Note: Somehow I managed to mix a Chicago section and a Baghdad section at the end of 23 yesterday. I’ve gone back and rewritten it to fit better and reposted the entire chapter here:
23 – Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO
His story went on for a few minutes, detailing how he and his friends had arrived at Mrs. Claire’s, how’d they’d been granted not only an audience but a chance to participate in a real life seance session. And finally, to the old woman calling forward the spirits of the dead–one spirit in particular.
At this point, I had to interrupt his story. “Did you actually believe that she could do it? Raise the dead?”
“She never claimed that she could bring the dead back,” he corrected, “just speak to them. Still, I was too drunk to really think about it that much. So I guess yeah, I probably did believe it.”
I settled back, thinking about the power of faith. If the faith of a mustard seed could move mountains than perhaps there was something to this story after all. Still, the ability to call up the dead? That was one heck of a mountain.
“So what happened?” I asked.
“Nothing.” He must have seen the look on my face. “Well, nothing at first. We all sat around a table, chanting and lighting candles. It was definitely the right sort of atmosphere, but at first nothing was happening.”
“And then?” I was starting to grow a bit impatient with the whole situation. Here we were out in what was rapidly approaching the middle of the night, talking about past events and getting no where.
“And then she freaked out.”
“Who? Mrs. Claire?” He nodded. “What do you mean freaked out?”
“Well, suddenly she was arching her back and chanting at the ceiling. I couldn’t have told you what language she was chanting in, other than that it definitely wasn’t English.”
I perked up at that. Sudden personality changes, speaking in tongues? Honestly, it sounded like a demonic possession. The thing was, there hadn’t been a nice, clear cut case of possession in centuries.
Or I guess it could just have been a scam. It wasn’t hard enough to spout gibberish at the ceiling after all…
“Any chance you remember some of it?”
He shrugged. Just for the best, I guess. I’d picked up a smattering of Latin during my seminary training and a touch of Arabic during my time in Iraq, but other than that if the other man hadn’t understood it, it was unlikely that I would have been able to either.
“What about Mrs. Claire?”
“What about her?”
“Could she translate for you? After?”
He shook his head. “She didn’t even remember saying anything. Truth be told, she thought that we were pulling her leg.”
Which could have fit with either the possession angle or the scam.
“What happened then?”
Abuptly, he turned and started walking again. “Why don’t you ask her yourself?”
“Wait, what?” I skipped along to catch up. “Ask Mrs. Claire?”
“That’s where I’m going.”
I thought… I trailed off. I thought that he’d been going after his brother. I guess that I’d just assumed that he’d have some way of tracking him down, but I guess that didn’t actually make terribly much sense.
“She’s the one that’s responsible for this whole mess. So she can be the one to end it.”
24 – Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO
Half an hour and a short car ride later, we arived at the lakeside. It turned out that he did have a car, he’d just parked further away to avoid having to pay–which amused me somewhat, although I was careful not to let it show; I doubt I would have been worred about something like parking fees had I been trying to track down a resurrected sibling…
I’ll admit, the car trip was one of the stranger things I’ve ever done in my life. The driver had broken into the Church not a half hour past and here we were having a calm enough–if strained–converstation while driving into the heart of the city to see a self-professed psychic. He’d backed down from providing any more information about the events at Mrs. Claire’s, saying that she’d explain everything. Personally, I was still torn between believing and thinking that Mrs. Claire had just taken advantage of the man.
I managed to get him to tell me a little bit more about his family life, about his parents and siblings, but nothing particularly stood out as strange. It was really only the brother’s death and subsequent rising that seemed at all out of place.
Still, there had been a young man that had come to me in confession. That had to mean something, didn’t it?
Right then, a thought came to me. A thought that stopped me cold. What if it wasn’t just Mrs. Claire that was the sham? What if the young man that had come to me and this older man that claimed to be his brother were in on it as well? What if they’d cooked up this whole story in order to get me out here, out of the church.
My blood ran cold.
Thinking quickly, I pulled out my phone. I had a few contacts that I knew wouldn’t mind just running a quick check around the grounds to make sure that nothing was out of place–and that would know who I was out and about with should anything go sour.
My fingers hovered over the list, trying to decide which of them I should call. Part of me was worried that I was just being paranoid, that nothing was going to happen to either me or the Church. Another part of me was worried that something would happen and that there were those I couldn’t in good conscious put in harms way just on that chance.
Finally, I decided. A good friend, one that I’d known for years. She knew as well as I that the world was just a little stranger than some were wont to believe and wouldn’t think twice about doing what I’d ask of her.
Typing a short message, I let her know as much of the situation as she needed. Her response, as I knew it would be, was short and to the point.
