Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Outlook (06/02/11)
TITLE: Waiting to die
By Rachel Phelps
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An inexplicably long pause.
The guards say the games will be tomorrow. Their sneers make me long for my knives. A blade in the back would silence the fools.
Those blades of mine sent me here. Just one careless mistake, a witness who saw my face, and I'm to face the lions. The justice of Rome – punish a murderer by killing him for the amusement of the citizens.
The water taunts me with my crimes, listing them with each echoing drop.
They're singing again. Would that the guards would make them stop. Isn't the dripping torture enough? Instead those followers of the Way force the whole dungeon to endure their songs of a resurrected savior and his delivering power. The guard they call Marcus even seems to enjoy listening. What idiotic babblings.
Look around. If your god is so much greater than the gods of Rome, why are you waiting for the arena same as me?
Just smiles. Not even a scowl I can use for a good quarrel. How I angered the gods to such an extent I'll never know. It's not enough to be thrown in a pit and know that the only way out is the lions in the arena. I have to endure the proselytizing of religious fanatics, too.
It's taken me days to shake the boy's attempts to make friends. Still in the puppy-like eagerness of early adolescence, more than a boy but not quite a man. Daniel, he said his name is. Wouldn't tell him mine, though he asked almost as often as he told me of a Jew who had died so I could be reconciled to the gods. No, just one god – Daniel claims there's only one, and quite insistent he is on the point. No amount of swearing or threats could drive him away.
He's not a bad child. Seems a shame he's lumped in with a murderer like me. He doesn't deserve the lions.
Marcus is motioning to Daniel's parents, face pressed to the bars.
Half-formed words reach me in my corner, but I won't give them the satisfaction of moving closer to overhear. From the way Marcus is acting, I'd wager he's offering to smuggle Daniel out. One boy isn't likely to be missed when the lions are released and the crowd's blood lust begins.
I'm not in a place to judge, but it seems only fitting that the boy live. Maybe he can be persuaded to give up this Jewish dead man and live as a good Roman citizen should.
I can't make myself believe he will.
His parents have gone back to the group. Daniel is protesting. Of course. The boy's high-flung sense of loyalty would demand that he refuse to leave the adults. Strange, my sudden envy. Young and innocent I shall never be again.
Perhaps I shouldn't stare, but what are my alternatives? I could ponder whether I shall avoid the lions and give the crowd a show, or make myself easy prey, lessening the potential for a drawn-out death. I'm no optimist, but eavesdropping on someone else's escape plan seems to be more desirable.
Daniel has stopped shaking his head. Good. He'd be ten times a fool to refuse his one chance to live. Now it's the adults who look disapproving. Are they afraid their god will be angered if a child chooses to have a future, a life?
Daniel is coming over to me. To say good-bye, preach me one last sermon, no doubt. I tell myself to ignore him, listen instead to the whispers of the water. It's no use.
“Marcus has agreed -”
“Then be gone with you, Daniel. Don't waste the chance.”
He's shaking his head. “He'll take you.”
“Don't be a fool, Daniel.”
A smile. “I'm not. You're not ready to die, my friend. I am.”
I should accept without hesitating. What is the boy to me? But I stay where I am, mutely shaking my head.
Daniel is fairly beaming. “The arena is no terror for me. I pray you'll understand that one day.”
The key rasps in the lock. Marcus is motioning impatiently. Freedom waits.
I meet Daniel's eyes once more and nod.
The water no longer echoes condemnation.
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