And when He returned He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; neither knew they what to answer Him” (Mark 14:32-42)
Father Beppe Antilugo, blessed of the Holy Church of All Nations and Vessel of the Lord Jesus Christ in the holy birthplace of Jerusalem, began his day like any other. At 5am he rose for private prayer until 8. Then communion mass with his brothers in prayer until 10. Following a light breakfast, he would lead Fathers Robert and Vuente out of the church and across the road to the Garden of Gethsemane. To most of the world, it had become known for the final discourse between Jesus and the heavenly father, the bodily ascension of the Virgin Mary, or the ultimate betrayal of Christ by the hand of Judas.
To the three holy tenders of Gethsemane, it held the world’s best kept secret.
Father Antilugo didn’t talk much. There held no vow of silence, but he held a limited understanding of the outside world. Catholism was the only thing they had in common, and they were all versed in scripture. Occasionally debate would occur, but most often the conversation was stilted. He had long forgotten the possibility that his own life stories would be of interest to others, which is most likely why it never came up in conversation that he had been tending the garden for three hundred and eleven years.
From time to time he would remember what begat him to the path of righteousness and this most unusual of circumstances…
The world had never felt so alive. The path had been long and arduous to the holy land, but standing outside the wall of the garden had become the end of the pilgrimage. He closed his eyes, inhaling the warm air floating down from the Judean mountains. A gentle hand rested upon his shoulder. The gardener offered a meal of warm broth, which had been gratefully accepted. And then they talked.
“God has sent you?” asked the Gardener.
Beppe answered truthfully. “I feel in my heart he has. But I believed I would spread His word. How can this be so in a garden? Am I to tend for the lord?”
The Gardener gestured toward a small tree wrapped in vine. Amongst the bushes and laurels it seemed to Beppe the most vibrant tree in the garden, its apples a beautiful red.
The Gardener walked toward the tree, stopping near to gaze upon its countenance. “Were it not for the nature of humanity, it would be joyous to spread the word and love of the Lord without question. But sometimes...we must protect the flock. What know you of the last days of man?”
The young priest remembered his training. “The universal judgment shall be upon us, and all shall be judged accordingly.”
“That is correct. What you have learned is right and true according to the will of God. But there is a tale that escaped the word of mouth and printed word.” He pointed to the beautiful tree, his long and bony finger stretching out inexorably.
“The apples on this tree have never fallen to the ground since the resurrection of Christ. The almighty, before his ascension, left a gardener to catch each apple that fell. Each fruit bore from the tree is a aspect of clareza: clarity. A form of oneness that the soul has never seen.”
Beppe looked at the tree, then at the Gardener. “I do not understand. Clarity?”
“I cannot help you understand any more than I can myself: I and my predecessors have never let an apple fall. Judgment will befall us if one apple falls to the ground. Perhaps it is a tree from the Garden of Eden. Or the Lord wills the tree to be this way. Either way, it is your time to become the Gardener.”
The Gardener walked away from the tree. The apprentice followed hurriedly.
“Gardener, how do I watch the tree constantly? What do I do with the apples?”
“You will have helpers, Child.” He stopped and faced Beppe with a smile. “God may be powerful, but he is not unreasonable. The apples…well, you eat them.”
“Eat them? Is this God’s will?”
“I should not know, he has not told me. But as I discovered many years ago, the pungent smell of apples is not pleasant. They may not leave the Garden. You may pulp them if you wish, or sweeten the lamb when tender.” He stopped once again, his eyes burning into Beppe’s own.
“These apples give you the second secret of the Lord: Immortality. You will age but not die, but for the very day that a new disciple comes to you and declares his replacement. The lord will sense your desire to be judged and reward you.”
Beppe had one final question. “And what of you, Gardener?”
The Gardener smiled wistfully.
“I am no longer the Gardener. I will leave here now and venture to the holy sepulchre. I shall reach Golgotha, perhaps the lord will commend me there. I am centuries old, and He has faith in me to be what I was before his task, at least for a short while. Remember what you must do.”
And Beppe did remember. The emergence of the Americas, the Industrial Revolution, and the men on the moon all escaped his attention whilst the Garden took it all. On occasion, he would fondly remember his flirtation with the world. A tourist had left a black box with the word “walkman” printed upon it, close to the bedrock of Christ. After some experimentation, Beppe had found that voices would from the head garter whenever he pressed in a button. He sat for three minutes listening to a woman sing the most beautiful song he had ever heard. Taking the device to lost property, he thanked God for the loan of a brief but precious gift: the truth of beauty within the world.
