Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Fire-fighter (10/05/06)
- TITLE: Trial by Fire
By Andrea Hargrove
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This was the ninth day of the fire, and he and his fellow watchmen almost despaired of putting it out. So had the citizens who had volunteered to help them. Already they had come and gone.
Lucius could not blame them. His arms were heavy from carrying buckets of water and from relieving Marcus when he fell asleep at the pump.
Everyone was aching from sleep deprivation; they could only take quick naps before they were back to the expanding flames and billowing smoke. On this ninth day, though, it was all over. Lucius and the others had finally succeeded in putting out the fire.
No doubt coals were still smoldering and remnants of flame still threatened some of Rome’s buildings, but these were small fires that could easily be extinguished by those who lived in the area. Those who had already lost their homes, he had heard, could find shelter and provisions in the palaces of the emperor.
“Our Nero is certainly great,” Marcus said as the watchmen returned to the barracks for some much-needed rest.
“That sounds like sarcasm.”
Marcus frowned bitterly. He limped along next to his friend, still smarting from the punishment he had received for falling asleep. “I have heard rumors that he started that fire himself and intends to blame the Christians. You’d better hope the Prefect doesn’t ask where you’re always sneaking off to after your nightly duties.”
“Keep your voice down,” Lucius pleaded. Then, fear gnawing at him, he asked, “Did you follow me?”
“Yes, some of the men were getting curious, so I volunteered.”
“And what did you tell them?”
“That you were off gambling.”
“I don’t gamble!”
Marcus cut off Lucius’s protests with a gesture and a sardonic smile. “Yes, you do. You gamble with your life.”
The next morning, the Prefect announced to the men that they should be on the lookout for any Christians, who were responsible for the catastrophe that they had all just put an end to. Lucius nearly choked on his breakfast.
Was that man in the corner watching him?
Did the Prefect suspect?
Lucius shook his head to clear these thoughts, and he sent an anxious prayer to his Heavenly Father.
He finished the meal in peace.
Days later, he wished he could feel the same place as he sneaked to the small gathering of believers that met every Sunday. He felt like a condemned man, and imagined that every step brought him closer to his violent death.
He was not wrong, for the meeting place had been under suspicion for a long time. This week, everyone who set foot in the house was seized and dragged away to be put through a quick trial and then sent to the Coliseum.
The rough fibers of the rope that bound Lucius’s hands scratched uncomfortably, but he barely noticed. He wanted to run away from the fire that a soldier set near his feet, but a wooden pole held him firmly in place. Tendrils of flame began their slow crawl up the pole.
The crowd roared.
Smoke filled his lungs and fire filled his vision.
He cried in pain and turned his eyes Heavenward.
Then, he made his eternal escape from fire.
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