Chapter 1: One through seven
Once, there had been a tunnel diverging in the rock, underneath the stars, the air hard and strong as the desert. There had been a choice. It had started that way, after everything had ended.
Then the roads multiplied, memories came back, and a strong anger was born, and never truly went away.
And then something new started.
Walls, roof and ceilings slowly came into view that wasn’t there before.
“What are you doing here?” the condemned man burst out, sitting upright now and looking very alert, compared to a few seconds ago. “You are supposed to be dead!”
“…James?” asked his visitor uncertainly. He looked closer at the other one, then nodded, before taking a new look at his surroundings. “A prison…? Doesn’t look all real, does it…” he added under his breath, as if to himself.
“Don’t tell me they were wrong and you’ve been alive and getting away with it this whole time,” said James tensely.
“I didn’t… I guess I’m a ghost?” the visitor ventured. He glanced at the condemned man. “You look older.”
“…You don’t,” replied James the son of Zebedee, after a few long considering moments, his face growing darker, more troubled.
“How many years has it been?”
“Fifteen. It’s been fifteen years,” said James shortly. “You’re not alive,” he went on. “What are you doing here? Am I dreaming?” He put a hand to his forehead, breathing heavily.
“Probably. I don’t know? I just… I didn’t come here on purpose.”
“Like I’d believe anything you’d say,” said James bitterly, not able to stand it anymore. He got up to his feet, strode over to Judas and punched him to the ground.
“After all this time you come here-- like nothing happened-- like it wasn’t important-- how could someone even do that-- how could you?” he burst out, his voice growing ragged. “You’re worse than Ahitophel! And you were one of us!”
Judas slowly rolled over, sat up, and hugged his knees, trembling. After a few moments, he started to talk, not looking up. “The-- the whole thing was horrible-- not just my crime-- I didn’t -- I wasn’t-” He gasped for breath, then went on in a shriller voice, “-He shouldn’t have told me to do it…”
James felt cold with disbelief and anger. “I can’t believe it,” he spat out. “You’re blaming him? Like you weren’t already about to-!” This time he kicked him. Then he stepped back, supporting himself on the prison wall.
Judas flung his arms up against a new attack that wasn’t coming. “I-- not in so many words--” another gasp-- “I’d mostly just been thinking of running away until then,” he babbled, “to go hide somewhere until it all blew over, not, not handing him over…” He started to sob, shaking violently. “Or maybe not, maybe I don’t remember it well…”
James stared down at him, then turned around. “You’re beyond contempt,” he said coldly. “I can’t see why you’d be the one to turn up now, on my final night…”
“Final?” Judas got out, between the sobs.
“They will have me killed in the morning.”
“Perhaps Satan sent you, not to tempt me but to trouble me,” said James thoughtfully, more to himself. “Perhaps the Lord sent you, as a final test and a warning.” In a softer voice, he wondered out loud, “Did I fail my test? We are supposed to forgive everyone…” He sat down heavily on the pile of straw where he had been asleep. Where he probably was still asleep, he guessed now. “I’m not worthy. I’m not strong enough. I was never strong enough.”
After a few silent moments, Judas said, “I thought maybe… I didn’t know they still… I thought maybe you all had it easier now….”
“Why would you think that?” said James sharply, but not looking at him. “It only gets harder and harder. And yet… And yet,” he burst out, lifting his head again, “we keep growing! The more they push us down, the more they make examples of us, the more converts flock to us, followers of the Way, even among the Gentiles…”
“Yes!” he snapped. Then, in calmer tone, he went on. “But it will not get any easier, I think. For some time. Until the Kingdom of God. It won’t be long. It can’t. And then our suffering will be over.” A huge weight lifting from him, now, at the end. The terrible fear had receded. He couldn’t sense it at all anymore. He closed his eyes, then said, with true calm, “All right. I’m ready to wake up now.”
Time passed, or perhaps didn’t, only seemed to. It was hard to tell.
He found himself inside a house he hadn’t walked to.
“Where…” Judas started to say, then stopped as he saw the figure sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall. “Oh. James, it is you,” he stated, unnecessarily. The other James, that was.
“Of course it is me,” mumbled James the son of Alphaeus distantly.
“This doesn’t look like a prison cell,” remarked Judas.
“It’s not. But they will come for me soon.”
“Then shouldn’t you move somewhere else?”
“No,” said James firmly. “It is time to stop hiding. Though it might mean my death.” He focused on the other one, then started.
“You-!” James scrambled to his feet, and the room started to shift, looking starker, older, and colder, with darker shadows in the corners. “What are you doing here, Judas Iscariot?”
Judas backed a few steps. “I-I’m not sure. I don’t know why--”
“You’ve come to augur my death, haven’t you?”
“I-” Judas stopped, and blinked. “…Maybe?”
James looked bitter. “It would be too much to ask for a kinder vision.”
A tense silence followed, then James burst out, “Well? Don’t just stand there! Whatever you’re about to do, do it quickly!”
“Oh, that’s a good one!” exclaimed Judas, upset. “And I don’t know what it is that I’m supposed to do! If anything!”
“Then stop tainting this last night with your cursed features!” shouted James.
Judas frowned, holding his breath and focusing for a few long seconds. Nothing happened.
“…Are you telling me to go away?” he asked. “I think you need to say it more clearly.”
“Why?” snapped James. “You should understand that much.”
“Because I tried to leave on my own just now, but it didn’t work. You’ll have to say it.”
“Fine! Just go, you damn traitor! Leave!” James took an angry step forward, but the next second, Judas had disappeared entirely. James blinked, just standing there for a moment, breathing heavily. Then he returned to the original corner of the room and sat down again, hot and exhausted.
“No,” he muttered to himself. “I’m not hiding.”
He was in a kind of courtyard, with high forbidding Roman walls, and he could see prisoners and guards. But it seemed indistinct and fuzzy, apart from the man sitting with his head in his hand and looking out at nothing a few metres away. He had aged less than one would have thought, Judas thought at first, but then realised that in a dream, you can just keep looking younger.
“Bartholomew,” he said out loud. “So it’s you, now.”
The other one started, but said nothing at first. He opened his mouth, watching him closely, then abruptly closed it, before finally saying “You. Now I know I’m dreaming.” His voice sounded hoarse and raw.
“Well… No, not like usual,” said Judas. “You’re asleep but it’s more like a vision than an ordinary dream. I’m really here.”
“How could you really be here?” said Bartholomew, reasonably.
“I mean, I came from Sheol to be here, in your dream.”
“Why?” said Bartholomew, getting up from the ground and dusting off his knees. He seemed fairly composed, more than the two Jameses had been.
“I don’t know,” said Judas. “I didn’t come here of my own accord. You could say I was pulled here, but I don’t know by what. It was the same with the two Jameses.”
Bartholomew said, “Since this is a dream, I can leave that courtyard for a while.” Waving a hand in front of him towards the nearest wall, a path formed from his feet and leading forward and out. He started to walk it.
“The Governor didn’t even bother finding a cell for us, for me and three other friends,” he said, his tone still calm. “They’ll crucify us in the morning.” The courtyard retreated around them, soft night swallowing it up with a suggestion of countryside hills taking its place. The air felt drier and cleaner.
“Ah, it’s like I’m back in Galilee!” exclaimed Bartholomew. Now he was holding a lit torch. “See the line of the mountains against the dawn sky!”
“I see them...”
“You said Sheol,” said Bartholomew, his tone still calm. “And not Gehenna?”
After a moment, Judas replied, “Gehenna is part of it.”
“So is there crying, and gnashing of teeth?”
“Yes, there is,” he admitted. “But that’s not all there is. There are other paths, too; there are – other places.”
“How long has it been?”
