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A Taste of Blood and Roses Preview

Posted on August 7, 2010 by Flames

A TASTE OF BLOOD AND ROSES is a collection of horror short stories that spans two decades of work by Bram Stoker Award winning author David Niall Wilson. From the streets of Jerusalem to the historical life of Vlad Tepes, follow this prolific author through eleven tales of vampirism, lycanthropy, and darkness. There’s a bit of dark humor, a touch of the erotic, and a little something for everyone who loves creatures of the night. Also…these vampires are guaranteed not to sparkle.

The author, David Niall Wilson, adds:

“I’ve been writing since the mid 1980s, and during all those years, vampires have remained close to my heart. There were periods when it seemed as if you couldn’t have an anthology unless the theme was erotic vampire stories. There were other times when all you heard was, “no vampires.” I can say that I survived both – even selling a vampire story to two editors who said they didn’t think they’d ever buy another one. Both of those are contained in this collection.

The short story A Candle in the Sun (originally titled The Fifth Gospel), was written on a US Navy ship. Someone – I don’t remember who – said, “What if Jesus was a vampire.” I said that wouldn’t work, but what if someone near him was? The rest, pretty much, is history. I turned it in to my writer’s group and Richard Rowand, then editor of STARSHORE magazine, asked to buy the story immediately. My first pro sale that wasn’t porn to a men’s magazine. This story has been reprinted several times. One of those times was by Karl Edward Wagner in Year’s Best Horror XIX – he was the first of the editors who said they thought they were done with vampires. He was also – over the years – a good friend. He is missed.”

Flames Rising is pleased to present the short story A Candle in the Sun from the A TASTE OF BLOOD AND ROSES anthology by David Niall Wilson for you to read here on FlamesRising.com.

A Candle in the Sun

by David Niall Wilson

Lucifer watched with deep interest, and some concern, the arrival of The Christ upon the Earth.  Well aware that he could not prevent it, and unwilling to forego the amusement, in any case, he set about sowing the seeds of jealousy, fear, and distrust that would later lead to the crucifixion. Once satisfied, he waited for the child to grow. A small mountain of dead children grew on Christ’s birthday, sacrificed by those who feared the birth of a king.

Men are often given to strange excesses in the solving, or prevention, of problems.  I saw it as a shame; Lucifer saw the destruction not at all.  His eyes were turned Heavenward in search of a glimpse of the anger he knew his actions would spark. I walked the Earth in his shadow, watching. In the Christ, he saw another part of his enemy, another work to corrupt.  I saw beauty, a piece of something forever lost to me.  Lucifer saw none of that; his hate had become too great.  I saw him as he was, and I loved him. The Christ was very beautiful.

* * *

{From the Book of the Gospel, According to Judas Iscariot}

Judas 1:1

1 And it came to pass that Jesus went alone into the desert to be tempted of the devil.
2 He remained there forty days and forty nights, fasting, and on the fortieth night, he hungered.
3 The tempter came before him then, asking, “If you are truly the son of God, turn these stones to loaves of bread”
4 Jesus answered him, “It is written:  ‘man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
  5 Then the tempter led him to the highest point of the temple. 
6 “If you are truly the son of God, cast yourself down, for it is written:
‘He will command his angels  concerning you,
And they will lift you up in their hands,
So that you will not strike your foot against stone.'”
7 Jesus answered, “It is also written, ‘do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
8 The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all of the kingdoms of the world in their splendor.
9 “Bow down and worship me,” he said, “and I will give them all to you.”
10 Jesus replied, “Away from me, Satan, for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”
11 The devil laughed and gestured, raising from the sands a temptress. 
12 “See here the things craved by man,” he said, waving his arm to include the cities below. 
13 “You are Son of man, does she not please you?”
14 And Jesus, seeing that she was fallen from Heaven, and sorely used, beckoned to the temptress, saying, “For all who would follow me, there burns a light in my father’s house.”
15 And the temptress fell to her knees, forsaking the devil and his darkness.
16 In an awful rage, Lucifer laid upon her a curse, bringing a great thirst which could be sated only by the lifeblood of man, and saying, “Feast you upon the fruits of his labor, for I say unto you, you shall be his undoing.”
16 Then the devil left them, and angels came and attended Jesus.
17 Fleeing into the desert, the temptress wept.

***

I hid for many days among the burning sands, and the thirst grew, grasping at my thoughts and twisting them beyond my control.  I heard echoing laughter in the pits below, but had no concentration to spare it. As the sun dipped a final time, on the eighth day, I came to the fringes of the city of Galilee. At that time, the horror of what had befallen me was not clear in my mind.  I slipped through the shadows of the city as a silent mist, searching for that which could end the thirst, hungering for freedom to follow him who had promised me hope. 

***

Isabella, late in returning to her home from that of her sister, Jessamine, stopped at the sound of footsteps in the night. No direction lay in the sound.  It seemed to echo from every shadow. When her steps ceased, the others ceased as well. Her heart sped nervously, and she called out to the night. “Who is there?” Straining to hear an answer, she heard the whispering rustle of silk, nothing more.  More loudly, she called out again, “Please, who is it?  May I pass in peace?”