Roughly three miles away, a man had spent his life believing in a fundamental cause. It was contrary to what other people believed, and relations with these other people had broken down to such an extent that violence seemed to be the only answer. Had subsequent events not occurred, he may have turned out to be Isreali. Or Palestinian. Or something else entirely. Once the trigger was pulled, it ceased to matter. The fighting was some distance away, and the rocket would travel far into the distance, destroying people or property or hope. It was the right thing to do. The man could never have predicted the spasm of pain entering his arm at the crucial moment. He resolved in a tenth of a second not to pull the trigger in case his aim was off and hit too close to home.
He pulled the trigger.
On that very same day, the Eighth of December 2010, the day began like any other. Father Beppe surveyed the tree as he began his watch. The wind picked up quite strongly as a large, piercing shrill filled the air. He had heard this sound before, but never quite so close. The noise grew closer, causing the priest to turn toward the source. Beppe barely had time to react as the south wall of the Gethsemane garden flew apart in a fury of brick and mud. Flung backwards by the blast, the rubble bounced off his immortal frame and settled to the ground.
His first concern was for the tree. He looked up and saw it had no physical damage, which came as a relief. The relief faded when Beppe realized the tree was still shaking from the blast. Branches veered in in all directions, the shock sending a discourse of gravity throughout the trunk. He could only hope…
One of the apples swung from left to right, then left, before tearing itself away from the tree. Gravity finally won, and the apple fell..
The Priest, who would now become the last of his line, barely had time to register the first before the second fell. And the third.
Beppe staggered to his feet, as the two associate fathers came rushing out to see the commotion.
“O senhor protege-nos!” cried Father Vuente, falling to his knees.
As the three priests surveyed the damage, they counted dozens of apples on the ground, with the tree now bare and alone. It was the most frightening thing they had ever seen...
On the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, the time had just hit 4:07AM. Most were sleeping, some were awake through work or restlessness. The first thought that crossed the mind of millions of Americans as they rudely awoke was that of a Nuclear bomb: The bright light invaded their sleeping eyelids with savage thrust. The second thought was that of the purest love, hearing music that sent their hearts soaring. In a moment, the sun had turned as black as sackcloth. Those working or living upon the sea would, if they cared to, notice the dark waters bubbling as if under a small flame.
And Everyone heard one voice.
It was indeed okay for some. Maisie Dawkins was sat in the same cemetery she’d visited for the last thirteen years. She missed Charlie and took comfort at being with him again one day. She’d always believed. At 11:07 PM that day, Maisie tended the flowers on her husband’s grave before leaving. An almighty breeze whistled through the stones, almost blowing her hat away. As it died down, she poured a little water onto the tulips and turned to leave.
“Hello?” said a faint, distant voice. She looked around but there seemed no-one in sight.
“Is anyone there? I could do with some help.”
It was then she heard knocking. Tap. Tap. Tap. Coming from beneath her feet.
“Ch-Charlie?” She fell to the ground, her ear listening to the dirt.
“Maisie? Is that you? That was bloody lucky!”
As Maisie collapsed and died from a heart attack in that instant, the last thing she heard on Earth was a collection of other voices, and the drumming of coffin lids all desperate for freedom.
Across the world, the knocking resonated. Mahogany, Teal and Oak rattled with life as huge crowds began to appear on crematorium gardens; the wind swirling as ashes swathed, returning people once more from the dust to which they had came.
When Maisie returned three hours later from her judgment (as a beautiful twenty-five year old), Charlie had almost been dug out by a combination of reconstituted Cremations and those simply passing by..
Over the next few weeks, the situation had complicated. Everyone began disappearing from the earth, each in turn, for exactly three hours. It soon became apparent not everyone came back. In their place were selections of the dead, assortments of beyond who did their best to explain the situation: God, in his infinite wisdom, had judged all. Those who had done enough in life would stay in Heaven. Those who never could went to Hell. And the middle ground – those who had yet to achieve their potential – were to enter Purgatory until the time came to be judged, and that purgatory was Earth. Big issues raged: Monarchist countries argued within themselves as to the definitive ruler now a large number of Kings and Queens had the right to rule. War had become irrelevant without a difference of opinion. The police and health services lay desolate as everyone judged had been granted immortality. And the entire world sang on a Winters Eve to “All You Need Is Love”, as the four Beatles reunited on stage in the name of peace and harmony. Throughout this period, there was only one word, carried through the wind and on-message through the world press. Purgatory. No-one could be sure of anything anymore. Riots broke out often yet achieved nothing. Vital foods became inedible as no one had to eat, more pleasurable vices such as chocolate and cigarettes began to soar in demand. Animals were no longer sacrificed, the sanctity of life became more important. Some people still went to work just so they had something else to think about. Money went further without the need to satiate the human condition. The only thing that mattered was pleasure.
To the Governments of the world, concerns about overcrowding became stronger now thousands of people were returning every day. But God made the deserts habitable, the Australian Outback turned into fertile land, and new islands began to appear in the oceans.
