Here is a short story entered by me in the ACE Carolina Regional Student Convention.
He fell. The rope that bound his wrists prohibited him from stopping his fall, and with a groan, he landed on the Roman earth. Just then, a whip cracked, adding another to the welts already crisscrossing his back. “Get up! Or do you desire to be fed to the lions a day early?”
A calloused, scarred hand roughly pulled Marcus to his feet. “We’re here,” the voice said again. The very sound of that voice filled Marcus with terror, but nothing could prepare him for what he was about to witness.
The soldier abruptly removed the sack from over Marcus’ head. His heart leaped in shock, and he took it all in. The sounds of cruel laughter, the cracking of the whips, the screams of agony, fear, and despair; and the deeper, angrier roaring of the hungry and imprisoned lions. Marcus shivered, knowing he and whoever else shared in his misfortune, would soon be the meal of those beasts.
Before he could think on his certain doom any longer, Marcus was once again grabbed by the nape of the neck, and shoved down a dark corridor. They passed by the lions and tigers Marcus had heard, and those infuriated creatures charged at him, unheeding in their fury of the strong bars which held them back.
And then, through a door, past more men just as vile in appearance and demeanor as the one now holding Marcus, they entered a large crypt. It was spacious, dirty, with barred openings in its ceiling that let in blinding rays of sunlight. He was then thrown down, and the guard left with an oath and a sharp kick to Marcus, who collapsed again with a moan.
“Hello, young man. Who might you be?”
Marcus held his throbbing stomach with one hand, and pushed himself up against one of the many cold stone walls. He looked up into the eyes of a kind old man.
“I am Marcus,” he said at last. “I am a Christian, and was arrested by the soldiers and brought here mere hours ago. They also took my mother and brother.”
Several more figures approached from the shadows closer to where Marcus and the old man were seated. They gathered under one of the iron barred skylights, and their eyes were full of sympathy and caring.
“We welcome you,” said the man. “I only wish it were under better circumstances.” His voice betrayed to Marcus no fear or anger. Marcus was puzzled. Of all the group there, no one, young or old, showed any fear, or bitterness.
“How are you all so calm?” he asked, after some discussion. The old man, who seemed to be the leader of the group, smiled.
“We have all lost our earthly freedom and possessions. But one thing we still have, that the sword and the lash can never take away; and that is our faith in Jesus Christ! Remember our Lord’s promises! He said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’ Oh, Marcus, where is your faith!” The man’s face was sincere, and Marcus took no thought of offense, but he did not reply. The man’s words had struck a chord, and Marcus thought intently upon what the other believers told him.
The beams of light entering through the narrow skylights now began to fade, eventually disappearing entirely. The old man then led the little band in prayer, and Marcus listened intently. After it was quite dark, he fell asleep.
Morning came too soon. Guards burst in, and seizing them, nearly dragged them up the steps again, out into the blinding sunlight. The mob, seated above, filled the air with hateful yells, and the encouraged guards beat them even more than before. They were led across the amphitheater until they arrived at an elevated and regal throne.
The man sitting upon it stood. He had a royal demeanor, but his face was cruel, and Marcus knew there was no pity in Caesar’s heart. Just before the group was an altar, and to it the Emperor pointed.
“Choose,” he said. “If you will pour out an oblation to Jupiter and the blessed gods of Rome, I will spare your lives. If not, you will be devoured where you stand.”
For a moment, silence filled the air. Marcus considered. If he did the simple thing that the Emperor asked him, he could go free. Maybe he could even see his mother and brother again. If he didn’t, he would be torn apart by lions. His heart raced, but then, he remembered what the old man, standing so calmly next to him, had said. Marcus felt courage well up in his heart, and he knew what he must do. He nodded firmly to the other believers. “We cannot accept his offer,” he said.
The old man now spoke. “Jesus said that if we denied Him on earth, He would deny us in heaven,” and then he turned toward the throne. “We cannot accept your offer, oh most gracious Caesar,” he said, and the others said the same.
Caesar’s visage was twisted with a look of disgust and anger. “Very well,” he said, and sat down.
At that moment, the doors to the cages of the animals opened. Out leapt the snarling beasts, running wildly around the group, attempting to claw out of the arena. Seeing they could not do so, they then turned to the little band, now in the center of the arena. But, Marcus did not notice, and the cacophony of screams and roaring around him were drowned out, for his eyes were fixed to the sky. There, he saw the heavens opened, and Jesus holding out his hand. Angels swept down to him, and a peace filled his soul, just as it had just a few moments past.
And then, it was over. A Voice spoke to Marcus, and he smiled, even as his body fell to the ground, bleeding.
“Thy faith hath saved thee… welcome into the joy of thy Lord!”