Nothing Beats Rock
Updated: Apr 18, 2022
Cicero didn't react when Bacchus slapped himself the first time, striking just below the stubbly jawline on his right side. And he didn't when Bacchus struck again, this time hitting his left cheek. By the third time, Cicero broke rank to see what in the devil was going on with his fellow Roman soldier
"Have you lost it?"
"It's these damned bugs," Bacchus replied, smacking himself right on the forehead. Between the two, Bacchus was less refined than his current counterpart: his shoulders sloped, and he rarely stood like a solider when nobody was looking. Cicero, however, was fit and handsome: the poster boy for the Roman army. Neither were good at being perfectly lazy or absolutely exceptional: they were both passable and that is what landed them in guard duty.
"It is unseasonably hot today" was the understatement of the year. Cicero and Bacchus both sweat through to their chest plates standing there in the arid city, assuring their superiors that no one disturbed a dead man who'd already been holed up for three days.
"How much longer you think we need to stand here?" Bacchus asked.
"Until the commander tells us otherwise."
"Which would be..." Bacchus stared at Cicero, waiting for an answer. "I mean, he can't be any deader," Bacchus said of the recently deceased resting behind the round boulder door that sealed the tomb. "Dead as an iron nail."
"A nail is not dead."
"It's not alive."
"Does not mean it qualifies as dead. Just because something does not live does not mean it dies."
"So what would you call the guy in there?" Bacchus asked, his thumb pointing to the tomb behind him.
"Dead," Cicero exclaimed. "Because he was alive."
"A nail isn't alive."
"A nail is inanimate."
Bacchus' forehead scrunched, still read from when he slapped it. "In-ani-what?"
"Excuse me," a young woman spoke out of breath, her dark hair in disarray and olive skin flush from running. She came to a stop before the soldiers, having appeared--according to them--out of nowhere. "I need to get into the tomb."
"Good afternoon, ma'am," Cicero greeted.
"Miss," Bacchus corrected. Cicero turned his head slowly to stare at his companion, awfully cross. "She's too young to be a ma'am."
"Please," she begged, ignoring them, "it's urgent I get into the tomb,"
"Sorry, ma'am," ("Miss") "no visitors allowed," Cicero said.
"And you wonder why you're not married," Bacchus muttered.
"Yes, my addresses are precisely the reason why I am not married."
Bacchus shrugged. "You don't get women."
"I think I get on with them a tad better than you."
"Then what happened with Eutropia or Madera. Hell! Constantina--that was a sure thing. Don't know how you could have messed that up. What's your deal?"
"I am simply too busy," Cicero explained.
"Too busy to send a stupid pigeon?"
"I work nights--shouldn't be writing a woman at all hours."
"So, ignoring them altogether is the answer?" Cicero refused to respond. Bacchus looked to the woman, leaning forward slightly, "Yeah, busy," he chided, placing the "busy" in air quotes.
"I also have a strict exercise regiment--need to stay fit for the job, maintain a certain readiness."
"Yeah, 'readiness.'" Bacchus repeated, using his air quotes again. "Well, you're free right now: what about her?" he asked, pointing to the woman.
She shook her head--unbelievable. "I was sent here," she told them, trying to move the conversation back. "Now--"
"Let me ask you something," Bacchus started, veering the conversation much to the poor woman's displeasure. "Would you go out with him?"
Cicero sighed. "Not this again."
"I'm sorry, what?" the woman's mouth hung open in disbelief.
"Just by looking at him, you'd go for it, right?"
"What is happening?" she said to herself.
"I'm sorry, ma'am," Cicero apologised.
"See, there you go again. Look at her--how old are you," Bacchus asked the woman.
She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came.
"It's best if you just leave," Cicero recommended. "Once he starts--you'd have to kill him to stop."
"I'd let her have my kids," Bacchus remarked, looking her up and down.
"Listen to me: the saviour is rising from his tomb!" the woman burst--the words exploding out of her. "Now, please, let me in."
Bacchus looked to Cicero. "Nobody told us about that," to which Cicero shook his head in reply. "Who told you?"
Bacchus shook his head. "Yeah, that's not our department."
"Wait a moment," Cicero thought aloud, "what if the deceased man in there isn't so?"
"Like, what if he's dead?"
Cicero rolled his eyes: "Yes."
"Then we'd have to go in because if we left him in there, we'd be murderers."
"We could be court marshalled for that."
"Well, go on," Bacchus insisted, stepping out of the way for Cicero, "open it."
"Why do I have to do it?"
"Come on, use your readiness."
"I outrank you," Cicero argued.
"No, you don't."
"I enlisted first."
Bacchus turned to the woman. "Miss..."
"Mary," she answered.
"Miss Mary, between the two of us, who is better fit to open the tomb?"
"Can't you open it together?" she asked.
The guards paused, puzzled by her suggestion.
"Rock, parchment, chisel for it?" Bacchus proposed. Cicero nodded.
"Oh my god..." the woman sighed as she walked away.
The men formed fists with their hands--one, two, three--Cicero won the first round: rock smashed chisel.
Again they went, unaware of the glittering being that appeared in the sky and entered into a deep conversation with Mary. The otherworldly being glowed, casting a prismatic light on the tan monochrome landscape.
One, two, three--Cicero won again; chisel pierced parchment. Bacchus swore, and neither Mary nor the angel heard.
They went for what Cicero was sure would be the last round. One, two, three--"Yes!" they both shouted. "Why are you happy?"
"Parchment beats rock," Bacchus told him.
"No, it doesn't."
"Those are the rules."
Cicero shook his head. "It doesn't make any sense: how does parchment beat rock?"
"Because it wraps around it," Bacchus drawled.
"It's still a rock!" But Bacchus wasn't budging, and Cicero just about had it. "You're opening the tomb."
"You didn't win!"
The angel glided over to the guards while Mary waited, arms crossed and without a bit of hope.
"Look..." Cicero grabbed a rock off the ground then a letter from his sack. He wrapped the parchment around it.
"See," Bacchus exclaimed, all smug, "Parchment covers rock."
WHACK! Cicero smashed Bacchus with the rock sending him wobbling around. The angel stopped, appalled by them. "Rock wins." He examined the rock, proud of his work. "Ah! and look!" He peeled the parchment from the rock. "It ripped."
Once Bacchus could somewhat think straight, he brought his eyes to meet the parchment. "What are you writing to Callicratia for?"
"That's not the point." Cicero crumpled the paper in his hand, hiding it. "The point is I won so open the tomb."
"I thought you were too 'busy' to write," Bacchus accused. "Why are you writing my sister?"
"We happen to have quite a bit in common."
"Like?" Bacchus pressed.
"What things?" but Cicero wouldn't answer. "Is there something funny going on between you and my sister?"
Mary marched over to the angel: "Aren't you going to do anything?"
"I don't know if I can," the angel replied.
"What does the letter say?" Bacchus demanded.
"Nothing," Cicero insisted, diving out of the way as Bacchus reached for the letter.
"Let me read it!"
Bacchus chased Cicero--the two running about. "Give it!"--"It's none of your business!" around and around and away from the tomb.
"Well," Mary sighed in relief at them leaving. "Thank god for that." She looked to the angel, waiting.
"What?" said the angel.
"Open it," Mary replied, referring to the tomb.
"Why do I have to open it?"
"You can't expect me to open it?" but based on the angel's reaction, yes, the angel could expect that. "Rock, parchment, chisel?" Mary proposed.