by s. nicole böcek
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2017 and 1522
Sometimes who you are in the inside matters more than what they think you are on the outside….
Amber walks down the sidewalk, hands in her pockets. She strolls over to the school park where her best friend, Lacey, is sitting on the monkey bars and checking her cellphone.
“Hey,” Amber smiles.
Lacey waves. “Hey. What’s up?”
“Nothing much.” If she only knew. Amber’s mind is swirling with Jesus, Augustine, and that strange pea-green coat guy.
“Hmm, nice watch! Where’d you get it?”
If she but got started, the story would never end. Amber decides against even starting. So she shrugs and sits down on the swing next to her best friend.
Lacey jumps down from the monkey bars.
“Speaking of watches! School’s going to start.” She wipes her sweaty hands on her pants.
“Let’s go then.” Amber jumps off the swing and follows her friend.
The two girls hurry to their chemistry class. The teacher, Mr. Jones, is already inside and so are the other students.
“You’re late,” the teacher says.
Amber flushes red and glances at Lacey.
“Sorry,” Lacey apologizes.
“You have missed the beginning of the lecture. Get out your notebooks. We’re talking about Zeff and its role in chemistry.”
Amber and Lacey sit down. After a few moments of listening, Lacey leans toward Amber, grinning. “Zeff is a super cool word. If I ever have a son, I’m going to name him Zeff,” she whispers.
Amber rolls her eyes. “Yeah right,” she whispers.
“I’m serious!” Lacey murmurs, incredulous.
She grabs her pen and writes in the corner of the notebook, Zeff. She surrounds the name with a heart. Laughing inwardly, Amber concentrates on listening to Mr. Jones.
The watch hums, drawing her attention. She pushes a button to try to get it to stop making noise.
“Amber?” Mr. Jones says. “If you can’t keep your watch quiet, do not wear it to school.”
“Yes, sir,” she answers. Somehow it stopped its noise.
Amber does the finishing touch of make-up on her face. She stands up and studies herself over the mirror. Practicing for Halloween, she had made fake scars and stitches on her face with make-up. Just like a zombie. She had even dyed the tips of her black hair red. Sitting on the bed, Amber grabs the watch and puts it on.
What was that next date? She thinks for a couple seconds and enters in, 1522. Someone knocks on the door. Amber lifts her hand off the watch and looks up. “Come in!”
Mother enters the room and upon seeing Amber, her happy expression falls.
“What?” Amber tilts her head.
“I thought you were going to the Reformation party,” Mother says quietly.
Amber groans and rolls her eyes. “Really mom? No way! I don’t want to be the only one in my class not going trick-or-treating.”
Mother frowns. “Honey, if you’re going to dress up, at least don’t look like death itself.”
Amber laughs. “This is the most popular fashion for Halloween. Get with the times.”
“Anyway,” Mother sighs. “Go do your chores, dear. You still have several days to decide. And don’t come to dinner with that on your face.”
Amber nods and strolls out of her room. She goes to the garage, yanking the handle of the dumpster to pull it out to the street. Noticing her brother Andrew playing with his skateboard, she chuckles to herself, chin elevated and eyes narrowed.
“He never does chores. That kid’s on his way to hell,” she murmurs, strutting down the sidewalk.
She leaves the dumpster for the trash truck and goes back into the house. Next thing she knows, she is tumbling head-over-heels. She has stepped on her loose shoelace. As she lands on the ground she falls on her wrist.
“Owww…” Amber groans.
But it’s too late. The blue light is all around her. Wha…what’s going on? The lights go out. After a couple minutes, blinding light causes Amber to close her eyes. Voices surround her and then there’s some silence.
“It’s a witch!” someone screams.
What? Who’s a witch? Amber opens her eyes and blinks, realizing the people around her are staring at her. The woman who screamed is pointing to her. Me? A witch? I’m not a witch.
“I…I’m not a—” Amber tries to protest but she perceives some men running for her.
Jerking herself to full consciousness, she shoves past some people. Women scream. Men shout. Amber’s heart rate rises.
Where am I going? What am I doing? Where am I? She trips over a stool but quickly scrambles back to her feet. The cobblestone pathway is making it hard for her to run, as well as the carts. Christmas Day, 1522. That was the last date.
