Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
- William Butler Yeats (The Second Coming)
“Have you made the decision?”
“Are you doing this for humanity, or for…him?”
“You know, Satan left a mark on him. He doesn’t remember you, and won’t recognize you. Even so, do you still want to go?”
He kept his head down and eyes fixed on his shoes. After a while, there was a soft sigh from the void above his head.
“…Then you shall go, my Son. You have my blessing.”
When he woke again, he was lying on the familiar beach of the Sea of Galilee, surrounded by blissfully scented flowers and cheerful singing birds. Cold seawater ran through his fingers, bringing back the memories of years ago, when someone planted soft kisses with reverence and love on each fingertip.
“…You shall love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, for hatred won’t help. Only love can help us reach our Father in Heaven.”
Judas stood at the farthest edge of the crowd, with arms folded across his chest. He watched the Messiah preaching to the audience in a gentle and firm tone. If those believers who got thrilled by his eloquence and compassion had a chance to turn around and see Judas, they would definitely be shocked and irritated by the contempt in those greenish-grey eyes and the bleak look on his face. When the dark-haired young man finished the sermon, he was received with a tumult of applause. Judas rolled his eyes and muttered. “These fools. Too much heaven on their minds.”
Two days ago, Judas stood in his boss’ office, their headquarter in an old building not far from the beach of Tel Aviv. The older man tossed over a file folder. “The man who brought us lots of trouble, our Mr. ‘Messiah’ just appeared in Texas, United States yesterday. We checked all the border crossing records and airlines…God knows how he went there!” He slammed the desk with frustration. Judas noticed his jaw clenching tightly. “I need you to take the earliest flight tomorrow to America. We need to get everything under control. If necessary, get him back to Israel and I don’t care how you do it.”
Judas glanced at his boss’ face turning red with rage. He pulled a few documents out from the folder. There was a photo of the mysterious man showing up in Middle East, whose advent had set the West Bank on fire in merely a few days. The city of Damascus was on the edge of falling when the Islamic States was going for another bomb attack. This man stood out like a savior, with the month-long sandstorm that was believed to be sent by God, broke the supply chains of ISIL and forced them to retreat. Now, thousands of Palestinian refugees, following him all the way from Syria to the border with Israel at Golan Heights, were still waiting for the grant of asylum from Israeli government. The latter was put in an awkward position when news reporters and humanity organizations from all over the world flooded into this area. Judas gazed at the man in the photo. He probably was in his late twenties. With soft wavy hair, light golden skin and short stubble, he looked like a new graduate that could be seen anywhere. However, Judas was pretty aware that ever since 2001, there were more and more cases of graduates (even students still in college) getting lured by religious extremism and turned into terrorists.
“So who we have here, another madman just got out of the seminary huh?” Judas shook his head with those frizzy blonde hair. He put the photo in the pocket of his shirt, and waved goodbye with the folder to the frowning man. “Wish me good luck with this…Mr. ‘Messiah’.”
He’s been keeping a close watch on the young man for a week. In the past few days, the purported Messiah who appeared in this desolate town in Texas seemed to be working with almost no rest. He was either helping the locals rebuild houses destroyed by the tornado, or assisting them in searching and rescuing the injured. Every morning, he would preach to people at the only church in this town. “The man who does miracles” was trending on top of all social media platforms, which attracted thousands of believers, skeptics and paparazzi to flood into this small town yearning to witness the Messiah with their own eyes. Not least did the young man seem to concern about it, as he kept working in the day and stayed in the temporary tent provided by NGOs at night. At first, Judas watched him from a distance to avoid getting caught, but he found the Messiah’s dark eyes sometimes reached across the throng and laid upon him. After pretending to avert his gaze for a few times, he came to realize that the man had noticed him. Two days later, he went to the savior’s tent at night. When he pushed open the flap, some local folks sitting not too far away glanced over him with narrow, alert eyes. Judas remembered they were among the first followers when the Messiah arrived. They seemed to think Judas was just one of those lost sheep who came for a “miracle” from the “Messiah” or hoped he could help them regain faith in God, so they turned and went on drinking and chatting.
The dark-haired man sat quietly on his bedroll. His face was a touch pale from both physical and mental stress caused by overworking. He jumped from his seat slightly, apparently startled by the uninvited visit, but once he recognized Judas’ face, he seemed to be relieved. Judas even caught a glimpse of joy in those beautiful dark eyes.
“Could the mighty Messiah get tired as well?”
