Actions

Work Header

Twelve, But Not Twelve

Chapter Text

Time passed again, three more years.

Another dark room, a shape lying in one corner, hunched under a blanket. There was a table, and an unlit candle. As soon as Judas touched it, it started to burn. Illuminated by the flame, and by dreamlight, the room looked like a place to live, not as somewhere in prison. But in dreams you could be anywhere. There were several scrolls on the table, quills and ink, and papyrus.

“Who is it this time…” the guest mumbled to himself.

The man in the corner rubbed his eyes, looking up fuzzily. “What?”

Judas blinked in confusion at first, but it was cleared away as the dreaming man’s face shifted into a younger version. “Matthew?” he asked, but was almost sure now.

“Who…” said Matthew, rubbing his neck and sitting up straighter. Then he looked back, with a sharper gaze. “Judas? That Judas?”

“You looked so old just now. How long has it been?”

“It’s been… around forty years,” said Matthew. He huffed. “Old? That’s not the half of it.”

Judas looked confused. “What?”

“I’ve been sick for a while now,” said Matthew levelly. “I wouldn’t have survived the winter anyway. But the Romans couldn’t wait.” He gazed around the room, just to make sure he was indeed in his familiar surroundings and not somewhere more mysterious. “So… it’s true.” He gave a short laugh. “You do come around on the last night.”

Judas started. “How did you know?”

“One of us were able to see Simon and Judas Thaddeus on their last day alive, and she said they’d both told her so.”

“I don’t do it on purpose,” he said defensively. “I don’t know how it happens or why.” He added, after a moment, “Andrew wanted me to send on his regards.”

Matthew blinked. “Andrew did? Just to me?”

“No, to everyone. Everyone still left.” Judas looked off to the side, with an impatient look in his eyes, perhaps to cover up the sigh he just let out.

“Well,” said Matthew, a little wonderingly. “That was nice of him… Although it would have done more good to get it at an earlier date, but I suppose you didn’t have a choice about that,” he added.

Judas shook his head mutely. Then he stepped closer to the table, his hands clasped behind his back. He was looking down at the weighed-down, opened scroll with a tilted head, clearly trying to read without touching anything.

Eventually, he said, “Did you say almost forty years?” As Matthew nodded, Judas adjusted his hair and his clothing. In a lower tone, he went on rather awkwardly, “You kind of come closer together now than the first ones did. Peter was five years ago, then Andrew that same year, then the next one Simon and Thaddeus together, and now you…”

“And Paul was executed even before Peter. But then you wouldn’t know him.”

“Thaddeus mentioned him. Said he was the best preacher.”

Matthew nodded. “He was killed in Rome, too. But he was a Roman citizen, so he got a sword instead of the cross.” He moved to stand, his dream-legs feeling young and strong. “Yes, there’s so many of us now, who’ve been martyred. That fire in Rome started a wave of hatred and persecution against us. They try to make us sacrifice to the Roman gods, but we can’t do that, of course…” He trailed off, then went on, more firmly, “But it’s an honour. Glorious. Far better than to fade away bit by bit over the winter…”

“So many sacrifices…” mumbled Judas.

“But only until the Kingdom of God is coming,” said Matthew. “And it can’t be long now.”

“So what does that mean for me?” said Judas bitterly. “Will my torments cease? Will I find oblivion? Or will they increase even more?”

Matthew gave him a guarded look, moving to sit down by the table. “That, I couldn’t say.”

Judas started to pace the room. “Did you know there’s not just one Gehenna?” he said over his shoulder. “There’s at least two. One has fire, and it ceases to burn now and then, I guess it’s on the Sabbath. But it doesn’t end after a year like the rabbis say. And the other one is different, it’s got other kinds of pain, no fire – but fewer pauses, too.” He paused, muttering, “They’re not all there is, but -- I think they come about less from justice than from what people believe about justice.”

“I doubt it,” said Matthew, shaking his head. “But I would say it’s not so much justice alone but absence of mercy. Absence of grace. If it was truly justice, few enough of us would be able to escape it. Take it from the former tax-collector.”

Judas just gave him a bitter look, then looked away. “It’s just going to go on,” he said. “It’s been almost forty years and it will just keep going. And not just me--! It’s all there in your own writings, don’t you see?” He pointed to the scrolls on the table. “People will keep hearing and reading that and believing in that and Gehenna will keep burning!”

“I didn’t put anything down that wasn’t already in his teachings and sermons!" protested Matthew.

"Really? Well, you're too hard on the Pharisees," muttered Judas, pacing. "They weren't that bad."

"It is just what I remember, all of it," insisted Matthew, but he softened his voice. "The inner truth... What we remember."

He paused thoughtfully, then asked, curious, “…But how come you know about what I’ve written, yet not about the things that have happened to us?”