“Hm? Oh-- twenty-three years,” said Bartholomew, in an absent-minded tone. Then he went on, “You know, you drag that darkness with you. And the smell of burnt garbage. Look down. Can you see the small pieces of soot you spread on the ground?”
Judas looked down, observing. “…You’ve got a good eye,” he had to acknowledge.
Bartholomew shook his head. “Not so much when I’m awake, not anymore.” He looked over at the mountain range, where the light of the dawn grew stronger. “So you will go on to see the others as they go, then. At least eight more. And maybe Matthias, too? He’s the one we chose to replace you.”
He held up his torch towards Judas. “Why are you not only in Gehenna? Why are there those other places, too?”
“That’s… Well…” Judas bit his lip. “It’s hard to explain…”
“Do you not accept your punishment?” asked Bartholomew, his voice still remarkably even and collected.
“I… No, I don’t,” said Judas in a low voice. “Not in whole. No.”
Now Bartholomew gave him a searching look, then dropped his voice and said, simply, “You should. If you could accept it fully, then you might be able to become purified and forgiven. Until then you will keep smelling of darkness and fire wherever you go.” He took a closer step, and might even have given him the briefest of shoulder pats. “Go.”
Judas vanished. Bartholomew closed his eyes, mumbling, “I see the light, shining…”
He could return to the courtyard, now. He was ready. He held his head straight, a touch of triumph over him.
“This seems familiar…” remarked Judas, looking around inside another prison cell. “It’s how it was with the first James.”
The man sitting on the floor looked up, squinting in the bad light. “Who’s there?” he asked. “Let me out if you can! I still have so much to do…”
“I can’t, Peter,” said the other one. “I’m inside your dream. This isn’t the real cell.” But he went over to the door anyway, pushing it a little. The door didn’t move. He pulled at it, then pushed once more, harder this time. Now the door swung open.
Simon Peter looked at him carefully, then shook his head. “No… no, this is likely a final temptation.” He looked down on his hands, resting in his lap, then drew a deep breath. “I need to accept what is coming fully,” he stated bleakly. “It’s too late for rescues now.”
“How long has it been?” said Judas after a few long seconds. “Are you much older?”
“It’s been thirty-five years. And this is Rome. The current emperor is very hard on us. He blames us Christians for the great fire that happened here last month.”
Judas blinked at this unfamiliar word. “’Christians’?”
“It’s because Christos is Greek for Messiah,” said Peter. “That’s what we call him now when we talk to Gentiles. Iesos Christos.” After a pause, he remarked, “It’s fitting that you should come to me of all people. I denied him three times out of fear, after all.”
“You’re not the only one. Who I came to, I mean.” Judas gestured at himself, then at their prison surroundings, and at Peter. “This happened with Bartholomew and the Jameses, too. But I don’t know why.”
Peter fell silent for a little while, then said, in a low voice, “I should have talked to you more. Should have seen what could happen.” He kneaded his forehead with his knuckles, looking tired, worn out, responsible. “Or tried to stop him from letting you join, or from taking that position…”
“You did the best you could” said Judas shortly, not looking at him. “There was a prophecy, right? So.”
A jingling sound made Judas turn his head to see a set of keys that now lay in Peter’s hands. Peter touched them carefully, a wondering expression on his tired face. “These keys… they’re supposed to be the keys to heaven, aren’t they?” he remarked, but seemed to be thinking out loud. “I’ve heard people whisper so… but it’s not true, he never gave them to me.”
“They are. Or they will be. If enough people believe it,” said Judas. He added, after some thought, “And I think they will.”
A long silence followed, not all that tense.
Finally, Peter looked up. “Oh, you’re still here. Why?” he asked frankly, without hostility in his tone.
“I’m not sure. I think maybe I can only go when you ask me to leave? Or when you wake up.”
“It wasn’t you I wanted to see… But still…” He broke up, looking pensive, and curious.
Judas gave him a puzzled look.
“You are paying for what you did,” said Peter slowly. “Aren’t you?” He was looking at the keys in his hand again, turning them over and over.
“Yes,” said Judas simply. “As has been foretold.”
“That makes sense…” mumbled Peter, not looking up. There was another pause.
Judas opened his mouth, very puzzled by now, then said disbelievingly, “Peter, you’re not… you’re not really letting me stay in this dream for my sake?”
“…I don’t know,” said Peter evasively. But after a moment, he muttered, “No lying, now” under his breath, and went on in a firmer voice, “Yes.”
Judas shook his head, stunned for a moment. “…That’s-- that’s really nice of you,” he managed to say after a while. “Um. But I can be in more than one place at a time, now.”
“Oh,” said Peter, eyes widening. “So I’m not helping, then.”
Peter sighed, closing his eyes. “Then, please leave,” he said. “I need to prepare myself and to pray. I need to let the light in.”
A stone hall lined up with pillars surrounded him all of a sudden, bereft of people. There were windows, placed high; the place gave a serene, majestic feeling.
Since he couldn’t think of any other solution (he had, at this point, yet to be summoned by magic by anyone), he guessed this was another dream by one of the Twelve. But it was strange not to see anyone.
Then a narrow staircase came into view, leading upwards.
“Go up there and see where it leads.”
Judas jumped at the sudden voice talking right by his ears, span around but still couldn’t see anyone.
Swallowing, he scratched his head. “Well, this is different,” he mumbled. He looked at the stone steps, going up through a hole in the ceiling. “Might as well.”
The steps led up to the large roof of the building. He stepped out and walked closer to the edge. The moon was shining, letting him make out a courtyard on the one side, and a city on the other, with high walls in the distance. He found the view vaguely familiar.
He turned his head and was not too surprised to see Andrew standing a few steps away from him, also looking down at the landscape below.
He sighed. “Of course, this is just a dream… It wouldn’t be that easy.”
“Yes?” said Andrew mildly, not looking back yet.
“What are you doing?” asked Judas, confused.
Andrew turned around and started to walk towards another side of the large roof, with an easy, unhurried gait. “Just looking for a way out. I have so many things still to do…” He waved at the house underneath him: “Though I doubt the rest of the building really looks like this. It’s just in my head. I only know the dungeon.”
“It’s Jerusalem, isn’t it?”
“It is indeed. Peter made it all the way to Rome, but I seem fated to end up not far from where I started.” He stopped, looking out at the courtyard and the dark buildings beyond it. “What are you doing here, Iscariot?”
“If this is your last night alive… I turned up in the others’ dreams, too. The Jameses and Bartholomew and Peter. It wasn’t on purpose, I don’t know why, it just seems to happen.”
“Hm.” Andrew turned and walked along the edge of the roof. Judas stayed where he was but moved in place a little, moving his weight from one foot to the other uncertainly.
“How was that big brother of mine?” asked Andrew.
“He seemed… dutiful, and calm. And oddly kind,” added Judas after a moment.
“That does sound like him.” Andrew’s voice dropped down, losing his light-hearted tone. He stepped closer, now finally looking straight at Judas, his gaze unwavering and serious. “Why did you do it?”
Judas looked away. “…Are you going to punch me, too, like James did?” he muttered.
“If he did it already, then I don’t have to, do I?” After a moment, Andrew went on, “I’d just like to know if it was more fear or greed.” He waited a little, then added again, “Or anger.”
Judas crossed his arms and muttered, “Greed didn’t have much to do with it. It was just the excuse. I, I gave the money back anyway,” he added, voice cracking. Then under his breath, he said in a confused tone, but as if talking to himself, “I think I did that?”
“Too little, too late,” said Andrew, sighing deeply.
“I know,” said Judas shortly.
A pause followed. Andrew again turned his head to look out at the city. Finally, he said, “If this keeps up for you with the dreams, send my regards to everyone you’ll see after me.”
