Part I: The Games, 2025
A roar went up from the stadium and thundered in the locker rooms below the arena. Jean Belanger, aka the White Knight, fiddled with his white cloak. His sword lay next to him on the bench. The room was stark, little more than a set of banged up lockers and wooden benches for the participants. Beside him, Joe Brown, aka the Black Joseph, was stretching out his hamstrings with a series of yoga exercises. Jean watched his colleague, unable to hide his disdain.
“You know, if you weren’t the Captain and the crowd ever saw you stretching like that, they’d throw you into a Turban factory.”
Joe ignored him, moving easily from Warrior One to Warrior Two. The doors banged open as the rest of their colleagues sauntered in, their packs over their shoulders, laughing and yelling.
“This is it, boys!”
“Time to take down the Ragheads!”
Joe finished his stretching and picked up his sword. It was surprisingly light for its length, and he double checked the edges for any nics in its razor sharp blade. He’d never imagined himself as gladiator, but the times had been hard for his family, and if there was one thing Joe knew for certain, it was who to blame. The Muslims had been multiplying like rabbits for the past twenty years, and small wars had broken out all across the planet. His pastor had been right to warn them about the spiritual darkness that was Islam. Within a span of five years the Muslims had infiltrated the country with their blasphemous language and funny robes and war-like manner. The United States had resisted, thank God, as more and more Christians had armed themselves. Ten years of civil violence had led to the proposal and development of the Games. Leading clerics on both sides (though calling a Muslim cleric was ridiculous to Joe) had hammered out the details.
The rules were simple. Each year Christians and Muslims selected their twelve best warriors. They fought until all the members of one side were dead.
For the remainder of that year, the winning side’s religion received complete immunity from any pending lawsuit and was officially declared the State’s Religion. The Supreme Court had refused to even consider such a law when it was originally proposed, but the rising crime and lawlessness, along with the death of the three most vigorous judges on the court, had paved the way for the Games. Christianity had lost the first two years, but as the Games gathered momentum, more resources had been poured into training, and they’d won the past three contests. Warriors for The Right, so the Christians had named themselves, were considered heroes, and making the team considered a great honor.
Joe checked his blade. This year’s team was as strong as any he’d seen. As the lone survivor from last year’s contest, he was an easy choice for the Captain’s role. “Lord, bless my blade again this year.” He prayed softly. He thought about his wife and two young girls back home. He wasn’t worried about their well being, making the Team automatically gave them a healthy pension in the case of his death, he simply missed them. Training days were long, and he rarely saw them. The sound of clinking armor and the rustle of swords and curses reverberated through the locker room as he quieted his breathing. As the hour passed, the rest of the room became increasingly silent. Joe glanced at the clock. Ten minutes to show time.
He stood and waited until he had his team’s attention.
“Tonight we fight for more than a religion. We fight for our country. We fight for our faith.” He paused. “Tonight, we fight on God’s side!”
The locker room exploded with the rattle of swords hammered on shields and shouts from the men. He held up his hand and unsheathed his sword. The whisper of eleven swords joined his own.
“Honour. Life. Faith.”
“Honour. Life. Faith.” The men responded.
“Watch your back.”Joe said. “Don’t do too much. Stay with the team. If you remember these things you may live to fight another day. Okay, let’s pray.”
The men took a knee as Joe asked for God’s blessing. When he’d finished, he led them up the ramp into the bright lights of the new Texas Stadium.
I was sitting in the Gold section, about eight rows up with some of the guys from my Bible College. The stadium was over twenty years old, and the small plastic seats were chipped and worn, but nobody cared. Just to be able to get seats took either a lot of money or a special connection. Thankfully, the Bible College was always given ten seats, four of which my buddies and I had won in a school contest. The stadium was full, the crowd roaring and waving. Each year two blocks of tickets were sold; one for the Christians and one for the Muslims. I could see the enemy on the other side of the bowl, their turbans and hijabs and other strange head coverings unable to mask their anger or venom with which they yelled at the Christians. The bearded man man beside me was standing, along with his two young children, a boy and a girl.
“Go back to the desert, you stupid ragheads!” He screamed.
He handed his pennant, a cheap, white stenciled piece of foam that said “No God but Jesus”, to his little boy, who waved it vigorously to the delight of his father.
“That’s it, Johnny! One day that might be you down there!”
I nodded in approval, though me and the guys had refused to buy any gear from the proprietors. Bible College students were the intellectual force, or so we’d been taught, and were expected to show restraint. Despite that, the school offered a basic weapons course, and I’d chosen it as one of my electives for the coming fall.