Judas sat down on the bed that Matthew had left. “I can hear things like that now,” he said, calmer again. “It’s like a buzzing noise in my head, and if I listen hard enough to it, I can hear it… I can almost read it, even. And not just what’s written down -- spoken words too, even thoughts -- but only if it’s directly to do with me. Or nearly so.”

Matthew gave him a weighing look, then looked down at his table. He started to mix ink, knowing it was only dream-ink that would do no good, but finding the process calming.

“I imagine it can’t be easy,” he said slowly. “But I will advise you to try to think of other people than yourself. Or you’ll probably just keep being stuck there.”

Judas looked a bit stung. “It’s not like I came here to ask for help. I didn’t choose to come in the first place.”

“Yes, you said that already. But…” In a lower tone, Matthew went on to say, “I think I’ve figured out why you have.”

“You have? Why, then?”

He gave a slight, somewhat rueful smile. “I’m not saying. If I’m right, it’s more to do with the Twelve than with you.”

But what he thought was, To tie us closer together again, one more thing to connect us. That could be the reason it happens.

He said, a few minutes later, calm having spread through him as he mixed the ink, “Perhaps you will not even meet the last ones of us like this, in final dreams. Perhaps our master will return first and with him the Kingdom of God at last. But even if it takes a little longer still, we will still go on. The truth is too great. It can’t stop. It carries us all, everyone. Like a huge wave.”

“But it’s not the only truth,” muttered Judas.

Matthew waved this away. “I feel morning coming.” The room grew fainter; he started to become aware of his true surroundings, where his body was, in prison.

“Oh – I forgot!” exclaimed Judas abruptly, urgently. “It’s Zechariah, not Jeremiah!”

“What?”

“The price of a slave! You got it wrong – it’s in Zechariah!” Then the dream dissolved altogether.

 

*

It took a long time to learn how to walk the strange paths that can lead a ghost back to the land of the living. He had still to get it right, when he was suddenly yanked out of that long, winding passage to land on a cold stone floor.

“Ah!” he burst out. “Ouch…” He lay on the floor for a moment, winded and confused.

Someone moved closer, hoisting an oil lamp. “What? Who’s there?”

Judas swallowed, pretty sure he recognised that voice. “…Oh.” Another one. He rolled over so he could face Thomas, hoisting himself up on his elbows. “It’s just me,” he said matter-of-factly. “This is a dream, by the way.”

Thomas looked stunned. He stepped closer, holding the lamp. He had aged, but like most of the others seemed to dream himself younger than he probably looked. “I… I suppose it must be.”

Judas sat up and dusted off his shirtsleeves. “But not an ordinary dream.” He added, after a moment, “And I can’t leave until you tell me to go away or until you wake up.” It didn’t seem like Thomas had been informed beforehand, like Matthew had been.

“Why not?” asked Thomas.

“I… don’t know,” said Judas, blinking. “It’s just like that. It was that way with all the others, too…”

Thomas frowned, crossing his arms. “All the others? What do you mean?”

“I was… For some reason, and I don’t know why it happens, I don’t know why I’m in your dream either, but I’ve been in their dreams. Of the Twelve. Well, not all of them, not yet…” He swallowed again, but couldn’t see how to get out of it, and muttered, “Going by what they told me, they weren’t counting on surviving the next day.”

“Oh.” Thomas sat down on his bed. Eventually, he said, “I’m not too surprised, I guess. I’ve made some powerful enemies here in India.”

India??” gaped Judas.

“Yes.” Thomas got up, took the oil lamp again, and walked over to the door and stepped out. Judas followed. Outside, it was getting close to sunset. A town was spread out below them, with the smoke from cooking fires rising up. “It was a long journey. Things are very different here… But I have been able to gain followers, to spread the good news of the truth and to help people who are in need. Even if I’ve also made enemies, like I said… No, I’m not surprised that my time has finally run out, if you’re right about that.” He sat down on a nearby rock of a handy site and shape, putting the oil lamp beside him. Judas remained standing.

“How long has it been?” asked Judas.

“Forty-three years,” said Thomas slowly. “Back home…” A very deep exhalation, and then another deep breath, before he went on, “Did you hear about the great uprising? It lasted for four years. I was already on my way here towards the end, but I’ve heard reports from others…”

“No. I haven’t heard.”

“The Zealots and the Maccabees and others finally had enough of Roman rule. They rose up together and managed to drive them out for a while, but of course, the Romans came back…” He looked out into the air, looking weary now, and older. “So many people killed. And the Temple has been destroyed, just as foretold. Along with all of Jerusalem. And now Jews are scattered all over the Empire.”

“So… so that’s how it turned out…” Judas sat down on the ground, stunned.