“Your regards?” said Judas, surprised. “Do you want to send a message?”
Andrew shook his head. “No, just that.”
“…I can do that.” A moment, then he added, more warily, “I can try.”
“It seems strange,” said Andrew pensively, “that all the roads will stop tomorrow, for good or bad. Yet I can’t help feeling I still have a long way to go… I am afraid, but mostly, it’s…” A wind rose up, and the shadow of a large bird passed over them. “Still so much work to do.”
He started to fade away, the dream dissolving with him, as he woke up.
It appeared to Simon that he was standing outside a large gate leading into a building he needed to go through, one where he knew there would be rooms where he could find what he needed, and doors he had to step through. This is the last chance I’ll get, his mind insisted. Right inside the gate, there was darkness. As if slowly coming together from shadows, the contours of a figure shaped before him, turning into a man, first fuzzy and vague but then more solid, his features still hard to make out. Simon frowned in concentration, stepping closer to see better.
“Who’s there?” he asked.
The figure stepped closer, coming into the light from outside. “…Simon? But how…”
Simon opened his mouth, forming a word – a name – soundlessly. No. Not now.
“…Oh. This is inside your dream, isn’t it?” said the other one, as if figuring it all out. He sounded intolerably careless to Simon.
Simon closed his eyes for a moment, clenching his fists in exasperation. “Why am I dreaming of you… I haven’t even done that in a long time.”
“It’s not a regular dream,” Judas Iscariot explained, stepping closer: Simon took a step back. “I’m really here. I mean, all right, not really here, but it’s like a vision… it’s a true dream, see?!” He was waving his hands now in his effort to making Simon understand.
“You…” Staring at him, Simon raised a hand, pointing in the pose he’d take when banishing an evil spirit. He opened his mouth to speak, to drive him away.
The other quickly said, “Andrew--”
Simon froze, lowering his hand slightly. Not saying anything yet.
“--Andrew wanted me to give you his regards,” Iscariot added. The gate opened up and he stepped through it.
Simon kept his distance, giving him a guarded look. “Andrew sent you here, Iscariot?”
He shook his head. “No, it’s-- Nobody sent me, far as I know. Though I didn’t come of my own accord either. This is just something that happens.” He added, quickly, “I don’t know why. But Andrew--”
“Did you meet him on the other side?” said Simon tensely.
“No! I was in his dream like I’m in yours now. He thought he’d be killed in the morning.” Now he was looking away. “All of them did,” he went on in a hoarser voice. “James and James and Bartholomew and Peter and Andrew.”
A pause. Simon noticed vaguely that their surroundings had changed, and they were no longer standing outside, but in a room with stone walls with an oil lamp burning in the corner.
Judas Iscariot cleared his throat. “…And Andrew said I should carry his regards to everyone that’s left.”
“He really said that? Just that?”
Iscariot looked at the floor. “Yes,” he mumbled. “It’s what he said.”
Simon held his head in his hands for several long moments, breathing heavily. Then he waved towards the other, without looking up.
“You. You will stay right here,” he ordered. “I’m going on. I may come back before I wake up. Don’t leave.” He opened the door’s one room and stepped outside, closing the door behind him.
He was, he felt now, in the right place at least, the place where the rooms were parts of his mind. Get things in order, now. Last chance I’ll get. To be able to bear the end with, if not dignity, at least righteousness.
But this would only work if the dream would allow him to be that stable, that organised. Otherwise he might as well wake up.
He opens new doors in the building, steps through new portals, walking up and down, reordering walls, cleaning up, closing down. The disorder vanishes, the unlit corners are cleared away, forgiven; the light is spreading.
He feels ready to go on to the last place he needs to go to.
The door to that first room is opened now and Judas Iscariot is standing in the doorway, blinking in the light, as if on cue. That was handy, Simon supposes grimly. He waved him over and pointed ahead at the other end of the large open space, to a small opening in the wall. “I’ve done what I needed. There’s somewhere else I need to go to prepare myself.”
As they approach the smaller gate, it grows more ornate. Through it, you can see green expanses and olive trees, just like he remembers. But as they came right up to the gate and were able to see more of Gethsemane on the other side, Iscariot froze, rooted to the spot.
“No…” he breathed out, pale and trembling.
Simon truly hadn’t considered this particular part of it, and was annoyed. “What?” he snapped. “Stop that. You’re the one who burst into my dream without asking.” He couldn’t just leave him outside, could he? That would be irresponsible.
“No, no, no!” gasped Iscariot, clearly panicking. “I can’t go in there, I can’t, I can’t…”
“Yes, you can!” said Simon harshly, grabbing his arm and dragging him forward through the opening and a few more metres, but then let go. Iscariot immediately backed up towards the nearest tree, collapsing and not looking up.
“No, no, no…” he was sobbing.
“Be quiet!” said Simon, exasperated. He knelt on the ground, clasping his hands together. “I wasn't there with him here, back then, but if I had been I fear I would have failed like those three, falling asleep and leaving him to the vigil alone. But now I will pray until I wake up.”
He started to pray, and managed for a while, but was finally too bothered by the sobbing. “All right, all right, go away,” he said in an annoyed tone.
It was silent. Simon the Zealot sighed heavily and closed his eyes, still praying.
This time there was nothing in-between, no return to any parts of the otherlands, the Sheols, the Gehennas, the mysterious paths between realms… No, this time he went straight from Simon’s dream to another one, set at the top of a mountain. He noticed that the weather was sunny but not terribly hot, that a creek was glittering with water below, and that a lake spread out further away. But for a while he just sat crouched tightly, still sobbing.
Eventually, right as he wiped his face and straightened up some where he was sitting, he heard footsteps from the hillside on the other side, behind him.
He turned his head to see a wanderer wearing a hood. Pushing back the hood halfway, he observed Judas impassively.
“Thaddeus!” Judas burst out.
Judas Thaddeus turned half away and walked past him and down the slope unhurriedly, not saying a word. Judas Iscariot got up on his feet and followed him.
“Andrew said to send you his regards,” he said uncertainly, his voice coming out rather thin.
Judas Thaddeus stopped and turned around. He gave Judas Iscariot another look, now with raised eyebrows, but still said nothing.
“I met him in a dream, like this one… I didn’t ask to go there, or here, it’s just something that seems to happen with all of you…”
“…On our final night?” said Judas Thaddeus, finally replying. His voice was deeper than Judas Iscariot remembered.
“Yes. Apparently. And he wanted me to give his regards to everyone. If this thing keeps happening.” A moment, then he went on, voice faltering, “I guess it will, you’re the seventh…” Silence. “This is so strange…” he mumbled.
“Mm-hm.” Thaddeus fixed him clearly, eyes cold. Another long pause. Judas looked away. “So is there anything else you have to say to me, Judas Iscariot?”
“I don’t know, I…” He fell silent, frowning in thought. Then he suddenly looked up. Yes. He could tell him this. “It matters what other people think of you when you’re dead. The living ones.”
“Oh?” said Thaddeus neutrally.
“It matters in a different way.” By now he had learned this applied to more people than just him, too. “But it doesn’t have to be all that matters.” He felt like adding that you can still hold onto what’s really you, over there. But he stopped himself. Could he truly claim that was what he'd been doing?
“It would be strange if it were,” said Thaddeues simply. He turned around and walked on down the hillside.
Judas hurried up to not fall too far behind. “It might even matter what people think about you in the future.”
“The future?” said Thaddeus, casting a brief look behind him. “In the future the Kingdom of God will come,” he stated with certainty. He had reached the glittering creek now, and walked upriver a few steps to find a good way to cross it without wetting his feet. “Then everyone will be viewed as they should be viewed.”