A figure melted from what had seemed only mist, moving slowly and silently forward. It was a woman. Isabella’s shoulders loosened somewhat. As the woman approached, Isabella caught sight of her eyes, tormented, anguished eyes, lost. Catching her breath, she reached out, wanting somehow to help.

“Who are you, lady, and what is wrong?” She asked, stepping forward. “May I help? I…”

The eyes were horrible in their pain. She felt drawn to them by more than compassion, unable to pull her gaze from their depths.  Far, far too late, she forced her eyes down, down to where trembling lips parted, lips of deepest, darkest red, framing teeth that gleamed and sparkled with captured moonlight.

She struggled against the control o the eyes, against her fear. Her lips formed words, screams, any sound to negate the horror. They left her only a whisper, caught in the night breeze and borne away. The teeth were long, curved and sharp, inhuman.  They drew nearer now with shocking speed.  The morning dew misted on the chill, pale skin of Isabella’s motionless form.  She lay, awaiting the morning sun, broken and lifeless. There were twin punctures in the softness of her throat, and a ghastly contortion of absolute fear masked the innocent beauty of her face.  There was no blood, but the shadows had lifted.

***

Judas 10:20

20 As he spoke, a ruler came to him and knelt before him, saying “My daughter has died. 
21 Come and lay your hand upon her, and she shall live.” 
22 Jesus rose and followed him as did his disciples.
23 As he walked, a woman who had bled for twelve years reached out to touch his cloak.
24 She said to herself, “If only I touch his cloak, then I shall be healed.”
25 Turning, Jesus saw her and said, “Take heart, daughter, for your faith has healed you.”
26 And the woman was whole from that moment on.
27 When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the musicians and the noisy crowd, he moved them aside. 
28 Seeing that no color remained to the girl’s cheeks, and seeing also the marks upon her throat, he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead, but only sleeping.”
29 They laughed at him.
30 After they had been put outside, Jesus closed the door behind himself, barring it from within.

***

After touching the girl’s throat, which was still and without pulse, Jesus felt a tug at his heart.  A shadow passed the window, and he raised his eyes, now wet with tears, to meet those that faced him.  Weeping also, the temptress only watched to see if he would smite her, removing the hunger, ending the pain.

“Why?” He asked simply, brushing the soft strands of the girl’s hair with tender fingers.

“You heard the curse, Lord,” she responded, unable to hide the bitterness in her words.  “Lucifer saw in my heart that I would die for you. He took steps to insure that I could not. Each night the hunger grows.  I am too weak to fight it. I seek only to follow you.”

Feeling the sincerity in her words, Jesus heaved a sigh of deepest resignation, feeling suddenly the great weight thrust upon his shoulders.

“She may walk again,” he said, simply, and the girl’s eyes fluttered and opened.  She did not smile; her expression was one of need–of desperation.

“Her lifeblood is now a part of me,” the temptress spoke, each word catching at her heart.  “She will hunger as I. You know this is true, why do you raise her to such torment?”

“I am the way, the truth, and the light,” he said, slowly turning to the door. “Even in her torment, she is forgiven. For every such horror unleashed upon my father’s children, I shall exact threefold payment on the day of reckoning.””And I,” she breathed, fearing the answer to come, “am I forgiven, then?”

Staring deeply within her eyes, Jesus communed with her heart. Since the days when she had walked freely upon the roads of Heaven, she had felt nothing like it.  His purity surrounded her, probed her, and then was gone.

“I shall call you Mary,” he spoke.  “Go with open heart, for we shall meet again.” He turned then, leaving the room with the girl at his side, returning to the disciples and those who waited. Mary, for she gladly accepted the name, departed the window and melted through the crowd, going again into the desert to be alone. Only Judas, who had seen her at the window and noted her odd, exceptional beauty, noted her passing, and he was too much in awe at the miracle of the dead girl walking to dwell upon it.

***

Judas 10:31

31 A woman was seen to pass the window frame and to speak.
32 Taking the girl by the hand, Jesus led her outside, and she lived, though no spark remained to her eyes–except that of hunger–and her pallor was that of death.
33 All stood in awe, and the news spread rapidly throughout the land.
34 Ignoring her father and those about her, the girl walked into the desert and was seen no more.

***

Judas 13:9

9 When Jesus heard of the beheading of John the Baptist, he withdrew to a solitary place by boat. 
10 Hearing this, a great crowd gathered and awaited his arrival, traveling there on foot.
11 Seeing them, Jesus had compassion on them and healed their sick.
12 As darkness began to fall, the disciples came to him saying, “This is a remote place, and the hour is already late. Send the crowds away so that they can go the villages and buy something to eat.” 
13 Jesus replied, “There is no need for them to go away.  We will give them something to eat.”
14 “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they replied.
15 “Bring them to me,” he said.  Jesus directed the people to sit in the grass, and breaking the loaves, raised his eyes to the heavens and gave thanks.
16 Then he gave them to his disciples, who gave them to the people.  They all ate, and were satisfied, and the disciples collected twelve basketfuls of pieces that were left over. 
17 Those that were fed numbered about five thousand men, besides women and children.
18 Immediately after, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 
19 After the people had departed, one woman remained, Mary of Magdalene, and they spoke at length.