“We Christians – we who follow the Way -- didn’t take part in the uprising,” said Thomas. “We had the prophecy of the Temple’s destruction; we knew it was hopeless. But…” He closed his eyes, shaking his head; a hand opening as if trying to grab hold of what was only air. “…Somehow when I heard our lord say that, I had hoped it would mostly affect the temple scribes and the hawkers, the rest of the Sadducees, and Roman lackeys. I was too hopeful. Of course there would be great death and destruction. We are truly in the end days.”

A silence followed.

“So,” Thomas finally said, more businesslike as he turned to Judas. “What did the others think, when they saw you in their dreams?”

“Uh… They, uh…” Judas gestured vaguely, taken by surprise. “What do you think? They weren’t happy.” A moment, then he added, “James punched me, for one. And Simon, he…he tried to…” He looked down, mumbling, “Never mind,” in a hoarse voice.

“They were all like that?” asked Thomas.

“…no,” Judas had to admit. “Some were pretty calm… Oh! That’s right! Andrew asked me to give you his regards.”

Thomas looked confused. “He did? Did he say anything else?”

“No.” Judas picked up a pebble and threw it down the hillside. “It wasn’t just to you, it was to everyone.”

“Hmm.” A thoughtful pause, then, “But if I tell you to leave, you’ll leave?”

Judas nodded. “That’s how it seems to work.”

“I have… things I need to do… and I have to pray… I shouldn’t spend my time dreaming…” Thomas drew a hand through his hair, which kept shifting from solid black to strokes of grey; the more tired he looked, the more the grey came back. “But maybe I need sleep for strength on the day ahead. If you’re right that it’s my last.” He closed his eyes, repeating, as if half to himself, “Yes, it’s that long. Forty-three years, even.” He shook his head wonderingly. In a stronger voice, he asked, “… But how does time pass in the land of death?”

“Differently,” said Judas. “In Gehenna it seems to pass very slowly. In Sheol it’s like it doesn’t pass at all, yet at times it can seem faster than here. And in the in-between places, you can’t really tell.”

“…All those places? You have been released from Gehenna, now?”

He shook his head. “I can be in more than one place at the same time. And there’s not just one Gehenna. There was, at first. Now there’s two. Or three. And not just one Sheol, or Hades. It changes.” He turned his head to look straight at Thomas, for once. “It changes because of what people believe. Here.”

“Huh.” Another long pause. Crickets were chirping, and owls cried in the distance.

Thomas said quietly, “Have you ever tried to reach him? Ask for forgiveness?”

Judas froze, and said nothing.

Thomas went on, “Even if you did so already back in the beginning, if you try again now… It’s been over fifty years. And the Temple has fallen. Things are changing.”

Judas shook his head, hunching up his shoulders. “No. No, it’s, there’s no use, it doesn’t…” He trailed off, but kept shaking his head soundlessly. Thomas watched him and waited in silence.

Finally he said, in a very low voice (looking at the ground, his trembling hands clenched into fists) “I… I… There’s no use in doing that… when I’m still so angry with him.”

Thomas blinked. “That’s so strange. I don’t understand you.”

Judas rose up, looking away, putting his hands in his sleeves. He cleared his throat. “Can I go now?”

Thomas sighed, rubbing his forehead. “Yes. You can go.”

 

*

 

Fever ravaged the mind and body of the old, sick dreamer, and leaked into his dream as well. He pictured a well where he could go drink fresh, cold water. It looked like the well from his childhood. He sat down beside it, dipping the pail into the well, and filling up an amphora by his side.

Someone approached the well at the edge of his vision as he was doing so. But he was busy, and didn’t care to look up right away.

The other one sat down on the other side, his head covered by a hood. He reached down for the water curiously. “I didn’t think there was a well here…” he mused.

“Don’t touch it!” exclaimed Matthias. The guest jumped back.

“Sorry, I mean – use the pail to drink.” Matthias let go of the pail and pushed it to float over to the other side of the well.

“Thank you.” The guest leaned over to grab the pail, and his hood dropped back. He started to fill it up with water, then paused. He looked up slowly. “Wait, are you-”

Holding his amphora, Matthias also froze. Blinked. Then slowly drank of the water, wiped some water on his hot face, before he lowered the amphora and stuck it in the earth, arms trembling. “Iscariot?”

“But you’re not Philip or John-- Hold on—” Judas Iscariot pressed a palm to his forehead, his head screwed up in thought. “--Matthias!” He looked up again. “Right?” As an afterthought, he drank of the water in the pail, then sighed a little in resignation, and remarked under his breath, “Just dream-water.”

“Yes, that’s me. Matthias. I’m the one who was chosen to replace you.” Matthias gripped the edge of the well for a moment, swallowing. He closed his eyes, and breathed in.

