Andrew awoke in a room in a comfortable chair, breathing comfortable air, feeling neither full nor hungry, tired nor anxious. He was completely at ease when God said, “Good morning. Or something like morning I suppose.”
“Where am I?” Andrew asked.
“You’re in holding,” God said.
“In holding?” Andrew replied. “Am I dead?”
“No you’re quite alive,” God said.
“Am I in purgatory?” Andrew asked.
“Purgatory is for dead people, Andrew. Right now you’re in holding. But do not fear. This is a favor I’m doing for you, on account of the justice I have promised you.”
Andrew focused his eyes, peering through the one-way mirror and saw the ultimate evil before him in a room quite unlike the agreeable quarters his own body resided within. “You know this man do you not?” God asked. Andrew nodded in shock. “Yes, he is the one who raped your wife and daughter. He tortured them and forced you to watch. He murdered them for his own insidious delight, intentionally allowing you to survive his beatings only to suffer further through emotional turmoil. He enjoyed every moment of the torment he inflicted on them and you and he has felt no remorse since then nor does he now. Justice was not given to you then and, therefore, I will provide it now.”
Andrew’s body remained immovable in gleeful awe. He sensed that this impossible progression of events, while certainly not truly present in the finite plane, was indeed occurring on some avenue of the real. The subjective experience of seeing the monster – no, the fiend – in chains on the other side of the partition was sensually felt. And for the fiend, the tinge of shame and kindling of pain was simmering beneath his skin. This tangibility could not be simulated for either party and Andrew appreciated reality. Let it be, he thought, and so it began.
An angel entered into the chained man’s cell and unsheathed a sword red from the spiritual fire of wrath. With a snap of her fingers the angel commanded a whirlwind to shred every fragment of tattered clothes from the strung fiend’s body. At once she penetrated his gut with the tip of the blade and pushed inward. The fiend screamed and moaned, gulping down the scent of his own burning flesh. His skin retracted inward at the entry point as if attempting to keep the angel’s flaming brand from inserting further, futile though it was. She pulled out and then thrusted forward again even lower into his gut; this time the intensity forcing the fiend to violently lurch forward and steal his own breath.
Andrew sat and watched, shaking in ecstasy. A steady stream of joyful tears began to cascade down his cheeks. “Does this please you?” God asked.
Andrew refused to divert his gaze from the fiend’s agony. “It’s hardly enough,” he replied.
“Very well,” God said, “Then we shall continue until it is.”
“It never will be,” he snapped back. “Besides. Isn’t this all really your fault anyway?”
“It may surprise you Andrew. Many assume I am blamed for these sorts of things all the time. But in reality, I am blamed far less than what you would think, or perhaps what I deserve.” God then turned on a nearby television, which presented the face of the fiend in a static haze.
From this technological vantage the fiend hurled horrible obscenities at Andrew, which coincided with the moments of relief in between the lashings that the angel had begun delivering with her heavily barbed whip. The screen appeared to Andrew to be channeling an obscured representation of the fiend’s inner thoughts in real time.
God left the room, leaving Andrew to relish every moment of hearing his enemy’s mental furry while simultaneously witnessing his bodily demise. As the hours transpired the angel only seemed to heighten in her brutality against the broken criminal and Andrew never tired nor succumbed to appetent thirst. The fiend’s destabilized image on the television had yet to turn pitiful. He remained aggressively outspoken about the revenge he would stake against Andrew, but not as if there had been no reason for this torture in the first place. Rather, he seemed to imply that in spite of what he had done to Andrew, this cuck of a man wasn’t worthy to receive his own revenge against the fiend. Of course, this only fueled Andrew’s delight in the ever-growing torment that he practically had his own control over. As if by psychic transmission, if Andrew imagined a new creativity of horror to be exacted, the angel would soon thereafter partake in inflicting an alternate punishment strikingly similar to his most recent fantasies.
Hours turned into days. Days turned into weeks. The tortures evolved and shifted into ever more brutal recompense. All the while the fiend developed a cacophony of vulgar threats from the distorted screen. This further solidified to Andrew through time that the abyss of evil in the fiend’s heart knew no bounds. Weeks turned to months. Months became years. Andrew never once grew tired of the fantasy that was no longer fiction, but rather a most rewarding bloody reality of what he called: almost-justice. Decade after decade the infliction never ceased. 100 years had passed when one day the angel inexplicably held back her tools of torture and looked to the mirror for a mysterious cue. Andrew heard behind him God finally return to his room.
“There’s been a change of plans,” God said. “The devil came to me last night and asked if he could play with your enemy. He has assured me that the tortures you have seen will be second rate sophistry compared to the treasures he has in store. With your permission, he would like to subsume this practice for the next 100 years. There’s only one caveat. I cannot allow you to witness it as no mortal could stomach such horror and remain mentally himself. Your very identity of who you are would be destroyed. In place, I will put you into a deep sleep and you will awaken 100 years from now, but from your perception it will only appear as if a single moment has passed. Afterward, my angel will continue for another 100 years. I can assure you the final procession will be the most satisfying. We can then convene again to determine if justice has been administered. What is your say?”