***

As the crowds dispersed, Mary moved slowly forward, watching first from afar for any sign that she was not wanted. She had remained as long in the desert as her will could stand. Again the hunger was upon her.  She stood, wavering, and watched as the son of Man bid farewell to his people. Her heart calmed somewhat, being close to him, but the aching need did not diminish.  Slowly, he turned, seeing her as if from far away, and he came to stand by her side, watching as the last of the crowds disappeared into the distance.

“They have beheaded John,” he said slowly, ignoring the plea in her eyes, “Truly these are evil times.  Your master has sown well.”

“What is death,” she asked, eyes wide, “to one who serves you? It is the victory in the greatest of battles. I wish death would come to me in such service…I hunger again.” With a great sadness in his eyes, he put his hands upon her shoulders. “You suffer because of me, as did John, and I feel your pain. The time is not yet upon us when I can offer you peace. You must follow, remaining close to my side, for I say unto you, the Son of Man is not like other men.  You may feed upon me, for I shall not die.”

Feeling the depth of the emotion in his words, and seeing the tears as they began streaming from his eyes, Mary turned and fled. He did not know, could not know, what might befall him if he offered her salvation.  As one of the fallen, she knew only too well the fire of his father’s wrath. She ran through the desert and into the villages, running until she could no longer concentrate her will upon flight–until the hunger overwhelmed her.  Creeping through the shadows, she tried to rest, but inside her mind, Lucifer laughed, saying, “Mary, time to feed.  The hunger will return you to me.  It is greater than you, or he can conceive. It is my hunger, and I will feast.”

***

Jesus climbed the mountain, sore of heart.  She drew him, even then, and the weight of John’s loss was heavy on his human heart. Stones cut his fingers and feet as he climbed, and the wind chilled him, but he ignored it all.  He ascended to the uppermost ledge that he could reach and knelt upon the cold, dusty stone.

“Forgive me, father,” he prayed, “but I have no answer for this one, now named Mary, and she is sorely beset. Your enemy controls her, but her heart is pure. Give me the strength, lead my steps, for I love her, and I would not see her, or any other, suffer.”

Thunder echoed from the hills, lightning flashed, and still he prayed. No space remained in his father’s heart for those cast out, no redemption was theirs.  Jesus knew, and yet he prayed, for his heart was pure, and he bore no grudge against any who would be saved, no matter their sin. No answers were forthcoming, and he was forced to rise, finally, descending the mountain with heavy heart.

On the horizon, far from shore, he saw the boat with his disciples, his children. He stepped onto the surface of the water, walking slowly after the retreating sails, as waves slapped his legs and stung his cuts with their chill caress.

***

Judas 13:29

29 During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came to the boat, walking upon the lake.
30 Seeing this, the disciples were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, crying out in fear.
31 But Jesus said to them: “Take courage, it is I!  Do not be afraid.”
32 “Lord,” cried Peter, “If it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
33 “Come,” he said.
34 Then Peter left the boat, walking on the water toward Jesus.
35 Seeing the wind and the splashing of the waves, he became frightened, and began to sink.
36 Crying out, he said, “Lord, save me!”
37 Jesus reached out his hand, pulling him from the waves, and said, “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
38 And when they climbed into the boat the wind died down.
39 Then those who were in the boat worshipped him saying, “Truly you are the son of God.”
40 Then Judas, still confused over the woman, Mary, asked, “Lord, why do you consort with a woman plagued by demons?  Shall you not cleanse the world of darkness?”
41 Jesus looked at him and spoke a parable: “If you take a candle and light it in the darkness, it can be seen for many miles. 
42 Light the same candle in the sun’s rays, and it pales to nothing.
43 I am sent to show the path to my father’s lost sheep.  She is among them. 
44 I say to you, only in the last days shall evil and darkness be washed away, for in their very darkness, they glorify the light of the heavens.”
45 So saying, he fell silent, and spoke to no man as long as they were upon the boat.”

***

Judas 15:20

20 About eight days after saying this, Jesus took Peter, John, and James with him and went onto a mountain to pray.
21 As he prayed, the appearance of his face changed and his clothing became bright, like a flash of lightning.
22 Two men, Elijah and Moses, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.
23 They spoke of his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment in Jerusalem.
24 They spoke as well of the temptress, Mary, whose soul Jesus would save.
25 There were looks of sadness on the faces of his companions, then, for they knew the father’s heart was hardened to the fallen, and they feared now for his son. 26 They had no answer for him, though they bid him not to fear. 
27 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory, and the two men standing with him.
28 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.  (He knew not what he said)
29 While he spoke, a cloud appeared, enveloping them all, and they were afraid.
30 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my son, whom I have chosen.  Heed his words.”
32 When the voice had spoken, the cloud dispersed, and they were alone with Jesus, who had tears in his eyes.
33 The apostles decided to keep this to themselves, and told no one what they had seen, or heard, at that time.