“Oh.” Thoughtfully, Judas noted, “They said that to me, one of them said that, I forget who. –By the way, Andrew sends his regards.”

Matthias said slowly, “I heard from someone who’d talked to someone who’d talked to Hannah, who’d been able to talk to both Simon the Zealot and Judas Thaddeus on their last day in this world. It was said you appear in a true dream for each of the Twelve on their last night alive. A visitation and a final test before martyrdom itself.”

Judas shook his head. “Not a test. I don’t know what it is, but… not that.”

“And not just before martyrdom, either, it seems…” said Matthias. He cleared his throat, composing himself. “Since I haven’t been granted that honour. But I know I’m not long for it. I’m just old and sick.”

Judas only nodded. “I can’t leave until you tell me to. Or till you wake up.” He drank some more of the well’s water. “How long has it been, now?”

“I can’t keep track of the years when my head’s burning up with fever,” said Matthias. “Almost sixty years, I think.” A moment, and then he burst out, “How come you’re so calm?”

“Because you’re the tenth one,” said Judas. “And it doesn’t matter if I’m calm or not. Still can’t leave on my own.” He added, “James the son of Alphaeus sent me back right away, you know.”

A sudden spasm of grief seized Matthias. “They’ve almost all gone -- I hope to see them again, but who can tell for sure what’s waiting for us -- I’ve lived too long, that’s for sure…” He put his head in his hands. Without looking up, he said bitterly, “You don’t care, of course.”

“I’ve been in Gehenna for almost sixty years now,” said Judas. “Or something like it,” he added after a moment. “There was no fire in the beginning…”

Matthias looked up and watched the betrayer more intently, but with a lingering touch of bitterness all the same, “I see.”

“But not only there. It matters what other people think of you, but that’s not all that matters.” He went on quietly, dragging the pail in the water back and forth, “In the end, it seems we can keep making our own fate.”

Matthias listened, and said nothing for a while. His thoughts were tumbling around in his mind, he could feel them moving like dry leaves in the spring breeze.

Finally, he spoke. “I have only one question, before you leave.”

“What?”

“Why did you join up with us in the first place, way back when? Why did you start following him?”

Judas seemed surprised. “I… Why… Well…” Then a faraway look came into his eyes as he slowly started to answer, his tone different now than before. Almost as if he was telling a story. “It was… What he said, and what he did, it all seemed so right then, at the start, and for a long time too, and it seemed more true and stronger than with anyone else I’d seen or listened to or even just heard about. It seemed right when it was clearly in line with the scriptures, it seemed right when it was an unusual interpretation, or even when he contradicted them.”

His face grew more agitated, more wistful. His fingers were drumming on the edge of the well. “When you followed him, you felt strong even when things were bad. The miracles were wondrous, but he didn’t brag about them, he even told us to keep some of them quiet. And he treated everyone who came to him well. The Pharisees, they’re not so bad when they’re not hypocrites, but they’re strict in the wrong way, too hard on sinners, and the Sadducees are Roman lapdogs who don’t care about the poor. But he, he was strict in the right way.” There were glimmers of tears in his eyes, now, unless that was a trick of the light. “That’s how it seemed to me. I thought at the time: how could anyone not follow him?” A pause, and then he said, more soberly, “And I didn’t have any big responsibilities. My parents had died, my older brother and sister didn’t need my help, really… It was easy.” Another pause. “Everything seemed so clear.”

Matthias closed his eyes and nodded. “Yes, yes, that was how it was…” he whispered. “So even you felt that way, then.”

“Yes…”

Matthias looked up again. “But no longer,” he said, certain of this, but it made his heart heavy, now. “Even if you could be one of us again, somehow – would you?”

Judas shook his head. “No,” he said in a low tone. He was no longer touching the pail; his hands lay open on the edge of the well, palms up. He seemed like he was about to add more, but then just repeated, “…No, no.”

Matthias closed his eyes once more, sighing deeply. “I don’t need you here. Go on with you. Leave.”

 

*

 

Judas found himself walking through a long, narrow, dark place: a corridor or a tunnel. He wondered for a moment if he was back in a cave tunnel he remembered from very early on in his afterlife, but then he saw burning torches on the walls and realised that this was a different place. The walls were high, and the stone blocks were regular. This was built by people.

Perhaps this was a new in-between place? Or another dream of the Twelve? Only Philip and John were left now. He looked around to see if he could spot anyone familiar, remembering that Andrew had taken his time to appear.

After another moment, he did in fact see a figure walking some distance ahead of him, holding a torch, too distant and hard to see to make out any details. He followed the figure, but didn’t hurry to catch up.

