Posted in Life & Faith, Short Stories, Uncategorized

My Last Stand

A short story written for the prompt “stand” – 10/8/16

by LUCERNA

I sit at my precarious post on an adobe wall. I’m given guard duty tonight; I get guard duty most nights. Probably because I’m the youngest man here, and the rest of them are completely exhausted.

 I shift my rifle to my knee, spending more time looking at the faces inside the Alamo rather than watching for ones outside it. If the Mexicans come at us again, I wouldn’t be able to see them until they reach the wall anyway. This blasted darkness has already cost several good men their lives.

I hear a baby cry, and I see my mother pacing the ground below, bouncing my sister on her hip. I can’t see her face, but I know her lips are pursed and there are tears in her eyes. She shouldn’t be here, nor the baby. But every attempt to smuggle them out of here has failed. I pray we will be able to hold out until more troops arrive from Gilead.

 Dawn begins to light the distant rim of the sky. As always, I am amazed at this wide open land. Texas is so different from Tennessee, where the trees branches lace together like a cage, blocking the sky, until you feel like a prisoner – looking up from Hades, heaven just out of reach. But here, there is nothing to block my view, I feel free.

Free, except for the silhouettes of Mexican soldiers a short distance away. I bite my tongue, for the first time wishing myself back in the woods.

 Officer Travis’ strong voice distracts me from my thoughts. He’s calling the men to join him in the middle of the fort. I take one last look over the wall, then obey.

I know immediately that whatever he’s going to say will not be pleasant; his eyes are moist, and his voice is scratchy and low. He’s come to know all of us as his friends and family, and he’s taken it upon himself to ensure we come out of here alive.

But tonight, Travis says he’s done everything in his power, to no avail. It will be every man for himself. He reads us the conditions of surrender.

He takes his sword, and draws a line on the ground. The beige Texas sand is dusted with black gunpowder, dribbled with dried blood. Travis steps to the right.

“I have chosen to fight to the death here, rather than surrender. I am now asking for volunteers to do the same. This is your last chance to leave, and I will not blame any of you for doing so. If you choose to stay, cross over the line.”

 Again, my hands are sweaty, my heart races, I feel dizzy. Yet I can still feel the piercing pain in my stomach, demanding more food than I had to give. I was so tired of this place, endless months of deprivation and war inside the dreary confines of the mission. Was surrender truly worse than death? I wished desperately for a middle ground, but there is no gray between the lines of freedom and slavery.

A murmur goes through the crowd: the first person has crossed the line. I glance up, and my eyes meet my mother’s gaze.

She is standing beside Travis, across the line from me, hugging my sister close.

 Suddenly, my life seems a small price to pay for the freedom of a nation. The freedom to work, love, and worship as we chose. The freedom to bow to no king but God.

My spirit wills me forward, but my feet refuse to move. The baby laughs, and I am propelled forward.

My little sister has no idea that she will die tonight. Ignorance is indeed bliss.

 Before long, only one man is left behind the line. He hangs his head, ashamed; and so do we. Because, secretly, we all would rather surrender than die. But our heritage will last longer than any of us will ever live.

 Officer Travis smiles. I didn’t even know his strained, weather-beaten face was capable of such a maneuver. He puts a hand on my shoulder, and calls out:

“All right, boys, let’s answer the General’s letter!”

 The Mexicans had been waiting for a response to their letter of surrender, and we gave them one: a cannon blast directly towards their camp. Scurrying like a pile of ants, they respond with the bugle call, “No Quarter.”

Or, less romantically, “throat-cutting”.

 Soldiers on both sides rise to action for the last battle. The Mexicans are coming, bringing every troop and weapon against us. We all know we will die fighting, yet everyone is cheerful. The days of monotony are ended, we are paying a heavy price for a worthy cause.

 Again, I scramble up to my post, and watch the rows of blue uniforms coming against us like a tidal wave.

I stand tall, a knife in one hand, and a gun in the other. I will give history a day never to forget.

