Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: In and Out (04/30/09)
TITLE: Just outside the Gate
By Jack Taylor
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Tobias had never experienced such confusion in his life as he examined the chaos unfolding below him inside the gate. When, as a boy, he had crammed the chunks of barley loaf into his cheeks and added the bites of salted tilapia he was definitely in.
It was forty years ago, when they had used his lunch to feed so many. Everything changed on his first Passover in the city. With joy he had thrown down the palm branches he had secured in Jericho on the journey here. With intense curiosity he had chosen a lamb and watched the sacrifice on his behalf. And when a mob of shouting citizens scaled the heights he allowed himself to get caught up in the flow of humanity like a stick toward some falls.
When the tsunami of angry black clouds swept across the sky to swallow the sun and then swoop down on the tortured three, suspended between heaven and earth, he was definitely out. When the women came screeching through the market place howling that the stones had been rolled away and that “the departed” were moving out of the tombs, the young carpenter’s apprentice was out without a doubt.
When the fishermen raced by several days later heralding the triumph of life over death he was back in again.
Gladly he had abandoned his pursuit of the chisel and the awl. Gladly had he hung on the words of the ones who had walked with the Master until he too could recount the stories as if he had lived them all. With quill and parchment he captured the memories of the witnesses in the crude letters of the unschooled. Eagerly he gathered the curious and unfolded the scrawls into life pictures that grabbed the hearts and souls of the desperate until they were in.
The raised welts across his rough hide bore witness to the many times a Roman whip had found its target. The crude crutch that bore his weight as he shuffled through the dust and dragged his left leg shouted his refusal to be silent as he warned the zealots not to revolt across the powers that threatened to destroy both he and his people.
And now it was too late. He honestly didn’t know whether he wanted to be in or out as he rested wearily near the graves in the shade of the last remaining Olive trees. Although the hillside sprouted with countless spears thrusting upward from the burly arms of seasoned legionnaires not a single weapon was turned in his direction. The thunder that erupted from the dust cloud was unlike anything he had heard before as warriors welcomed the mighty Titus to the fore.
Tobias used his waning strength to tear his gaze away from the countless fierce forms of the eagles hoisted high. He focused on the brilliant glare of the white center of worship now caught in the full clutches of the mid day sun. He winced as he noticed the bodies of the righteous lying in dark stains where they had prayed for God’s intervention. The gates were barred shut and the zealots were hoisting the last remaining Roman defenders over the top of the Tower of Antonia.
The sixty thousand robots of death overlooking the scene beside Tobias only gained determination from what they saw. Every tree in sight, save these few, had been removed to be crafted into siege machines that hurled boulders and fireballs and all forms of debris down on the city gone mad.
Tobias stretched his memory and realized that it was at this very spot that his Master had wept uncontrollably as he spoke about the future destruction of those he loved here. No one could have imagined. Desperately, he longed to be in the city preaching peace and repentance before the legions had arrived. Only lameness prevented him.
Smoke curled up from the edges of the Temple and Tobias felt his own tears begin to wrench him apart. The foreigners hadn’t even set foot within the holy grounds and already the greedy and blinded rebels were ransacking their own place of salvation. No hope remained.
The old man could see that now. He had heard the stories of the desperation where starving people were even eating their own children. Perhaps a miracle could be repeated to turn his people. With desperate determination he had collected his wares. Five loaves, two fish. But too late. He was outside the gate.
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