He wondered briefly if he could just walk behind the other person silently, whoever it was, until that one woke up before noticing it. But he doubted it. The dreams did not seem to work that way. On the other hand, it wasn’t certain it was a dream of the Twelve. Perhaps this figure was simply another traveller on an in-between path. Those existed, too, after all. They all had their own tales to tell, but also their own secrets.

As he walked there, gazing at the back of the one walking in front of him, he felt overwhelmed by a sense of wistful, almost desperate loneliness. And even though the figure ahead of him seemed to be male, judging by height and clothing, he suddenly found himself thinking it was awfully long since he last talked to a woman, or even saw one. There had been some stray souls he’d met on the paths, and elsewhere. Not many. Women saw things differently from men, they moved through the world differently… he hadn’t realised until now that he missed that, just being around them. It was odd.

Meanwhile, Philip thought to himself, ‘Something’s coming up behind me… But this isn’t the place to turn around yet.’

Philip looked down on the stone floor and noticed a new pattern in it: a straight and narrow row of large red blocks of stone, cut to be the same size and surrounded by dark grey stones of various sizes. He adjusted his direction in order to walk on that line of blocks, a straight path going forward. After a minute or two, a tall door came into view: first it looked black, but as he came closer he realised it was wrong, and it was actually sky blue. He pushed it open and walked through.

Now he was still inside a building, but this present room was much lighter. There were two high windows on his left and right, and an opening in the roof as well, where daylight came through. Even the stones were lighter here, except for the red line of blocks in the centre. Off to the far side of the room, an opening led into a curved passage, and there was, to Philip’s mind, a suggestion that this passage would lead outside: a faint suggestion of birdsong in that direction. A small olive tree was planted in one corner of the room.

Here, there was no need for torches. He extinguished the one he’d carried in a bucket of water standing by. Then he turned around to face whoever -- or whatever -- had been following him.

Judas stopped at the threshold to the smaller and lighter room.

“Don’t come any closer,” warned Philip.

“Philip!”

Philip pointed at him. “You look like the betrayer, our lost one, but you could be a demon wearing his form.”

“How long has it been?” asked Judas. He glanced around the room. “Is this just a dream place, or…”

“How long since when?”

“Since I died.”

“Over fifty years ago. If you are him.”

“I heard about the rebellion, the Temple’s destruction, Jerusalem… Thomas told me.” Judas hadn’t moved past the threshold. He put his hands in his sleeves. “I was in his dream, too,” he added. “I’ve been in everyone’s dream now, except for John’s.”

“This is my last night alive,” said Philip. “Whether you’re really him or not--” he waved towards Judas “--this is not who I wanted to see.”

“James the son of Alphaeus said the same thing. But this isn’t my doing.”

“Then whose doing is it?”

Judas shrugged. “Nobody’s.”

Philip gave him a long look. “You should know better than that.”

“All right,” said Judas impatiently. “Perhaps I am just a demon pretending to be me, then.” He shifted his pose in the doorway, then said, “Oh, there’s one thing. Andrew wanted me to send on his regards to each of the Twelve I’d meet after him. That means you, too.”

“Just his regards? No message?”

“Everyone asks that. No, nothing else.”

“Why would Andrew ask you to do that?”

Judas shrugged, again. “To puzzle everyone, apparently.”

“…That does sound like Andrew,” Philip acknowledged, with a rueful inward smile.

Judas nodded at that. “Yeah.”

Philip relaxed a little. “Yes, the Temple has fallen,” he said, “just like our lord has foretold. But now all Jews are hounded, and we are no exception, though we took no part in the rebellion. Everyone suspects us Christians of disloyalty. So even old geezers like me--” here his face shifted into an older one --get their chance at martyrhood.” He gave a wry smile.

Why didn’t any of you take part in the rebellion?”

Philip’s face changed into a younger one. “What’s the use?” he said. “We know the Kingdom of God won’t come until the Messiah returns.”

“But until that happens… Wouldn’t it be better for Israel to rule itself?”

“That will not happen until then. The rebels had no chance against Rome.” The certainty was clear in Philip’s voice. “Besides… it would make no difference, even if they had. Men are still evil, there would still be poverty and misery.”

“’The poor you shall always have with you.’”

Philip gave him a sharp look. “So you remember that one, at least.”

There was a pause.

“It won’t be long now,” said Philip finally, quietly. “We are living in the last days. It’s not a bad time to go.”

“You all keep saying that,” said Judas. “I used to think so, too -- but it’s already been more than fifty years…”

“If you’re trying to sow doubt, that won’t work. I’ve battled all my doubts in my lifetime. And now, they will kill me in the morning. This is no place for doubts.”

