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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Outlook (06/02/11)

TITLE: Waiting to die
By Rachel Phelps


The sound of water dripping can drive a man mad.

Drip. Drip.

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.

Drip. Murderer.

Drip. Thief.

Drip.Drip. Liar.

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.

Drip. Drip.


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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This article has been read 745 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Charla Diehl 06/10/11
Great re-telling of this familiar Bible story. You've added such depth with the MC's personal encounter with Daniel. A life-changing experience for sure.
Sarah Elisabeth 06/11/11
Awesome! Great pacing, characterization. Tough POV to write from. You did it well!
Colin Swann06/13/11
Great writing and a thrilling account of the faithful. Thank you very much for your piece.
Lillian Rhoades 06/14/11
Redemption does indeed change a man's outlook.I was right there with your MC. I loved the element of unpredictability. Just a small drop of red ink. In my opinion,:-)although the final sentence is "neatly packaged," it did not do justice to a really great piece.
Verna Cole Mitchell 06/14/11
Excellent pacing throughoutfor a memorable story. (That's the kind I like the best.) You showed the characterization so well by thoughts and actions. I liked as well the contrast between one with faith in the one true God and one without.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 06/15/11
Great retelling of the story. I really thought the drip drip reminded me of Jesus' blood and that for me he died. I did think Daniel was BC but I guess I better brush up on my Bible. Nicely done.
Edmond Ng 06/15/11
This is definitely not an account of the biblical Daniel (in the lions' den), since it is during the Roman empire rather than in the days of Babylonian captivity. The use of a character by the name of Daniel tends to have readers associate him with the biblical Daniel because of the lions' den event. I'd suggest maybe to use another name for the character, such as one of the martyrs under the reign of Nero or the other emperors during the persecution period, such as Polycarp, Ignatius or others. Apart from that, this is an excellent piece describing vividly one who by his faith challenges others to believe in the one true God.
Kate Oliver Webb 06/16/11
Yet another beautiful piece of work from a very talented author. Huge congratulations, Rachel!
It was very nicely paced, had just enough intrigue and mystery to keep me with your every word, but not over the top to make me anxious. I really enjoyed this. The message was chilling, thrilling and very moving.