***

Judas 17:1

1 A man named Lazarus was sick.  He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same who had poured perfume on the Lord and washed his feet with her hair.
2 The sisters sent word to Jesus saying, “Lord, one you love is dying.”
3 “This sickness shall not end in death,” Jesus said, “No; it is for God’s glory, so that God’s son may be glorified by it.”
4 Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, yet upon hearing the nature of the illness; he waited two days before going to them.
5 There were reports that Lazarus bore strange punctures on his throat, and his pallor was deathly and pale.
6 Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
7 But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?”
8 “There are twelve hours of daylight,” Jesus answered, “a man who walks by daylight will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light.  It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.”
9 After saying this, he went on to explain.  “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, I go to awaken him.”
10 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.”
11 Jesus spoke of death, but they did not understand.
12 Then he said plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake, I am glad I was not there, so that your faith may grow.
13 Let us go to him, for the darkness from which he must awaken is of my own creation, and there is another there whom I seek.
14 Then Thomas said, “Come, let us follow that we may die with him.”

***

When the word of Jesus’ return reached the sisters, Martha hurried out to meet him.  Mary, deep in mourning, would not leave the house. She babbled of dark, shadowed women, and blood, and many feared she was either mad, or possessed of demons.

“Lord,” Martha pleaded, as she arrived at his side, “If you had been here, I know my brother would not have died. Even now, I know, whatever you ask, God shall give it to you.” Jesus saddened, doubting this in his heart, but he answered, “Your brother shall rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise in the last days, at the resurrection.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

“Yes Lord,” she replied, falling to her knees and brushing his legs with her hair, eyes wide.  “I believe you are The Christ, son of God, who has come to the earth as a man.”

“Where is your sister, Mary?” He asked.

“I will send her to you, Lord,” Martha answered, rising. “She is mad with grief, speaking of demons and shadows and afraid to walk, even in daylight.”

“I shall comfort her,” he said, seating himself on a stone to wait. “Send her to me.”

Martha rushed back to her sister’s side with Jesus’ message, hope blooming in her heart.  She had lost her brother already. She did not wish to lose Mary as well.

When Mary heard that Jesus had come, she rose, as though frightened, and ran from the house, much to Martha’s shock.  Several of the others there, believing Mary was going to Lazarus’s tomb to mourn, followed a short distance behind.

Mary’s breath came in short gasps, and the sharp stones of the road cut into her feet as she ran.  Every three or four paces she looked over her shoulder, eyes wide with fear, searching the pockets of shadow surrounding the trail. Her heart pounded wildly in her breast, threatening to burst from her skin.  Stumbling into the grouped disciples, she staggered to Jesus, falling to the ground at his feet, sobbing.

Reaching down, Jesus took her by the hands and raised her to face him.  “What is wrong, Mary?”  He asked, searching her tear-stained face.  Her entire body trembled, like that of a frightened colt, ready to bolt and run.

“Lord,” she choked out, dragging huge gulps of air into her lungs, “Lord, my brother has been killed by a demon!”

Jesus showed no doubt, only asked what she meant, and she answered, “She came in the night.  I saw her twice, a woman wearing only a cloak of shadows.  She drank of his blood, Lord, leaving him weaker with each visit. She had fangs. Lord, I am frightened for my brother’s soul!”

“Take me to where you have laid him,” Jesus said, “and fear not.”

When they reached the place, a cave which had been sealed by the placement of a very large stone, Jesus looked upon it and wept. The people who had followed Mary in her flight saw this and said, “See how Jesus loved him?”

But Jesus cried only a little for Lazarus.  His heart was heavy with the knowledge of who was responsible, with the weight of another soul. The face of the temptress, Mary, haunted his thoughts, her fate haunted his tears.  He turned to Mary, Lazarus’s sister.

“Have them remove the stone, daughter,” he said.

“But Lord,” she protested, eyes wide, “it has been four days! Already the smell of rot will be upon him…why must we do this?”

And Jesus, weary of heart, replied, “Did I not tell you that, if you believed, you would witness my father’s glory? Open the tomb.”

***

Judas 18:39

39 So they took away the stone.  Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, in all things you hear me.  I say this not for myself, but for those standing here, that they may believe you have sent me.”
40 When he had said this, Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.”
41 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped in strips of linen, and a cloth binding his face.
42 Jesus said, “Take off the grave clothes, and let him go.”

***

And Lazarus, staggering in the sunlight, came forth from his tomb.  The wind billowed his stringy hair about his head, and his eyes glowed with the light of hunger. Facing Jesus, he removed the shroud from his face, revealing the white, pale skin beneath.  When he smiled, all present shuddered and backed away.  His teeth, glistening in the light, were pointed, like those of a serpent. “Son of man,” he called, “you have granted me that I may walk again, though the price is great.  Why must I suffer so?”