“Will do. Be careful.”
As I read her message, I realized that the car was slowing to a stop, pulling over to a curb.
“Why are we stopping?”
The other man pointed out my side window to a brightly lit neon display in pink and gold.
Mrs. Claire's Fortune telling, palm reading, and seances
25 – Rome
Finally, I had to ask. “What is it?”
“I… no, it couldn’t possibly be… but what if it is?” He barely seemed to be speaking to me, his gaze still focused on the piece of pottery in front of him. Abruptly, he looked up, his eyes locking on my own with a laser focus. “We need to get this looked at.”
“Looked at? By who?”
“I have a friend… well, more of an acquaintance really. He doesn’t live that far from her. Come on.” He was already half standing, almost vibrating. As I stood as well, he’d pulled out a wallet and thrown a few bills down onto the table.
Granted, I wasn’t that familiar with the exchange rate between dollars and euros, but it still looked by he’d overpaid by a significant amount.
But he was already halfway back to the street. I rushed to catch up.
I ended up catching up with him about a block later. He was really moving, almost running with every step, paying only a bare fraction of attention to his surroundings. Several times I saw him almost collide with a street lamp or other object, only to swerve out of the way at the last moment.
“Father,” I said, trying to catch my breath, once I’d caught up with him. “What is it?”
“What do those grooves look like to you?” he asked, not so much as lifting his eyes from the shard in front of him.
“Um… lines?” Honestly, they looked like a mistake. The faint remains of paint that I’d first noticed years ago clung to the inside of several of the lines, making me think that they’d originally been painted over. Perhaps they were a mistake?
“No, no. A record.” He held up the piece, not slowing as he did. How he managed to keep steady, I couldn’t figure, I stumbled just trying to look at it.
“A music record, they kind that they used to sell music on. Turntables?”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m not that young Father, I know what a record is.” I just hadn’t associated the two. Although now that he mentioned it, I could see where he was coming from. A thin set of parallel lines, wrapping around what had once been a complete jar. “But records are flat.”
He waved one hand at me–the one not holding the shard–and made a dismissive sound. “Sure, sure. But the principles are the same. You have a thin groove with a rising and falling floor, mirroring the rising and falling of sound waves.”
So far as I vaguely understood how sound waves worked, that sounded accurate enough. “So what?”
I’d finally managed to get through to him. Missing a half of a step, he stumbled, almost pitching forward. I reached a hand out to catch him, but he shrugged it off, righting himself. For the first time since we’d left the cafe, he was actually looking up at me rather than at the shard of pottery in his hands. “So what? What do you mean so what? Do you have any idea what this might be?”
I just shook my head. It was a piece of pottery… admittedly very old and with a habit of being around in strange times, but that’s all I knew.
“I think it’s a shard of the Cup of Lazarus.”
26 – Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO
When I came crashing back into our makeshift base of operations, Amira in my arms, I came as close as I’d ever come to dying. All around me, a ring of young men in full combat gear were pointing a small variety of firearms directly at me.
I froze, knowing that with the nearby gunfire, these men were almost surely on a hair trigger already. Running in here the way that I had was far from the top of the list of brightest things that I’d done.
Luckily though, calmer reactions prevailed. “Stand down,” one of the men called out. “He’s one of ours.” The man in question–I recognized him as our platoon sergeant–stood, lowering his own rifle.
“Padre, there had better be a pretty good reason for you to come barging in here like that.” There was an unmistakable edge to his voice and I couldn’t blame him.
I opened my mouth to answer, but as I did something moved. I only know this as the forest of guns pointed at me each shifted slightly to one side, aiming at something behind me and off to one side.
The platoon sergeant’s gun snapped up as well. “Move!” he yelled, and I felt my training kicking in, my feet pulling me out of the way before my conscious mind had even had the time to recognize the order for what it was.
Even as I moved, there were several bright flashes, several loud cracks of gunfire. I felt a stinging sensation in my side, but I couldn’t stop, didn’t have time to stop. I came to rest against a rough stone wall, leaning one arm against it, still holding Amira as steadily as I could.
I looked down at her, but she looked no different than she had a few moments ago.
Looking back up, I saw that the men were still primed and ready, aiming right down the street I’d come down. From my vantage point, I couldn’t see what–or more likely who–they’d been shooting at, but I had a feeling that it was related to the gunshots I’d heard earlier. The gunshots that had wounded Amira.
Glancing around, I couldn’t see our platoon medic. I could see the building he’d taken over as a sort of makeshift infirmary, but it was across the field of fire. Everyone was still looking intensely towards the entrance, so there wasn’t much case of going directly across.
I was going to have to go around.