The crowd roared as the participants entered the arena, and I stood with my feet, clapping and chanting as The Black Joseph led the men onto the field. When the Games had started five years earlier, I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but I’d quickly bought in. Especially after the bombing in Phoenix. There was a significant difference between the two religions. Christianity was about ushering in God’s Kingdom, and Islam, as they’d shown consistently, was about the worship of a false prophet and violence. They were not interested in the welfare of others like Christians were. The tragedy was that it wasn’t even their fault. How could they become more loving if they didn’t know about Jesus? The announcer’s voice boomed through the stadium.
“Please stand for a moment of silence and the Lord’s Prayer.”
As the reigning champions, the Christians had earned the right to pray before the game, and we all bowed in unison as the sacred words of ‘Our Father’ were repeated throughout the stadium.
“You ready, bro!” Mike said, standing next to me.
“Yeah! We’ll get ‘em!” I said.
The fight started quickly, as the two teams rushed each other before parrying off into groups of two and three. The action was fast and vicious, and blood soaked the sand within minutes. Six of the Christians had already fallen, and only three Muslims. My heart hammered in my chest. No. No. God, don’t let us lose! Black Joseph had managed to group the remaining Christians, and they fought back to back now, their swords flashing in the lights, the clash of steel and grunts magnified by the microphones embedded in the sand so every moment could be captured by the fans and the cameras.
Another Christian went down. Then another. Black Joseph had been isolated away from his teammates now, and his sword flashed desperately as two of the Muslims fought to destroy Christianity’s leader. As I watched, my heart began to sink. What would happen if the Christians lost? What would happen if the Muslims became the State religion again? Unwilling to concede my world to spiritual darkness, I turned and yelled at my buddies.
“Guys, let’s pray. We need to pray!”
They looked at me uncomprehendingly for a minute, their gazes filled with the violence of the fight, and then nodded. I pointed to our warriors.
“They need it!”
I grabbed Mike’s hand, bowed my head, and began to pray aloud. I felt a little hand grabbing my free hand, and I opened my eyes a crack as I realized that everyone around us had joined in. The young boy beside me didn’t look up even as he clenched tightly to my fingers. His eyes were squeezed tight, and I nodded even as I continued to pray. What I didn’t see was the sudden spread of what we were doing in our corner. In the midst of the battle, the Christians began to bow their heads and pray.
And it was working.
First one Muslim went down under the fury of Black Joseph’s sword. Then another. Soon enough the odds had evened up, and there was only four warriors left. Two Christians. Two Muslims. We continued to pray aloud, though most of us kept our eyes open now.
“Lord, we pray that your will be done!” I said, over and over, certain of what it meant and that it was about to happen.
Two more died, and it was all down to the two captains. I could feel my heart pounding in excitement. God would do it again. Once more he would pull his people from the fire and rescue them.
“Kill him, Black Joseph! You’re the Man!” I screamed, before starting once again to pray aloud.
The two men circled warily. Black Joseph was bleeding from his left shoulder and walking with a visible limp. Both men seemed to pause, and then… pounced. There was no other way to describe it. And suddenly the Muslim Captain was on the ground. Black Joseph paused long enough to take a breath and raise his sword for the killing blow.
“Yaaaaa! For God be the Glory!” The man beside me yelled, hugging his children.
Suddenly Black Joseph paused, his head driven back as if hit by something, and then stopped before collapsing on the field. The Muslim captain stood, his own rapier thrust high in the air even as the Muslim crowd went wild with delight. His short quick thrust ended the career of Black Joseph, and the entire Christian assembly sat in dejected silence.
“It’s not fair.” I said to Mike. “They cheated. Someone in the crowd hit Black Joseph with a rock.”
All around me I could hear those same murmurs, rising until they were full throated shouts and screams. The Muslims did not seem to notice until a Christian darted on the field and grabbed Black Joseph’s sword. He charged into the Muslim crowd, swinging wildly. A number of Christians followed him, and within minutes the entire stadium had erupted into a violent spree. Police officers flowed out of the tunnels, but ended up joining their side in the fight. Soon enough, gunshots rang across the stadium as the policemen emptied their pistols into the respective crowds.
“It’s crazy! Let’s get out of here!” I had to yell to be heard.
Everyone jammed into the aisles. Some ran towards the field. Others tried to get away. The acrid smell of smoke rose from somewhere, though I couldn’t see any fire. The stadium had turned into a cauldron of eighty thousand people in full panic, a boiling, wriggling mass of confusion and hatred. Two policemen pointed their guns in our direction and started firing. I dropped low, but not before the father beside me fell clutching his chest. I looked for his kids but couldn’t see them, and ducked my head again as another gunshot snapped overhead. I was breathing hard, flat on the ground, staring at the litter in front of my face even as the world ignited around me.
Oh God, what’s happening? Where are you? Why didn’t we win? How can this happen?
I lifted my head just as a scuffle broke out beside me. A boot lashed out at my head, and everything went black.
...to be continued