The young man was not incensed at his barb, but replied softly. “Any man who’s worked for over ten hours without a rest would feel tired.” He paused, and started again. “Also, I’ve asked you not to call me like that. You can call me Joshua.”
Judas rolled his eyes and almost laughed out. “Yeah, yeah, I remembered. The great savior doesn’t want to be looked upon as the son of God, so he’s willing to use a humble name, like a…mortal. Then please allow me to introduce myself. I’m Judas.”
Now their conversation turned into a riddle, or more like a bad joke. However, Joshua (to Judas’ amazement) stayed calm, only his eyes widened a bit at Judas’ name. “Your name…was not common these days.” He looked at him unblinkingly, his long eyelashes fluttering and his dark eyes glowing.
Judas snorted. “Appreciated your curiosity. My parents told me I was named after Judas Maccabeus, a hero fighting for his belief. Not that traitor, the miserable wimp.”
He emphasized on the last few words deliberately, seeing Joshua flinched as though those were darts aiming at his direction. He opened his mouth to say something, but in the end just chewed on his lips with an unexplainable grief in his eyes.
Judas cleared his throat and asked. “Now it’s my turn. Who exactly are you?”
“What do you think?”
“Don’t answer my question with a question!” Judas was irritated. “It doesn’t matter what I think, but if you ask me, I think you are a liar, or a madman with Messiah complex, playing tricks to get those idiots groveling at your feet and doing whatever you ask them to do for you.”
He leaned in closer, murmuring into Joshua’s ear with a sweet and malicious voice. To his disappointment, there was only serenity in those dark eyes, like a deep lake without waves. Joshua said, “I didn’t ask them to do anything for me.” His voice gentle and soft, more like stating a fact than refuting.
Judas was caught. It was true that Joshua hadn’t done anything “crossing the line” so far in the States. The advent of the young “Messiah” in Texas was unexpected, just like in Syria two weeks ago. He saved a girl from the tornado that swept the entire town. No one knew how he did it. Christians, Muslims and believers, as well as Instagrammers and hippies from the whole nation flooded into the town. They camped here, followed him and listened to his preaches, looking for truth or comfort (they didn’t usually get what they sought for). Mainstream media and government remained evasive, especially the latter, who probably estimated it to be another cult, like what happened in Waco thirty years ago. However, Joshua turned down all the rewards, accolades, and the invitations from several profit or non-profit organizations. Then who exactly was he, and what was his goal?
As if he’d read Judas’ mind, Joshua continued. “God has plans for all of us and no one knows his thoughts, but if we have faith and follow our heart, we will be able to get rid of the burden and live in utter bliss and happiness. I want to help you, Judas. I want you to be happy. ”
The feel of Joshua’s hand pressed against his own made him shiver. An instinctive reaction from years of special training would be to flip that slender wrist and break it, but another emotion washed through his whole body, sending warmth from where their skin touched to his heart, like a key to the deepest secret hidden there. His heart pounded fast, every cell and vein vibrating so fiercely as if they were resonating with these strong feelings of nostalgia and kinship, the feelings of…being home.
Judas remained unmoving for a while, before he finally came to himself and jerked his hand away. He stood up abruptly and left, or rather fled Joshua’s tent without a word, leaving the young Messiah there, gazing after him silently.
There seemed to be a tacit understanding built up between the two of them hence. Judas would watch from afar when Joshua preached, while the latter, despite noticing the man who’d dare to challenge him with audacity, didn’t seem to get offended at all. Perhaps he thought Judas was just another “unbeliever”. Now there was a decent number of people surrounding him, following him to wherever he would head to. They left Texas and drove across the country with hundreds more joining them on the way. Judas saw those faces of different colors, men, women, old, young; enthralled and enraptured; their eyes glittering with feverishness, curiosity or despair. They were looking for a miracle. Joshua accepted all of them. Sometimes his close followers had to stand in and ask them to leave him alone for a moment, so the young savior could take a breath.
One day, they arrived at a city in East Coast. After checking in the same hotel where Joshua stayed at, Judas went to the terrace on top of the building. He lit up a cigarette in the chill night air and swiped on Twitter randomly, trying to quell the growing anxiety from days of travelling. His mind started to drift away before the topic that was currently trending on top caught his eye - #falsegod#. Judas stared at the phone screen, clicked on that hashtag and scrolled down. The poster of the first tweet was a young mom he saw a few days ago, who brought her daughter with leukemia and followed them all the way from Arkansas seeking – begging for a miracle. It was a short tweet, merely two sentences, but utterly heartbreaking –
My daughter Reya, seven years and three months old, has left us forever. #falsegod##liar##murderer#
Judas gazed at the photo of the little girl, still healthy and vigorous, hugging a golden retriever tightly with a timid smile on her freckles face. The tweet had received over a thousand replies in just five minutes, most of which were Joshua’s supporters and opponents squabbling and throwing insults at each other. He swiped off the phone and stubbed out the cigarette on the heel of his shoes.
