“Let her go!” I shrieked, attempting to leap forward. I doubled over in pain as the guards holding me struck me in the gut. Tears of anguish brimmed at my eyes. “I…won’t serve anyone!” I spat on the ground, screaming. “Safad isn’t a god! He’s nothing!”
The guards holding me suddenly let go, taken aback. Silence rang forth from the crowd and rapidly descended upon the entire square.
Mujadin looked at me, speechless.
“Safad isn’t holy! He’s a man who pisses and shits like everyone else. His laws are hogwash. You kill for nothing! You are nothing! You’re a liar, scum, a deceiver. All your life fighting for some sick charlatan!” I yelled, feeling blood rush to my face, popping out the veins on my throat and forehead.
I didn’t truly know if I believed what I was saying, but Kafed had echoed my own thoughts on the subject countless times; he believed that Safad wasn’t divine—that he’d tricked others with his ‘miracles’ to gain power and keep it. Everything that was happening was because of that narcissistic, deceiving man-god my father worshipped.
No one in the crowd moved or spoke. The soldiers around me leveled their weapons at my head. The penalty for denying Safad’s divinity was death. I tightened my fists. If this was to end in a hail of bullets, at least I’d diverted attention from those about to be executed, my sister, and Kafed.
Mujadin put up a trembling hand, ordering the men to hold their fire. A deadly whisper. “No. No. He will suffer.”
A short, quiet pause rang forth, then suddenly, I lost control of my body and fell to the concrete ground, pain exploding from every nerve. I’d been struck by stun weapons.
My vision blurred, light entering my pupils in bursts. For one second I saw my father’s stony face, the next the feet of guards, the crowd staring at me, the sea-green sky, my sister weeping on the ground, Kafed flanked by guards.
Soldiers grabbed each of my arms and hoisted me to my knees. Time seemed to slow as I got my bearings, blinking at the crowd, then the air was sliced in two, the sound of a whip whistling before it hit its mark.
Tongues of fire lit up my back, pulling a heinous scream from my throat. My muscles tightened like knots, fresh air eating away at my raw flesh. Red engulfed my vision, and the air thundered and rippled. Wapash! My forearms tensed, and I cried out, trembling. The flames returned, again and again, one lash after the other, ceaseless. The sky darkened, and the blistering heat disappeared. My flesh shredded apart in lines pulled off my muscles in crisscrossing patterns, my blood flowing out, dripping onto the stone. The leather gouged deep into me with each lick. I could hardly breathe.
My tear-filled eyes stared blankly to those below the platform and rested upon a man below me, just one of the many among thousands. White skin. Blond hair. A Northeasterner? My eyes widened at the woman beside him—fiery red locks flared out behind a scarlet mask. Piercing blue eyes drank me in. I expected hostility from them but found shock instead. Sympathy. Conflict within these foreigners. And then they were gone, replaced by black. A last shuddering breath, another crack, and darkness took me.
As a boy, Malik watched an army of religious zealots swarm his hometown, slaughtering his people and running his beloved grandfather through with a black sword. Nine years later, Malik still believes there’s peace…somewhere. At least that’s what he tells himself as his body is ripped apart by whips at a conversion camp. That’s what his best friend whispers as he frantically creates new force technology and jetpacks to rescue Malik. Yet when war bursts through the skies and the sky troopers, assassins, and heroes fall, when the world comes crashing down, Malik Zzoha stands amidst the sands to lead a band of friends and revolutionaries to face his tyrannical, zealot father, determined to free the people he loves.
Juan Zapata is a senior at Alabama A&M, expected to graduate December 2018. He majors in Criminal Justice and is a member of the AAMU Honors Program. Born in Mexico, Juan came to the United States at four years old. When he is not writing, Juan likes to play For Honor and pretend he’s a knight, laughing with happiness at his victories and nearly having aneurisms when defeated.