Ahasuerus

He’s in Smalltown, New York drinking with some farmers when the bartender mentions that he’s been found living in a cave outside of town. “Coupla them Mormon boys found him,” says the bartender, and spits. “Holding one o’their Bibles, you know? Book of Mormon. Buncha other papers, too. Old feller. Guess some of ’em are gonna go out and talk to him? One o’them things.”

Well, of course he has to go. For the size of the town it’s a pretty sizable mob, thirty or so men and women all full of missionary zeal. The old guy comes out and glares at everybody, and he certainly looks the part, all bushy beard and spindly legs. “Ahasuerus!” they shout. “O Eternal Jew!”

“The hell you want?” the old guy growls.

“We’ve come,” announces the head of the group, a man by the name of O’Grady, “to save your immortal soul.” It’s every bit as priggish as it sounds.

The old man laughs horribly. “Your souls are in more danger than mine.” His voice drops an octave and his eyes roll back in his head. “Stay with me,” he booms, “and your Savior will leave you!”

Everyone scatters at that, all the proselytizing gone clean out of their heads, but he hangs back so they can talk. They have a really nice conversation. Well. Nice by his standards, anyway. The old man lits out afterward like the Devil himself was after him, which he thinks is fairly complimentary, in its way.

Ahasuerus

The shark’s been following him for days, he thinks out of curiosity more than anything. Every time it comes too close he kicks it right in the fin. It doesn’t make any difference, but it gives him something to do: the middle of the Pacific Ocean is the most boring place on earth, hands down. He’s been making a graph in his head for over a month. It’s pretty complex.

There’s a trick to walking on water — not how to do it, since it’s not like that’s a secret or anything, but how to do it well. It’s a neat trick if you want to make a point about how rad you are, but it’s less efficient than just waiting for the damn ferry. He’s been kicking himself for the last two weeks, but what the hell. It’s not like he has anything else to do.

“Trouble?” purrs the shark, looking either malicious or concerned. It’s hard to tell with sharks — it’s not like their eyes tell you anything, and that smile isn’t exactly reassuring, though of course it’s not like he has anything to worry about except that the stomach of a shark is almost exactly as boring as the middle of the ocean.

Ahasuerus

There’s a period there in the seventh century where he lets himself go and just drifts without trying to make sense of any of it. He shuns cities and people and takes to the wild spaces. He stops eating, just to see what happens. His bones push through his skin and his veins run with fire, but that’s it. He lays down one night thinking maybe he’ll die, maybe this is it, but when he wakes up covered with a light bready sort of a substance he knows that isn’t going to work. The manna keeps coming, a little more each morning, until he’s back to his fighting weight, 110 pounds soaking wet. “Still one of the people, ha,” he says, and shakes his head at the sky.

When the isolation gets to him, he buttonholes some rube and spins wild-eyed, disconnected tales of impossible beasts and booming prophetic voices, of fiery skies and invisible servants serving lavish banquets. All bunk. He doesn’t go for much in the way of miracles, except for the basic one of his continued breathing. Some days he pretends he’s an atheist.

One afternoon as he’s picking his way through the Caucasus, he comes across a floating hand writing his name in burning letters a cubit high on the side of the mountain. “Tacky,” he grumbles, “very tacky.”

Render unto Caesar: the Longinus side

Ahasuerus

Later, he can’t remember the first couple of days. The last thing he remembers is that face turned to him, long and sorrowful and bloody under its mocking crown, the forked beard streaked with white and draggled with sweat, and that voice saying, may you know no rest until I see you again. It wasn’t angry, and that kills him at first. He was so mild about it, maybe a little sad, no stronger emotions as he stripped the leather apron from him with those words and drove him out into the world. After that – nothing. He might have slept.

When he starts to take an interest in things again, he’s somewhere in Asia Minor. He doesn’t speak the language and everyone he sees chases after him and throws stones at him. “Please,” he shouts, again and again. “Please!” He doesn’t know what he’s asking for – forgiveness, maybe, or maybe just understanding.

It takes him a hundred and fifty years to get back to any place where he speaks the language. By that time, of course, everyone’s dead and long buried; he spends a day walking down streets he only half-remembers before he’s driven out of Jerusalem again, wailing and gnashing his teeth.

Ahasuerus

He bumps into a man in Des Moines and the man turns a face dark with fury to him and stabs him. It’s all very sudden. He doesn’t die, obviously, but it takes him a while to pull himself back together and by that time the angry man is gone. He follows after him, his footprints bloody and uncertain.

When the angry man sees him standing across the street he panics, flashes Ahasuerus the whites of his eyes and takes off running. Running. Ahasuerus laughs to himself. Running. Running is easy, running is moving, and he’s had lots of practice at that. So he follows along behind him, hands stuck any-which-way into his pockets, no hurry at all.

He doesn’t come very close to the angry man, but makes sure that he’s always there, looking through the window, watching the flashing lights of the pinball machines, smoking a cigarette under a streetlamp on a rainy night. They keep it up for years, Ahasuerus always there to keep the angry man running.

When he stumbles at last and lies dying, Ahasuerus strolls up to him and looks down at the ancient face of the angry man. “You’ve got me now,” says the man. “Take me, then, you devil!”

Ahasuerus laughs. “What do I want with you? I just wanted to see who you were.” He presses the angry man’s shoulder sympathetically. “No hard feelings, man,” he says, and leaves.