He was about to go back to his room, but all unthinkingly pressed on the button of the floor where Joshua’s room was on. Doors opened, a young woman with light brown hair bumped in and almost fell on him. Judas shifted hastily and stepped out of the elevator. He didn’t miss the bare shoulders and short dress under her black leather jacket. When his gaze returned to her face, he found her eyes reddish and puffy, still glistening with unshed tears. He averted his gaze instinctively, and the next thing he saw was a paled Joshua leaning against the door of his own room, watching the dubious woman leaving.
The young Messiah met his eyes, and just nodded briefly before turning to close the door. Judas walked over trying to stop him, but the next second he froze as Joshua tumbled to the floor, and lay there lifelessly. Fear clenched his gut as he rushed towards the man and carried him into the room with quivering hands.
He didn’t notice the thick liquid sticking on his hand until he moved the unconscious Messiah onto the couch. The scarlet stain made his breath caught in his throat, as he fumbled to unbutton that white shirt, which was imbued with blood in the front. Joshua’s body was slim, as he expected, but not skinny with those taut muscles. Judas quickly noticed there was a 2-inch cut on his flank. He muttered and ripped the scarf from his neck to bandage the wound.
The dark-haired man came to his conscious after ten minutes. He still looked pale, but at least the cut was no longer bleeding. His ruffled hair framing his face, eyes roaming blankly as if trying to figure out how he got back to the room. At this moment, he didn’t look like the passionate preacher in the day, nor like the Messiah that was worshiped by thousands, but just an ordinary young man of his age. Judas saw his eyes now focusing on him with a startled expression.
“Didn’t the omniscient Messiah learn the manner to thank the man who saved his life?” Judas blurted out, and immediately regretted. He was worried indeed, was going to ask Joshua how he got hurt, who that woman was and what happened between the two of them. Ironically, he was so distracted by the unexpected anger that came from nowhere and the only man he could spill it to was the one he actually cared for.
Joshua’s expression softened, though. “Thank you.” The dark-haired Messiah smiled, even squeezed Judas’ hand gently to show gratitude. He tried to sit up, but coughed again and grimaced slightly. Judas helped him lie back on the couch. They fell in silence, which stood between them like a barrier.
“Anything you wanna say about this?” Distractedly, Judas ran through his frizzy blonde hair and started. “Did the lovely lady think you were one of her clients and mess up, or you two didn’t reach agreement on something like…the price?” Even he himself could not stand the malice in his words. However, what he wanted, needed to hear now was that he was wrong. He would even relish a punch if Joshua got incensed.
Of course, Joshua didn’t give him a punch. He didn’t even seem to have the first idea of what Judas alluded. When he finally seemed to realize the latter’s accusation, he didn’t flinch or get exasperated. “There was nothing happened between us. That lady…has suffered a lot. She was abused and treated cruelly, and she felt ashamed of it.” His voice raised, eyes flashing with blazing anger. “Those who abused her should feel ashamed instead. I tried to soothe her and helped her, but she lost control of her emotions at some point, probably because she felt unsafe…but everything is alright now.” He had that smile again, the smile Judas knew well and hated so much, the smile of a Messiah. “I believe now she’s able to shed her burden and reveal her true self to God.”
It sounded like a nice story with a happy end, if Judas neglected the young savior’s shaky voice and colorless face. Again, Judas felt waves of rage in his chest and he didn’t even try to think why he cared about a man who may turn out to be a threat to his own country and to the world. “So you’ve forgiven her? Ha, maybe I’m just too ignorant to understand what the Messiah is thinking, or you probably know from the beginning that you will survive from that mad woman, since you surely know everything don’t you? But there might be something even the Messiah can’t help.” He leaned in closer, their faces inches apart and he looked straightly into Joshua’s dark beautiful eyes. Judas whispered, “The young mother who followed you all the way here. What’s the name of her child again? Oh right, Reya.” He continued. “The poor girl died this morning, even though you’ve kissed her on the forehead. Looks like even the blessing of Messiah cannot conquer death.”