And all the time, all through this unknown period...people talked to God, thanked him for His love. If it was God? No-one dare ask. But they thought it, and he would listen. And each time the answer would be the same.
The answer would never satiate you.
He was right, of course. How could anyone really know? A being with the power to create could just as easily destroy. Ultimately it was just better to enjoy it whether it lasted or not. To love was better than to hate.
In time, the world would watch as the Order of Proxy would try to lay claim to the world. The lost splinter of the Cross, the Brotherhood of Minge and the Priapic salvation would, in time, be on everyone’s lips. But those are other stories...
Exactly eleven days, fourteen hours and one minute after the event, Jerome Robson felt the vibrations beneath his feet, the control of his life far beyond reach. His eyes were closed, the flashing red-neon light of the airplane’s wing penetrating through to his pupils. Half-peeking in a daze, he could see the swarthy mists of cloud with subtle hints of blackness. Jerusalem was fast becoming a blur.
It had been his second trip to the Holy Land. He wasn’t religious; his job as macro-economics advisor had sent him to entice precious clients.
His return would herald, as his boss had insisted, with “A fistful of Dollars”. Over the years, he had sold his soul for those dollars, cutting down everything in his path...except for the last year. Like most people, he knew he had to earn his way into Heaven, which was fine with him. The road to Damascus had become littered with confusion, myriads of choices and decisions...
Yet his last day abroad had been the strangest of his life.
His intention had been to relax on the final day. The deal was done and the fun had been had, but he’d felt something lacking. Growing tired of the tourist package, Jerry had decided to explore Jerusalem. There was no joy in the poorer areas: ragged children and desolate homes. After a while, he’d found a bar by the name of Yarafat. He wasn’t sure if it was a homage or an insult, but a drink was a drink. Upon entering, the tiny tavern didn’t look it had been cleaned for a long time, and every time the kitchen door opened the stench of raw meat would overpower Jerry’s nostrils.
But the bartender had Whiskey, which was good enough for him.
“Whis-key? Whis-key?” Said Jerome to the keeper in fractured, shouty English.
“You no need shout, English. I hear you. I speak good your language. Welcome to Kallach’s. I Kallach. I own bar.”
Jerry tried to be interested. “Um...good. Whiskey please.”
“I learn from your TV. News is better than ours.”
He slammed the whiskey shot onto the bar.
“And your shows. I like little lady that owns bar, tells people to get out a lot.”Get out of my pub!” Haha! Is funny.”
Jerry slipped his whiskey. “I thought you all liked Norman Wisdom out here.”
Kallach frowned.“That Albania. You Racist. HA HA HA! I like you, English. I never thought I do till judgement of God. He sends me back here...I figured it cuz I don’t like too many people.”
“I wouldn’t know”, replied the patron, “I haven’t had mine yet. Maybe I won’t.”
“You will, Jerry. You just give good time.”
The tourist stopped in mid-drink, staring at the bartender.
“How did you know my name?”
Cleaning a glass with a dirty cloth, the tavern owner replied without looking up. “My business to know. You want to see something special?”
“I think you like it. Is good.”
“I guess God told you I was coming.” Replied Jerry, with not a hint of irony.
“I know things.” Said Kallach. “ I see things in my head and I have talk with God like most people. I see you, I see you coming. You want to see it or not?”
Jerry looked wary. “Why is it always bartenders that seem this weird, mystic God-connection?”
“HA HA! You think I god? And I thought you English just obsessed with sex. ‘Pardon me, vicar, I lose trousers.’ I read your Wodehouse a little. Is shit, but then you think that about Europop, right? Is give and take.”
The bartender reached under the bar and pulled out a box of perfectly rounded apples, greener than green. Jerry examined the box, a distasteful frown across his face.
“It’s...apples. I’m not a big fan. Nor am I surprised.”
Kallach looked at the apples, then frowned at Jerry.
“You think I just going to sell you apples? You buy apples anywhere. These ones are special.” He lowered his voice. “They...rescued...from Garden of Gethsemane church.”
“And? AND? Rumour has been round long, long time. If you eat one...it gives you power.” Tapping at his temples, Kallach stared at Jerry wide-eyed. The visitor picked up an apple, staring at it.
“Power? Like, magical powers?”
He dropped the apple back into the box.
Kallach swiped the apple up angrily. “Idiot! You want to be Superman? No, power in MIND. It apple of Clareza. Clareza mean ‘clarity’ in Spanish or Brazil or something like that. You eat it, and it supposed to tell you what to do. Secret to Heaven.”
Jerry drank down his last swallow. “I’m not even sure I want to go yet.”
His companion smiled. “Why you think I talk about the place?”
Kallach picked up an apple.
“This one is for me. God say I have one, you eat one and the other six tell their own story.”