He found a good line of rocks in the creek to step on and started to cross over. “It is as Paul said,” he continued, “‘now we can only see imperfectly, as through a glass, but then we will see face to face’. We will see clearly the way it all should be seen.”
“Who’s Paul?” said Iscariot, following Thaddeus across the creek.
Thaddeus reached the other side. “After your time. He was the best preacher among us.” He sighed. “But he was killed in Rome last year, anyway, same as Peter.” He straightened up and looked ahead, grasping his wanderer’s staff tightly. Softly, he added, “It really can’t be long now.”
Judas Iscariot stopped on the last rock of the creek, not jumping all the way over. He looked down, and then on the rocks behind him, recalling suddenly what Bartholomew said about soot, the traces he’d left in that dream. But there was none to be seen, here. He felt like he should say something, but he couldn’t think of a single thing that would sound right.
Finally, he managed, “You know, I went straight from Simon’s dream to this one. That’s not how it usually works.”
Judas Thaddeus gave him another brief look. “It’s still the same night. We don’t share the same cell, but we’re held at the same place, in Egypt. And we will go on trial together tomorrow, and likely be executed.”
He turned away again, gaze at the distant lake, and the small houses dotted beside it. “If what you were saying is true, about seeing the others on their last nights too, that seals it, doesn’t it?” He exhaled deeply. “‘Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.’ Paul had such a way with words…” he said wistfully. Then, soberly, “Well. It is time to wake up now. I will see Simon again.”
Chapter 2: Eight to thirteen
Time passed again, three more years.
Another dark room, a shape lying in one corner, hunched under a blanket. There was a table, and an unlit candle. As soon as Judas touched it, it started to burn. Illuminated by the flame, and by dreamlight, the room looked like a place to live, not as somewhere in prison. But in dreams you could be anywhere. There were several scrolls on the table, quills and ink, and papyrus.
“Who is it this time…” the guest mumbled to himself.
The man in the corner rubbed his eyes, looking up fuzzily. “What?”
Judas blinked in confusion at first, but it was cleared away as the dreaming man’s face shifted into a younger version. “Matthew?” he asked, but was almost sure now.
“Who…” said Matthew, rubbing his neck and sitting up straighter. Then he looked back, with a sharper gaze. “Judas? That Judas?”
“You looked so old just now. How long has it been?”
“It’s been… around forty years,” said Matthew. He huffed. “Old? That’s not the half of it.”
Judas looked confused. “What?”
“I’ve been sick for a while now,” said Matthew levelly. “I wouldn’t have survived the winter anyway. But the Romans couldn’t wait.” He gazed around the room, just to make sure he was indeed in his familiar surroundings and not somewhere more mysterious. “So… it’s true.” He gave a short laugh. “You do come around on the last night.”
Judas started. “How did you know?”
“One of us were able to see Simon and Judas Thaddeus on their last day alive, and she said they’d both told her so.”
“I don’t do it on purpose,” he said defensively. “I don’t know how it happens or why.” He added, after a moment, “Andrew wanted me to send on his regards.”
Matthew blinked. “Andrew did? Just to me?”
“No, to everyone. Everyone still left.” Judas looked off to the side, with an impatient look in his eyes, perhaps to cover up the sigh he just let out.
“Well,” said Matthew, a little wonderingly. “That was nice of him… Although it would have done more good to get it at an earlier date, but I suppose you didn’t have a choice about that,” he added.
Judas shook his head mutely. Then he stepped closer to the table, his hands clasped behind his back. He was looking down at the weighed-down, opened scroll with a tilted head, clearly trying to read without touching anything.
Eventually, he said, “Did you say almost forty years?” As Matthew nodded, Judas adjusted his hair and his clothing. In a lower tone, he went on rather awkwardly, “You kind of come closer together now than the first ones did. Peter was five years ago, then Andrew that same year, then the next one Simon and Thaddeus together, and now you…”
“And Paul was executed even before Peter. But then you wouldn’t know him.”
“Thaddeus mentioned him. Said he was the best preacher.”
Matthew nodded. “He was killed in Rome, too. But he was a Roman citizen, so he got a sword instead of the cross.” He moved to stand, his dream-legs feeling young and strong. “Yes, there’s so many of us now, who’ve been martyred. That fire in Rome started a wave of hatred and persecution against us. They try to make us sacrifice to the Roman gods, but we can’t do that, of course…” He trailed off, then went on, more firmly, “But it’s an honour. Glorious. Far better than to fade away bit by bit over the winter…”
“So many sacrifices…” mumbled Judas.
“But only until the Kingdom of God is coming,” said Matthew. “And it can’t be long now.”
“So what does that mean for me?” said Judas bitterly. “Will my torments cease? Will I find oblivion? Or will they increase even more?”
Matthew gave him a guarded look, moving to sit down by the table. “That, I couldn’t say.”
Judas started to pace the room. “Did you know there’s not just one Gehenna?” he said over his shoulder. “There’s at least two. One has fire, and it ceases to burn now and then, I guess it’s on the Sabbath. But it doesn’t end after a year like the rabbis say. And the other one is different, it’s got other kinds of pain, no fire – but fewer pauses, too.” He paused, muttering, “They’re not all there is, but -- I think they come about less from justice than from what people believe about justice.”
“I doubt it,” said Matthew, shaking his head. “But I would say it’s not so much justice alone but absence of mercy. Absence of grace. If it was truly justice, few enough of us would be able to escape it. Take it from the former tax-collector.”
Judas just gave him a bitter look, then looked away. “It’s just going to go on,” he said. “It’s been almost forty years and it will just keep going. And not just me--! It’s all there in your own writings, don’t you see?” He pointed to the scrolls on the table. “People will keep hearing and reading that and believing in that and Gehenna will keep burning!”
“I didn’t put anything down that wasn’t already in his teachings and sermons!" protested Matthew.
"Really? Well, you're too hard on the Pharisees," muttered Judas, pacing. "They weren't that bad."
"It is just what I remember, all of it," insisted Matthew, but he softened his voice. "The inner truth... What we remember."
He paused thoughtfully, then asked, curious, “…But how come you know about what I’ve written, yet not about the things that have happened to us?”
Judas sat down on the bed that Matthew had left. “I can hear things like that now,” he said, calmer again. “It’s like a buzzing noise in my head, and if I listen hard enough to it, I can hear it… I can almost read it, even. And not just what’s written down -- spoken words too, even thoughts -- but only if it’s directly to do with me. Or nearly so.”
Matthew gave him a weighing look, then looked down at his table. He started to mix ink, knowing it was only dream-ink that would do no good, but finding the process calming.
“I imagine it can’t be easy,” he said slowly. “But I will advise you to try to think of other people than yourself. Or you’ll probably just keep being stuck there.”
Judas looked a bit stung. “It’s not like I came here to ask for help. I didn’t choose to come in the first place.”
“Yes, you said that already. But…” In a lower tone, Matthew went on to say, “I think I’ve figured out why you have.”
“You have? Why, then?”
He gave a slight, somewhat rueful smile. “I’m not saying. If I’m right, it’s more to do with the Twelve than with you.”
But what he thought was, To tie us closer together again, one more thing to connect us. That could be the reason it happens.
He said, a few minutes later, calm having spread through him as he mixed the ink, “Perhaps you will not even meet the last ones of us like this, in final dreams. Perhaps our master will return first and with him the Kingdom of God at last. But even if it takes a little longer still, we will still go on. The truth is too great. It can’t stop. It carries us all, everyone. Like a huge wave.”
“But it’s not the only truth,” muttered Judas.
Matthew waved this away. “I feel morning coming.” The room grew fainter; he started to become aware of his true surroundings, where his body was, in prison.
“Oh – I forgot!” exclaimed Judas abruptly, urgently. “It’s Zechariah, not Jeremiah!”