“Will he no longer be himself after the devil has had his fun?”
God replied, “Does it matter?”
Andrew sighed frustratingly. On the one hand he had no mind in giving up the seductively pleasurable spectacle before him. But on the other he relented a sense of trust in the devil to outperform this insufficient display. Andrew had faith that Lucifer would do what needed to be done despite him not being able to see the descending morning star do the work for himself. “I suppose I could take a short break,” Andrew said.
God nodded. Then the angel turned to her own reflection in the one-way mirror and as if knowing exactly where Andrew’s eyes were, secured them in her gaze and further approached the glass. In a hauntingly celestial voice she finally spoke, “This man has a name. His name is Judas.”
God snorted with a chuckle as if — for some reason — this revelation was a surprise to him. Andrew also noticed him rolling his eyes. The angel repeated again, “This man has a name. His name is Judas.”
God muttered under his breath, “Of course. How trite. Self-serving and predictable.”
She repeated one more time, “This man has a name. His name is Judas.”
Without warning Andrew felt a wave of exhaustion wash over him. His eyelids became impossibly heavy and almost perversely closed against his will. When he awoke God was not there.
Beyond the divide he saw the gnarled and disfigured Judas lying on the ground, no longer arrested by chains and cuffs. However, strangely, his face on the television screen was unnervingly different. It was clearer. Crisp and clean. The white snow was no longer chaotic in the background but uniformly comprised his face. His expression was sorrowful, yet at peace.
The angel entered his room again. Here Andrew felt his first sense of disappointment as events gradually transformed from the ugly-but-necessary real to the disingenious hyperreal. She grabbed a watering can and sprinkled the soil behind Judas with a sparkling mist. Instantly a fully grown tree erupted from the ground. But the tree never ceased in its rapid transformation. It continued into old age as the branches warped and twisted. They contorted with a mind of their own until the gnarled and blackened bark cemented itself into the form of a congruous Roman cross.
“You must be joking,” Andrew whispered to himself. “How pastiche. Self-serving.” Then he said aloud, “This doesn’t change anything!”
The angel lifted a limp Judas from the ground and began nailing him to the cross. His breathing was shallow and coarse. His head hung low in shame. Not an inch of his skin wasn’t covered by some hideous scar from the 200 years of beatings, fire, piercings, and so much more unfathomable tortures. “It will never be enough!” Andrew screamed in outrage.
The angel began lashing him upon the cross with the same barbed whip but now the barbs red like embers. With each catch of flesh Judas cried out in agony. On the screen in Andrew’s room Judas’s white face did something he never imagined possible.
“I’m sorry,” he cried out. “I’m so sorry Andrew for what I did to you.”
“Pathetic,” Andrew replied. “Pathetic lies.”
Another strike and another spray of crimson erupted from his ripped-open ribs. “Forgive me,” the television said. “Forgive me for what I did to Alice and Sarah.”
“No!” Andrew screamed with blood in his throat. “Don’t you ever say their names. You have no right! I remember. I remember every detail. I will never forget what you did to them. I saw the pleasure in your eyes. This isn’t for me you devil. This is for them! An eternity of their wrath against you wouldn’t be enough for the sickening things you did to them.” Andrew began sobbing uncontrollably. The internal rage and the anguish within him battled each other for supremacy over his tears. “She was 10 years old. 10 years old you son of a bitch.”
He then screamed at the angel at the top of his lungs. “Kill him! End it now and take him down!”
The angel did not comply. Instead, she spoke. But she did not speak to Andrew. She spoke to Judas. This time, however, her voice took on an ethereal undefinable quality. Her words were strange. Every syllable was uttered in a mystifying celestial language that moved through the airwaves like a dream. Oddly, Andrew noticed that Judas appeared to understand her. When she had finished, he shouted with pride, “Me! Me! Me!”
Then the lashing resumed. As soon as the next strike landed the television set cut off and Judas’s snowy face faded into the muted, reflective black. Judas sobbed on the cross while Andrew pulled himself together in stoic resolution. He continued to watch in silence.
Perhaps an hour went by when the angel randomly stopped her beatings. Then she spoke again in the same, impossible celestial language. And once again, as if answering a question Judas cried back, “Me. Me. Me.”
The hours turned to days. The days turned to weeks. The cycle never interrupted. Thousands upon thousands of times the angel spoke and Judas replied the same every time. Months turned to years. Years turned to decades. Andrew never cried again. He didn’t speak. He didn’t dare show another emotion. He grew hardened and numb. The screams of pain and the buckets of blood became so repetitive they lost their punch. They were nothing. Judas was nothing. Andrew sunk into his chair as if he were nothing.