Judas looked away to the side. He said, in a low voice, sounding a bit hoarse, “Someone can be sincere and righteous, and even chosen, and still be mistaken. Or misled. It happened with Jonah…”

“But our master is more than just a prophet,” insisted Philip. “He died, but came back on the third day. He stepped into the underworld, and then returned to us. He walked with us during forty days, hidden by the Lord so his enemies wouldn’t know him, and then he was taken to Heaven. I was there, I saw all this.” He added, thoughtfully, “Perhaps if you had stayed alive, and begged for forgiveness, you would have been able to see him one more time, too.”

A long, fraught silence. This was in fact something of an entirely new thought for Judas.

Finally, he said, “I… I would have assumed one of you would have killed me, if I hadn’t done it myself.” He muttered, “That would be the honourable thing.”

Philip acknowledged this with a nod. “It might have happened,” he admitted. “But it’s not certain.”

Something dark and distant came over Judas face. He wasn’t meeting Philip’s eyes. “Maybe the temple scribes would have protected me, even. That would have been revolting.” But the Romans wouldn’t have; he thought, they would never have bothered.

“I heard you threw the money away,” said Philip. “But I also heard you bought a field for it. Or the Sadducees did.”

“I don’t remember any field…” said Judas slowly. “No, I went back and threw it away. That’s what I remember.”

But was that memory true? He wondered, now. Only Matthew’s writings mentioned it.

“In the end,” said Philip in a reasonable tone, “it’s pointless to ask how soon the end is coming. In the meanwhile, we must simply lead our lives as well and righteously as we can, without being prideful, and to remember to face death fearlessly, and a glorious death with gratitude and cheer.”

Judas leaned on the doorframe. “Do you always talk like a sermon now?”

“You’re the one who wanted me to explain.” Philip sighed. “But they do ask me about so many kinds of things, the younger ones… Now John will be the only one left of us all.” He gazed at Judas frankly. “I doubt he will want to listen to you any.”

“That’s fine by me,” said Judas shortly. “I don’t expect him to.”

And then there was another pause.

Suddenly, Judas stepped over the threshold. Intensely, he burst out, with not a little desperation, “It was fear, not greed, do you understand me? It was fear, a lot of it, and also he told me to do it, or foretold I would, I don’t know which, and I wanted to run away but I couldn’t see how and he-- he was always so…” He swallowed. “…So true, so strong, stronger than Elijah, and I wanted to cut myself loose, free myself, but…” He looked down at the stone floor, pale and shaking now. “I thought the only way to cut myself loose would be to hand him over… because it was so terrible, doing that… and that was a very stupid thing to think, but, but it was also true in a way, because I can’t even imagine doing what you said just now, to stick around and maybe get to face him again, and not because of pride, that isn’t it--”

“Judas--” Philip took a step towards him.

Judas went on, his tone increasingly desperate, “You’re the last one left who’ll be willing to listen to me, I had to tell you this, especially if you’ll go on to meet Andrew where you’re going—and-- and James too, I couldn’t explain it right to him--”

Philip grabbed hold of his shoulders, firmly but not roughly. Judas quieted down but didn’t meet the other’s eyes; he was still trembling.

Philip breathed in and then said, in a quiet but clear voice, “You have a lonely road to go. And not even mainly for your sin, but because of what it did to you, how you can’t even imagine facing him again. It is not for me to find the answers to any of this. But I will remember.” He took another deep breath, then, “And I will tell the others, if I shall be allowed to, and if they will want to know.”

Judas just trembled, wanting to tell him ‘thank you’; but the words just wouldn’t come over his lips.

“Now, go,” said Philip at last, gently. And then he was alone.

 

*

 

A figure appeared in a small inner courtyard, ordinary houses around it, with sheltering trees and a well.

The figure was groaning as it arrived. “Stupid demons…” he muttered. Then he noted these fairly pleasant surroundings, and looked around curiously.

He spotted a woman bearing water to trees in the distance. She turned and saw him as well, putting down her pail of water and coming closer. As she got closer, his eyes widened, recognising her as Mary Magdalene, Mary from Magdala, looking only a little older than in his memories. He stared at her, never having expected to end up in her dream. He should have done so, he realised now.

She walked up to him. “It’s really you, isn’t it?”

He nodded, and she slapped him, with such force even in the dream that he tumbled to the ground, thinking irrelevantly that's not the slap of a young woman; it's the slap of a middle-aged woman with much experience and strength behind it.

"Now you turn up?" she cried out. "It's been over fifty-five years, I'm eighty years old, and I'm dying! What's the use of turning up now?"

“But it’s only because you’re dying that I can turn up!” he exclaimed, sitting up on the ground with a groan.

“What do you mean?” she said sharply.

“I’m -- I’m not doing this by choice. I’ve turned up in the dreams of the Twelve, I don’t know why and they don’t know why,” he babbled. “But it’s happened with everyone but John. I guess that means he’s still alive.”