And Jesus, speaking slowly and clearly, answered. “When the last days come, your soul shall be remembered.  Know that I am with you, go in peace.”  “I will go, but in hunger, not peace,” the dead man snarled, glaring about at those assembled in hatred.  Then there was a flash of mist, pungent with the cloying scent of open graves and death, and when it cleared, Lazarus was gone. Only the empty tomb remained.

Jesus, weeping openly again, pulled the sisters, Martha and Mary, to his side and comforted them, wiping the fear from their hearts with his touch. Gesturing to his disciples, he bid them stay with the crowd, and he went off after Lazarus. He found the dead man in the shadows of an old well. “Lazarus,” he called out, “come to me!” 

Unable to resist, the dead man complied.  “What now, Son of Man,” he called out in fear. “Have you come to kill the evil you have created, now that they have seen?  Was it only a show for their benefit, the casting aside of my soul?”

The words cut deeply, and Jesus’ voice trembled as he answered. He knew that what he was about to do was not a part of his father’s plan.  He could not help his heart, though, and was unable to witness Lazarus’s suffering.

“Come to me, Lazarus,” he said, tilting his head to one side, “for I have promised that you will live, and I know of your hunger and she who brought it upon you.  Feed you from the blood of the Son of Man, and be renewed.  Fear not, I shall not die, for it is not yet my time.”

Lazarus gazed in wonder, backing away at first, but the temptation to sate his need was too great, and the power of Jesus’ voice compelled him. Drawing near, he leapt wildly, sinking his fangs deeply into flesh and causing Jesus to stagger, moaning from the pain.  Despite the agony, Jesus stood quietly, and moments later, Lazarus stopped, stumbling backward to collapse on the sand.

Recovering quickly, and causing his own wounds to heal, Jesus gathered Lazarus into his arms and returned the way he had come.  The man he carried, no longer pale, breathed easily. Lazarus lived, though the spark in Jesus’ eyes was a bit dimmer, and his steps slightly uneven. Delivering Lazarus to his sisters, he said, “Take him home, for he must rest.  I have cast forth his demon, and he is whole. Now I, too, must rest.”

Seeing that Lazarus’ teeth were those of a normal man, and that he slept peacefully, the crowd murmured in wonder, and rushed to spread the news of what he had done. As the crowds left them, Jesus called aside his disciple, Judas Iscariot, and spoke to him alone.

“Go to the village,” he said, “find the woman, Mary of Magdalene, and bring her to me.”

“But Lord,” Judas said, frightened for his master, “she has followed us, and where she goes, evil goes as well. Why must I bring her here?”

“She loves me, as do you, Judas,” Jesus replied.  “Her evil is my burden.  Go quickly, for I must see her in the darkness. Do not tell the others, for I would not put my own weight upon their hearts.”

Casting aside his fear as best as possible, Judas went into the village. The other disciples, knowing that Judas carried the purse, assumed that he went to purchase food, and asked no questions. Darkness was falling swiftly, chilling the air and silencing the sounds of life. Judas’ heart hammered wildly, and his footsteps quickened.  It was nearly the ninth hour when he came across Mary, seated in a garden and watching the night — as though expecting him.

“Hello, Judas,” she called out, beckoning him closer.

“Why are you abroad, alone, on such a night?  Has your master no use for you?”

“He has sent me for you, Lady, though I know not why,” Judas replied. Her presence drew him like a magnet, calling out to his senses.  His skin heated, and he blushed.

“Do you fear me, Judas?”  She asked, no smile in her eyes.

“Lady, I do,” he replied, avoiding her eyes.  “Will you come? He is waiting.”

“If he calls, I will come,” she answered, rising with a rustle of linen that melted Judas’ loins.  “But I tell you, Judas, for my sake he risks everything, and I am saddened, for I, too, love him.”

“I pray thee, Mary,” Judas burst out, spinning to brave the depths of her eyes, “do not come.  Stay away from him.  I fear for him, and I fear you.”

She smiled then, but he felt no trace of sincere emotion from her heart.  He froze in shock at the hunger of her gaze, the misery so obvious in the expression of her face. It was bitter, overwhelming, threatening to swallow him. Then she averted her eyes, and she began walking.  He could only follow.

When they were near to where Jesus lay, he bid her wait, and, entering the camp, he came to his master and spoke. “She has come, Lord; I have left her just beyond the camp.”

“It is good,” Jesus replied, rising.  “Tell any who asks that I am in the desert, praying.  Do not fear for me, Judas, for I have said, it is not yet my time.  Fear instead for Mary, for I am not certain of her fate.”

And Jesus walked into the shadows, leaving Judas alone to kneel and pray.

She waited for him in shadows, watching him approach with hooded eyes. His steps were firm and steady, and a glow encased his features. She trembled as she felt the brush of his nearness, cowering deeper into the blackness.

