I wander out into the night and move as though afraid I may fall apart at any moment. Mine is a life of measured movements, all calculated to maintain the guise of, if not sickness, then humanity. What I would give for privacy that I might fly across the desert, the wind of my passage flowing all around me. But the paradox of my existence is that I must remain near humans or… well, not die, for even without blood I live on, shriveled and helpless, as I learned when I first attempted to resist the hideous hunger. I was saved only by happenstance and desperate strength, the poor woman who walked over to examine my lifeless-looking form becoming my first victim. Though I attempt to feed upon the condemned or dying, I have murdered the healthy and innocent many times over out of necessity, and it is these times that have most commonly forced me into exodus in the past. I am haunted by their faces even now, but the memory of their blood serves to soften the anguish, invigorating as it was. As it is, I have been living with these lepers for almost a year now, and the nearby town sends a steady supply my way, and thus the relationship flourishes. And of course I must thank the Romans for their contributions to my well-being as well. We shall shortly see if they have left me a suitable offering in town.
This recent decrease of their numbers has me suspicious, however. Lepers are not typically a very ambulatory lot, venturing only so far as the town and then coming back to this “haven.” Ah, but here is Bidkar. It will be a sad day when I must drain his life away, entertaining companion that he has been.
“Hail, Bidkar! I thought we might cross paths.” The sores on his face contort as he smiles at my appearance.
“Ah, Nabal. Will you be joining me in my harvest tonight? You always seem to know which houses are ripe with the unobservant. Never have I met one with a greater sense for the task. Not to mention, I am now one less finger for the plucking of goods from the privileged’s bowers.” He waggles a stump where once was a crusty finger.
“I am sorry to hear that. I give thanks to God that my hands and feet are unaffected by our curse, but when it comes to other areas… well, let us cease talking about such things. I would be glad to point you in the right direction if you can point me in the right direction as well. Where is Lucas? Where is Maadai? And many others, as well. Have so many gone to be with the Lord as of late?”
“Some might say so. There is rumor of a healer traveling the land, though the rumors may dry up if the pharisees have any word in the matter. And especially,” he lowers his voice, “now that some are saying he is the Messiah.”
“Ha! Perhaps it is the same old man who told me to sleep in box of olive wood and dirt, much good as it has done me. He always was a persuasive one.”
“No, no, this man is young, thirty years or so. I may go look for him myself.”
“Do what you will.”
“I tell you, Nabal, it is not healthy to put faith in only iniquity and evil spirits.”
“I concede that God exists, but it is an evil god that created this world. I will change my beliefs when experience proves otherwise. As of yet I have seen only evil and experienced only hardship, so my beliefs stand. Now let us move on so that we might secure our welfare through evil.”
Once within the town, I experience the familiar and nearly overpowering sensation as all around me beat the hearts of the living, pumping blood, and with each pulse I am able to infer its owner’s state of mind. Many dreamers, a few nightmares, and the occasional late nighter, perhaps writing or working upon some urgent task, or maybe simply worthlessly worrying about life. I point out the house of a particularly deep sleeper and then lie, saying that I will look for another mark while Bidkar ransacks the first. As soon as I’m sure he’s completely preoccupied by his thievery I make haste toward the hill on the other side of town, and soon I can see the familiar shapes of the crosses, and my mouth begins to water. My hope is that some hearty criminal still clings to life while hanging upon the inhuman tool of torture that is the cross, and that the Roman soldiers were too lazy to finish the job as they are wont to do. Again I wonder that it is I who am cursed and not those endlessly creative Romans. Perhaps God has not thought of a suitable punishment yet. As I move closer to the line of monuments to cruelty, I expand my senses. In the past, my culling of the condemned was caught by a lingering relative of the crucified, her shrieks tearing through the night and cutting short my consumption. If starvation is the worst sensation, then interruption of an imminent meal is second. Thankfully there is no sign of any such inconsiderate person this time.
And yes, it is faint, but the thud of life can be heard from the third in line of the crucifixions. Thank you, oh strong soul, for your perseverance. Know that the end of suffering, whether deserved or undeserved, is close at hand. As I approach, his shallow breathing rattles around me. I won’t waste time; he could die any second. The blood of the dead cools quickly, becoming unpalatable and, if left long enough, downright poisonous. Leaping on top the horizontal beam, my robe flaps about me, a blob of shadow perched upon this grisly mockery of a fruit-bearing tree, its bounty death instead of life. I lower my face toward his neck, the large vein easy to find thanks to emaciation and the strain of living after such a marathon of torture. And then he speaks.
“Our time is at hand, brother.”
I am frozen where I crouch. The voice that comes from the bowed head is at once hoarse and hollow, as though it echoes within the body from which it came. And it is altogether much too strong to have come from a dying man. I open my mouth to speak, but for once I have no words, and the anticipatory saliva has gone the way of the desert. It is all I can do to keep from falling to the ground.
“Why are you silent? Perhaps you have not heard? Yahweh, curse the name, has foolishly taken a human form, and even now our lord sets in motion the means to kill him. Creation will be ours, and eternal night, and you shall not be reduced to feeding upon dregs such as this nearly-dead slave. I will leave you now to your meal, but take hope – our time is at hand.” The voice stops but the mouth still hangs open, and a rivulet of blood leaks from the corner. And then comes the moaning noise, and this finally frees me from my stupefaction: the man is screaming. This man, who has gone through torture, crucifixion, and the slow death that follows, is screaming. I plunge my fangs into his neck and drain the blood from him until the noise stops, but still I can hear it.
( ©2018 Sean Dorsey )