“He is.”

“Most of them said they’d be executed the next day. And the rest still seemed to know death was near.”

“Oh? How odd.” She narrowed her eyes. “So you get the chance to meet all of them one last time, and they have to put up with you for their final nights?”

“It’s not a question of putting up,” he muttered. “They can tell me to go away and I will, but I can’t leave until then.” A moment of silence, then he added, “And anyway, do you mean if I had turned up earlier, you wouldn’t have slapped me like that?”

“Of course I would have.” She turned around to adjust some laundry that was hung on the tree in the centre. Then, she went on consideringly, “No, that’s not quite true. If it had been within the first ten years, I’d probably have stabbed you instead.”

He fingered his jaw cautiously. “I can believe that.”

“So you’re not doing this by choice,” she said, as he got back up on his feet and dusted off his clothes. “But does that mean you could have turned up earlier, if you’d tried? To all of us?”

He blinked in surprise. “I… don’t know. I have no idea. I wouldn’t have thought anyone would have liked me too.”

“It’s not a question of liking or not,” she said roughly. “It’s a question of being owed.”

Judas had nothing to reply to that. He sat down at the edge of the well, looking around at the courtyard, which had shifted in shape (together with the surrounding houses) from how it looked at the start. The silence stretched out.

Mary turned her head towards him. “Do you want me to tell you to go?” she asked. “I’m not saying I will, I’m just curious what you want.”

A very long pause, and then, finally, “I don’t know.”

“There has to be a reason why you’re here,” said Mary consideringly. “Like a task set before me. If I send you away already, it would mean giving up on that task.”

“You guys are all so dutiful.”

“It’s hard to stop once you get into the habit,” she said. “And it’s not like we don’t get anything for it.”

More silence.

Then Judas blurted out impulsively, “It’s not because of pride if I don’t throw myself down before you, understand. It’s because – I’m too angry. It wouldn’t be all real.” He clarified after a brief moment, “Although I’m not angry at you.”

Mary put her head to the side as if thinking this over. “Then that means you must be angry with him,” she concluded. “And with the Lord, of course.” She turned around once more, this time straightening out a line of stones on the ground, setting things in patterns, as if to order her mind better. She then walked over to the well calmly, where she leaned over and grabbed Judas by a hard grip on the hair of his scalp.

“Ow!”

“Are you sure you’re not angry with me?” she said tersely. “Because I remember some rather sharp remarks over expensive hair oil.”

“That’s not-- ow! --I’m not angry at you because of that! Maybe I was back then,” he admitted, “but not for long… It was natural that you’d want to honour him like that.”

“Really?” said Mary disbelievingly. She leaned down with her face close to his, looking younger and more vulnerable, now. Old pain came through in her voice as she said, “Are you sure? It really had nothing to do with what you did?”

He was astonished. “Is that what you’ve been thinking? …No.” She let go of his hair, and he hunched over, rubbing his scalp, mumbling, “It was… I guess, guess it made me angry at the time-- and worried too-- but that was just one thing out of all that was happening-- it wasn’t that important.” She stepped back, and he raised his head slightly, but warily, “Anyway, it was an anointment, wasn’t it?” he said. “You were just fulfilling prophecies.”

A long pause, before Mary visibly relaxed, breathing out and lowering her shoulders. “That was something I have long wished to know,” she said.

She filled her jug with water from the well, then walked over to water another tree. Quietly, she added, “Perhaps that’s why you were made to come here. Sometimes what looks like a test can turn out to be an act of grace.” As she turned back, she rubbed her neck and looked at the ground. She frowned, starting to look curious. Then she pointed. “What’s that by your feet?”

“What?” Judas looked down and saw the pouch of leather at his feet. “…Oh. You know, you’re the first one to have noticed it.” Not knowing what else to do, he bent down and picked it up ruefully, holding it up for a few seconds, then put it back on the ground. “I did throw it all away, but it still comes back to me now, in the other world-- and in dreams, it seems.”

And now she recoiled. “That’s-- that’s the money you got when you sold him! That’s-- vile!! You can’t even get rid of it?” She rubbed her hands in agitation. “I-- I suppose there is a reason for that…But it should haunt the temple scribes, too!” she cried out, raising her voice. “And the Romans! Just because they refused to take responsibility for it…”

“Well, maybe it does…” said Judas, rather touched. “Um, I can send it away if you like. For a short while.”

"No, you don't have to do that," she said, visibly calming down. "That is... not for me to question."

"Everything's for you to question," he said in a low tone, and she looked at him with surprise. He was biting his lip and not meeting her eyes, but there was a stubborn set to his mouth, all the same. "Everything's for everyone to question," he added.

There was another long silence.

