Blood, sweat, and tears. Blood—the result of fist pummeled flesh—trickled from the corner of his eye, the cut in his lip, and the pool collecting in the corner of his mouth. Sweat from his relentless flight as his footsteps pounded the forest floor. Beads of sweat mingled with blood as it dripped down his face. Still, he could not stop running. Tears also dripped down his face, mixing with sweat and blood, creating a concoction of fear.
The boy’s pace slowed momentarily, allowing him to spit out the blood-pool. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, partially relieved. They were following him. He swallowed, cringing at the metallic taste, and continued his flight. Numbness overtook him. His legs finally gave out, and he tumbled into a clearing, colliding with a large oak. The coal black tree stood at the center of the clearing with bare black branches towering over his frail existence. The boy pushed himself to his feet and limped toward the tree. He rested his palm against the bark. Heat radiated from the tree, as if a fire burned within its wooden frame. The boy shivered, his sweat covered body reacting poorly with the cold. He shivered again and sat at the base of the tree, resting his back against the bark. His eyes fell closed, immediately lulling him into a deep sleep.
The meek shall inherit the kingdom.
The words echoed in his mind like the taste of metal lingering on the tongue. A bitter taste, unpleasant. Poignant. His eyes opened. Night had stolen the sun from the skies. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he noticed figures stepping from the woods into the clearing. He recognized the boys. These were the boys he was running from. He had sacrificed blood, sweat and tears to escape these boys, and they had found him. The boy struggled to his feet, weakly leaning against the tree’s frame wishing he was anywhere else.
“Ha! You thought you could escape!” The leader cried. “But we found you, Adam. And now, oh now you’re going to get it!”
Adam was speechless, still affected by the words lingering in his mind. The meek shall inherit the kingdom.
“What we going to do to him, Dusty?”
“I don’t know yet. I’m still, thinking about it.”
Dusty laughed. A bitter laugh, unpleasant. Poignant.
The meek shall inherit the kingdom. The words seemed to emanate from the tree. Come into me. Adam hesitated, momentarily questioning his sanity. You will be given knowledge. Adam turned toward the tree. Knowledge and power beyond your wildest dreams.
“Face us like a man!”
Adam put pressure on the tree, leaning into it, surprised at the lack of resistance. Before he could pull backward, he fell into the tree. The boys sprinted to the tree, pounding their fists against the bark. Adam had disappeared.
Light penetrated every part of Adam’s being. Radiant light breathed knowledge into his lungs. His tongue clacked against the roof of his mouth as he tasted light, swallowed power. He felt his power growing, its branches reaching skyward from the seed of knowledge.
Do what you could not do…
The tree spoke, for with his newfound knowledge, he recognized the tree’s voice.
He tumbled forth, floating from the branch like an autumn leaf. His feet gently touched the ground. He smiled, flexing his fingers in the darkness toward the boys who still occupied the clearing. They smiled, the object of torture returned to their clutches. Adam returned their smiles with a malicious one of his own creation.
“Face me like a man,” Adam mocked, his body rising from the ground. He cupped his hands and stretched out his arms. Tongues of fire spontaneously sparked in the centers of his palms. His smile grew, its poison acting as lighter fluid, fueling the fires.
“Oh,” he imitated. “Now you’re going to get it.”
He spun his arms wildly. Throwing flames from his body, watching as fire consumed life around him. The click-clack of his tongue played background to the combustion of souls. He laughed at their torment as flame and bone alike served as fuel to the wrathful fire. Their screams fueled his desire for destruction, for revenge against the boys. He laughed and laughed, feeling satisfied with his newfound power. When ash reduced to ash and dust to dust, he stood against the only tree still standing. The tree who had given him the power, who had given him knowledge.
Sastisfied? Again the voice came from the tree.
“They’re done! Fried!”
Adam looked at his hands, flexing his fingers and shivering with newfound power. The destruction he could execute. He shivered again.
So, you’re satisfied. The tree again commented.
The boy paused.
“Yes,” he answered. “Yes, I am satisfied.”
Good. The tree replied. Good. Then, it’s time to pay up.
All knowledge, all power comes with a price.
Look inward, the tree directed.
The evil deed had drenched his heart with sin, as if sticky gasoline had been poured over it, increasing the flammability of his own soul. By burning these boys with temporary fire, he had gained a one way ticket to eternal torment. The licking of his lips reminded him of the licking flames of the fire awaiting him, and he cried out.
“Mercy! Have mercy! I didn’t know.”
Ah, the tree replied. But you see I gave you knowledge and with knowledge comes power and with power comes responsibility.
The boy stuttered some more. “B-but…I didn’t…they started it…if they hadn’t…”
The tree’s branches snaked downward. The tree wrapped its thorny limbs around the boy and began stretching him. Adam screamed in pain and anguish for any form of salvation.
If you just had called on me. A still small voice whispered in his ear. The meek inherit the kingdom, but Adam, you are no longer meek. You took my wrath into your own hands. You took revenge which is mine and made it your own. You contaminated what I had made clean.
“No,” the boy cried. “No!”
Adam screamed as the tree stretched him farther and farther. The still small voice lingered in his ear like the taste of metal.
I forgive you, the voice whispered. I forgive you.
Adam couldn’t hear it.
The meek shall inherit the kingdom.
The still small voice remained, but Adam no longer cared. His eyes fell closed against the blood, sweat, and tears.