History is written by the winners. That’s what they say… whoever “they” are. They’re right.
According to the historians, I’m a monster. I was a close friend and trusted confidant of the Son of God… and threw him to the wolves for a sack of shekels. I let the devil in, and did his bidding. I denied the glory, the salvation offered by the Christ, killed myself and was forever damned for it. They’re not entirely wrong. I did those things, and don’t deny it. Couldn’t deny it if I wanted to; are the marks of my death not branded onto my flesh, the all-too-real results of that betrayal evident in the world around me?
They won; won the right to say what they please about me, to tell whatever version of the tale keeps them safe and asleep in bed instead of huddling in the dark, reeking of piss and terrified of every shadow. What they neglect to mention is that I helped them win. I helped bury the truth, at the behest of my master, my mentor, my friend. I didn’t offer Joshua up to the Pharisees – or later, the Romans – simply due to the call of a bag of silver. I was not entered into by the devil in an attempt to discredit and disempower his rival.
I did it because He asked me to. Each of the Apostles had a job to do. Some were simple – like Phillip and Thomas, who had only to go forth and tell the tale – and others were harder – like Peter, who was tasked with building a grand church against the long night to come. But my job… well. I’d say it has to be the worst. What are you supposed to do when your best friend, the man who should have been your father or your brother, comes to you and says “Your task is to have me killed”? All the self-rationalization and the assurances of your master that it’s the only way, that you have to do it, regardless of the cost, those don’t matter much when you’re tossing and turning at night. When you can’t close your eyes without seeing His face twisted into a mask of agony, knowing that it’s your doing. When you sleep at night beside the woman you love, knowing that she loves Him more and no matter what affection she may have for you, that she hates you for taking Him away from her… even if you all know it had to be done.
“I ask you because you’re the strongest. You know what it is to be hated, to be feared.” That’s what Joshua told me, the night he placed this cup before me. “I ask you because you have the will and the power to withstand what will come after, to finish the task my death will begin. I ask you because you have the love in your heart to protect and defend my legacy, my love, when I am no longer there.” That’s a tall order. Peter gets the church. The others wrote letters, or sang in the streets. I had to make His wife my own, raise His child as mine, endure hundreds of years of hatred and vilification, die a thousand times and put the skills the Sicarii taught me to use defending the faith, destroying the things His death unleashed on the world. I had to make something worthwhile out of all that hatred, sin and death.
Sometimes I can forget that. Sometimes I can pretend to be just another man. Distant from his wife, visited only rarely by his children, but happy enough for all of that. A good job, a nice home. Sometimes I can almost feel normal.
But when I’m here… I think the historians may be right. I am a monster. Damned. Hated. Diseased.
Here. The place where it really began, for me. A street with no name in a village that no longer exists. It was on this street that Joshua kept His house before entering into Jerusalem and beginning His final march down the path to apotheosis. All of us lived here, in a succession of huts that were little more than sun-blasted mud with curtains hung across the doorways… but we were happy, there. Even I, knowing He had some terrible plan in mind, forced to watch as the woman I loved above all others grew gravid with His child, feeling the burning glare of the other apostles as they knew something was coming and that I would somehow be the fulcrum, even I managed some happiness.
It doesn’t look like it did, then. There’s no children or livestock in the street. Nothing alive at all, really. If I were to reach out and lay a hand on the wall of the hut I hid in after receiving my traitor’s purse, I would find it cold and dead, compacted soot instead of mud and brick. The few plants that struggle through the hard earth are weeds, already dead by the time their tips poke through the ground but growing razor-sharp thorns just the same. In the distance I don’t see the peaks of the mountains, or the golden glow that told us Jerusalem was near; instead there is only a black, thundery sky and flocks of ravens that always drift across the slate-gray clouds but never light on the buildings below. Even the dust beneath my feet is dead, crematorium ash still mixed with the small bones that won’t burn. And he is coming for me.
My father. My torturer. My maker. The gateway for my return.