I will make my last stand, God help me.

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Posted in Short Stories

Doubting Thomas

A short story written 5/14/16 for the WriteOn prompt, “stump.”

by LUCERNA

I tore blindly out of the house and down the small slope behind it. The frolicking waves of a nearby lake seemed to mock me, as the Master’s words resonated in my ear, “You will be Fishers of Men.”

Fishers of men! I still did not understand what He meant, but His words reminded me of the life I had led before following Jesus’ call. Dear God, how my life had changed since then!
I flung myself onto the ground and clutched a freshly-cut stump. I ran my fingers across the rough grain, tears trickling down my face. A tree such as this had been made into a cross, and that cross had tortured and killed my dearest friend and teacher. Perhaps I had never been as close to Him as John was, nor as boldly protective as Peter, but I knew I held a place in His loving heart. He didn’t call me by my Greek name, Didymus, but the Aramaic version, Thomas.

During the years I followed Jesus of Nazareth, I saw many miracles performed. Dead men were raised to life, the blind given sight, and demons cast from souls. My rational mind sought to explain these events … how could an ordinary man accomplish so much? But I could not explain. I only knew there was something unusual about that Man, and a strange longing in my heart said to follow. His very presence was heavenly, fulfilling desires I did not even know existed. Only when He left did I realize what an aching void was in my soul.

Now He was dead, and that void would continue the rest of my life. I knew nothing could fill it, ever. John tried to comfort me, repeating continuously his story of the empty tomb, and the women who had seen the angel. He even claimed that the Master had appeared to them since that time. But I could not believe, I would not set myself up for such disappointment. John had just launched into another retelling, and so I’d left the house. At least by the lake it was only myself and my misery.

I sighed as I looked back. It had been eight days since the others claimed to see Jesus, yet He had not returned. He called us His beloved children, and if that were true, where would He go without us? It was all a hoax, it had to be. I turned to go back inside, resolving to tell John so.

Once inside, I closed and locked the door behind me. The house was as dark and stifling as a catacomb; the windows were covered, and no candles were lit. We never knew when the soldiers would appear and attempt to kill us too, as they did many of the Master’s other followers.
A hand clutched my arm, and I heard Peter’s voice. “Didymus, where have you been?”
I pulled my arm away. “Outside. Don’t worry, no one saw me. But I couldn’t stay in this tomb any longer.”

John heard me from across the room. “The Master could not stay in His tomb, either! He rose again, and appeared among us! I have seen the empty grave, and I know it is true …”
“Hush, John!” I demanded. “I don’t want to hear the story again. Yes, the tomb was empty. Yes, someone appeared here, while I happened to be away. But how could it be the Master? We watched Him die. John, you saw the nails go through His hands and feet. Peter! You have always been the logical one, how could you believe this?”
“I cannot.” Peter answered quietly. “But God has given me faith.”

I turned away, running my hand over my head. “You all are children, believing what you choose! But I must have proof. I will not believe until I have touched His hands, and seen the scars where the soldiers beat Him.”

There was a long silence. Then, in the middle of the room, a voice said “Shalom.”

I looked towards the speaker. It looked so much like … but it couldn’t be, the doors had been locked!

But my doubt vanished and my heart believed when Jesus looked into my eyes. “Thomas, Thomas. See the wounds on my hand? And look,” he pulled aside one corner of his robe, “See the scars on my side. Do not lose your faith, but believe.”

I sank to my knees. The walls of my hardened heart dissolved, and again that awful emptiness was filled. I clutched the hem of his garment and held it to my cheek. “My Lord and my God!”
I had thought that Jesus, the carpenter’s son, was only a priest, a prophet, or a king. Now I understood that He was all three. There was such love in His touch, as He laid His hand on my head. “Thomas, you believe because you have seen. Blessed are they who have not seen, yet have believed.”

