Book III: Chapter 28
When none of us responded, Dr. Ma’bus tried again, “I realize it’s a lot to take in – the whole switching sides thing, but hear me out, for amazing as it may sound, you three still have a chance to save yourselves. Now please, for your sakes, don’t choose poorly again.”
Perplexed looks covered our faces, yet this time Ma’bus did not explain further. Instead, it was now Benedict who stood up to speak.
The pope appeared to be using a great effort to control himself, as if tasting a long-awaited victory. “What The Beast is trying to say is that you can either accept the failure of your present fate, curse God, and join the rest of the Lost Souls who will be sent to eternal torture in The Fiery Pits… or you can join me and side with the winning team – all you must do is…” And here Benedict took a moment to make deep eye contact with all three of us in turn before advising…
“Worship… The One True God… upon the Day of Deliverance. Do that and you WILL be Saved.”
For the briefest of moments I got the sense that The Pope had just played a daring gambit on us all, yet before I could consider further he continued, “Oh, perhaps not the kind of saving that you’ve always envisioned, but it will be the opportunity for a new life nonetheless. Yes, my friends, choose to side with my team and you three will have a place in the next life!”
I noticed that even Ma’bus was impressed with the passion in Benedict’s voice and he sat back for a moment to apprise his second in command. “My god, man, you inspire even me. How did I get so lucky to have you?”
“Preposterous!” I shouted, breaking the mood. “Even if we did believe you, Joe, we know you don’t care about us, and we’d be the ultimate fools if we trusted you now after all you did to interfere with our plans.”
It was Ma’bus who replied, “Trust is overrated. You should know that best of all, John.” And with his eyes boring a hole into me, he added, “Did your trust in Jesus ever bring you anything but sorrow?”
Although I tried to call upon my newfound courage, truth be told, Ma’bus’ low blow battered my fortitude. I was forced to lower my eyes and bow my head. I knew that I should have offered up a prayer in this time of need, but I was just too ashamed to do so – after all, none of this would be happening if not for MY blunders.
With that damn half-cocked grin, Ma’bus then turned his attention back to Alan. “Regret. It’s written all over your face, Lazarus. Regret that you didn’t tell the truth long ago. You wonder how much different your life could have been.” Then leaning in close he said in conspiratorial tones, “You wonder if you had told the truth to the one person who mattered most, would SHE have loved you, neh? Had you—“
“Enough!” Miriam rose from her seat again. “Stop berating him. You have no—“ But her words were cut short when two of the dictator’s ever-present guards forcibly silenced her, ramming her back into her seat. Meanwhile another group ran up behind Alan and I to ensure we didn’t interfere.
“Don’t worry, dear, I’ll get to you in good time.” Ma’bus laughed, before turning back to Alan, “The answer to the question you have always wanted to know is… YES! Mary of Magdala would have loved you, and you would have enjoyed a happy, NORMAL life with her, raising a family of your own together… had it not been for the interference of your so-called friend Jesus.”
This time it was everything the guards could do to contain Miriam as she struggled mightily to get free, while Alan’s visage bespoke his horror and, of course, his terrible regret.
And still The Beast toyed with us. “Trust. It’s a funny thing — sometimes we don’t understand why we give away our trust so easily… or why others never seem to give theirs to us. So you trusted The Nazarene. Yet, Miriam never really trusted you because of the secret you kept from her. And yet, the ironic thing is that what you were guarding was never a secret at all, because Jesus had already told Miriam all about it – therefore, don’t you see, Jesus betrayed YOUR trust, Alan. And all the while you have tried to protect him, but for what? For what? Oh man, this is too rich. You can’t make this stuff up, you know?”
Biting on one of her captive’s hands, Miriam managed to break free enough to call out, “Don’t listen to him, Alan. You know the tru-“ But her words were cut off as the guard regained control of her.
Whether Alan ever heard Miriam was a moot point, since it was evident to all that he believed Ma’bus’ every word – after all, The Beast was only telling of secrets locked deep inside Alan’s own mind.
Ma’bus thus succeeded in cracking Alan’s faith – just like he’d done to mine.
In fact, the guards barely had to put forth any effort to hold him, for he was awash with tears as his body slumped into his chair.
There was only one nut left to crack and I watched helplessly as The Beast turned his attention to Miriam. “And now to my little harlot. Please don’t try to pretend to be the innocent virgin to me.”
Anger and embarrassment flushed Miriam as she continued her struggle to break free and two more men had to come over to help contain her.
“I know the game you’ve been playing in front of Lazarus,” Ma’bus goaded her. “You told him you were saving yourself for Him, right? Yet we both know the truth, Sister– you’ve seen more action than a group of navy men who’ve been at sea for a year!”
Pointing at Miriam as if she wore a scarlet letter, The Beast admonished, “Why the things you’ve done, Miriam, would have made Caligula blush! Oh, sure, you pretend to be the good girl, but all along, you’ve never told your friends about your true nature – about how you have defiled yourself in every conceivable way – all because you’ve blamed yourself for Jesus’ failure to return to you – because you believe in your heart that he could never love you and that’s why he is staying away! And so, you’ve rejected Alan… making him think that you’re saving yourself for a higher purpose, when in reality, it’s YOU who are the most despicable of all!”
Even before Ma’bus finished, Miriam had already stopped struggling.
And when the evil one had made the crack about the lecherous roman emperor, I saw Miriam catch Alan’s eye – it was obvious that Alan believed The Beast.
Thus, by the time that Ma’bus further stung her with his words about Jesus choosing to stay away from her, it was obvious to me that Miriam too was ready for The End.
Seeing that he had succeeded in crushing his enemies, Ma’bus kept his smile to himself this time and added slyly, “So it seems we can all finally agree on something — you three have all been betrayed by The Nazarene. There can be no denying that. And yet, while I admire your trust in him, it doesn’t matter now, does it? Instead, what matters is ‘what have you done for me lately,’ or more importantly, ‘what can you do for me NOW?’ As I said, only through me can you have a place in this world going forward. And despite your previous attempts to destroy me, it is I who am the gracious one – for I don’t hold your tenacity against you, instead I give you credit for it. In fact…”
Although Ma’bus kept talking, I have no idea what he said next.
By now I was at the lowest point of my life – totally ashamed of my sins and ready to give up.
I felt a Blackness closing around me… again.