Good Friday

"ATTEN-TION!"

The single file line of soldiers clad in olive khaki green straightened and tensed as one homogenous body. The sky was overcast; a mixture of blackish, grayish green. The atmosphere was ominous, as if God was unsure of whether to unleash Armageddon and bring about the Final Day or whether to have mercy on humanity and merely make it rain. The cold, humidly suffocating air trembled and had a foul metallic smell that latched onto the cilia in the soldiers' noses. None dared to even exhale in an attempt to relieve the prickling sensation.

Minutes seemed to pass by in slow motion; dreadfully elongated. The earth sucked at the soldiers' legs, determined to pull them down into the depths of Hell. Each soldier knew in their hearts what was about to come. They were watching the phantasmagoric mixture of past, present, and inescapable future play out in their heads.

The stocky, corpulent man dressed in a maroon uniform opposite the line of men stepped towards them. They stared stoically passed him, as they had been trained to do. The man began to pace in front of the soldiers. "Well, gentleman, I suppose you know why I've assembled you here." The deathly cold sneer stung the soldiers' faces. All of them had been working together to brace themselves for the inevitable impact. "….Well at least one of you does... It seems that something very dear….very precious to me has gone missing….you see, I believe that one of you knows where it went." The general paused for a second. For a moment a look of perplexity flickered through the apathetic eyes of the soldiers and moved down the line like a brief burst electrical current passing through a wire. "Well, speak. Come on, now. I don't have all day…No?...hmm…..Well then…we'll just have to deal with this sort of insubordination the….old-fashioned way." The man's lips pulled back into a gruesome smile. "Shall we, gentlemen?" He said as he motioned to a group of maroon clad soldiers who then proceeded stagger themselves slightly behind each of their fellow khaki comrades, who had now all taken on a sickly pallor that matched their garb. Each of the maroon soldiers gave a menacing look to their friends.

The general strode to the major at the head of the line and stared down the row at the rest of the men with calculating eyes. "Tell me….how many soldiers stand with you now?" The major at the head of the line replied emotionlessly with the number; seventy-one. "Hmm…that is a very inconvenient number. Well, then, like the good Lord, I shall pass over you…..for now….you will not be counted." The man then moved to the raven haired lieutenant, who was after the major. "One." He said. He walked over to the sergeant next to him. "Two." He continued down the line slowly enunciating every syllable so that it momentarily hovered in the air. "Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten." He then started again with the number one. His counting punctuated through the staccato of the soldiers' heart beats like the solemn beating of a drum. Each time he reached the tenth soldier, they involuntarily twitched. One could see their thoughts racing through the jumbled memories of their lives; they were resigning themselves to the fact that they were going to die.

After the man finished his awful tallying he again faced the row of men. "Now….we will let the decimation begin." He again smiled malevolently, freezing the blood in the men's veins. "Because God acts in mysterious and often arbitrary ways….the number today will be six, not ten." He stepped forward to the first unlucky victim. "Five, Seven, draw your swords!" He ordered. The black number five and the ghostly white, freckled number seven hesitated. "Draw…your….swords…." He said taking out his gun and pointing it at them. "Or you will be shot for insubordination and I will take everything from you. I will go after everything you treasure and destroy it. Do you understand me?!" His voice then turned almost sickeningly sweet. "Don't you think it is better for you to commit one horrible act for your country than to commit countless ones for your selfishness?" The entire line inhaled sharply. The maroon clad guards drew their .9mms too and held them to the backs of every soldier's head, poised to fire; ready to use frivolously the power that no one, save God, should have the power to wield. The men in khaki were prisoners of their own country, whom they shed their blood for. Now after all they suffered through, many unfortunate men were going to die that day; during a state of peace, slaughtered by their own brothers.

"Let me use my gun, sir," pleaded the freckled soldier in an attempt to stall for time. "I'm not a swordsman, sir. He deserves a clean death, sir." "You're not wasting MY bullets for this." The general bellowed. The black man looked sympathetically at the doomed man, who shuddered and began to bleat like a sacrificial lamb before the alter. Numbers five and seven squeezed his shoulder tightly in an attempt to quiet him and pressed down so that his knees caved and he was now kneeling in the mud. "You're pathetic." Responded the general to the victim's trembling and kicked him hard in the gut. The soldier readjusted himself back into the execution position and gave a slight nod. He was ready to die. Black and white held the soldier's head down, exposing the back of his neck. They then placed the blades of their swords on either side of the man's neck so that they crossed each other. In one motion they both pulled both blades together, as if using Atropos's scissors to cut through his string of life. Blood sprayed both men's pants as they cut through the jugular and carotid arteries. The soldier's body stayed in the same position for a moment, twitching slightly, giving the executioners a second of gruesome last hope that some how their brother was still alive. That hope faded and morphed into an agonizing torture as the body slumped over onto its side and they became painfully aware of the man's severed head lying face down in the mud. The freckled faced man, who had killed many men in battle and should have been accustomed to death, became nauseous. He turned sharply so that he broke the line as was immediately seized by two maroon clad men. He heaved over their shoulders. They pushed him away with a look of disgust, wiping the backs of their uniforms to see if any blood or vomit had gotten on them.