“Mary,” he commanded, stopping and staring unerringly into the darkness, “come forth, for the time is upon us that I must begin to bear your burden.”

She wanted to break free, to run, but she was his to command, and she could not.  He stood, arms wide, waiting, and he beckoned her forth.  She came, haltingly at first, then rushing–blowing across the sand like a dark wind, and they embraced.

“I will take from you your hunger,” he whispered, cupping her face in his hands and staring into her eyes in love, “and you shall have a part of what is mine, that you may be saved.”

“You cannot know what he will do!  Your father will not be pleased!” She pleaded with him, even as he directed her, placing her lips to his throat and caressing her teeth with his skin.

“My father’s will be done,” he said, eyes brimming with trapped emotion, “I will not allow any to suffer.  Drink, Mary, for the hour is late, and my days here are now few.”

And the hunger swept aside her objections as he spoke. She plunged her fangs deep, drank richly of his lifeblood, weeping as she fed, and he moaned from the pain, yet caressed her hair softly, eyes closed in prayer.

Watching from nearby, Judas shrank away in horror. Rushing to the camp, he looked about wildly for his weapons, waking the others in his frantic haste.

“What is it?” Peter asked, grabbing his arm. “Where is our Lord?”

“He is in the desert!” Judas cried, “beset by a demon! We must go to him!”

And they all rushed out then, some only partially clothed, bearing swords and spears.  Judas led them quickly through the shadows to where he had seen Jesus and Mary. When they arrived, however, they found only their Lord, seated, head bowed in prayer.

“Master,” Peter cried, “Judas said that you were beset by a demon, so we have come to you!” Looking up, eyes very tired and voice weak, Jesus answered. “There is no demon here, but I am weary.  Lead me to the camp, for I must rest.”

Eyes full of wonder, for they had never seen their Lord in such a state, they raised him between them and carried him to his bed, where he fell asleep immediately.  In the shadows behind them, weeping, yet marveling at her near-human skin and the peace in her heart, Mary watched them go.  Turning, she ran back to the village.  The night swallowed her quickly, and the desert was once more still.

***

Judas 21:1

1 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron valley.
2 On the other side was an olive grove, and Jesus and his disciples entered it.
3 Judas, sent to the village for food, met with the woman, Mary of Magdalene, and was delayed in coming to the grove.
4 As he neared the place, he saw Peter in conference with several armed men.
5 The soldiers, accompanied by officials from the Priests and Pharisees, entered the grove just after Judas, who bore a message from Mary. 
6 Kissing his master on the cheek, he whispered the words he had been given. 
7 Then the soldiers stepped forward and the disciples grew silent.
8 “Who is it you seek?” Jesus asked, knowing all that would come to pass. 
9 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
10 “I am he,” Jesus said.
11 Peter, attempting to hide his betrayal, drew his sword and struck the High Priest’s servant, severing his ear.  (The servant’s name was Malchus)
12 Jesus said, “Put that sword away. Shall I deny the cup my father pours me?”
13 Turning to the Pharisees and soldiers, Jesus said, “Am I leading a rebellion, then, that you need come upon me by stealth, with swords and clubs? 
14 I sat teaching in your courtyards every day, yet you did not arrest me. 
15 This has come about that the prophecies may be fulfilled.”
16 Then all his disciples deserted him and fled.

***

In great anger, Judas followed Peter in his flight. When they reached a point far enough away from the soldiers for safety, he grabbed his fellow disciple’s shoulder, spinning him roughly.

“What have you done, Peter?”  He demanded.  Peter’s eyes were haunted, distant, and Judas recoiled from them in horror.

“He looked well in chains, do you not think so?” The voice was cold, like brittle ice, cracking through the air.  It was not Peter’s voice, nor was it any human expression that rode the familiar features.

“Who are you?” Judas asked, backing away, “You are not Peter!”

“I am more than your mind can grasp, fool,” the demon voice chuckled, “more than even your master imagines. Perhaps he is coming to some knowledge of this, even now!”

Lowering his gaze to avoid the eyes, which glittered with unnatural light and gripped at his heart, Judas began to pray. The demon, jeering and dark, ranted at him, giving no reprise. Steeling himself, Judas ignored the voice, falling to his knees in the sand.

“Our father, who art in heaven,” he began, “be with your servant in his hour of need. Free my brother from this evil, return to us Simon, called Peter, for our Lord needs us now, your son, unworthy as we are, and I have not the strength alone.”

As his courage grew, he rose, raising his eyes to those of his tormentor, searching for his brother.

“You are too weak.” the demon’s voice seemed to waver. “I leave of my own will, not that of your accursed father, or his six-mothered bastard.  And I leave you a gift. Your brethren will believe you the cause of your master’s death. Your kiss will become the symbol of his betrayal!”