“The price of a slave! You got it wrong – it’s in Zechariah!” Then the dream dissolved altogether.
It took a long time to learn how to walk the strange paths that can lead a ghost back to the land of the living. He had still to get it right, when he was suddenly yanked out of that long, winding passage to land on a cold stone floor.
“Ah!” he burst out. “Ouch…” He lay on the floor for a moment, winded and confused.
Someone moved closer, hoisting an oil lamp. “What? Who’s there?”
Judas swallowed, pretty sure he recognised that voice. “…Oh.” Another one. He rolled over so he could face Thomas, hoisting himself up on his elbows. “It’s just me,” he said matter-of-factly. “This is a dream, by the way.”
Thomas looked stunned. He stepped closer, holding the lamp. He had aged, but like most of the others seemed to dream himself younger than he probably looked. “I… I suppose it must be.”
Judas sat up and dusted off his shirtsleeves. “But not an ordinary dream.” He added, after a moment, “And I can’t leave until you tell me to go away or until you wake up.” It didn’t seem like Thomas had been informed beforehand, like Matthew had been.
“Why not?” asked Thomas.
“I… don’t know,” said Judas, blinking. “It’s just like that. It was that way with all the others, too…”
Thomas frowned, crossing his arms. “All the others? What do you mean?”
“I was… For some reason, and I don’t know why it happens, I don’t know why I’m in your dream either, but I’ve been in their dreams. Of the Twelve. Well, not all of them, not yet…” He swallowed again, but couldn’t see how to get out of it, and muttered, “Going by what they told me, they weren’t counting on surviving the next day.”
“Oh.” Thomas sat down on his bed. Eventually, he said, “I’m not too surprised, I guess. I’ve made some powerful enemies here in India.”
“India??” gaped Judas.
“Yes.” Thomas got up, took the oil lamp again, and walked over to the door and stepped out. Judas followed. Outside, it was getting close to sunset. A town was spread out below them, with the smoke from cooking fires rising up. “It was a long journey. Things are very different here… But I have been able to gain followers, to spread the good news of the truth and to help people who are in need. Even if I’ve also made enemies, like I said… No, I’m not surprised that my time has finally run out, if you’re right about that.” He sat down on a nearby rock of a handy site and shape, putting the oil lamp beside him. Judas remained standing.
“How long has it been?” asked Judas.
“Forty-three years,” said Thomas slowly. “Back home…” A very deep exhalation, and then another deep breath, before he went on, “Did you hear about the great uprising? It lasted for four years. I was already on my way here towards the end, but I’ve heard reports from others…”
“No. I haven’t heard.”
“The Zealots and the Maccabees and others finally had enough of Roman rule. They rose up together and managed to drive them out for a while, but of course, the Romans came back…” He looked out into the air, looking weary now, and older. “So many people killed. And the Temple has been destroyed, just as foretold. Along with all of Jerusalem. And now Jews are scattered all over the Empire.”
“So… so that’s how it turned out…” Judas sat down on the ground, stunned.
“We Christians – we who follow the Way -- didn’t take part in the uprising,” said Thomas. “We had the prophecy of the Temple’s destruction; we knew it was hopeless. But…” He closed his eyes, shaking his head; a hand opening as if trying to grab hold of what was only air. “…Somehow when I heard our lord say that, I had hoped it would mostly affect the temple scribes and the hawkers, the rest of the Sadducees, and Roman lackeys. I was too hopeful. Of course there would be great death and destruction. We are truly in the end days.”
A silence followed.
“So,” Thomas finally said, more businesslike as he turned to Judas. “What did the others think, when they saw you in their dreams?”
“Uh… They, uh…” Judas gestured vaguely, taken by surprise. “What do you think? They weren’t happy.” A moment, then he added, “James punched me, for one. And Simon, he…he tried to…” He looked down, mumbling, “Never mind,” in a hoarse voice.
“They were all like that?” asked Thomas.
“…no,” Judas had to admit. “Some were pretty calm… Oh! That’s right! Andrew asked me to give you his regards.”
Thomas looked confused. “He did? Did he say anything else?”
“No.” Judas picked up a pebble and threw it down the hillside. “It wasn’t just to you, it was to everyone.”
“Hmm.” A thoughtful pause, then, “But if I tell you to leave, you’ll leave?”
Judas nodded. “That’s how it seems to work.”
“I have… things I need to do… and I have to pray… I shouldn’t spend my time dreaming…” Thomas drew a hand through his hair, which kept shifting from solid black to strokes of grey; the more tired he looked, the more the grey came back. “But maybe I need sleep for strength on the day ahead. If you’re right that it’s my last.” He closed his eyes, repeating, as if half to himself, “Yes, it’s that long. Forty-three years, even.” He shook his head wonderingly. In a stronger voice, he asked, “… But how does time pass in the land of death?”
“Differently,” said Judas. “In Gehenna it seems to pass very slowly. In Sheol it’s like it doesn’t pass at all, yet at times it can seem faster than here. And in the in-between places, you can’t really tell.”
“…All those places? You have been released from Gehenna, now?”
He shook his head. “I can be in more than one place at the same time. And there’s not just one Gehenna. There was, at first. Now there’s two. Or three. And not just one Sheol, or Hades. It changes.” He turned his head to look straight at Thomas, for once. “It changes because of what people believe. Here.”
“Huh.” Another long pause. Crickets were chirping, and owls cried in the distance.
Thomas said quietly, “Have you ever tried to reach him? Ask for forgiveness?”
Judas froze, and said nothing.
Thomas went on, “Even if you did so already back in the beginning, if you try again now… It’s been over fifty years. And the Temple has fallen. Things are changing.”
Judas shook his head, hunching up his shoulders. “No. No, it’s, there’s no use, it doesn’t…” He trailed off, but kept shaking his head soundlessly. Thomas watched him and waited in silence.
Finally he said, in a very low voice (looking at the ground, his trembling hands clenched into fists) “I… I… There’s no use in doing that… when I’m still so angry with him.”
Thomas blinked. “That’s so strange. I don’t understand you.”
Judas rose up, looking away, putting his hands in his sleeves. He cleared his throat. “Can I go now?”
Thomas sighed, rubbing his forehead. “Yes. You can go.”
Fever ravaged the mind and body of the old, sick dreamer, and leaked into his dream as well. He pictured a well where he could go drink fresh, cold water. It looked like the well from his childhood. He sat down beside it, dipping the pail into the well, and filling up an amphora by his side.
Someone approached the well at the edge of his vision as he was doing so. But he was busy, and didn’t care to look up right away.
The other one sat down on the other side, his head covered by a hood. He reached down for the water curiously. “I didn’t think there was a well here…” he mused.
“Don’t touch it!” exclaimed Matthias. The guest jumped back.
“Sorry, I mean – use the pail to drink.” Matthias let go of the pail and pushed it to float over to the other side of the well.
“Thank you.” The guest leaned over to grab the pail, and his hood dropped back. He started to fill it up with water, then paused. He looked up slowly. “Wait, are you-”
Holding his amphora, Matthias also froze. Blinked. Then slowly drank of the water, wiped some water on his hot face, before he lowered the amphora and stuck it in the earth, arms trembling. “Iscariot?”
“But you’re not Philip or John-- Hold on—” Judas Iscariot pressed a palm to his forehead, his head screwed up in thought. “--Matthias!” He looked up again. “Right?” As an afterthought, he drank of the water in the pail, then sighed a little in resignation, and remarked under his breath, “Just dream-water.”
“Yes, that’s me. Matthias. I’m the one who was chosen to replace you.” Matthias gripped the edge of the well for a moment, swallowing. He closed his eyes, and breathed in.
