Stealing Lazarus’s miracle gifted him immortality. Combined with his natural ability of invading and controlling people’s minds made him one of the most dangerous people on Earth. But the miracle came with a price. His punishment was to be imprisoned within the walls of an ancient monastery and tormented by an invisible fire that burned his body perpetually. To escape the pain he retreated deep into his own mind.
There he discovers the truth of the universe and that only he can stop the coming Apocalypse.
Tormented in grace
The miracle’s fire consumed me.
How long had I been imprisoned here?
I knew it was 2011 when the Friar and his team chained me to that monastery wall, but what year was it now?
For too long the chill stone had encased my body and spirit. At first the principal torment had been the miracle. I thought stealing it was a good idea at the time. The blessing had sustained Lazarus for over twenty centuries; the thought it might do the same for me had been a beguiling one. Lazarus had been hell bent on starting the apocalypse and destroying mankind so he could be returned to Heaven. Along the way he’d made the mistake of torturing me.
That memory haunted me still. The moment that I learned that there were people in this world with talents greater than mine.
Naturally I’d inflicted my revenge, stealing the curse others labelled a miracle in the process. Unfortunately the theft came with a cost. The price came in the form of the agony blazing through my wasted flesh. This blessing of eternal life didn’t appreciate being worn by another’s skin. The price started immediately weakening me while the Friar, Hammond and his soldiers imprisoned me in the walls of the monastery.
The feel of the sun upon my skin soon faded into a distant memory. Now the only connection I had to the outside world came in the form of muffled chants of the monks. Their hymns and constant prayers seeped through the walls like damp. Their sacred words combined with the mask fixed to my face and together prevented my spirit from leaving my body.
How I missed having the ability to soar. I yearned to once again roam high above the earth. The world laid out below me as if I flew like a bird. I could do that at will once. I hadn’t used that ability enough.
Even more I missed being able to invade the minds of those I encountered. With a thought I experienced their memories as if they were my own. I could also bend their will with my own like puppets on a string.
At first the miracle and confinement were the only torments I was forced to endure. Strange as it may seem I got used to the suffering. They almost became companions. As time passed new pain entered my world. These started as mundane complaints, hunger pangs in my belly, dryness and then constriction in my throat from thirst. These mundane torments provided some diversion for my bored mind.
For a time I used my gifts to suppress these pains. Eventually the desires of the body overcame my will and along with the miracle they danced through me. They complimented each other, kept my body wracked and my mind desolate.
Even for me depression and despair proved difficult to hold at bay. My state of mind became a serious concern. The pain simply wouldn’t end. My mind began to crumble under the relentless assault.
I needed something to distract me. Anything that I could focus my mind on, to separate myself from the twisted pains defining my reality. I sought a refuge and turned to the place that almost spelled my doom many years ago.
The abyss became my escape. On the shadowed cliffs above the veil below I found a new home. I didn’t escape the pain completely, but I could hide from it for a while. Sooner or later the pain always dragged me back to my tormented flesh. But for periods of time I freed myself. I delved so deep within myself I reached the very edge of life.
The abyss itself remained a mystery to me. I now realised it wasn’t the portal to Hell I’d once assumed. After defeating Lazarus I’d glimpsed Hell as his soul was dragged into the pit. When I stared down into the abyss it wasn’t the same. This was the veil between our lives and what comes next.
More than I had during my earlier life, I considered what that meant. What would come next? I couldn’t deny some afterlife existed beyond death. Not that I really had to worry about that particular fate. After all, the miracle protected me.
As well as my sanctuary, the abyss eventually turned out to be another of my tormentors. Beyond the veil I discerned vague forms moving in the shadows.
I’d first discovered the abyss in my younger days after taking acid. As it had back then the forms became agitated by my presence. Beyond those depths was the ultimate escape. An escape denied me by the miracle. It made me immortal. Or pretty damn close to it.
There was no escape in any direction for me.
Warnings from tainted lips
Friar Francis sipped the strong bitter coffee while he waited for his friend to arrive. He loved Rome, although too much time had passed since his last visit. The ancient city always felt like home and this was the perfect time of year to visit. The spring sun warmed the air as the tourist crowds walked by. Across the square the Friar saw his old friend climb from a taxi.
“Some things don’t change.”
“Unfortunately we do,” the Friar responded.
Friar Francis rose and they shook hands warmly. The waiter arrived before they sat and the Friar ordered two coffees. They both drank their coffees as black as the cassocks they wore.
“Do you remember when we first started drinking here?”
“Yes, learning of demons in classes and escaping here into the light to watch the world go by.”
Father Moran smiled. “The view is just as pleasant as it was back then.”
“It’s been too long Ian. Where have you been for the past two years?”
“The society has kept me busy in Africa. I’ve been with a team helping the local churches. Interesting work, but it involved more pastoral and care work than my usual line of work.”
“Cause for celebration surely?” the Friar commented.
“Of course. Most of the cases were simple self-delusion, or symptoms of mental illness. A few turned out to be deliberate cons, a way to get some free medical care.”
“Was it really that bad?”
“In some places. For some villages the church provides the only local medical care. And of course the continuing famine causes more hardship.” He sipped his coffee. “Having seen some of the hardships they have to suffer, I can’t really blame them.”