* * *

Years have passed since The Master returned to His Father in heaven, but I have never doubted His existence again. For I have seen the nail-scarred hands, touched the bruised and shattered side. But to my children in the faith, who believe when they have not seen, their reward shall be twofold.

Posted in Short Stories

My Gun and Flag

A short story written for the WriteOn prompt “Flag”, April 16, 2016

I gently pushed aside Mama’s calico curtain and peeped out, my breath leaving a fog on the frosty glass. An automobile was stalling on the curb, smoke curling from the exhaust pipe like a cigarette and turning our snowy yard into black slush. I narrowed my eyes and stared at the driver, who was making trips from the back of his vehicle into the house beside ours. Yes, it was just as I thought; our new neighbor was one of those “Semitic intruders” I heard Papa talking about. Or at least he looked like one, with black, tightly curled hair and olive-tinted skin.

I looked backwards at the cuckoo clock above the fireplace, and carefully counted the time until Papa would come home. Three hours. I could keep an eye on the Semitic until then; after all, I was almost nine years old. Soon I would join the Jungvolk and learn to carry a gun and flag for Der Fuher, just like my father.

When I looked back out the window, the stranger was facing my direction. I ducked below the window before he saw me, my heart pounding, and the clock ticking in my ears. An eternity later, I carefully raised my head – now the stranger was looking at me, and smiling. He waved in my direction, and I went down again.
Mein, mein! A smiling Jew. Papa never told me they could smile. But why was I cowering beneath the window? A true soldier does not bow. I would teach that man a lesson or two; I sprang up and out the nearest door, the wet snow soaking through my stockings. Mama would not be pleased.

The man had disappeared when I arrived on the lawn. But his car trunk and house door stood open, so he must have gone inside with another load. I glanced towards his truck, and noticed mostly business suits on hangars, a leather satchel with papers and pen spilling out, and a little radio. Strange, everything looked normal. Nothing Jewish, not even a dreidel!

A voice startled me. “Hello, young friend. Are you looking for something?”

I whirled around. That man was standing behind me. “Who are you?” I demanded, making a stern face like Papa’s, “We do not want your kind here!”

The brash man smiled. “My name is Jacob, Jacob Kaplan,” He held out his hand, “And what is yours?”

I backed away and clasped my hands behind my back. Puffing out my chest proudly, I said, “My name is Friedrich Weber.”
“Weber?” Jacob put both hands on my stiff shoulders, “Is your father Henrico Weber?”
“Yes, you know him?”
“He is a dear friend of mine,” Jacob turned to his trunk again, lifted several suits, and draped them over his arm. “He is bringing some of my furniture here tonight.”

I caught a glimpse of the bottom suit on Jacob’s arm, and my mouth dropped open. A dark blue uniform with the scarlet swastika on the arm. From the gold bars on the collar, he was an officer.

I straightened up, blushing, and gave the best salute I could. “Heil, Hitler!”

He repeated the gesture. Then, looking at me carefully, he said, “Here, I have something for you.”

His hand slid into his overcoat pocket and grabbed a tiny brown book. Two golds words glittered on the front: Mein Kampf.

I beamed at my new best friend. “Thank you, sir!”

Officer Kaplan smiled. “Now, get inside before your mother sees your wet feet.”

I blushed again, and ran into the house with my treasure, not stopping until I was in my special place between the window and the fireplace. Once there, I rubbed my cheek against the cool leather cover, enjoying the richness. I never had a book of my own before, and this one was mine, all mine.
I opened the first page, listening to the crackle of brand-new pages. The words were in English instead of German, but I knew some of them, and could learn the rest. I sounded out the first sentence:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”

Terrified, I closed the book. It was a Jewish Bible, hidden beneath Der Fuher’s cover! I had found one of those smugglers – an officer, no less! Papa would be so proud of me.
I wanted to run and tell Mama, but something held me still. Jacob’s smile came to memory. I mindlessly reopened the book, and turned another page:

“So God created humankind in his own image; in the image of God he created him…”