“Oh.” Thoughtfully, Judas noted, “They said that to me, one of them said that, I forget who. –By the way, Andrew sends his regards.”
Matthias said slowly, “I heard from someone who’d talked to someone who’d talked to Hannah, who’d been able to talk to both Simon the Zealot and Judas Thaddeus on their last day in this world. It was said you appear in a true dream for each of the Twelve on their last night alive. A visitation and a final test before martyrdom itself.”
Judas shook his head. “Not a test. I don’t know what it is, but… not that.”
“And not just before martyrdom, either, it seems…” said Matthias. He cleared his throat, composing himself. “Since I haven’t been granted that honour. But I know I’m not long for it. I’m just old and sick.”
Judas only nodded. “I can’t leave until you tell me to. Or till you wake up.” He drank some more of the well’s water. “How long has it been, now?”
“I can’t keep track of the years when my head’s burning up with fever,” said Matthias. “Almost sixty years, I think.” A moment, and then he burst out, “How come you’re so calm?”
“Because you’re the tenth one,” said Judas. “And it doesn’t matter if I’m calm or not. Still can’t leave on my own.” He added, “James the son of Alphaeus sent me back right away, you know.”
A sudden spasm of grief seized Matthias. “They’ve almost all gone -- I hope to see them again, but who can tell for sure what’s waiting for us -- I’ve lived too long, that’s for sure…” He put his head in his hands. Without looking up, he said bitterly, “You don’t care, of course.”
“I’ve been in Gehenna for almost sixty years now,” said Judas. “Or something like it,” he added after a moment. “There was no fire in the beginning…”
Matthias looked up and watched the betrayer more intently, but with a lingering touch of bitterness all the same, “I see.”
“But not only there. It matters what other people think of you, but that’s not all that matters.” He went on quietly, dragging the pail in the water back and forth, “In the end, it seems we can keep making our own fate.”
Matthias listened, and said nothing for a while. His thoughts were tumbling around in his mind, he could feel them moving like dry leaves in the spring breeze.
Finally, he spoke. “I have only one question, before you leave.”
“Why did you join up with us in the first place, way back when? Why did you start following him?”
Judas seemed surprised. “I… Why… Well…” Then a faraway look came into his eyes as he slowly started to answer, his tone different now than before. Almost as if he was telling a story. “It was… What he said, and what he did, it all seemed so right then, at the start, and for a long time too, and it seemed more true and stronger than with anyone else I’d seen or listened to or even just heard about. It seemed right when it was clearly in line with the scriptures, it seemed right when it was an unusual interpretation, or even when he contradicted them.”
His face grew more agitated, more wistful. His fingers were drumming on the edge of the well. “When you followed him, you felt strong even when things were bad. The miracles were wondrous, but he didn’t brag about them, he even told us to keep some of them quiet. And he treated everyone who came to him well. The Pharisees, they’re not so bad when they’re not hypocrites, but they’re strict in the wrong way, too hard on sinners, and the Sadducees are Roman lapdogs who don’t care about the poor. But he, he was strict in the right way.” There were glimmers of tears in his eyes, now, unless that was a trick of the light. “That’s how it seemed to me. I thought at the time: how could anyone not follow him?” A pause, and then he said, more soberly, “And I didn’t have any big responsibilities. My parents had died, my older brother and sister didn’t need my help, really… It was easy.” Another pause. “Everything seemed so clear.”
Matthias closed his eyes and nodded. “Yes, yes, that was how it was…” he whispered. “So even you felt that way, then.”
Matthias looked up again. “But no longer,” he said, certain of this, but it made his heart heavy, now. “Even if you could be one of us again, somehow – would you?”
Judas shook his head. “No,” he said in a low tone. He was no longer touching the pail; his hands lay open on the edge of the well, palms up. He seemed like he was about to add more, but then just repeated, “…No, no.”
Matthias closed his eyes once more, sighing deeply. “I don’t need you here. Go on with you. Leave.”
Judas found himself walking through a long, narrow, dark place: a corridor or a tunnel. He wondered for a moment if he was back in a cave tunnel he remembered from very early on in his afterlife, but then he saw burning torches on the walls and realised that this was a different place. The walls were high, and the stone blocks were regular. This was built by people.
Perhaps this was a new in-between place? Or another dream of the Twelve? Only Philip and John were left now. He looked around to see if he could spot anyone familiar, remembering that Andrew had taken his time to appear.
After another moment, he did in fact see a figure walking some distance ahead of him, holding a torch, too distant and hard to see to make out any details. He followed the figure, but didn’t hurry to catch up.
He wondered briefly if he could just walk behind the other person silently, whoever it was, until that one woke up before noticing it. But he doubted it. The dreams did not seem to work that way. On the other hand, it wasn’t certain it was a dream of the Twelve. Perhaps this figure was simply another traveller on an in-between path. Those existed, too, after all. They all had their own tales to tell, but also their own secrets.
As he walked there, gazing at the back of the one walking in front of him, he felt overwhelmed by a sense of wistful, almost desperate loneliness. And even though the figure ahead of him seemed to be male, judging by height and clothing, he suddenly found himself thinking it was awfully long since he last talked to a woman, or even saw one. There had been some stray souls he’d met on the paths, and elsewhere. Not many. Women saw things differently from men, they moved through the world differently… he hadn’t realised until now that he missed that, just being around them. It was odd.
Meanwhile, Philip thought to himself, ‘Something’s coming up behind me… But this isn’t the place to turn around yet.’
Philip looked down on the stone floor and noticed a new pattern in it: a straight and narrow row of large red blocks of stone, cut to be the same size and surrounded by dark grey stones of various sizes. He adjusted his direction in order to walk on that line of blocks, a straight path going forward. After a minute or two, a tall door came into view: first it looked black, but as he came closer he realised it was wrong, and it was actually sky blue. He pushed it open and walked through.
Now he was still inside a building, but this present room was much lighter. There were two high windows on his left and right, and an opening in the roof as well, where daylight came through. Even the stones were lighter here, except for the red line of blocks in the centre. Off to the far side of the room, an opening led into a curved passage, and there was, to Philip’s mind, a suggestion that this passage would lead outside: a faint suggestion of birdsong in that direction. A small olive tree was planted in one corner of the room.
Here, there was no need for torches. He extinguished the one he’d carried in a bucket of water standing by. Then he turned around to face whoever -- or whatever -- had been following him.
Judas stopped at the threshold to the smaller and lighter room.
“Don’t come any closer,” warned Philip.
Philip pointed at him. “You look like the betrayer, our lost one, but you could be a demon wearing his form.”
“How long has it been?” asked Judas. He glanced around the room. “Is this just a dream place, or…”
“How long since when?”
“Since I died.”
“Over fifty years ago. If you are him.”
“I heard about the rebellion, the Temple’s destruction, Jerusalem… Thomas told me.” Judas hadn’t moved past the threshold. He put his hands in his sleeves. “I was in his dream, too,” he added. “I’ve been in everyone’s dream now, except for John’s.”
“This is my last night alive,” said Philip. “Whether you’re really him or not--” he waved towards Judas “--this is not who I wanted to see.”
“James the son of Alphaeus said the same thing. But this isn’t my doing.”
“Then whose doing is it?”
Judas shrugged. “Nobody’s.”
Philip gave him a long look. “You should know better than that.”
“All right,” said Judas impatiently. “Perhaps I am just a demon pretending to be me, then.” He shifted his pose in the doorway, then said, “Oh, there’s one thing. Andrew wanted me to send on his regards to each of the Twelve I’d meet after him. That means you, too.”
“Just his regards? No message?”
“Everyone asks that. No, nothing else.”
“Why would Andrew ask you to do that?”
Judas shrugged, again. “To puzzle everyone, apparently.”
