Final moments on a day far from here.
The pain on his back and in his feet and hands really was excruciating, not to mention that every time he tried to move his lips they bled all over the place. He’d been told that being suspended several feet into the air for days until you died wasn’t pleasant, and as it turned out whoever had told him that (probably a heckling detractor of one kind or another) had been absolutely right. He’d been especially disquieted when he figured out that they were going to nail him to his tree.
He wanted to forgive them. After all, what kind of teacher was he that he couldn’t back up his own lessons? But after having a day or so to think the whole thing over, Jesus Christ decided that he was not a fan of people. Disagreeing with him was one thing. He even managed to learn that crucifixion was unpleasant from one such disagreement. Putting him in jail seemed a bit unfair, but he could see that as a threat to established order that would be necessary if not reasonable. The torture he could wrap his mind around. It was prison after all, not a fair. The crown of thorns that even now dripped blood into his eyes was where everything started to seem a bit superfluous, as did being made to strip down.
But the one thing that really pissed him off had been having to carry his own goddamned cross.
It was one thing to tie a man to a tree and leave him there to die (or in his case, nail him to a tree and leave him there to die). But it was real a tribute to the common discourtesy of man to have to make that same person carry his tree up a hill. For one thing, it wasn’t very efficient for a column of starving prisoners to have to carry fairly heavy trees up a fairly steep hill because it wasn’t easy. Inside of five minutes, Jesus could have thought of hundreds of better things that any one of the metal-clad legionnaires or piss-poor inhabitants of Jerusalem could have been doing instead of watching a day-long procession of people pointedly not carry trees up hills.
Not that any of that mattered now. In retrospect, very little mattered right now. He was nailed to a tree.
The pain really was excruciating.
‘’I think he’s still alive,’’ crackled a voice to his right.
‘’Oh who bloody cares,’’ replied something vaguely resembling a groan to his left.
Blinking away the pain and blood in his eyes, Christ shifted his head to look at the dark blur that he knew occupied the cross over. Not nailed. Of course not nailed.
‘’Thank God I’m not nailed,’’ the blur whispered through cracked lips.
‘’And too bad for the poor fuck who is,’’ laughed the voice that spoke behind him.
‘’Who…’’ Jesus tried to say. It felt disingenuous for an orator to falter in his speech, but he really couldn’t help himself. He even tried dragging a bloated tongue across broken and bleeding lips. ‘’Who…are…’’
‘’Thieves, friend, thieves,’’ answered the other man. ‘’What about you?’’
‘’…Jesus…’’ Christ managed to whisper. The air that scratched it’s way out of his throat pushed the blood of his lips and down his face, mingling with what was already pouring down his temple. He gasped and tried to stop himself from breathing to hard at the effort of conversation. It did hurt so.
‘’Hold on. Jesus? Jesus Jesus? As in Jesus Christ?’’ came the harsh tone from his left.
Christ nodded his head.
‘’Aren’t you the son of the Jew God, or something?’’
He didn‘t answer. They had started calling him that now. It made him wince. Which made him wince more, so he stopped.
‘’And you’re up here?’’
‘’Yes.’’ His voice was hardly a ragged bit of air now. He laid his head back on the rough wood, splinters poking into the back of his head. God, it was hot.
‘’And you can’t get down?’’
‘’Oh stop.’’ scolded his right.
‘’The man’s a deity! What good is he if he can’t get us down?’’
‘’I think you’re missing the point somewhere there…’’
‘’Please. If He’s All Powerful he can bloody well nip His fucking son out of a tree. And us, while He’s at it. What’s the point in that crock, otherwise? Really? In any crock, for fuck’s sake? You realize that without any kind of substantive proof, it’s a long series of ridiculous stories that people kill each other over. A lot.’’
‘’Romans,’’ muttered his right.
‘’Greeks,’’ hissed his left.
His head drooped back down with a jerk. Strangely, he didn’t feel it. He felt so little now, except the far-flung spar that somehow, someway, this would help. He could show them all what it meant, everything he’d ever said. The famous last lecture of a teacher that would change the world. He’d show them all that faith could defy even suffering, even the machinations of the greatest earthly power anyone had ever seen couldn’t stop the love of mankind. If he could only hold out a day, maybe another, hope that Peter would stay away.
It was getting harder. Harder to think. Harder still to care. They’d made him carry his own fucking tree. And now these two. Now that. It really wasn’t fair.
‘’Wh…’’ It was a moan.
‘’He say something?’’ asked his right.
‘’Prayers to the Jew God, probably. So nothing important,’’ spat his left.
‘’You know I’m Jewish, right?’’ sighed his right.
‘’Yes, and pray in equal futility.’’
‘’’I really hope you die first.’’
‘’What, so He can chastise me?’’
‘’So you can go bug Him instead of me. Yes, I’d do that to Him. I’m willing to face eternal punishment to hear you shut up.’’ He would have said his right sounded heated, but heat had seemed to lose all meaning to him now. Thinking was…fuzzy. He was mad.
‘’Jeez, you’re mean.’’
‘’Oh you don’t even know.’’
‘’Why..?’’ He didn’t want it to, but it came out bitter.
‘’Why the hell are you defending him, anyway?’’ answered his left.
‘’I like what he says. He doesn’t go overboard with it, either.’’ bounced his right.
‘’Oh, yeah right. Son of God? Crowds of loyal followers? You know that psychopath Peter actually killed a legionnaire over him?’’
‘’Come on, he’s the Prince of Peace…’’
‘’Bullocks! Hogwash! The Legion, hell I’ve seen every crackpot, roadside messiah to come along with an angry mob of fanatics bent on murdering anyone who didn’t agree with them from here to Germania. He isn’t fooling anyone, and certainly not me.’’
‘’Why…Father?’’ He felt air rush out his mouth, making bubbles in the blood that coated his lips. He was trembling. More? Here? Really?
‘’That was weird,’’ shot his right.
‘’I really hope he’s not talking to us.’’
‘’Why, Father? Why them?’’ He spoke with authority to his last congregation. His head rose on a neck that found new strength.
‘’He’s definitely talking about us.’’ sighed his right, again.
‘’Father! Father, he said. You hear that? Father! He does think it! He really believes it!’’
‘’Not necessarily,’’ answered his right gloomily.
‘’Ah, I knew it! Another saviour, another massacre followed by an Imperial reprisal.’’
He opened his eyes, which saw even through the sting of gore. He swung his head to the left, and blazed into a grinning face.
‘’Ooh, awake now, dearie? That make you mad? How many’s it going to be, do you think? A thousand? Hundred thousand? How many children do you think your words are worth?’’
He had so many things to say. So many things he could say about everything he wanted to do, had ever wanted to do. Voices bounced through his head. Accusations. Insults. Excuses. Desperate explanations.
He felt his face bloat. He shook so hard his hands almost seemed loose on their nails.
He couldn’t say a word.
Slowly, he turned his face, and showed the man his cheek.
To the other, he looked and said, ‘’You…both of you…I tell you true, shall be with me in paradise by day‘s end.’’
His right answered with a stony face. ‘’I‘m sure we will.’’
He looked up a final time and sighed, black weariness overtaking him. He did it.
The Left looked over at the slumped form of the tree, his grin gone. A thoughtful look perched itself on his face.
‘’I’m not wrong, you know.’’
The Right turned over as well, his own look plain to see. He shrugged as well as he could on a cross.
‘’Maybe. But that’s hardly his fault.’’