?” His face was close enough to smell his rotting teeth. “The Holy Family. The Christ child. The Messiah. I must warn them to run and hide.”
I seized his shoulders and shook him. “You fool! Look what you have brought on us with your talk of messiah-come.” I spun him toward the streets and allies that crawled with soldiers, their swords glinting beneath torchlight. Resisting men were cut down before us. Children were slaughtered in front of desperate mothers. I pushed him away and he fell. “It’s because of you that Herod has sent us this poison fruit. You’ve stoked his jealously, enflamed his rage. Now he’s reaping a harvest of our blood! May Yahweh curse you for what you’ve done!”
I ran from him. My heart raced from exertion and fear. Sweat streamed from my brow. I reached our home. The door was open. Light spilled from the stoop and onto the street. Steam from military horses curled about the stairs.
There was commotion in the anteroom. My wife’s desperate voice, my child’s cry of fear.
The swordsmen had come for my son.
A soldier blocked the doorway. I pushed past him, my shoulder striking him in the back. He splayed against the wall, his sword clattering to the floor. He swore.
Two more stood over my wife. She cowered in the corner, drapes twisted about her where she had been knocked to the ground. Her eyes were wide, her mouth stretched in horror. She held my son shielded beneath her robe.
She was screaming, her face bloodied.
The soldiers struck her again and again. She wouldn’t give them our child. She struggled, clinging to a parent’s hope, refusing to yield.
I reached for them, my bride and the fruit of our union. I pushed at the breastplates and helmets that kept us parted. I couldn’t get past. I wanted only to take my child and run from the horrors that had invaded our lives.
They ripped my son from her grasping arms.
My voice broke into a cry. “No! That’s my boy!” I surged forward but was struck from behind. I fell to the floor beside my wife as the terrified screams of my baby were cut short in a last bloody shriek.
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