“…That does sound like Andrew,” Philip acknowledged, with a rueful inward smile.
Judas nodded at that. “Yeah.”
Philip relaxed a little. “Yes, the Temple has fallen,” he said, “just like our lord has foretold. But now all Jews are hounded, and we are no exception, though we took no part in the rebellion. Everyone suspects us Christians of disloyalty. So even old geezers like me--” here his face shifted into an older one --get their chance at martyrhood.” He gave a wry smile.
“Why didn’t any of you take part in the rebellion?”
Philip’s face changed into a younger one. “What’s the use?” he said. “We know the Kingdom of God won’t come until the Messiah returns.”
“But until that happens… Wouldn’t it be better for Israel to rule itself?”
“That will not happen until then. The rebels had no chance against Rome.” The certainty was clear in Philip’s voice. “Besides… it would make no difference, even if they had. Men are still evil, there would still be poverty and misery.”
“’The poor you shall always have with you.’”
Philip gave him a sharp look. “So you remember that one, at least.”
There was a pause.
“It won’t be long now,” said Philip finally, quietly. “We are living in the last days. It’s not a bad time to go.”
“You all keep saying that,” said Judas. “I used to think so, too -- but it’s already been more than fifty years…”
“If you’re trying to sow doubt, that won’t work. I’ve battled all my doubts in my lifetime. And now, they will kill me in the morning. This is no place for doubts.”
Judas looked away to the side. He said, in a low voice, sounding a bit hoarse, “Someone can be sincere and righteous, and even chosen, and still be mistaken. Or misled. It happened with Jonah…”
“But our master is more than just a prophet,” insisted Philip. “He died, but came back on the third day. He stepped into the underworld, and then returned to us. He walked with us during forty days, hidden by the Lord so his enemies wouldn’t know him, and then he was taken to Heaven. I was there, I saw all this.” He added, thoughtfully, “Perhaps if you had stayed alive, and begged for forgiveness, you would have been able to see him one more time, too.”
A long, fraught silence. This was in fact something of an entirely new thought for Judas.
Finally, he said, “I… I would have assumed one of you would have killed me, if I hadn’t done it myself.” He muttered, “That would be the honourable thing.”
Philip acknowledged this with a nod. “It might have happened,” he admitted. “But it’s not certain.”
Something dark and distant came over Judas face. He wasn’t meeting Philip’s eyes. “Maybe the temple scribes would have protected me, even. That would have been revolting.” But the Romans wouldn’t have; he thought, they would never have bothered.
“I heard you threw the money away,” said Philip. “But I also heard you bought a field for it. Or the Sadducees did.”
“I don’t remember any field…” said Judas slowly. “No, I went back and threw it away. That’s what I remember.”
But was that memory true? He wondered, now. Only Matthew’s writings mentioned it.
“In the end,” said Philip in a reasonable tone, “it’s pointless to ask how soon the end is coming. In the meanwhile, we must simply lead our lives as well and righteously as we can, without being prideful, and to remember to face death fearlessly, and a glorious death with gratitude and cheer.”
Judas leaned on the doorframe. “Do you always talk like a sermon now?”
“You’re the one who wanted me to explain.” Philip sighed. “But they do ask me about so many kinds of things, the younger ones… Now John will be the only one left of us all.” He gazed at Judas frankly. “I doubt he will want to listen to you any.”
“That’s fine by me,” said Judas shortly. “I don’t expect him to.”
And then there was another pause.
Suddenly, Judas stepped over the threshold. Intensely, he burst out, with not a little desperation, “It was fear, not greed, do you understand me? It was fear, a lot of it, and also he told me to do it, or foretold I would, I don’t know which, and I wanted to run away but I couldn’t see how and he-- he was always so…” He swallowed. “…So true, so strong, stronger than Elijah, and I wanted to cut myself loose, free myself, but…” He looked down at the stone floor, pale and shaking now. “I thought the only way to cut myself loose would be to hand him over… because it was so terrible, doing that… and that was a very stupid thing to think, but, but it was also true in a way, because I can’t even imagine doing what you said just now, to stick around and maybe get to face him again, and not because of pride, that isn’t it--”
“Judas--” Philip took a step towards him.
Judas went on, his tone increasingly desperate, “You’re the last one left who’ll be willing to listen to me, I had to tell you this, especially if you’ll go on to meet Andrew where you’re going—and-- and James too, I couldn’t explain it right to him--”
Philip grabbed hold of his shoulders, firmly but not roughly. Judas quieted down but didn’t meet the other’s eyes; he was still trembling.
Philip breathed in and then said, in a quiet but clear voice, “You have a lonely road to go. And not even mainly for your sin, but because of what it did to you, how you can’t even imagine facing him again. It is not for me to find the answers to any of this. But I will remember.” He took another deep breath, then, “And I will tell the others, if I shall be allowed to, and if they will want to know.”
Judas just trembled, wanting to tell him ‘thank you’; but the words just wouldn’t come over his lips.
“Now, go,” said Philip at last, gently. And then he was alone.
A figure appeared in a small inner courtyard, ordinary houses around it, with sheltering trees and a well.
The figure was groaning as it arrived. “Stupid demons…” he muttered. Then he noted these fairly pleasant surroundings, and looked around curiously.
He spotted a woman bearing water to trees in the distance. She turned and saw him as well, putting down her pail of water and coming closer. As she got closer, his eyes widened, recognising her as Mary Magdalene, Mary from Magdala, looking only a little older than in his memories. He stared at her, never having expected to end up in her dream. He should have done so, he realised now.
She walked up to him. “It’s really you, isn’t it?”
He nodded, and she slapped him, with such force even in the dream that he tumbled to the ground, thinking irrelevantly that's not the slap of a young woman; it's the slap of a middle-aged woman with much experience and strength behind it.
"Now you turn up?" she cried out. "It's been over fifty-five years, I'm eighty years old, and I'm dying! What's the use of turning up now?"
“But it’s only because you’re dying that I can turn up!” he exclaimed, sitting up on the ground with a groan.
“What do you mean?” she said sharply.
“I’m -- I’m not doing this by choice. I’ve turned up in the dreams of the Twelve, I don’t know why and they don’t know why,” he babbled. “But it’s happened with everyone but John. I guess that means he’s still alive.”
“Most of them said they’d be executed the next day. And the rest still seemed to know death was near.”
“Oh? How odd.” She narrowed her eyes. “So you get the chance to meet all of them one last time, and they have to put up with you for their final nights?”
“It’s not a question of putting up,” he muttered. “They can tell me to go away and I will, but I can’t leave until then.” A moment of silence, then he added, “And anyway, do you mean if I had turned up earlier, you wouldn’t have slapped me like that?”
“Of course I would have.” She turned around to adjust some laundry that was hung on the tree in the centre. Then, she went on consideringly, “No, that’s not quite true. If it had been within the first ten years, I’d probably have stabbed you instead.”
He fingered his jaw cautiously. “I can believe that.”
“So you’re not doing this by choice,” she said, as he got back up on his feet and dusted off his clothes. “But does that mean you could have turned up earlier, if you’d tried? To all of us?”
He blinked in surprise. “I… don’t know. I have no idea. I wouldn’t have thought anyone would have liked me too.”
“It’s not a question of liking or not,” she said roughly. “It’s a question of being owed.”
Judas had nothing to reply to that. He sat down at the edge of the well, looking around at the courtyard, which had shifted in shape (together with the surrounding houses) from how it looked at the start. The silence stretched out.
Mary turned her head towards him. “Do you want me to tell you to go?” she asked. “I’m not saying I will, I’m just curious what you want.”
A very long pause, and then, finally, “I don’t know.”
“There has to be a reason why you’re here,” said Mary consideringly. “Like a task set before me. If I send you away already, it would mean giving up on that task.”