Finally, Mary of Magdala straightened up, with one hand on the trunk of the nearest olive tree, the largest one in the courtyard. “I have a feeling this is not the last time we will talk to each other,” she said quietly. The sun came shining through a crack in the clouds, and she was caught in it, like a pool of light. She went on, more roughly, “I think you may be stronger than you think you are, and in a different way… And that the light is not altogether gone.”

Indeed, there was a kind of shimmer coming from her figure now, and as she stepped closer to him again, it even grazed him; the leather pouch, in contact with that shimmer, started to look fuzzier. He looked at her and could not look away.

“Ask me to send you away, Judas.”

“Let me go, Mary,” he said hoarsely.

“Yes.” She breathed out. “You can go, now.”

 

*

In the dream of a peaceful small fishing village, untouched by war and destruction in the mind, a young-looking man was lying on a bed of straw in a shed, as if lounging in a nap in the hot afternoon.

A shade took shape in the dream, looking around, a bit disoriented at first. Well, this certainly looked like Galilee in general and Capernaum in particular. Judas assumed that this must be the dream of John -- unless this was another surprise, like with Matthias and Mary.

But the man that rolled over in the straw, rubbed his eyes and sat up now was clearly John, young in his dream again like with the others.

“John!”

“What? Who?” The scene shifted in part: it was still basically the fishing village, but with new additions that didn’t quite fit in, bigger houses and a stone-laid street, and a new mountain towering over it and the Sea of Galilee. John looked up, then sprang to his feet, hands in fists. “You!! What are you doing here?”

Judas crossed his arms over his chest and glared at him. “Why did you write that thing about me, that I was stealing from the funds to the poor? It’s not even true!” he exclaimed.

“What? I didn’t write that!” John drew his hands through his hair, clearly still bewildered. “Why are you here?”

“You didn’t?” said Judas, startled. “But I thought…” He trailed off, appearing to listen to something. “Oh, so that’s wrong.” He kept his arms crossed, but tilted his hair a bit. “You will, though.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” John wanted to know, his hands opening and closing. He was trembling with anger.

Judas pointed at John. “Maybe someone else actually wrote it, but people will think it was you. You will merge with that writer in the eyes of tradition.”

John looked baffled. “How would you know?”

“I just heard so,” said Judas, shrugging. “Huh, maybe that’s why I’m here, this time. A real reason for once. To warn you about that.”

“I don’t need any warnings from you,” said John, looking very irritated, but more composed now. “What do you mean, ‘this time’?”

“For some reason now I’ve turned up in everyone’s dream the night before they died. You can make up your own reason why if you want.”

“And I’m the last.”

“Yes.” A moment, then Judas added, “Oh. When I spoke to Andrew, he wanted me to send on his regards to everyone after him. So that’s you, too.”

Another baffled look from John.

“And no, he didn’t say anything more than that,” continued Judas, “and I don’t know what he meant by it.”

“Andrew…” John shook his head and sighed. After a moment, he said, his tone harder again, “I didn’t write that, what you just said. But there have been many younger ones asking me for memories, and I’ve told them what I know and what I’ve heard. And it did seem likely to me that you were, in fact, stealing from the common fund. It only makes sense. Why else would someone like you pretend to care about the poor?”

“Why would… Well, it’s still not true! I never did!”

“Nobody is ever likely to take your word for anything again,” scoffed John. “Least of all me.”

“That doesn’t mean you can just make up things like that…”

“I didn’t make anything up,” said John sharply. “Don’t you dare say that. I told the young ones what I figured was probably true, and said so. I didn’t tell them I knew for sure.”

“It’s still wrong!” said Judas hotly. Then, in a frustrated tone, “…But I guess I can’t reach the real writer now.” He fumed.

“What were you even supposed to do about it?” wondered John. “Let’s say it was me, although it wasn’t, and let’s also say you managed to convince me it’s not true. Which I don’t think you could. But let’s say. If tomorrow is the day I die, this old man who can’t even get out of his bed by himself anymore… it’s not like I could have found the strength and the time to rewrite that part. If I had been that writer.” The scorn was clear in his face. “You really haven’t thought this through.”

Judas was taken aback for a few seconds, but then rallied, “’This’? ‘This’? It’s not like this is my idea, to turn up here like this! And what, do you expect me not to care when I’m lied about? Even if it’s too late to change it, I can still care--!!”

John looked unimpressed. “Even if some of it is not entirely what happened, what matters in the end is the inner truth,” he said. “And what I said and what they wrote is in line with the inner truth.” He sighed, looking a little older. “You are just a dream, anyway. Vision or not, I’ve had it with your kind. Go.”

He made a shooing gesture, and that was that.

*

And it was over, then, this part of it.

And it was morning.