His green eyes fixed on the young man without blinking. Joshua’s face was blank for a few seconds, as if he didn’t hear. Judas frowned and was about to continue, but then he saw a tear escaped from those dark eyes and rolled down his cheek, and then a second, a third one. His heart was clenched, filled with remorse as Joshua started weeping. Hesitantly, he placed a hand onto the other’s shoulder, trying to say something or to apologize but found only bitterness in his mouth. The exhausted Messiah pulled away and slowly curled up in a ball, pressing his face against the soft fabric. It was hard to distinguish his words through those heartbreaking sobs and shuddering breaths, and Judas could only recognize a few, such as “father” and “forgive”. The only thing he could do was sitting there, attempting to make up for what he had said but to no avail, knowing that the hurt was already made. In the end, Joshua seemed to have lost all his strength, and his breath went in regular slow puffs. Judas grabbed a blanket from a chair nearby to cover the young man up carefully and studied his face for a moment in silence, before exiting the room.
Waco tragedy happened in Waco, Texas, 1993 between the U.S federal government and an extremist religious sect “Branch Davidians”, ended in a deadly fire which led to 82 killed.
The great wheels of fate seemed to set in motion since then, as though a divine hand had pushed a row of dominoes and just stood aside waiting for the last one to fall. Debate about whether Joshua was the real Messiah was growing heated every day and some regions have fallen into a state of near anarchy. Believers or not, more and more people were joining this chaotic rave to get high and wasted like there was no tomorrow, not caring anymore if it would add another pound of sin to their souls before the Judgement Day. As if it couldn’t get worse, Judas found a tweet posted by a devoted follower of Joshua: a blurry photo of a destination sign, and –
We are marching towards Washington D.C.!
He ran to Joshua’s room on that night. The latter remained silent to his question. “Are you really going to D.C.? Everyone is there! Fanatics who worship you like dogs, despicable politicians who want to use you for their own purposes, and those who want you dead -” Judas stared at him as if he’d gone mad. Ironically, merely a few days ago he was still convinced that the young man was indeed, a madman with crazy thoughts; but now in Joshua’s dark eyes, which are calm and gentle as always, he could only see himself, a man with defeated written on his face. He vaguely had a hunch which he’d been trying to ignore, that this young man (for some inexplicable reason) was fully aware of everything that was happening and would happen, and he’d made up his mind to follow the script of the play.
“Looks like it’s the only option now.” Joshua gazed out of the window. People coming from the whole nation even abroad camped there, and there were already three hundred or more on the waitlist to implore him for “miracles”. Behind him, the 60" TV screen was rotating real-time worldwide news – global pandemic, military conflicts in multiple regions, famine caused by climate change and crop failure, and on top of that, cold numbers reflecting the loss of lives.
“I want to talk to the leader of the strongest country in this world, though he doesn’t look very…wise.” Joshua shook his head, a wistful smile tugging at his lips. “I once believed if people are taught to love each other, no matter that’s your brother, neighbor or enemy, then they will put down swords and turn them into ploughshares. All beings will live in peace. But I was wrong…” His voice dripped with visible fatigue. “If it doesn’t work, then there’s only one way left I know from my experience. The only way to make mankind put aside hatred and prejudice, and to unite, is to put them in the face of a common enemy. Anti-Christ, Armilus or Al-Masih ad-Dajjal, whatever they call it. Only when they are facing the same threat will they work together and rise hand in hand.”
Judas opened his mouth trying to say something but was too shocked at Joshua’s words and rendered speechless. “You are going to…” He drew in a few deep breaths, yet was barely able to let out a mumble. “You must’ve been out of your head…”
Joshua gazed at Judas – his devoted surveillant, loyal apostle, faithful friend and lover. His eyes gleaming with tears as he reached out a hand as if trying to touch the other’s cheek, but pulled back in the last second. “Judas, you have no idea how happy I was to see you in this world, but…I’m sorry, I may break your heart again, this time.”
Perhaps it was not only Joshua who’s gone mad. Perhaps the whole world and Judas himself had gone off his head long ago. Judas ran his hand through his hair distraughtly with the other hand on the steering wheel. Everything was out of control now and he was supposed to report to his boss and take immediate actions. However, ten minutes ago he just grabbed the young Messiah, shoved him almost with violence into the car, and drove off with his engines at full throttle. On this moonless night the world seemed to have fallen asleep, the only sound being the buzzing noise from cicadas. Judas took a quick glance at the rear mirror after they entered the highway, and immediately noticed a black car with its license plate covered was following them at an equivalent speed.