He accepted a cigarette from the Friar and they both lit up. A young passer-by scowled at them in disgust. They both smirked at the woman in reply.
“In the three years I spent in Africa, I saw only one genuine case.”
“And is that why you’re back in Rome?”
“Yes, but more pertinently here to see you.”
“Yes my old friend. The last case was genuine, but the demon said some things which made me think of you.”
That surprised the Friar. “What did the demon say?”
“It’s probably best to tell you the whole story.” He extinguished his cigarette and drained his coffee. “I was officiating at Sunday Mass in one of the small village churches. More of a hut really, but almost the entire village squeezed themselves in. You can’t believe how hot the air got in there.
“Anyway, midway through the mass the door suddenly opened and a young man stumbled in. I didn’t recognise him, nor did any of the congregation so I guessed he wasn’t a local. The village constable later confirmed my assumption.
“As he entered the church he started to scream and collapsed gibbering to the ground. At first I thought it was just a case of hysteria, maybe drug induced psychosis.”
“Are drugs a big problem away from the cities?”
“Not especially, but it does happen. I tried, but he wouldn’t be calmed. The nurse who helped minister to the sick at the church’s clinic couldn’t calm him either. It took some effort but we carried him from the church and he finally calmed.”
Friar Francis finished his own coffee and signalled the waiter for refills. They both lit another cigarette.
“Even though he seemed calmer, I heard him mumbling. Only by crouching close to him did I make any sense of it. I was surprised to hear the man reciting quotes from the Bible in Latin.”
Father Moran paused while the waiter delivered their drinks.
“As you know speaking in tongues is a sign of possession, but Latin is far from a dead language. It still might have been hysteria or even a deliberate fake. However, what did catch my attention was his perfect recitation. Normally demons only quote scripture in mockery.”
Friar Francis leaned forward. “Which passage?”
“Revelations chapter 6.”
“An interesting choice.” Friar Francis remarked.
“Yes, if a little obvious. Anyway, he passed out so we took him to the clinic and let him rest. He slept for almost the whole day before disturbing the villagers again this time with enraged shouts. In several different languages he demanded to see me. It sounded more like the bellowing of an animal. Then he called me by name. Again, not proof in itself, he may have learned my name from the locals. Still I felt convinced this was a genuine possession.”
“Instinct I guess. When you worked with evil for so long you become attuned to it.”
The Friar nodded his agreement.
“I entered the clinic; it was just a small room with a handful of metal beds. I found the nurse cowering in the corner and the young man squatting on the bed. He hadn’t touched her, just bellowed for me. She was terrified, but it seemed odd.”
“Demons normally enjoy some physical violence.”
“Indeed. But this one wanted my attention more than gratification.”
“So what did you do next?”
“I followed procedure. I checked for the four classic signs. He demonstrated each voluntarily. I’ve never seen such a thing before. He knew what I needed to know and provided the evidence.”
“First he pushed by me, not roughly I hasten to add. He walked outside and to the battered 4x4. He picked up the front end of the truck, not just a few inches from the ground, but clear up to his chest.”
“Exactly and in front of witnesses. Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera to hand. It would have been nice to document it properly. Next he told me of the time I first masturbated and who I fantasised about while doing it. I’ve never told anyone about that.”
“So who was it?” The Friar asked with a smile.
“I’ve never told anyone and I don’t intend starting now. Although it was more than a little embarrassing in front of half the village I can tell you. I should be grateful only a few spoke decent English.”
The Friar chuckled.
“At this stage I was willing to take the earlier mutterings as a sign of speaking in tongues. So only the aversion to holy symbols remained. The young man, I never found out his real name, turned his back to me. I pulled a key from my pocket and touched it to the back of his neck. He flinched, but no other reaction. I repeated the action with the key. Again he didn’t react. I then touched my crucifix to his neck and he howled as if I’d burned him.”
“He could have been faking it.”
“Possibly, but he did present the classic signs. However he then said a strange thing.”
“What did he say?”
“He said he had a message about the Deathless Man.”
“The Deathless Man?”
The Friar kept his face blank, but his old friend knew him too well.
“I know. It sounded familiar. I immediately thought of Lazarus. But I’d also learned about your success against that particular problem by then. I asked him if he meant Lazarus and he replied no, but the Black Friar would know. I think he meant you.”
The Friar stubbed out his cigarette and immediately lit another.
“Maybe he does. What was the message?”
“He said the Black Friar would have to guide the Deathless Man. He must follow the False Gospel.”
“The False Gospel? Is that a satanic text?”
His friend shook his head. “I don’t think so. My best guess is he meant the Gospel of Lazarus. There are fragments in the Vatican library. I remember hearing about it during my time as a curator in the library. I’ve not read the text, but I’ve heard mention of it. It’s been kept secret for years, available to Vatican scholars only. I would say it’s your best place to start.”
“Did the demon say anything else?”
“Not much. It said the Deathless Man is the only hope for humanity in the coming Apocalypse.”
“Could this be some sort of distraction?”
“So what happened then, did you exorcise him?”
“No, I didn’t need to. He left the body. Immediately it was obvious the young man had been dead for several days.”
“That must have been unpleasant.”
“It was.” Father Moran picked up a menu. “Shall we eat?”
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