The general then moved on to the next unlucky number six. Again, five and seven were the executioners. This time both of them were white, and the man they were killing was a weathered war veteran in his late-thirties, not his late teens, and had seen his fair share of unfairness in the world. He was going to retire next year. He took off the wooden cross that hung around his neck and kissed it. "Let's hurry it up! You're wasting my time!" shouted the general. The man gave the cross to his number five and said "For Sonia." He then looked at his brothers and smiled forlornly. "Make it good. Make it good." He told them. The veteran did not need any coaxing to kneel. He gracefully lowered himself down and bent his head. The sound of the two blades touching cut through the heavy air just as they had sliced through the loyal soldier's neck.

The general now moved on to the third victim. "Gentlemen, since no on has come forward, I guess I'll just have to continue this until no one is left alive. Surely, then justice would be served on the wretched traitor…and if he is one of the first few to have been killed….well….then God has forsaken you and it is your destiny to die today." Five and Seven were preparing the new lamb for the slaughter. "Wait, sir!...WAIT!" shouted a soldier who had been passed over in a voice that trembled with the air. "This- this isn't right." The general turned on his heel and faced the man. His visage matched his uniform. "WHO DARES TO….INTERRUPT!" The insubordinate soldier looked deep into the hog-like general's eyes as he gathered up the courage to speak.

"I am the one you want. I took it. I confess."

"Ah, ha!" The general's eyes glinted with malice. "And what did you do with it! I want it back!"

"I sold it…..to someone across the border."

"His name?!"

"I don't know it, sir."

"Well then…it seems that there is still some honor left in men. Take him away! Lock him up for treason! He shall be executed tomorrow afternoon! Oh…and there's no need to be gentle with him!" ordered the general in a state of furious euphoria.

"You!" he said to the would-be executioners, "Dig the graves for the bodies." "Sir, what about preparations-" asked the major softly.

"Just dump them in."

"Sir, his wife-" responded the major pointing to the second victim.

"Use your imagination."

Before the major could protest the general had already made his way back towards the base. The man nodded slightly and stood there with his men in the mud, praying that it would rain and God would cleanse them all of their sins. The weather held. God had forsaken them that day.

The next day the entire battalion was assembled for the execution, not just the men, who, the day before, had been standing on that ill-boded line to cross the river Styx. The accused was never given a trial, for the general was both judge and jury. It was his burden to determine when, where, and how the man was going to die, just as it was God's burden to decide which souls where to be saved and which were to be damned.

The traitor's crumpled and broken form was dragged out by two men in maroon. He was met with insults and jeers. "Due to the severity of this man's crimes," the general proclaimed to the soldiers, "not only his thievery but also the fact that he let his fellow comrades die while he remained silent-- their blood is on his hands – makes this man the worst kind of traitor! Therefore he will be drawn and quartered as such, instead of shot." He paused for a moment and then added. "This punishment, however, is nothing compared to what he will endure for all eternity in the fires of Hell."

The man's extremities were tied to four metal posts, suspending him above the ground. These posts had a reel mechanism that tightened the ropes; a modernized and perfected contrivance for the ancient art. The audience stared in a state of horrified rapture as the condemned's body creaked and popped as four soldiers in blood colored uniforms slowly turned the crank, drawing out the man's agony. He screamed out in anguish as he was being pulled apart like a rag doll. Blood gushed from where the ropes were cutting through his skin to the bone. He let out one last piercing cry to God, which reverberated throughout the arena and then expired. His head and torso landed on the ground with a soft thud, which scattered the blood stained sand under it. His arms and legs dangled from the poles like disturbing ornaments on a tree.

No one dared to speak. The man's fellow brothers bowed their heads in prayer for the departed. The only sound was an eerie ticking coming from the General's box above the execution stadium.

"What's that noise, sir?" asked a colonel in maroon.

"Hmm…What?"

"The ticking, sir. Where's it coming from?"

"Oh….yes…I don't know."

"It seems to be emanating from your pocket, sir," responded the khaki clad major who had been at the head of the line.

The general stood up from his chair and searched his pockets. He discovered golden pocket watch. "Ah…Praise Saint Anthony!" He cooed as he rubbed the timepiece between is thumb and forefinger. "I thought this was stolen, but now it has wandered back to me… Time hahaha--evidently was not on his side!" He chortled, his five chins bobbing up and down as he pointed at the mangled body below. His eyes shone in such a way that one was not entirely sure if he had ever lost his trinket at all. The colonel in maroon smiled. "It must have been here the entire time. It's an antique. Over one hundred and twenty years old, you know. Been in the family for generations." He flipped open the watch. "Oh look, it's tea time. I'm famished," he said patting his bulging gut.

At that moment the skies split open and it began to rain as if all the angels in Heaven were weeping. The heavy drops fell on the sanguine ground, but not even the celestial tears could wash away the stain of Sin. The wind snatched at the flag hanging from the general's box, as if it were the Hand of God. It eventually wrenched it from its mast and carried it away. "Good God! Awful weather isn't it?" Commented the general nonchalantly. "What shall I do with the body, sir?" inquired the major flatly, still in a state of shock. "Leave it, let the crows have it. Nice little treat for them don't you think?" replied the man clapping the flabbergasted man on the back. "Well, shall we, gentlemen?" said the general as he strode away. The colonel trotted after him holding a black umbrella over his commanding officer, still beaming. They left the major alone in the box, rain beating down mercilessly upon the awning above him. The weather had never been as violent since that fateful Friday at Golgotha.