“Fuck,” He muttered under his breath. It seemed his boss had grown suspicious of him, probably thinking he’d been hypnotized by this purported Messiah and lost his mind, so he sent other agents to make sure the task was fulfilled. His heart began to beat faster, and his mind searched wildly for a way to get rid of them. To his right, he could barely see a desolate wilderness extending to a wood with dark tree trunks. He took the following exit without a second thought. Once they were off the highway Judas found another black SUV in the rear mirror, and almost laughed out when he recognized the two white men in suits sitting in the front of the vehicle. “You see you’re popular huh? Both FBI and Mossad are seeking you now.”
The perplexed young Messiah seemed to be in a daze after he was grabbed and shoved onto the backseat. Judas even doubted if he got car sick which, considering the speed he was driving at, was not totally impossible. Joshua averted his gaze back to Judas as if he just came to himself by the latter’s not-so-funny joke, and asked him. “Where are we heading to?”
Judas’ heart went softened for a moment, but Joshua continued. “No matter where we are going, Judas, please leave me to them. Everything is fixed, and you can’t change it.”
“Can’t you just shut the fuck up?!” Judas slammed the steering wheel while trying to keep an eye on overhanging limbs from all directions across that almost blocked his view. He was about to turn around and scold the Messiah, but froze when he saw what was ahead before jamming on the brakes.
There was a cliff.
Apparently the “close and reliable friendship, partnership and alliance” between the big heads in U.S. and Israel governments didn’t get to their subordinates. Judas attempted to convince those FBIs to hand Joshua to Israel, yet the shorter man seemed uninterested as he grabbed his hair and held him down to the damp and cold ground. The young savior, who’d turned the world upside down in the last few weeks, opened the door and slowly walked out of the car, standing a feet away from Judas. Two Mossad agents ran over to them hastily and started to argue with the taller FBI who was holding a gun. The latter just gave a nonchalant shrug with an arrogant smirk on his face. “I’m sorry gentlemen. Mr. President has announced this…Messiah is dangerous as you can see, and will bring threats to the world. We need to ensure our nation’s interest and security. As for the rest…” He nodded to his co-worker who held Judas. “We will submit a report later, and you will get yours from your boss.”
He turned to the dark-haired Messiah and pulled the trigger. Right on cue, Judas broke free from the FBI behind him with a fierce struggle and jumped in front of Joshua.
It happened in the blink of an eye. Both lurched and fell backwards. Everything seemed to go by fast, yet slow, almost suspended. Judas felt his whole body went cold and numb, probably due to loss of blood, but it doesn’t matter anymore. After all, there was no more betrayal this time, and thus no need to regret. He thought with no fear, only relief. He held Joshua closer to him and felt the other’s arms wrapping around him tightly.
Judas closed his eyes, content as never before.
Judas woke on a shingle beach. His head ached as though someone was knocking nails in it. He tried to sit up but found the effort too painful. Just when he started to feel helpless, someone laid a warm hand gently on his forehead.
He shuddered as all the old memories, bitter and sweet, came flooding back to him – the hasty fleeing, the gunfire, and the cliff; then there were more scenes, blurry like faded photos – beautiful olive trees, whispers in the garden, Roman soldiers with swords, and the kiss…Those shattered scenes swirled from one to another like an old movie, the last one lingering on a pair of dark brown eyes with serenity and compassion. Joshua, or Jesus smiled at him, graceful and beautiful like he’d always been in their old days, but Judas could feel some new emotions in that smile: the unconcealed eagerness, the passion like blazing fire he’d never seen in Jesus’ eyes.
“Why?” He mouthed; voice unrecognizable from a broken throat. It seemed he’d stopped the Son of God from sacrificing himself for humanity this time, and his somehow-moody Dad didn’t get infuriated and flood the earth again (probably the mercy-having God changed His mind and decided to give men more time to clean up their mess). He had so many questions, but the first and only one he wanted to ask now was –
Why did you come back? To this world, to humans who had betrayed you, made you suffer, and still couldn’t learn from what you said even after two thousand years?
Jesus, as always, seemed to read Judas’ mind and just smiled fondly, as if he was the same young teacher who sat with apostles by the campfire drinking and chatting back then. The dark-haired Messiah leaned in and placed a soft kiss on Judas’ cracked lips.
“Judas, I came for you.”
Armilus and Al-Masih ad-Dajjal refer to "devil" and "anti-Christ" in Jewish and Islam (feel free to let me know if I got it wrong since this is based on a quick research on Wiki).