Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: BRAND (01/12/17)
TITLE: Dangerous Times
By M. C. Syben
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I stared at Uncle Jacob’s dead body, pooled in blood, while remembering Father’s last warning about his brother’s brand of company. “Jacob, hold your tongue. Your rabbi was caught and crucified. The Romans shall punish anyone consorting with his followers.”
Ignoring father, the ever jovial, Uncle winked at the younger children, who shivered at the mention of Romans. “Maybe, the soldiers should carry off the fruit Edith bore you—everyone with three eyes and no brains!”
That was the signal. The youngest jumped and climbed onto Uncle’s broad shoulders. When clad in little monsters, he would stand and spin, dropping them off, one by one.
But, Father refused to laugh. “If you care about us, avoid his kind.”
“Ishmael, I do love this family, that is why I share his words with you. But, if my involvement distresses you, I shall stay away, rather than deny the truth …for who wants to be around children with three eyes and no brains.”
As the eldest, I no longer played along with my siblings, but after supper, I found Uncle alone. “Was the man of miracles mad, as poppa says?”
Uncle squeezed my hand. “No. I believe he was…is… the living son of God. He arose from the dead. Witnesses saw his ascension to heaven. Paul, his disciple, arrives tomorrow to speak about him.”
I hardly slept that night, but arose early. “Mother, I shall go to the well. Uncle, will you accompany me there?”
“I have other appointments, Rachel,” he announced, sternly.
“Surely, you would enjoy the company of your eldest niece?” I insisted.
Mother interjected. “How will my daughter find a husband if we keep her beauty hidden, Jacob? She is of age—take her. Enjoy the day, daughter. God protect you.”
Uncle Jacob shook his head disapprovingly. “We must hurry,” he said as we scurried out the door.
A stranger leaned against the well. “Good morning,” Uncle Jacob said.
“Beautiful day, today.”
“Indeed, a glorious day,” the outsider replied.
While he spoke, Uncle Jacob’s foot drew an arc in the sand. Oddly, the outsider, while speaking about the weather, drew the mirror image under Uncle’s arc. When finished, the drawing looked like a fish.
“Brother,” the stranger said. “Peter arrives in the meadow soon,” he whispered while smearing away the symbol in front of him.
Trying to keep up with Uncle’s pace, I asked, “What was that symbol drawn in the sand?”
“It is a secret sign known only by Christ’s followers. If you draw an arc, and someone responds by finishing the fish, you are among those who love the fisher of men. They will accept you, always. Otherwise, stay quiet.”
Suddenly, we stopped, as Uncle voiced a stern warning. “Keep to the trees, Rachael, for safety. Those that follow the rabbi’s teachings, are prey to those who fear him. I must keep you safe.”
I listened to the apostle, Peter; I learned about Jesus… about love. How could I keep this knowledge a secret? My wonder disappeared when I heard the pounding of hoofs.
“To the cedar, Rachel.” Uncle lifted me high into the limbs. “Be still. Don’t come down until all is quiet.” He ran back into the meadow, garnering the soldiers’ attention.
My heart pounded as I hid in the pine. A soldier hollered orders. My uncle replied softly. More voices and, then, hoof beats headed away from me. Soon, screams from the village pierced my haven. Hours passed until the whispered breeze and I were alone.
A slight smile remained frozen in place as Uncle’s lifeless eyes stared at his fingertips. Imprinted in his blood, he had drawn the arc. The beginnings of its mirror image remained unfinished.
“Lord,” I cried like a new born desperate for comfort. Suddenly, I was moved to complete the image. As I did, conviction branded my heart with truth. I had become Christian, a danger to my family. Yet, I had to tell them of Uncle’s death and share the message for which he died.
Streets reeked of blood. Buzzing of flies overpowered the stillness. Wails filled the air. Yet, my house stood in the midst of others burned out.
Full of hope, I called, “Father…Mother.” But, only the stillness of death wafted through the door left ajar—my parents dead. I followed the sound of whimpers to find the children hidden away, terrified.
“Come, brothers, sisters; it is Rachel,” I cried, as I contemplated what a family, labeled Christian, should do next.
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