“Get thee hence!” Judas staggered forward, as if his physical presence alone could intimidate the evil confronting him.  Peter’s features contorted, rippled between despairing, imploring humanity, and gripping, snarling darkness. As Judas’s fingers touched Peter’s shoulders, there was a sound like the rushing of a great wind, and they were both struck to the ground.  When the demon had passed, leaving swirling pillars of sand in its wake, they rose slowly, blinking their eyes and checking their bones.

“We must follow our Lord, for they have taken him,” Judas said, turning away. Peter watched him, a glare in his eye. His expression, accusing and dark, was more painful than even the demon’s gaze had been, for it shone through the disciple’s own features, and rose from his own mind. Judas trembled, remembering the words, “Your kiss will become the symbol of his betrayal.”

Peter followed, but did not speak.  The ominous weight of his silence bore down upon Judas like a smothering fog, but still he walked on. It was a small price, he told himself, for his brother’s soul…  Tears burned with the swirling sand down his cheeks, and dried instantly, wisping into the eye of the sun.

***

Judas 25:17

17 The soldiers took Jesus into their charge.  Carrying upon his shoulder his own cross, he went out to Golgotha (called the place of the skull)
18 Here they crucified him, along with two others–one to each side, with Jesus in the middle.
19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read:
JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
20 It was lettered in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, and many Jews read the sign, for the place of the crucifixion was near the city.
21 The Chief Priests of the Jews protested, saying, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but instead that this man claimed to be the King of the Jews.”
22 Pilate answered, “I have written what I have written.”
23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four equal shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. 
24 This remaining garment was without seams, woven in one piece.
25 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another.  “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
26 This happened that the Scripture might be fulfilled which said,
‘They divided my garments among them
And cast lots for my clothing.’
29 So this is what the soldiers did.
30 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary, wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 
31 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved, (Peter), and she for whom he wept, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”
32 To Mary Magdalene he said, “You are one with my heart.  Though my father calls, I will be with you. Do not forget.”
33 From that time on, the disciple took Jesus’ mother into his home.
34 Mary Magdalene, hearing the Lord’s words, wept bitterly, unable to stand his pain.

***

Darkness fell upon the threefold wooden frames, trailing shadowy tendrils among the rivulets of blood that clotted and grew sticky on his skin.  Jesus regarded those below in the weaving, half-coalesced vision of his pain. Tears dried, unwilling to remoisten his cheeks.  He remained conscious only through continuous, jumbled prayer, chasing the tumbling words and thoughts through his heart and pressing them outward to his father with all the strength of his will. None answered. It was done.  He’d dared to presume himself above his father’s disfavor, reached out to one beyond his power, and he’d given of the greatest gift he’d received to one beyond redemption–desecrating himself in the eyes of his own father.

He could feel his strength ebbing.  The pain was beyond anything he’d experienced before, beyond even the pain of his father’s disapproval.  The human body he wore neared death, and it spoke of this eloquently.  So hard, he thought, such a weight to bear. How do they retain faith? And what have I done, taking my gift of salvation and flinging it aside as if it were mine alone?

“I…I am thirsty,” he croaked at last, beseeching those below.

A plant stem was raised, topped by a sponge, and he greedily sucked on the moistness, feeling the bitter sting as the wine-vinegar trickled down his parched throat. Pulling his face from the sponge weakly, he raised his eyes to the sky and cried out, hurling the words from deep inside his breast, calling out loudly.

“My father, why have you forsaken me?”

And life slipped from his body at that moment, leaving him limp and unmoving on the skeletal framework of the cross.

Mary, seeing that it was truly death that was upon him, screamed a terrible scream, an impotent, nerve-grinding wail to a God she could not reach.  Those around her fled from her fury, crying out in fear and racing for homes and fires. She paid them no heed.

He had risked it all, all that he was, for her, for her soul, and the risk had been in vain–he was dead!  He had walked the Earth as the Son of God, but, having given to her of his gift, having fed her a part of himself, he had died as a man, and all he had lived was wiped away as if it had never been. In that instant, prophecy was cast to the winds without thought. Still screaming, she ran to the desert, pulling at her almost human hair and cursing the sky with raging torrents of unchecked emotion.  Deep within her, sparked by her loss of control, a dark voice reached out to her, laughing the mocking laughter of the victor.

Unable to go on, she dropped to her knees, and, fighting back the encroaching darkness in her soul, she began–for the first time since her feet touched the earth — to pray, loudly and blindly. He had given himself for her, for her salvation, though it cost the world. She prayed for only the chance to return his love, to replace his gift.  She continued to pray, unaware of her surroundings, while a glowing figure appeared at her side. She did not notice that she was not alone until his fingers brushed her shoulder.

Stifling a cry, she backed away, half-rising to her feet. Elijah stood before her, resplendent, but with sorrow beyond comprehension on his features–sadness beyond measure.

“Woman, now called Mary,” he spoke, “would you truly return the light?”

“I…,” she lowered her eyes, bowing in supplication, “I would release to you my soul to return him–to fulfill his prophecy. I would do anything.”

