1st place || 2022
5th through 6th grade
LIFE OR DEATH
by Kayla Hernandez
It was life or death. Both could come so easily. With one simple word, Matthew would decide his own fate.
No, say no, half of him demanded.
The other half knew what was right. It also knew the consequences of saying yes, of proclaiming to the king that he was indeed a Christ follower. If he said no, he would be let free with his life and a boulder of guilt. If he said yes, he didn’t want to think about what could happen.
He knew what he should say.
Death should have been far, far away. Instead, it was right at his door. How could his life have changed so dramatically in just two days? Two days ago, he wouldn’t have even imagined this could happen. Of course, he had heard stories of missionaries and preachers disappearing, but he never realized any of that could happen to him.
His stomach grumbled. He hadn’t eaten in a whole day. He had been locked up in a dark cell that reeked of waste and dead rats. The last food he had eaten had been stale bread with a small piece of dry meat. He had also been given a pail of water for drinking. However, it was dangerously low.
Light seeped under the heavy iron door that kept him prisoner. He could hear the two rowdy soldiers that guarded him playing a game with what sounded like wooden dice.
“Aha! Victory!” one proclaimed.
The other one grunted and it sounded like he left the room.
Matthew sighed, sat down in defeat, and closed his eyes.
What do I do? he thought. He leaned against the wall, hopeless. Slowly, he let sleep overcome him.
“Wake up, Prisoner. The king wants you. It’s time for your trial!”
He startled awake expecting to see his teasing brother with a stick mimicking his mother`s stern face. Instead, he saw a sneering guard with dirty blond hair and brown teeth. Then he remembered where he was. He wished it was all a dream and that he’d wake at the sound of birds chirping. But he wasn’t dreaming unfortunately. He was wide awake.
He stood up quickly, his back and legs sore from sleeping on the floor. He was still woozy from sleep. Nonetheless, he followed the sneering guard.
The corridor that led to the trial room was dark and musty. It stank of sleeping prisoners that hadn’t bathed. He walked slowly, gazing intently at the floor. The stone that lined the floor was cracked and dirty, but it was cleaner than the floor of his cell.
He heard snoring and occasional cries. As they ascended, lanterns were numerous, and the floor got cleaner and cleaner until it changed to a smooth brown wood. He looked up.
They approached a large oak door and the guard pushed it open, led him down a carpeted hallway with bountiful windows accompanied by large curtains. Servants and maids bustled by with trays, baskets, and more.
Matthew gazed longingly at a large stuffed turkey carried by a maid. After a few minutes, they came to a smaller but equally grand oak door. The guard knocked and the door was opened by a soldier in shining metal armor.
The guard shoved Matthew inside and the soldier promptly closed the door.
Six large windows framed the room draped in velvety, blue curtains. A huge couch with numerous pillows of all shapes and sizes were at the end of the room, and on it was a fat man with a long nose. He had black hair and eyes that may have once been blue but now appeared gray and dull.
“Ugh, another one! How many more are out there?”
Matthew realized that this must be the king. He bowed shakily but the king paid him no mind.
“Not many, Sire,” an old man replied. “Only three.”
The king grumbled something at the man with snow white hair and green eyes. Matthew couldn’t decipher the king’s words, but it sounded like, I’m the king. Why can`t I take a break?
“Come, child, take a seat. Let’s get this over with already,” the king said, indifferent.
He gestured at a seat with a red cushion and Matthew sidled over to it. He sat down, relieved, as the chair was a welcome luxury.
A soldier glared at him probably wondering why the prisoner got to sit while he was made to stand all day.
“Prisoner, tell me, are you of the Christ people?”
There it was—the dreaded question.
Matthew’s mouth dried and he felt sick. A battle raged in his head. He wanted to say no, needed to say no. But he couldn’t. With a rush of realization, he knew he couldn’t, and a peace filled him. He wouldn’t say no, he wouldn’t deny it. He wouldn’t forsake his Jesus.
He looked at the king straight in the eye, pulled in his courage.
“Today I will meet my Savior. Yes, I am a Christian.”
Kayla lives near Houston, Texas with her parents, brother and sister, a dog and two cats. She enjoys drawing, writing, playing games, and talking with friends.