He has lost track of the apocalypses he has lived through; somehow they come once a generation or two, a wash of fire, of war, of pandemic, of collapse. They blur together, the deaths, the dead, and the dying, a bright flash, a sharp tang, the smell of smoke that lingers in his clothes for decades. He cannot escape the stench of burning flesh, somehow.

But after the end of the world, the birth of the new: fields of poppies, new cities, old rags shed for flash clothes, food for all, race sex and class overthrown for a time, a pulse of realization of what could be, should be. That, too, blurs together. The New Jerusalem has come a dozen times and more, and been overthrown; he has picked lapis lazuli from the gates time and again and left them strewn in stream a continent away, just to mess with the archaeologists. Figure that out, schmucks.

After the twelfth century he stops looking over his shoulder; the millennium is never coming, the clock is never stopping, the road will never end. World begets world, forever and anew.


Thing is, he’s seen so many ends of days by this point. Empires rise and fall, cities shake to dust, war sweeps a country empty of life, and still he goes on, one day after the next like so many weary footsteps. What else should he do? They burn the atmosphere and he spends a millennium or more choking on ash, squeezing between glaciers a mile high, the last human outside the domes. They dig plague into the soil and he erupts in boils, weeps blood, loses his teeth, keeps walking, who cares.

The oceans rise and he haunts the sunken cities. None of them are familiar, not really, but then all cities look alike after awhile, just a house someone took the roof off of. He’s in, oh, someplace to the north, near where the glaciers split around the mountains, climbing hills in murky water the temperature of spit. There used to be a market here where people shouted at you, a space carved out of the terseness of the rest of the city. “Fresh fish!” Ahasuerus bellows, why not, but all he does is spook an octopus deeper back into the stalls.

Oh, well. Life goes on.


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.


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.