“You guys are all so dutiful.”
“It’s hard to stop once you get into the habit,” she said. “And it’s not like we don’t get anything for it.”
Then Judas blurted out impulsively, “It’s not because of pride if I don’t throw myself down before you, understand. It’s because – I’m too angry. It wouldn’t be all real.” He clarified after a brief moment, “Although I’m not angry at you.”
Mary put her head to the side as if thinking this over. “Then that means you must be angry with him,” she concluded. “And with the Lord, of course.” She turned around once more, this time straightening out a line of stones on the ground, setting things in patterns, as if to order her mind better. She then walked over to the well calmly, where she leaned over and grabbed Judas by a hard grip on the hair of his scalp.
“Are you sure you’re not angry with me?” she said tersely. “Because I remember some rather sharp remarks over expensive hair oil.”
“That’s not-- ow! --I’m not angry at you because of that! Maybe I was back then,” he admitted, “but not for long… It was natural that you’d want to honour him like that.”
“Really?” said Mary disbelievingly. She leaned down with her face close to his, looking younger and more vulnerable, now. Old pain came through in her voice as she said, “Are you sure? It really had nothing to do with what you did?”
He was astonished. “Is that what you’ve been thinking? …No.” She let go of his hair, and he hunched over, rubbing his scalp, mumbling, “It was… I guess, guess it made me angry at the time-- and worried too-- but that was just one thing out of all that was happening-- it wasn’t that important.” She stepped back, and he raised his head slightly, but warily, “Anyway, it was an anointment, wasn’t it?” he said. “You were just fulfilling prophecies.”
A long pause, before Mary visibly relaxed, breathing out and lowering her shoulders. “That was something I have long wished to know,” she said.
She filled her jug with water from the well, then walked over to water another tree. Quietly, she added, “Perhaps that’s why you were made to come here. Sometimes what looks like a test can turn out to be an act of grace.” As she turned back, she rubbed her neck and looked at the ground. She frowned, starting to look curious. Then she pointed. “What’s that by your feet?”
“What?” Judas looked down and saw the pouch of leather at his feet. “…Oh. You know, you’re the first one to have noticed it.” Not knowing what else to do, he bent down and picked it up ruefully, holding it up for a few seconds, then put it back on the ground. “I did throw it all away, but it still comes back to me now, in the other world-- and in dreams, it seems.”
And now she recoiled. “That’s-- that’s the money you got when you sold him! That’s-- vile!! You can’t even get rid of it?” She rubbed her hands in agitation. “I-- I suppose there is a reason for that…But it should haunt the temple scribes, too!” she cried out, raising her voice. “And the Romans! Just because they refused to take responsibility for it…”
“Well, maybe it does…” said Judas, rather touched. “Um, I can send it away if you like. For a short while.”
"No, you don't have to do that," she said, visibly calming down. "That is... not for me to question."
"Everything's for you to question," he said in a low tone, and she looked at him with surprise. He was biting his lip and not meeting her eyes, but there was a stubborn set to his mouth, all the same. "Everything's for everyone to question," he added.
There was another long silence.
Finally, Mary of Magdala straightened up, with one hand on the trunk of the nearest olive tree, the largest one in the courtyard. “I have a feeling this is not the last time we will talk to each other,” she said quietly. The sun came shining through a crack in the clouds, and she was caught in it, like a pool of light. She went on, more roughly, “I think you may be stronger than you think you are, and in a different way… And that the light is not altogether gone.”
Indeed, there was a kind of shimmer coming from her figure now, and as she stepped closer to him again, it even grazed him; the leather pouch, in contact with that shimmer, started to look fuzzier. He looked at her and could not look away.
“Ask me to send you away, Judas.”
“Let me go, Mary,” he said hoarsely.
“Yes.” She breathed out. “You can go, now.”
In the dream of a peaceful small fishing village, untouched by war and destruction in the mind, a young-looking man was lying on a bed of straw in a shed, as if lounging in a nap in the hot afternoon.
A shade took shape in the dream, looking around, a bit disoriented at first. Well, this certainly looked like Galilee in general and Capernaum in particular. Judas assumed that this must be the dream of John -- unless this was another surprise, like with Matthias and Mary.
But the man that rolled over in the straw, rubbed his eyes and sat up now was clearly John, young in his dream again like with the others.
“What? Who?” The scene shifted in part: it was still basically the fishing village, but with new additions that didn’t quite fit in, bigger houses and a stone-laid street, and a new mountain towering over it and the Sea of Galilee. John looked up, then sprang to his feet, hands in fists. “You!! What are you doing here?”
Judas crossed his arms over his chest and glared at him. “Why did you write that thing about me, that I was stealing from the funds to the poor? It’s not even true!” he exclaimed.
“What? I didn’t write that!” John drew his hands through his hair, clearly still bewildered. “Why are you here?”
“You didn’t?” said Judas, startled. “But I thought…” He trailed off, appearing to listen to something. “Oh, so that’s wrong.” He kept his arms crossed, but tilted his hair a bit. “You will, though.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” John wanted to know, his hands opening and closing. He was trembling with anger.
Judas pointed at John. “Maybe someone else actually wrote it, but people will think it was you. You will merge with that writer in the eyes of tradition.”
John looked baffled. “How would you know?”
“I just heard so,” said Judas, shrugging. “Huh, maybe that’s why I’m here, this time. A real reason for once. To warn you about that.”
“I don’t need any warnings from you,” said John, looking very irritated, but more composed now. “What do you mean, ‘this time’?”
“For some reason now I’ve turned up in everyone’s dream the night before they died. You can make up your own reason why if you want.”
“And I’m the last.”
“Yes.” A moment, then Judas added, “Oh. When I spoke to Andrew, he wanted me to send on his regards to everyone after him. So that’s you, too.”
Another baffled look from John.
“And no, he didn’t say anything more than that,” continued Judas, “and I don’t know what he meant by it.”
“Andrew…” John shook his head and sighed. After a moment, he said, his tone harder again, “I didn’t write that, what you just said. But there have been many younger ones asking me for memories, and I’ve told them what I know and what I’ve heard. And it did seem likely to me that you were, in fact, stealing from the common fund. It only makes sense. Why else would someone like you pretend to care about the poor?”
“Why would… Well, it’s still not true! I never did!”
“Nobody is ever likely to take your word for anything again,” scoffed John. “Least of all me.”
“That doesn’t mean you can just make up things like that…”
“I didn’t make anything up,” said John sharply. “Don’t you dare say that. I told the young ones what I figured was probably true, and said so. I didn’t tell them I knew for sure.”
“It’s still wrong!” said Judas hotly. Then, in a frustrated tone, “…But I guess I can’t reach the real writer now.” He fumed.
“What were you even supposed to do about it?” wondered John. “Let’s say it was me, although it wasn’t, and let’s also say you managed to convince me it’s not true. Which I don’t think you could. But let’s say. If tomorrow is the day I die, this old man who can’t even get out of his bed by himself anymore… it’s not like I could have found the strength and the time to rewrite that part. If I had been that writer.” The scorn was clear in his face. “You really haven’t thought this through.”
Judas was taken aback for a few seconds, but then rallied, “’This’? ‘This’? It’s not like this is my idea, to turn up here like this! And what, do you expect me not to care when I’m lied about? Even if it’s too late to change it, I can still care--!!”
John looked unimpressed. “Even if some of it is not entirely what happened, what matters in the end is the inner truth,” he said. “And what I said and what they wrote is in line with the inner truth.” He sighed, looking a little older. “You are just a dream, anyway. Vision or not, I’ve had it with your kind. Go.”
He made a shooing gesture, and that was that.
And it was over, then, this part of it.
And it was morning.