“Go you then” the voice instructed, “and find Judas, who they name betrayer.  Tell him all.  In his lifeblood, and in his love, you will find the strength.  If you willingly replace the gift of the Son of Man with Judas’ mortal blood, your curse will return. In that hour shall all be righted…go and may we all be judged on a standard such as your love.”

The light was gone, the darkness remained, and Mary rose, returning through the sifting shadows to the cross. Tears streamed steadily down her cheeks, dampening the locks of her hair, and her steps were uneven.  It was too great a cost. She had been granted that which no other could give a second time, and now it was demanded of her to return it…she clutched her arms tightly to her stomach to ease the churning and the pain. In her mind, echoing voices mocked her feeble will, laughed at her lack of courage. Already Lucifer and his minions counted the victory won. She was lost to them, but The Christ was lost to mankind.  Wailing her despair, she ran on, finding Judas just before the dawning sun rose to the horizon.  He knelt alone, lost in prayer of his own.  He did not see her coming, and she watched him for a long moment before speaking.

***

Judas 28:1

1 And Judas Iscariot, blamed of the betrayal, prayed in the darkness.
2 The temptress, she called Mary Magdalene, came upon him, wild of eye, and cheeks damp with tears, crying out, “Judas, beloved or our Lord, a great evil has come upon us.”
3 “Lady,” Judas replied, “in three days our Lord shall rise from his grave, redemption is at hand.”
4 “He is dead,” she told him, seating herself, “of love for me, he sacrificed all.  We bear the weight, you and I, for I have spoken with Elijah, and he has sent me to you.”
5 And she spoke to him of Lucifer, and of her curse, and of Jesus’ gift of life, with its terrible price. 
6 They wept, clinging to one another, and Judas cried out, “The weight is too great on you, Mary, for he would not wish you to pay this price!”
7 “That,” she replied, “is why I must pay it.”
8 “Then take me,” Judas lay back, baring his throat, tears in his own eyes, “for truly your love rivals even his, and his gift is too precious to lose.”
9 Seeing the love in Judas’s eyes, feeling the wrench of Satan’s very claws as he leapt to prevent her, the woman, Mary, fell upon the body of Judas and fed, the curse taking her even as she swept forward. Weeping, she cast herself willingly to the darkness from which she’d been raised, feeling the icy claws of the hunger that would once again consume her. 
10 Sated, she rose, and Judas also, now pale and alight with hunger of his own, and they fled as Lucifer hunted them, possessed of a great and futile rage.
11 As darkness engulfed them, they shared one last glance–a last time they smiled. 12 Then it was black, and they were smitten with the fire of Lucifer, losing all thought.

***

When Mary and Judas regained consciousness, they both awoke to hunger. Fighting it back, screaming inwardly with the fire of their need, they walked, side by side, through twilight three days beyond Jesus’ death. Silence filled the night. All those who lived nearby either slept, or were sitting home. They reached the place where Jesus’ tomb lay without meeting a soul, coming to stand by the huge stone that had blocked his return to the world. A fear gnawed at the depth their breasts, nearly smothered, but burning still.

Standing within, gazing at them through haloed prisms, formed of the brilliance of his glory, seen through the mirrors of his tears, the Son of Man regarded them with great sadness, and endless love. Their own eyes, devoid of natural light, flickered with the pain of loss, and the wonder of the intensity of his love. No word did they speak, only awaited their fate and drank in the sight of their Lord.

“Though I suffer not your curse, I will be with you,” Jesus spoke. “A time will come when I walk these roads again–you will be there, and I will remember.” 

 Turning, Mary Magdalene and Judas Iscariot, called traitor, fled into the darkness, overcome with hunger and pain, tethered in the cutting bonds of evil.  Alone once more, Jesus stood, weeping tears of glittering sadness to wet the sand at his feet. They blurred his sight. Time was so short. He could not follow them, could do nothing but accept their sacrifice. It should have been his alone.  He turned, walking forth to embrace the world.

***

Judas: 30

1 Running from the tomb, where Jesus stood, resurrected, Judas stole a length of rope from a nearby home. 
2 Coming upon a tall tree, he cast it upon a sturdy branch.
3 Putting to the end of the rope a noose, he climbed to a branch high above the ground, fixed the rope to his neck, and leapt, hanging himself.
4 Finding him thus, the people spoke against him, led by Simon, called Peter, saying, “He has taken his life from shame, for he betrayed his Lord.”
5 Mary Magdalene, running to where the disciples were gathered, said, “I have seen the Lord, and he is risen.”
6 And Jesus appeared other times to his disciples, speaking words of comfort and salvation, and was raised once more to his throne in Heaven.
7 We, who hunger, remain. 
8 The rope has failed to relieve me of my burden. 
9 In the bark of the tree where we left the rope, Mary inscribed the words, “Here hung one who loves beyond life.”
10 May God forgive us.”

* * *

This preview was provided by and posted with the express permission of David Niall Wilson

A TASTE OF BLOOD AND ROSES is available for the Kindle at Amazon.com, or in PDF and EPUB formats at DriveThruHorror.com.

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