His finger rested on one of the apples...which disappeared. The second vanished, then the third.
Jerry flung himself off the barstool. “What?”
Kallach was non-plussed. “I send them across world. I know, is weird mystical shit and I dunno how I do it, I just know I can. Is what God says, what you going to do? If God asks, you don’t say no, right? He bring all kind of shit in your face if you piss him off, right?” He looked up at the ceiling. “I FUCKING LOVE YOU, GOD! PLEASE DON’T BURN ME!”
Jerry didn’t know what to do or say. Sitting back on the barstool, the only logical thought occurred to him.
“Another whiskey, please.”
After a few whiskies, Jerry had remained skeptical. It had, however, been a crazy few months, which had taught him nothing was certain anymore. Not even the taste of an apple.
Kallach stood near, holding one of the fruits in his hand. “I ready to eat my apple now. You need to eat yours when you ready. But I need to eat mine so I show to you that when you eat it, it present a choice. You step into choice and take it.”
Jerry studied the Bartender carefully, considering this a possible contender for one of the strangest days in his life.
“I’m not convinced this isn’t all bollocks.” He suggested.
“SHUSHH! You upset God? You got nothing to lose. If I talk crap, God judge me and I go to Hell.” He pointed to the outside. “You know what it like out there. No crime, people too afraid. There just peace and love and John Lennon now. You are tough crowd, magic apples don’t even impress you. No wonder you been picked to eat one.”
Kallach held the shiny apple in his hand and took a bite.
He took a second bite. And a third.
Jerry looked around, waiting for a sign.
A fourth bite.
The jukebox hummed into life.
“This is good apple.”
A voice struck out from the jukebox, strong and vibrant.
“Seriously?” cried Jerry.
“I fucking love this song! Is good proof, yes?”
“I don’t think 80’s singers can be counted as proof”
The jukebox fell silent as the door slammed open.
Both turned around.
In the doorway stood a tired but determined face, red hair pinned neatly, but with loose strands hanging down. Laying down her suitcase, Vanessa-Jane Absinthe smiled as sweetly as the summer sun.
“Am I in the right place?”
Jerry had enjoyed his brief adventure with Kallach and Vanessa, but couldn’t stay long enough to find out what happened next. Perhaps he’d go back one day if he had the time. But he never did. There was never enough time.
The seat lights flickered.
He slowly turned the apple between his fingers. Ultimately it was just an apple, he could see that for himself. Yet as it turned, the dim lights above his head would refract softly against the outer core, tiny prisms of light floating gently away. Like…well, like fairy dust.
The lights flickered again, the plane lurching violently to the left before settling itself. Mild cries of surprised echoed lightly around the plane.
Jerry had not been judged. He didn’t know why, perhaps God didn’t consider him important enough. He knew he would be, because everyone would. Because of this immortality had not been offered to him; being around other people had caused problems. Some of his friends were jokers who had discoved the joys of pushing people off buildings, or playing “human kebab” with large spears. Telling anyone was an impossibility too, out of fear he’d become a target for unscrupulous blackmailers or those with an urge to kill.
A bang; the sound of bending metal filled the plane. It plane jolted again, but this time didn’t right itself, and began to judder. Oxygen masks dropped as the craft nose began to dip.
Jerry broke out of his thought, looking around in surprise. Out of the window he could see another plane nearby on a tail-spin, its frame punctured and filled with fire. His eyes drew to the wing of his own plane, half severed and engulfed within a raging inferno. People were beginning to scream as the flight began to pick up speed, downwards towards the inky-black sea, diving through the air with a hideous screech.
As the lights failed, he heard voices through the smoke and darkness.
“I don’t want to die again!” said a woman.
“This is God’s work! Someone on this plane is being judged!” spoke another.
Jerry didn’t scream. Instead he pondered upon the beckoning of death, and how the final moments of a life can order the brain to contemplate the strange and unusual. He considered the apple within his hand, and wondered whether Kallach was right. Eating the apple might just save the plane. At the very least he would die at least one of his five a day.
Jerry? spoketh a voice within his mind.
Yes. The last few months have unusual for you, have they not?
“I’d say I’ve been given a lot to think about, that’s true.”
Usually, I hear and see everything. I’ll admit though, this time I really wanted to see how things turned out and I turned the other cheek. It’s all been quite the mess, Jerry. I’d have never considered it from you.
“Probably a design flaw.” Jerry laughed.
Oh, I always have a plan. I’m interested to see what you do next.
“The plane is going down. I don’t see much of an interesting story to proceed.”
He gripped the hand-rest as velocity increased. The plane gave an anguished cry as it fell through the sky, lamenting its fate through screaming and smoke and blackness.
No. It was always down to you.
Being quite tired of all the things he’d had to endure over the past few months, Jerry ate the apple.