57 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO The four of us were standing there in the darkness, with only the pink neon glow of Mrs. Claire’s sign still providing anything in the way of illumination. There was a faint breeze from the outside, providing just enough motion to the curtain between us and the sign to make the darkness even more disconcerting.
Alex-or-not was standing right in front of me, only inches away. From that close, that same strange smell of wet leather was almost overpowering–I was fighting back the urge to gag.
Mrs. Claire was behind him, halfway across the room. She’d stood from the chair that she was in and no longer seemed to be freaking out–it seemed that the arrival of Alex was the catalyst of recent events.
I’d lost track of John Smith. So far as I knew, he still had the gun and he was still dead set on gunning down his own brother, despite how fruitless such an endeavor had been thus far. I could only pray that he wouldn’t decide to shoot him right at this moment. With such little distance between us and the way that Alex had of avoiding bullets, I had a feeling that it wouldn’t him that would catch the brunt of such an event.
I had no particular desire to be shot. They alway say that the third time’s a charm, but in this case I’d rather pass.
The discussion with Alex was going no where. He kept throwing out rhetorical comments and other non-sequitur that I couldn’t place into the thread of conversation. For some reason, he didn’t seem to have a high opinion of the whole religious calling, although I guess that might have had something to do with the whole dying in mortal sin sort of thing. That had to weigh heavily on his soul.
Eventually, after what felt like hours of back and forth but was more likely no more than a minute or two, the question that had been hovering in the back of my mind finally slipped out. “What are you?”
I didn’t really expect an answer, so it was doubly surprising when he gave one without a moment’s hesitation. “Alex’s body. I am parts of a whole. Part of me is Alex, Alex is part of me.”
Granted, it wasn’t the most helpful of replies. “How? Alex’s body was cremated.”
He hesitated a bit longer this time, but to my surprise, he answered once again. “An echo. Brought back to the world by the Word that Was.”
“The Word that Was?” I could almost hear the capital letters in his voice. “Was what?”
“The Word of God.” He shivered slightly at his own words and who could blame him.
“You’re saying God brought you back?” Hadn’t he been the one questioning my own faith not so very long ago?
But he just shook his head. “No. God had nothing to do with this. Not directly at least.”
Clear as mud. Particularly thick mud at that. “But you said…”
“I said that the Word of God brought me back. But the Word of God is not the Will of God.”
“Granted.” But it still didn’t really answer the question that I’d asked in the first place and here we were about to go down another rabbit hole. “But what are you?”
He blinked for a moment at the sudden shift of topic.
“Think of me as a sort of … hitchhiker.”
58 - Rome
PRESENT DAY “So what are you looking for?”
The man with the slicked back hair and the crimson tie seemed almost to be radiating calm. The woman–what kind of name was Cerberus anyways?–radiating something a bit more… violent. Standing behind the man, the point of her sword was flickering back and forth, the sharp motions stabbing into the air on each swing.
After a moment, the man reached into the front of his suit. I tensed. Surely he wasn’t just going to pull a gun on me… Not after calling that woman off of me earlier. If he’d really wanted to do me in, all he would have had was set her sword on me.
But no, he didn’t have a gun.
What he pulled out wasn’t at all less surprising though.
Reaching in, he pulled out a cup.
Simply made with a fine glaze and only the barest traces of color, the cup looked awfully familiar. In fact, it could have been the twin to that shard of pottery that had been the cause of so much trouble for so long. But where the piece of pottery that I had was nothing more than a curved shard, what was left after two thousand years of wear and tear, this cup was complete, looking as new as the day it had just been made.
And then he started to turn the cup in his hand.
As he did, the light caught in a series of grooves running along the cup at ever so slight an angle. Those grooves also looked awfully familiar.
He kept turning it until he got to the back.
When he held it out for me to see, I swear that my heart missed a beat. There was a hole along the back of the cup, a perfectly curved shard cut out from the side. And I knew exactly the shape and heft of that hole. I knew exactly what was missing there.
“I thought you said this wasn’t about the Cup.”
He gave me another of those mirthless grins. “No. I’m not looking for the Cup of Lazarus.” He looked own at the object in his hand. “I have the Cup of Lazarus. I’m just looking for the final piece.”
“The final piece…” I stared again at the Cup. A feeling rushed over me, something akin to awe. Despite all that Father Antonio and Amira had said, it had never really sunk into my mind that the piece that I’d been carrying around had really been two thousand years old. It had never really occurred to me that when it had been made, Jesus had been right there.
But seeing the nearly complete version in the mysterious man’s hand? It was somewhat harder not to believe.
“Why?” The word came out unbidden. Given what I knew of the Cup, I could think of any number of reasons that any number of people would want to get their hands on it.
He stared at me for a long moment, weighing me with those dark eyes of his. Finally, he answered. His voice was as calm as ever, but there was an undercurrent of longing with just a hint of sadness there that was hard to mistake. “Because I want to die.”
Of all the things that I’d been expecting him to say, I have to admit that hadn’t been one of them. From what I’d seen, the Cup of Lazarus did have a certain kind of power over death. But it was the kind that brought the dead back, in whole or in part. This was something else entirely.
“Why?” I asked again.
This pause was longer. When he spoke, the sadness was stronger still. “You are still young. You have no idea what it is to grow old.”
I looked at him. It was hard to put an age to him, but his smooth features and jet black hair made me think that he wasn’t that much older than me. Although looking closer, there was something about his eyes. “How old are you.”
“Old.” His answer came immediately this time. He most likely had been expecting the question. “I was old before your great grandparents were born. I was old well before much of this fine city had even been built.”
I just stared at him. Was he saying what I thought he was saying?
“Who are you?”
He answer was immediate. “My name is Lazarus.”