Field of Blood: Jerusalem's Undead Trilogy (Book 1)
by Eric Wilson
AD 30--City of Jerusalem, Israel
The Man from Kerioth dangled over hard earth. His breath was ragged, his fingers grasping at the noose that clung to a gnarled olive tree. His larynx, nearly crushed by the short plunge, worked against the rope.
Air. One gulp, that’s all he needed. Just one.
Despite this struggle for oxygen, he could not quell the whispers in his head: There is a way back, even still . . .
The sun rose orange and pregnant over the Mount of Olives, giving birth to purple shadows. His lungs heaved. He kicked in desperation, and his body twisted on the rope, providing him a glimpse of the city walls along the opposing ridge.
Those walls, they were infested with Roman swine. He’d longed--oh, how he had longed--to join an uprising that would restore this city to the Jews. He had even aligned himself with a band of dagger-men, the Sacarii, but when their zealotry floundered amid internal rivalries, he’d hedged his bets instead on the aspirations of a Nazarene.
All for naught.
If he felt any remorse, it was that he’d squandered three full years on empty promises. He’d given himself, heart, mind, and soul, to the cause of a rebel king. He had collected donations for the Nazarene, even dispersed them to the needy, then watched a woman dump costly perfume over the man’s feet. An utter waste--and the Nazarene had allowed it.
In the end, the supposed king was nothing but a shortsighted simpleton. Innocent, yes. But a fool.
Last night, the Man from Kerioth had made his decision. He refused to play the puppet any longer. For thirty shekels, the price of a common slave, he’d led an armed mob into a garden where the Nazarene kneeled in prayer, and he’d kissed that life away--quite literally.
“My friend . . .” The Nazarene had looked him in the eye. “Do what you have come for.”
And he had done just that.
Yet here he swung. From the end of a rope.
What was he supposed to do? Beg forgiveness? Grovel on his knees? He’d rather rot like garbage brought out through the nearby Dung Gate, rather burn here in the Valley of Hinnom. Gehenna--wasn’t that the Greeks’ name for this valley? Children had once been sacrificed here to Moloch, and even now death licked at the air.
A way back . . .
Coarse threads drew blood from the abrasions on his neck, and his eyes bulged. As his throat convulsed against this restriction, something sulfuric seemed to crawl from his esophagus.
Bile? His departing spirit? Or perhaps the fierce presence whose malice he’d welcomed in these last few hours.
Sudden panic overtook the Man from Kerioth. As spreading sunlight tore his resolve into strips, he clawed at his robe. Where was the dagger? The one he’d swiped form the ground after the Nazarene’s arrest. He would grab hold of the dagger, lift it to the noose, and cut himself free. Whereas Peter the disciple had failed to protect his master with this blade, the Man from Kerioth would put it to good use.
Live by the sword, or die by the sword.
Yes, if he could only . . .
His fingers found the hilt.
If he could . . .
The dagger slipped from his grasp and clattered to the ground below. For the second time in one day, it’d betrayed the intentions of the one who had held it. He knew then he was finished.
Coated with a salty paste, his tongue ballooned in his mouth and his lips expelled a red-black mist. He kicked, spun back around. Heard a splintering sound. Felt his body lurch. Even as his mind grasped what was happening, the branch holding him surrendered to his weight in a prolonged crack that reverberated over parched ground.
For one moment, one blessed second of weightlessness, he tasted air--sweet, golden wine--sliding over his tongue.
Then his own bulk worked against him.
And he plummeted.