Ahasuerus

Some time later.

He hasn’t been across the ocean in a thousand years. He hasn’t seen the desert or the poles in centuries. His latitude is getting smaller and smaller; he’s not sure why, exactly, but his working theory is there isn’t anyone on the other side of the world anymore. He stopped knowing what anyone was saying a few centuries back, so it’s all theoretical at this point. He feels weird about it, all things considered. He’s been shot, stabbed, imprisoned, set on fire, attacked by dogs, poisoned, drowned, beheaded once, hanged a half-hundred times, driven out by stones and dogs and broken glass, but still. Not mournful, exactly.

The world, or what’s left of it that’s available to him, is green and vibrant and alive. A riot of vegetation slowly swallowing what had been exquisite cities; the algal power cells have cracked and spread green and humming over pitted steel. It’s beautiful, in an uncaring way he finds poignant — these too were driven forth, once upon a time. Birds perch on him as he pushes his way through the conqueror woods, and speak to him in yet another language he no longer remembers, of news he doesn’t need.

 

That Devoutly Wished Consummation

The throng parted, and there at the other end of the room was the Old Man, stark in his colorless clothes amidst the gaudy riot of the revelers, a smooth piece of volcanic glass in a tumble of rubies, amethysts, lapis luzuli. “Hold this, won’t you?” Leslie murmured, and handed his glass to the earnest, balding young man who was so desperately talking about stocks to anyone who would listen. The young man didn’t pause, just tightened his grip convulsively on the glass and redirected his stream of jargon to a mostly passed out caryatid patiently holding up the bar.

The Old Man was churning relentlessly through the crowd when Leslie caught up to him, circling, circling, endlessly, tirelessly, talking to no one, drinking nothing, eating nothing, just rubbing elbows and chuckling mordantly to himself. “You made it,” Leslie wheezed; it had been years and decades since his lungs had been called on to power anything more robust than his usual listless drift from conversation to conversation. “You made it!”

The party started to wheel about him, all laughing faces and clinking glasses. He clutched the Old Man’s elbow harder, pulled him to a stop, to face him fully. “I kept the faith,” he pleaded. “I want you to know that. I didn’t forget. I kept the faith.”

He’s dead by the time the paramedics get there. The party slowly drains out, the ticker tape parade rained out at last. Ahasuerus lingers behind, wishing mightily he could remember anything at all about the dead man.

Firstfruits

He runs into Granddaddy Cain somewhere in what he’s pretty sure is Argentina, in a city full of weird octagonal plazas and gangsters draped in hot pink shawls. The old man looks the same as ever, face still all whorled up like a thumbprint and glowing softly like the wreck of a burning city, and the hundred and fifty years since they last bumped into each other hasn’t sweetened his disposition any. At any rate, Cain doesn’t say anything or even grunt when Ahasuerus says hello.

Ahasuerus gives him a cigarette anyway, which the old man doesn’t thank him for, naturally, just stuffs it in his face already lit, and clumps along beside him for an hour or two. It’s soothing, actually, which he wasn’t expecting. The constant tension of waiting for The Return is just background noise at this point; the old man, just the fact of him, reminds him that even immortal time is not the real time.

“I remember you,” Granddaddy Cain says, in his unspeakable, untranslatable language, what Longinus calls the prelapsarian dialect. “Where do I remember you from?”

He finds his mouth filled suddenly with the Aramaic of his youth, a tongue he hasn’t heard, let alone spoken, since before the first fall of Rome. “I honestly can’t remember,” Ahasuerus says, and weeps.

Old man Cain pats his shoulder in sympathy, and falls silent.

Ahasuerus

It makes his legs itch abominably, like sleeping in a nest of spiders, but the view is terrific, an impossible bowl of blue skies and the ground spread out below like an apron. And silence — he can’t remember a quieter day. Too quiet, really; he leans far too far out of the basket, locks his eyes on the ground unrolling beneath him, but it’s not enough, the spiders are dug deep, and for all the hundreds of miles the wind is carrying him he can’t stay still, paces the narrow basket endlessly, trying to stay ahead of that impatient Aramaic commandment.

An incredible view, though. He wonders if they’re running after him still and laughs and laughs. Conscience is a long-dead beast in his soul; he’s been too much in the wild places, eaten too many rocks in hick villages to feel he owes anything to anybody, and what’s a balloon anyway but an acre of oiled silk and a lot of hot air? You can’t own the air.

Eventually the wind starts to carry him out to sea, and he takes the quick trip down to the rocks. The pain is tremendous, and when he pulls himself together enough to care about his surroundings again he’s somewhere on the far side of the Sahara, but it was worth it. A hell of a view, absolutely unprecedented.

Ahasuerus

He’s poking his way through the sewers beneath Vienna when he stumbles across a body. It takes him a second to recognize it. “You look terrible,” he tells it.

The body rolls one mildewed eye, blinks, focuses. “Oh,” it wheezes. “Perfect.”

“How long have you been down here?”

The corpse pushes itself up, dislodging the nest of rats carved into its chest.  “Are they still fighting? They’d just started.”

“Six years. No, they’ve stopped now. What happened?”

That patient Roman skin starts to push itself back together. Something meeps down inside, and he picks one eyeless pink raisin out and glares at it before gently putting it down with the rest. “Oh, some asshole stabbed me and dumped me down here and I figured I’d show the Fucker. What are you, come to fetch me back again?”

Ahasuerus stares at him, turning it over. “No,” he sighs at last, “but I guess you never know.”

“Christ,” Longinus says, a prayer and a curse, all at once, inseparable, immiscible.