When God finally returned Andrew wasted no hesitation. “You lied,” he said. “These past 100 years have been anything but satisfying.”
“I’m sorry,” God said. “Perhaps I have forgotten. It has been so long. Was this about justice? Do you feel it has not been reached yet?”
“My wife and daughter are dead! They were stolen from me. He stole them from themselves. He took what never can be replaced. They’re dead! So tell me where is the justice?”
“You’re right,” God replied. “I have lied indeed.” Andrew turned and looked God directly in the face for the first time in 300 years.
“You look … different than before.”
“No I don’t,” God said. “You just never noticed. But I did lie, like a cunning serpent. Of course, deception is the name of my game. The devil did not torment Judas for the second 100 years. I was never allowed such a pleasure.”
“I don’t understand,” Andrew replied.
In very undramatic fashion the man before him removed his mask and a very different looking man remained. Andrew knew immediately that he had been fooled. This was not God. This was the Devil, whom he had placed so much faith in before. “It was you,” he said. “You did this to torment me all this time.”
“Torment?” the Devil replied. “Have you not taken in solace in the events of the last 300 years? Why I certainly witnessed for myself a wicked smile against your face through most of it. I believe I deserve some acknowledgment for the gift I have given you.” Andrew only glared at him hatefully. “I made a bargain with God on your behalf. You should ever be so grateful. God agreed but only on certain conditions.
“The first 100 years he allowed me to do as I please. The second trimester belonged to him. I wasn’t allowed to witness it for myself but Judas was given some reprieve in the presence of God. Although I use that word — reprieve — lightly as alone in His glow is hardly a reprieve at all. His fire burns far hotter than mine I must confess.
“In fact, another confession, I made a gamble. Yes I did. I assumed that Judas would never have a change of heart. I truly figured he would remain as I am for far longer than 100 years, even in the presence of that most holy of brainwashers. But that is what makes the final condition of my negotiations so interesting … at least for me.
“For the final 100 years God allowed me to give Judas a choice. A most delicious choice for my own amusement. You see either way I could not lose. I delivered to him the most fiercest of pain and shame and all the while, at every nearest opportunity, I gave him an out, should he wish to take it. My angel told him repeatedly, over and over and over, that we could cease this endless suffering. We could stop the agony in an instant and in its place he would receive pleasures he had only ever dreamed of as a child at the hands of his wildly abusive father. I would give him revenge against the man who once forced himself on his son every day for the entirety of his unloving childhood. I would allow him sexual vengeance against his uncaring mother who devoted more time to alcohol and television than her own discarded child. Or whatever other fantasy against any number of villains or innocents of his choosing; although for Judas once upon a time there was no such thing as innocents. Or, he could opt simply to be, in neither pain or excessive pleasure.
“However, regardless of however he would choose to relieve himself one thing always remained abundantly clear. It would always be a trade. It was either him, or your loving wife and daughter beyond the grave. I am a clever negotiator, Andrew. This was essential to my arbitration with God. If Judas should ever agree to stop his torment, I would be given permission to extract Alice and Sarah from beyond the gates of heaven and bring them here into a holding equally horrific to that of Judas’s cell. For every lash he denied himself they would receive in complementary measure. Meanwhile you would remain here wondering why your amusement with your enemy’s so-called punishment had stopped, ignorant to your own family’s second demise in the next room over.
“Of course this scenario is what I had predicted. But whatever God did during those second 100 years, it apparently altered things according to His own design. Alas, it would not be the first time I fell prey to God’s deception. Judas willingly received your tortures so that they could remain at peace.”
“The he is not himself” Andrew insisted. “God transformed him into someone who is not the same man that ruined my life.”
“I suppose God would reply that, if anything, he has become truer to himself than what he had ever been before. Distasteful poppycock if you ask me. It doesn’t matter and I don’t care.
“Nevertheless, pain is pain and I enjoyed watching from afar. As I said, I could not lose, and while, yes, a lesser victory, a victory is still a victory. I get fewer of those these days ever since a certain event some time ago.”
“So you still took pleasure in watching Judas’s suffering, knowing that he was selflessly assuming it on their behalf?” Andrew asked.
“Oh heavens no,” the Devil replied. “It wasn’t his pain I was relishing my dear Andrew. Certainly you know. It was yours, of course.”
At this the Devil vanished and two doors opened. One was the exit from Andrew’s room to the outside world, where time continued at its usual pace. The other was a new door he had not noticed before. It led to Judas’s chamber. Judas remained on the cross, his head bowed, a mess of hardened blood and hair completely concealing his face.
Then for the first time in 300 years Andrew stood from his chair. He looked at one door and then the other. And then he stepped forward.