Whenever I die, I come back to this place; each time it looks worse than the last. When I hung myself and saw it for the first time, it looked almost as it did when I left it that night. The people and animals were gone, but the clouds were still white, the sky still with a tinge of blue. Desert dust was beneath my sandals, and the walls of the huts still held the warmth of their final hearth-fires. But after hundreds of deaths, what life remained in this place has grown stale and pallid, a mockery of vitality, a testament to entropy and the end of all things.
Besides myself, only the one who comes to me shows any sign of life. Horrid, twisted life, but alive just the same. He’s coming now; I can smell him, brimstone and rot twisting on the ineffectual wind that drifts past my nostrils. A sound of locust wings, perhaps millions of them, as a black cloud of death and disease pours itself into the ground before me, taking form.
It looks like a child, to a degree. Short, with a rounded face. But the flesh hangs in ribbons, pus and maggots crawling over it. The once-brown skin is leathery and shriveled, almost appearing baked by immense heat. The filthy tunic it wears drips with liquid, a foul-smelling mixture of shit and blood. The arms and legs are bent and broken, twisted in such a way as to give the impression of dozens of extra joints. But the face is always the worst. No eyes; merely large, liquid pools of black oil that reflect back a hundred different tortures. A lipless slit of a mouth, ringed with jagged teeth filed to points. No nose; only gashes where nostrils should be. A deep, rumbling laugh comes from the hole in the center of the thing’s face, though the mouth doesn’t move; when it speaks, it merely opens that chaotic maw, allowing the words to pour out like liquid sewage.
“Home again, my son?” Despite it’s horrid appearance, there is laughter in the tone. There always is. My father is always happy to see me. He thinks on one of these visits, I’ll throw off my quest and do what he wants. I tell myself that he’s wrong, that it won’t happen. But sometimes I fear that I’m not strong enough to keep refusing him, even when I give my lines.
“No home, this. Merely a waystation on the road. You know this.” I’ve said it thousands of times. We both know the script far too well. But our parts were written long before I – or he – existed, and we must play them.
“Then you will not bend knee to me, throw off your yoke and serve your true master?” His tone of voice changes, becomes softer. One might mistake it for tenderness; I know it for self-pity. My father has always taken things entirely too personally.
“No, and no, and no. Always you ask, and always I refuse; I’ll not abandon my promise or my brother.” Is it just weariness that makes me think so, or do I detect a waver in my own voice? Is my resolve finally weakening, after hundreds of years? I hope not… but I can never tell. Each time, I fear that this will be the time that my tongue betrays me and says “Yes, for the love of God and all that is Holy, yes, I submit to you.” Each time those fears prove unfounded. But I don’t know how much more I can stand.
He sighs, and reaches up to me. “A pity,” he says, as one arthritic hand caresses my chest. It tents into a spade-shaped claw and digs in, tearing at the flesh above my heart. I grit my teeth against the scream that wants to come, clenching my jaw tight enough to crack it. He wants me to scream; sometimes I do. Today I don’t. Resurrection isn’t painless, no matter what the fairy tales say.
After a long moment, he withdraws his hand and runs a serpentine tongue over the fingers as he laps at my blood and the bits of my flesh that cling to them.
“Go, then,” he says, laughing again. I feel my grip on this place loosening, feel the call of my corpse back in the so-called real world, feel it tugging me back. Again and again, always I come back. Until the job is done… or I am.
I open my eyes, and for a moment there is blissful amnesia. I forget who I am, what I’m here for. Why I’m lying in a ditch by the side of the road, or on a mortician’s table, or in a trench surrounded by the bodies of my fellows. For a moment I am no one, and I adore that moment… because then I could be anyone, and being anyone is better than being me.
Then the memories come. Hundreds, thousands, millions of flashes of times and places and faces that are long gone, ancient history to everyone but myself. I remember.
I am Ioudas Sicarii, known by some as Judas Iscariot. Son of Sathariel. Servant of Yeshua bar Yehowah. I am damned, so others may be saved. And I will not surrender.