Picking my way carefully behind the men, I managed to only bump one or two. I got a few glares, but mostly the men were looking forward. No more than a few minutes later and I was at the medic’s.
I could only pray that it wasn’t too late.
27 – Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO
At first, the medic wasn’t hopeful of Amira’s chances. He took one look at the wound and I could just see him calculating her chances and coming up shy. True to his profession though, he neither questioned how she had gotten the wound nor did he give up on her.
Surely there would be questions, questions for the both of us, but those would come later.
Some time later, the platoon Sergeant came in. He took one look at the three of us–Amira on the table, still unconscious with the medic just stitching her up, me standing against the wall. “Come with me.”
“That’s an order.” He didn’t have to say it twice. I followed him outside.
Outside, the fighting had died down. None of our men appeared to even have been injured and for the most part they’d returned to more relaxed uses of their time. Still, there was an undeniable difference from the previous few days. While there had always been tension, it had almost gotten to the point of being relaxed, but no longer. There were twice as many men posted at each entrance as there had been and they seemed to be keeping an even sharper watch than before. We wouldn’t be surprised again.
The Sergent took me over to a corner near the medic’s building, tucked slightly away from the rest of the men.
“Sir?” I wasn’t entirely sure which part he wanted explained.
“Who is she?”
“Ah. She works at the National Museum.”
“And why is she here?”
“Gunshot wound, sir.”
There was a slight pause. “And why did she get shot?”
I shrugged. Honestly, I didn’t know why they would have attacked the museum. Our men hadn’t been back since the first den of snipers had been chased out, no need. So why would there have been any shooting there in the first place?
“I’m … not sure, sir.”
A longer pause this time. His face betrayed nothing in the way of emotions. Finally, he continued. “Why here though? There are Iraqi medical centers all over the city.”
I opened my mouth, then closed it again. In my hurry to get her here, I hadn’t even considered that. I actually knew several of the nearby hospitals, I’d stopped by a few of them to talk with the very few local priests and offer my services should they require them. Not only where there such centers all over the city, but there was at least one that would have been closer than coming here.
“Sir,” I finally said. “I didn’t have time to consider any other options.”
He shook his head. “Of course not.”
He looked me up and down, pausing in particular on the cross stitched onto my uniform, just above my name.
“You’ve fallen for her, haven’t you?” I blinked. There was no softness in his voice, but the words were nothing like what I’d come to know from him. There was none of the hard edge of command in his voice, but something almost approaching understanding.
Still, I could feel heat rushing into my face. What he was implying… was impossible. I was a priest, I’d sworn myself to a life of celibacy. I knew what was in my heart, but if the Sergent was thinking it, then the rest of the men…
“It’s not like that sir.”
28 – Rome
After that, Father Antonio refused to answer any of my questions until we could actually check on his theory–and I wasn’t even sure exactly what that was. All I had were those three words: the Cup of Lazarus.
Given that I’d been sent to a priest–and that the shard had dated to two thousand years ago–it had to be the biblical Lazarus. The problem was, there were at least two men in the Bible that went by that name.
There was the better known story, that of Lazarus of Bethany, Lazurs of the Four Days. That was the Lazarus who Jesus had raised from the dead. Being the only story in the Bible other than his own where Jesus explicately refers to someone as dead as opposed to merely sleeping only for them to return from the dead felt like a powerful relation to the events that had always surrounded the shard, but there was still one detail missing: there was no cup in the story of Lazarus. So if the shard was truly from the time, then what was it?
Then there was the parable of a rich man and a beggar–Lazarus–in the Gospel of Luke. That Lazarus had been leperous and died at the gates of the rich man who had refused to let him in. The rich man had been sent to Hell and Lazarus the beggar to Heaven. The rich man had asked for water, perhaps there had been a cup in that story. And it had ended with “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”
So which Lazarus was it?
Or was I just overthinking the entire situation? After all, the idea of a piece of pottery having any sort of power at all was a bit on the crazy side.
“We’re here.” Father Antonio had been quiet for so long that I jumped when he spoke up. We’d stopped in front of a newer looking apartment building, looking somewhat out of place among the older architecture of the rest of the city. Nothing otherwise stood out about the building though.
“Where is here?”
“A friend” was his only reply, not really answering the question at all. He stepped forward, read the instructions posted on the call box, and pushed a few buttons.
Sooner than I would have expected, a voice came back from the speaker on the wall. The woman who answered the call sounded somehow familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. Nor could I make out more than the barest handful of words–Father Antonio’s name amoung them–as the both of them were chatting in rapid fire Italian.
Finally, there was a click from the door. Father Antonio pulled it over and gestured for me to go on ahead.