Write Michigan Short Story Contest - Part 2 of 2

A short story will come to life in this post, and a warlord will be born from blood. At least that is my hope.

I was debating between writing about Mithra or Hannibal. I've decided to go with Hannibal because the idea of him being baptized in blood as an initiation ceremony intrigues me. I'm not sure exactly how I want this to go, but it has to be done in a few hours. I think I am going to do something like a thesis statement followed by the concrete representation of it. I know that doesn't sound exciting, but I think it will be. There are so many options, so many choices to make. I could do a build up or start in the scene itself. I could focus on internal thoughts or external actions. I am not going to focus on making so many of these choices explicitly conscious. I am going to go with what feels intriguing. My only real limitation is that it has to be short, which is fine. I may make it very short if that seems to work. Let's see how some of it comes out.

Hanniba'al was born at the age of ten. Before that he had been the son of the King, after - he was the son of the God Ba'al, destroyer of worlds.

One year, for one year he had begged, pleaded, commanded, demanded that his father, King Hamilcar, take him to war. His father denied him again and again. Now, the day had come. He was dressed in a white robe, standing in an alcove of stone cut into the side of the tunnel. Chanting reverberated down the corridor, the light of the flames flickered, and he remembered the oath that he had made.

It had been a month ago, in Valencia, in another sacrificial chamber. His father was leading him to make a sacrifice to Ba'al, the bringer of storms. The war with Rome had been settled, but there were other battles to fight, other lands, and cities, and peoples to conquer and bring into the fold of the Carthaginian Empire. His father was war hardened and tested by battle, and he didn't like to be tested by a child. "I should go with you on your next campaign." It was a simple statement he had made many times. This time was different.

His father had turned on him in the tunnel and pushed him up against the wall. He stared up into his father's eyes and saw only blackness. His father didn't say a word. He grabbed him by the back of the shirt and pushed him into the chamber where the priests were waiting. A fire of coals were burning red hot in the center and his father pushed him to it. The heat was uncomfortable even from a distance, like waves surging through the air. His father grabbed the hair at the back of his head and pushed it down until he could feel his skin drying out, and smell his hair being incinerated. The King brought his face down close to his, turned his head, and stared at him.

"War means having enemies, and having enemies means that you must have friends. Swear to me, swear to me on your life, swear to me before God Ba'al, swear to your father, swear to your King, swear to me that you will never be a friend of Rome!"

"Father, I take this oath upon my soul. I will bring fire and steel down upon Rome until nothing is left, or I am dead."

His father hadn't blinked, or said a word. He had let go of his shirt and nodded towards the tunnel. It was the next day, from a priest, that he had learned about his father's decision. An oath was acceptable to the King, but Ba'al would require something more. The sacrificial ceremony was to be held in a month.

Now, here they were. Around the corner was the chamber. The chanting was rising. Ba'al required a great sacrifice to crown a destroyer of empires, to arrest the destiny of Rome, and a great sacrifice had been made. He had committed his entire future to this one purpose, but that was not enough. One thousand children had been brought from Iberia. Captives of battle. Their futures, too, had been sacrificed. It took two days. They had been taken and put under temporary watch near the entrance to the chamber. Wooden pens had been erected. An entire brigade had been ordered to guard and prepare them.

Large clay jars had been brought. Then the soldiers and priests had begun their work. The key was to work quickly. The legs and arms were bound. The child would be led to the jar, bent over it, and the head pulled back. Two soldiers would hold him, or her, and the third would cut the throat. The screams turned to gargles, and the gargles turned to nothing. The bodies were loaded onto wagons and taken to a pit. It took ten children to fill a jar. As soon as one had been filled a priest stepped in, poured in alcohol, and said a blessing. The jar was sealed and taken to the chamber. At night torches had been lit and the work continued.

Now, all of those jars were empty, and the pool was full.

Breathe and step, breathe and step. Let the chant set the pace. The corridor smelled of dust, fire, and blood. Breathe and step, breathe and step. The torches flickered as he moved past them. A bed of coals was just on the right as he entered the chamber. He slid his robe off and threw it into the fire. He would enter the baptism of Ba'al with nothing, and emerge as something else. The white robe broke into flames on the hot coals casting light across the room.

His father, King Hamilcar, stood on the other side of the pool. Priests were ringed around either side. Three steps, there were only three steps to ascend to the top. The blood was thick and dark, he could smell it in his throat. The rhythmic chanting carried him forward. Breathe and step, breathe and step, breathe and step.

He looked into his father's eyes, black, and dropped into the blood. The blood slopped back and forth in the pool, dripped down the side and spread out upon the floor. It was warm, and thick, like smooth honey. He turned around and the chanting stopped. Only the flickering of the flames from the robe disturbed the silence. He stared at the entrance to the chamber, but saw nothing. He was thinking of the stories. The stories from the war. Rome had brought their legions down upon his father's empire, but that wasn't going to be the final story. There would be another. His story, a story of fire and steel brought down upon Rome, over and over and over, until nothing was left.

He raised his right hand out to the side, two fingers pointed up and his thumb pointed towards himself. He said one word, "Ba'al." Take a breathe and hold. He had to kneel, then bend forward, to fully submerge himself in the blood. Blood is different than water, blood pushes in on you, envelopes you and embraces you, like a cacoon. He could hear his own heartbeat in his ears. He waited.

It was faint at first, but then it grew. The priests were chanting. He slowly began to unfold himself, to reemerge from the baptism. He had to wipe the blood from his nose before he could breathe again. And from his eyes before he could open them. He felt different. The chamber seemed brighter. The blood was dripping off of him, releasing him back to the world.

A priest was kneeling at the bottom of the stairs, his head bent, and a sword held across his hands.

He pushed himself out of the pool and heard blood slop onto the floor, meandering its way down the steps in front of him. The other priests were chanting, and the chanting was growing louder, echoing off the walls, filling him with power. He could feel it swelling in his chest. At the bottom of the stairs he reached down and took the sword by the handle. The priest moved back to his spot and took up the chant once again.

He waited, standing, as the chanting slowed and faded. Then, silence, the crackle of the flames. Blood ran down his arm and onto the sword. The King spoke from the back of the chamber.

"The Grace of Ba'al, bringer of storms, destroyer of worlds, Hanniba'al is born!"

I like it, it is kind of crazy, but it was definitely interesting to write. This took me about two hours. It is only 1,260 words, but it is fine as is. If I added more I think I would want to add a lot more. Let me know what you think. I don't have comments on my blog because I don't want to moderate it, but you can comment on the post that I make on Facebook at facebook.com/JeffreyAlexanderMartin

I kind of doubt that this is what the contest is looking for, but I think it will probably entertain whoever has to read it as an entry.

You are welcome to join me and see what I write next at JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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