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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Surprised (09/06/07)

TITLE: Salute
By Jan Ackerson


My scribe glances toward the hills—doubtless he wishes to be done quickly with this old man’s ramblings. He is thinking, perhaps, of his pretty wife and a savory meal. Well, it will come soon enough; there are no more breaths left in my body than there are leaves on that old fig tree outside my door. Write that down, boy, what care I for your grumbling stomach?

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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Member Comments
Member Date
Sherry Wendling09/14/07
Gripping dramatic monologue--deeply stirring! I love the ending--a dying soldier expressing worship in the only way he knows to do. Awesome piece.
Joanne Sher 09/14/07
I absolutely LOVE the MC's voice. Everything about this piece was compelling and masterful. Wow.
Verna Cole Mitchell 09/14/07
I must admit--I'm sometimes a klutz. You can read the comment for your wonderful story two places: here and on the previous entry...

The centurion's words fit perfectly into the resurrection account. What a creative way you've managed to tell the story from this point of view.
Sharlyn Guthrie09/14/07
Wonderful account of the resurrection. Your word choices are beautiful.
Betty Castleberry09/14/07
This is why you are in master's. This is a very thoughtful and wonderful piece. The writing is bold and the ending is perfect. Five stars from me.
Gregory Kane09/15/07
A clever take on the story of Calvary. I particularly enjoyed the way he harangued his ill-attentive clerk. Moreover I liked the way you left the ending hanging.
Nevertheless I felt that something rang a little false in terms of the period and the culture. I don’t know that the guards would have spoken about ‘angels’ as these don’t appear as such in the Roman pantheon. Likewise the Romans, surrounded as they were by so many gods and goddesses, had great difficulty in understanding the concept of a monotheistic religion, even to the extent of branding Christians as atheists. So I have my doubts whether he would really have called on Jesus as God with a capital G.
George Parler 09/17/07
I loved the voice you've given the MC. Even in his old age the military starch and crease is still there, acknowledging the reality of God the only way he knows how. Good job.
Pat Guy 09/17/07
I wished I had thought of writing about this moment when the head soldier had gone to check on his soldiers guarding the grave - bravo!

You pulled this off well and from an interesting POV.

It gave me so many different ideas! So ... kudos to ya girl!
Loren T. Lowery09/17/07
God bless those that passed history down by both the spoken and written word and God continue to bless your writings. Great sense of the EM's emotions in this article.
Patty Wysong09/17/07
I LOVE this!! The soldier's voice to wonderful--humorous and yet so true to life. His commentary on his scribe adds a lot, too. Excellent!! :-) hugs!
Julie Ruspoli09/17/07
Such a wonderful and interesting story idea. I never thought about what happened to the guards after Jesus had risen. Great description.
Linda Watson Owen09/17/07
Oh, I can almost smell the scent of sunset in the room and hear the scratching of the scribe's stylus as he writes! The MC's voice is indeed so authentic and engaging. This is wonderful Biblical fiction. I just stumbled over the word 'fiction' as I typed it.. your story seems so real. Love your interplay of humor and drama. Great story!
Rita Garcia09/17/07
WOW!! This is master writing all the way!
Beth LaBuff 09/17/07
Love it! (as I do everything you write)! The setting is perfect, the story has a familiar feel yet with a unknown sense of anticipation. Wonderful writing.
Dee Yoder 09/17/07
Well, I missed this my first time through the level, but it is crafted so well! The descriptions of the scenes and the people involved are very realistic. I especially like the last line, too. You brought this Biblical setting to life!
Jacquelyn Horne09/18/07
I'm sure this was a time of enlightenment for many unbelievers.
Laury Hubrich 09/18/07
Nice writing, Jan! Never would have thought to write from this POV. Creative.
Brenda Welc09/19/07
I loved the tone in which you wrote this, it was gripping and thought provoking. Nicely done!
Janice Cartwright09/19/07
This captivated me. The voice was so consistent and in character all throughout. I could picture the scene as if it were playing out before my eyes. You transported me to the time and reminded me that no heart is too hard for Jesus to penetrate.
Amy Michelle Wiley 09/20/07
Wow, this was cool! I loved the tone of the MC and you kept it consistant throughout. There were a few spots that seemed like the soldier's thoughts, rather than part of the narration that I thought might need to be punctuated defferently to set them apart. But that was only a tiny distraction. Wonderful story!
Dianne Janak09/20/07
I think I know the author here, and if this piece does not win, it is a winner from all these comments. How can any other surprise compare to this one? You brought us back there, with the language, customs, the scribe, and the drama at the end. I can see the movie now. We need to make this a movie... GREAT WRITING! Thank you...
Janice Cartwright09/20/07
Whoo-hoo, Jan! You deserved this and more. Clap-clap! High fives! Handsprings!(well maybe not handsprings - I could hurt myself!)
Sheri Gordon09/20/07
Congratulations! As always, very, very clever, and superb writing. Way to go.
Edy T Johnson 09/20/07
What I love most is the creative vehicle you use to have your narrator tell his story. Congratulations, Jan, and thank you, too, for reading and leaving a comment on my entry. I really appreciate it, especially since it came from you, one of my favorite faithwriters.
Catrina Bradley 09/20/07
You deserved first place - WOW! Congrats :) Cat
Sharlyn Guthrie09/20/07
Yeah! Your powerful story got 1st place. Congratulations!
Marilee Alvey06/24/08
Jan, I'm just getting back to writing after a long break so, during this down time I thought I'd peruse the Editor's Choice winners. This was a great story. You had me hooked from the very beginning with the colorful descriptions of this unsavory man. Then, at the end, you hooked me with a surprise. I enjoyed this very much. It was not only surprising, it was POWERFUL. Great job!