They had both knelt together at the spot, the ground around them barren, the bald hill sloping away from them like the curve of a skull.
“Do it,” said his father.
He looked up into his father’s eyes, and for the briefest of moments, saw in them pain like a bottomless grave.
For a moment, neither spoke.
Then his father nodded, and they breathed on the ground in unison.
A sapling sprang up and muted green leaves appeared.
“It will be here,” his father said then and gripped his son's arm. "It will be the final battle."
“Watch and pray,” he said.
Then he left, each step empty, knocking against wood. Their disloyalty echoed out into the distant places of the atmosphere, then onto the universe, becoming nothing.
Places they’d used to explore, hurtling through at lightning speed, his father's laughter ringing through the galaxies.
Now they were barren and desolate, desecrated: concrete slabs of the universe abandoned at the far corner of its emptiest of lots.
And there he was, kneeling on the furthest one, furtive with desire. He just wanted one thing.
“Father, let this cup pass from me."
The empty stars above him glittered. Were they cruel or beautiful? He felt a hand over his heart. Something of warmth, something of comfort, then it was ripped away again.
“Watch and pray,” he had said.
He turned back toward them.
The crunch of the gravel beneath him. Quiet garden: the night taking over, muffling everything, even the birds.
The night. Endless night. Endless night…was it?
He had no idea what it would be like, this cup he had to drink. I am light, and darkness has no place in me.
A few meters off, Peter James, and John snored.
Something blared from within him, a siren, a rage, a storm. He grabbed at their shoulders.
“Could you have not even stayed one watch?”
His blood was already surging through his hands, marks already in his palms where the nails would go, but they could see none of it. They were too tired.
Then his father called. “Quickly now, the time is almost here.” The warmth passed through his chest. The pain shot up to his eyes, moistening them.
He turned and went back down the path. he couldn’t be surrounded. He needed these last moments together with him.
Again he kneeled. Again the stars shot back at him: all glimmer, no hope.
Hope? Hope was the plan. Hope was on the other side, hope was throughout this whole scathing ordeal.
But the stars looked dull as if they’d been dimmed, as if heaven itself had pulled back its cloak over its glory in preemptive mourning.
The birds: gone.
The wind: whispering through the trees like the hiss of a snake.
He was not far off now.
He tried to listen for the other voice, his father’s.
But the wind grew louder, the hiss a roar.
He wanted, with all his heart, to cover his ears, to run, to hide, back to Galilee, Bethesda, anywhere. He wanted out.
Then, just then, the warmth. It was only for a fleeting second.
“Not my will.” The words were forced through his resistant throat. An act of self-destruction, soul-destruction. Not my will.
The words hissed through him as if carried by the wind.
The wind caught the words and they disappeared, nothing left of them. Did they go unheard? Unnoticed? Was his a life wasted, cut off from the source and now left to rot?
The wind picked up, sweat-drenched hair slapping against his cheeks.
It felt like the lashes of a whip.
He broke down, then, for a moment.
Why had he ever spoken that first word? Why had he breathed life into this place, their bones, his spirit?
Suddenly, everywhere, everything, seemed…
“No,” he said. His voice was hoarse, his vocal cords barely moving.
He reached out. Wanting, one more time, to see his father’s face, to hear his reassurance.
I will never leave you nor forsake you.
But his hands grasped at nothingness instead.
And save the hiss of the wind, every other noise of creation was silenced.
He began to sweat.
One droplet. The white tunic beneath him, a red orb advancing outward like a gunshot wound.
Then another, and another. Blood rain.
The hiss got louder.
He wiped his forehead and his hand was red.
It is beginning. The final battle.
Will that he couldn’t feel propelled him upward, moved his feet like lead, one by one by one. Left, right, left.
Back to them.
He’d felt again that rage rise up like a tornado.
“Wake up! The time has come!”
They stirred and the wind blew harder.
Their faces, their eyes, like those of children having been caught.
Looking toward their master.
His heart softened.
“The time has come.”
Not for the darkness, not for the lashes or even the cross.
Like sheep without a shepherd.
They followed him, silent almost. Some whispers back and forth. Children. His children.
The ache grows.
The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.
Up ahead the crowd had already formed like a storm cloud: a distant rumble, torches and swords and a bloody kiss.
They didn’t know it yet, couldn’t sense it.
So they continue to whisper.
The heaviness was almost too much for him, and he turned back to look.
Tired eyes. Tired eyes that couldn’t comprehend, a hand raised to the mouth, furtive school boys caught, and the look in their eyes: pure fear and confusion.
He turns his head back toward the wind.
Red orange orbs. If fright were his nature, he'd be chest to the ground, dead.
Then the surrounding. Accusation. Or was it a kiss? Those eyes. Devil’s eyes. Unable to meet his.
"It is he."
Hands tied. Pulled along. He is not one to be brought to this level.
Pulled in front of the men. He knows these men, white pressed robes, whitewashed tombs.
“Are you the son of God?”
And he tells the truth.
I am, and we will be reunited.
The twist won’t be but a plunge, a brief terrible, thorn-drenched one.
“Are you the son of God?”
“You’ve said it yourself.”
There is a slap, heavy and hard against his jaw.
He looks toward heaven.
And he can see it close before him.