59 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO So Alex was a hitchhiker. “What does that mean exactly?”
He grinned. It was that terrifying sort of grin. “It means that when Alex came back, I came along for the ride. So it worked out well for the both of us.”
“It doesn’t sound like it worked so well for him.”
“Why not? He’s not dead any more.”
“But he’s not himself any more.”
Not-Alex cocked his head. “What do you mean I’m not myself anymore?”
“You just said…”
“I said that the hitchhiker came back with me. That doesn’t mean that I’m not myself.”
A sudden thought hit me. Alex may have come back, but he wasn’t the only one inhabiting that body. Something else had come back with him.
Really, the more that I thought about it, the more sense it seemed to make. The split personality, the way that sometimes he referred to himself as Alex in the first person and other times in the third.
Granted, it didn’t help at all with the real question–that if something had hitched a ride back with Alex, what was it? Or for that matter, how had he come back in the first place? That one was really puzzling.
I was just deciding whether or not I wanted to ask him about it when I was suddenly and forcibly reminded that the two of us were not the only people in the room. Two things happened nearly on top of one another another.
The first was a brilliant flash of light from where Mrs. Claire had been standing which flared quickly and then faded back into a slightly less vibrant candle’s flame.
The second was a sudden scream of pure rage from the direction in which I’d last seen John Smith. There was barely enough time to register what it was that he was yelling when suddenly he was flying through the shadows, through the air, having launched himself directly at his brother in a sort of flying tackle.
I had no idea how to react to that and, for once it seemed, neither did Alex. He just half turned towards his brother, but otherwise stood stock still.
Alex was just standing there when his brother hit him. Given the rather significant difference in weight between the two of them I expected Alex to at the very least go down if not even be sent flying.
What I didn’t exact was for his brother to go flying right through him as if he wasn’t even there, hitting the floor with a rather intense sort of thud. So it was John Smith that ended up in a sprawled pile on the floor with Alex standing there over him not looking the least surprised at the whole situation.
“What in the…” My voice echoed John’s groaning on the floor. “What, are you some kind of ghost?”
“Alex spread his hands apologetically. “Something like that. Didn’t I mention that fact?”
“No you didn’t!” I thought back. Had I actually seen Alex touch anything at the church? Interact with anything? Or here in Mrs. Claire’s? Had he actually touched anything?
I couldn’t quite recall.
“Oh.” He didn’t look at all perturbed by this fact. Perhaps he’d meant to use it as his ace in the whole all along. “Well, yeah. I guess that answers your question about the cremation as well.”
I guess it did at that. It didn’t seem like it would be nearly as difficult to raise up some sort of intangible spirit than it would be to reform a body that had been burnt to ash. On the other hand though, it still didn’t explain how he’d come back in the first place.
60 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO As I considered the scene, I realized that the sort of background noise I’d been hearing for the past few seconds wasn’t just random noise at all. It was Mrs. Claire. She seemed to be chanting, although I couldn’t make out any of the words in particular. Was that Latin?
In either case, she didn’t seem to be paying any mind to the revelation happening in front of her and was instead focused on the candle right in front of her.
In the end though, whatever it was she was doing, it wasn’t nearly as important as the form right in front of me.
“So what’s the point?” I asked Alex. Our of the corner of my eye, I saw John struggling to get back to his feet. It seemed that he’d hit the floor harder than I’d expected. I guess that was just a side effect of not hitting the resistance of a warm body right in front of you when you’re counting on it.
“Pardon?” Alex sounded honestly confused.
“Of coming back. Or coming along for the ride. Whichever you said it was. Why? Particularly if you don’t even get a full body out of it?”
He shrugged. “That was a bit unexpected. But you have to make do with what you’ve got.”
“Unexpected how?” And another thought following right on the heels of the first. “And what do you mean expected? Where were you?” I knew the textbook answer to the second question, if he’d died committing suicide there weren’t exactly many options. But one didn’t get many opportunities to talk with someone that had actually seen the afterlife in person.