A horse rears up in front of her, neighing loudly. Amber squeals and jerks herself backward to avoid the flailing hooves and falls to the ground. Two men grab hold of Amber, hauling her to her feet.
“I’m not a witch,” Amber gasps, trying to catch her breath.
“Burn her!” a woman shouts. “Look at her hideous face! Look at her clothes!”
Others agree with her. Amber looks down at her black hoodie and sweatpants.
“I’m not a…I’m not a witch! It’s my Halloween costume!” Amber says but everyone else’s voices are drowning hers out.
The two men are dragging her away. Amber feels a rush of adrenaline. She stomps hard on the left man’s foot and bites the right man’s wrist. They let go of her and she darts away again, heading for a church.
She stealthily slips inside without anyone noticing her. She hurries up some stairs to the very top of the church, to the rafters. Amber sits on the rafters, catching her breath. A voice drifts into her ear. It’s a man preaching.
Christmas morning! How could they treat me like this on Christmas! What kind of Scrooge-people are these?
“So he discards all boasted free will, all human virtue, righteousness, and good works.”
Good works. The words bring Augustine’s words to mind about the babies. Is this the reason these dates are connected? Is this why I was given the watch?
The priest continues, and Amber settles in to listen. Somehow the people she is meeting and the big words she is hearing has to do with the watch and saving that guy’s life. She concentrates.
“Paul concludes that these good works are all nothing and are wholly perverted, however brilliant and worthy they may appear, and teaches that we must be saved solely by the grace of God, which is effective for all believes who desire it from a correct conception of their own ruin and nothingness.”
What was it Jesus had said, about this same topic? She struggles to remember. How were Jesus’ words related? She can not figure it out.
“He who does not receive salvation purely through grace, independently of all good works, certainly will never secure it. Truly, then, we are saved by grace alone, without works or other merit.”
Amber’s heart finally calms down and she sits on the rafters with a pinched face, thinking about the man’s words. Not by works but by grace…?
“A witch!” A scream shakes Amber out of her thoughts. “Brother Martin, it’s a witch!”
Someone is coming up the stairs. Amber balances herself on the rafters and moves toward a window. She opens it, almost losing her balance, but she manages to right herself. Taking hold of the rooftop, Amber slowly inches herself up, closing the window behind her. Her hands are shaking.
Come on, go away. Go away. Just leave me alone. People are staring at her from below. Why is it so complicated this time?
Amber inches upward again. The wind whistles in her ear. Her hands are sweating. “Leave me alone. I’m not a witch,” she whispers. Amber rests her forehead on the roof.
Suddenly, her foot slips and she tumbles backward. It all happens so fast she has no time to scream. Feeling herself fall, she closes her eyes. Amber’s back hits the pavement and she blacks out.
Silence. Amber groans and opens her eyes. She’s lying on the pavement back at home where she had tripped. Gosh, why does my back hurt so bad? Oh…right. She stumbles to her feet, trying to gain hold of her balance.
Once Amber can stand, she slowly limps back home and up to her room. Mmphf, hurts so bad, she thinks, rubbing her leg. The man, the priest’s words come to her mind again.
They had called him Martin. Brother Martin. Grace alone. I’ve heard those words before. Dad read it to me. I think it was…I bet it was Luther preaching. Amber smiles, almost forgetting about the pain in her back. So it’s not by works that we get into heaven?
Her words from this morning come to mind. “Road to hell.” She blushes with shame, even though no one can see her. Luther had said, “These good works are all nothing and are wholly perverted, however brilliant and worthy they may appear.”
I guess I was wrong. Andrew and I are really equal before God. It’s not by works God accepts us and saves us. It’s by grace. Amber stands up and goes downstairs to her Mom.
“Mother?” she says, approaching her.
Mother looks down at her, frowning. “You look like a mess. What did you do?”
“Never mind that,” Amber smiles. “Mom, I think I’ve decided to go to the Reformation party next week. I’ve had enough of witches and zombies.”
Mother’s eyes widen and she stares at her daughter for a couple seconds before slowly nodding. “Oh…yes! Of course!”
Amber hugs her mom. “Thanks, Mom. Love you.”
“Love you, too,” Mother says, though still perplexed.
Behind Mother’s back, Amber unravels the yellow note. The next date is 1536.
Note to self: Amber, wear normal clothes next time.
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What do you think? Who is the Pea-green Coat Guy? What are these dates? Write your predictions below…