He smiled slightly at that, as if he knew exactly what were running through my mind. “Funny you should ask that…”
But that’s all that he got out before he was interrupted by the sound of his brother yelling up from the floor. “You… freak.” I had only the barest of moments to react before John Smith had brought his gun up at a sharp angle, pointing it wildly at either Alex or at the ceiling–although I was betting on the former.
I had another half a moment before he started pulling the trigger.
Three, four, five, half a dozen times. He kept pulling the trigger long after the last bullet was spent and the gun had been reduced to clicking at him in a vaguely petulant manner. At this distance, the noise was deafening.
Luckily, his aim was either brilliant or terrible, as each and every shot found it’s mark in his brother and none came closer than a few feet in front of me.
Unluckily–at least from his perspective–the shots had absolutely no effect. Alex wasn’t even trying to hide his nature with that lightning quick dodging he’d been doing earlier. He just stood there and let the bullets pass right through him.
John was yelling, pounding his fists on the floor to emphasize each word. “You’re… not… my…brother.”
“Oh, but I am, dear brother,” he replied. “And I’ll think you find that’s not the only thing we have in common.”
61 - Rome
PRESENT DAY The look of disbelief must have been clear on my face. “Yes,” the man with ash gray suit said, “that Lazarus.”
“That Lazarus lived 2000 years ago.”
“Yes. I did. And died. And was brought back to live again.”
“I know the story.”
“There’s no doubting it Father. The fourth Gospel, Chapter 11. Jesus takes his sweet time coming to save me, all for a bit of free press.”
“Of course it is. Jesus himself told his disciples that ‘for your sake I am glad I was not there’. You know what he was talking about? When I died. And you know why? ‘So that you may believe.’ Straight up Word of God right there. You go ahead and try to tell me that he wasn’t just showing off.”
“That’s not… I mean…”
“Now don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful that He brought me back. Who wants to die after all?” He chuckled slightly. “Well, I didn’t want to die then at least.”
“Well, it all starts to get old after a while. The whole living thing. Particularly when everyone that you’ve ever known and loved dies around you. Again. And again. And again.” He sounded more angry than sad now. “That’s the part I’m not quite as thrilled with.”
“But why didn’t you die? It seems to me that when Jesus raised you from the dead, he was giving you a second chance. You would still die in your own time and then move on like the rest of us.”
He nodded. “Well, that was the plan. Funny how things turn out though.”
“You see, when Jesus brought me back, no one knew how short his time on this Earth was going to be. If he’d stuck around, I’m sure that he would have been able to fix me right up.”
I could feel myself bristling. “It’s not like he had a choice in the matter.” It was one thing to speak so flippantly about Jesus the way that he was. It was another thing entirely to speak less of His great sacrifice.
Lazarus just shrugged though. “Of course he did. Garden of Gethsemane. What do they even teach you in the seminary these days?”
“I know the story.” I found myself glaring at him. “It’s just that he already knew what was going to happen. He must have already known which decision he was going to make. And I still don’t see what that has to do with you still being alive.” The last came out all in a rush.
He shook his head, lifting his hand. The hand holding the mostly complete Cup. “It’s this stupid Cup’s fault.”
I blinked. “How’s that?”
“The Cup recorded the words that Jesus himself spoke to bring me back from the dead. So long as the Word of Jesus still exists, it’s power still holds sway in the world.”
I thought back to Alex. To Private Jackson. To all of the strange things that I’d seen and done in regards to that blasted shard of pottery.
“But what about the others?”
“Others?” He looked honestly confused.
“The others that the Cup has brought back. You’re not the only one after all.”
His face flickered through a whole series of emotions, so quickly that I only caught a fraction of them. Fear. Hope. Sadness. Anger. A moment later and it settled back into that same impeccable calm.
“That changes nothing.”