Short horror suspense by:
Drool slopped down Pilate’s chin and his night vision sharpened. The torches that sconced the walls became as the midday sun. He closed his eyes and could still see the brightness from behind closed lids.
Pilate heard her heart speed along now, the heady scent enrapturing. She was right behind him. She reached her hand out to him and he opened his yellowing eyes.
The fangs dropped and he turned to her. Vampire speed and the servant fell beneath him. He went for the strongest scent: the blood closest to the skin. He pierced her neck with his fangs and fed on her until nothing was left of the fruit save the peel. He dropped her empty and dry to the floor.
Pilate vacated the building flush and ready. He entered the darkened city of Jerusalem, still hungry. With the greed of a spoiled child let loose among the honey hives, the newborn vampire wanted more.
He hunted from the dark corners; the inky spaces.
The night was his ally.
It swallowed Pontius Pilate whole.
Pontius Pilate stood before the mob. He was high above on a balcony jutting from the building Rome used to enforce its will. One day each year he allowed the conquered people to choose a prisoner they wished to exonerate. Today was that day.
The crowd was restless and dangerous. They were clamoring for Jesus of Nazereth’s blood. They did not want the rabbi set free. Instead, the unruly crowd chose Barabas, a local idiot and unrepentant criminal.
The Roman gazed out over this sea of rage, beside himself. He was hoping the mob would have chosen Jesus, but they did not wish to have him freed. They wished to have him dead. Barabas was their choice.
Pontius Pilate addressed the crowd from the very balcony edge attached to the official Roman seat of power. The mob was murmuring ugliness and hatred.
Pilate thought the mob were stubborn asses, demanding the release of a true criminal and the death of Jesus of Nazareth. This struck the Prelate as crazy since this same crowd greeted Jesus as a king when he entered the city a few short days past.
The mob demanded the Nazarene’s execution for the crime of blasphemy. Pilate didn’t care. Blasphemy, they say. A cartload of dung, says he.
Pilate, as Prelate, was mandated to preserve order. Rome, he knew only too well, was watching him. Spies were everywhere. If he stumbled, Rome would know about it before he hit the ground. He must keep order in this far-flung slice of mighty Caesar’s great pie. It was how honors and opportunities were procured. Judea was not where Pontius Pilate wished to end his military career. He must discourage an uprising at all costs.
Pilate stood before the crowd, ramrod straight. The crowd taunted the military commander, made angry threats and stipulates. Pilate gave nothing away, but inside he was raging.
Barabas had already been located and released. The freed criminal was delivered unto the crowd. They greeted him as a returning hero. And it was still not enough to pacify them. The crowd was not satisfied, they wanted still more.
A knot of tense fear balled in Pilate’s stomach. He stepped down, away from the edge. He called for the Nazarene and Jesus was brought to him.
With Jesus and guard in tow, Pilate stepped to the edge of the balcony. He looked down at the still growing mob.
“I can find no fault with this man,” he told them.
“CRUCIFY!” the mob shouted, “CRUCIFY!”
Pontius Pilate dismayed at their reaction. Crucify?
“Is this man not your king?” asked Pilate. The murmuring crowd exploded. Their reaction was violent enough to cause Pilate to take an involuntary step back. Their fury reached him; found him in his lofty perch. He ordered the prisoner returned inside as a barrage of rocks launched from the crowd.
The Praetorian Guard encircled a stunned Pilate. They used shields to cover their commander, including from above. The shouts from below were deafening. Rocks broached the balcony’s ledge, raining down.
“We have no king but Caesar!” someone shouted above the din and roar of the crowd and soon the entire throng was chanting it.
The guard escorted him back inside. The soldiers spread themselves out from the Roman governor, but remained on high alert.
“A show of force, Flavius,” Pilate ordered.
Flavius called for archers. They appeared on the roof above the balcony in seconds, higher than and further back, beyond rock-throwing range, they hoped.
The archers pressed right up against the roof wall barricade. As one, the score of archers notched their arrows, pulled them back. With forearm muscles engaged and all arrows pointing skyward, the order was delivered. The archers, in an instant and together, rotated downward and pointed the arrowheads at the mob below. The crowd went stark raving mad.
I see, thought Pilate, They require more than a show.
Pontius Pilate motioned for Flavius.
“Can you spot him from here?” asked Pilate.
“Yes, Prelate,” Flavius replied.
The crowd was still shouting and chanting, pushing each other around in frustration. Pilate knew he had to act. His contingent of men was armed and the building barricaded, but the rock-hurling mob outnumbered the Romans twenty to one.
“Who can reach him?” Pilate asked.
Flavius considered. “Ovid can,” he replied.
“Good. Go and tell him what I need.”
Flavius spun on heel, climbed to the barricaded rooftop. He quickly scanned the crowd below. There he was; the one the Prelate wanted, right in the middle of the riotous mob. The target was laughing and smiling like he was on holiday.
Flavius signaled and Pilate gave the go-ahead. Flavius went down the line of notched, ready archers and found Ovid. The Roman soldier was an Albino, white-blonde, his exposed skin cracked and red from the harsh Judean sun.
Flavius gestured down; singled out the one he wanted. The man was laughing and dancing, easy to spot.
“Just him,” the captain ordered his most proficient archer, “And I want it right between the eyes.”
Ovid’s bow was knocked and steady. The archer had one washed-out pale blue eye focused on the target. He raised the bow, pulled back a touch to account for distance. The bow creaked under the added tension. Ovid exhaled, ever so slowly, and released.
Blood, small bits of brain and a solid chip of skull tattooed an old woman’s face. She screamed and fainted dead away. She was caught by people surrounding her and eased gently to the ground.
Right in front of her, Barabas leaned precariously back. He rocked on his bare heels, then pitched forward and landed hard. He hit the ground face first so hard his remaining front teeth were demolished by the impact. A long arrow had sprouted from the back of his head. It was a good thing Barabas was dead before he hit the ground.
Flavius barked and the archers leaned forward. The mob stared in disbelief. Those near the victim backed away. The archers above each found and locked onto a new target. The mob knew there was nowhere to run.
The noise of the crowd faded and they began to thin. They’d had enough.
Flavius reported to Pontius Pilate, who sent for Jesus. He was going to get to the bottom of this.
Jesus of Nazareth was surrounded by a guard. He was a prisoner and needed protection from the mob below. At least until Pilate could cogitate a viable solution to this prickly pear of a problem.
Pilate watched Jesus. He was kept nearby, always under heavy guard. Pilate studied him as he would a battle plan. He intrigued and troubled him.
Jesus of Nazareth did not look like a king. He wasn’t bejewled and draped in finery, but the man sure did carry himself as a king. The Nazarene was not a physically imposing man and he said little. The prisoner did not boast, nor did he threaten. He most certainly did not beg. And there was something else: something impressive that surrounded and protected the man. It began to concern Pilate.
Pontius Pilate had ordered many men whipped and flogged in his years of service to the Empire. Some were petty thieves and they always pleaded for mercy. Tyrants and conspirators sometimes conjured up a façade of bravery, only to pass out after barely one or two lashes. Even a few of his own men were put beneath the whips.
Pilate remembered. The guard was to take eight lashes for falling asleep on duty. Each lash split skin and exposed muscle beneath, but the guard kept his head. Until he snapped from the unbearable agony: shouted curses on Caesar’s head for all to hear. The guard cooked his own bacon.
Jesus of Nazareth was entirely different. Not a sound came out of him. There was no sweat, or signs of worry. There were no tears from him, either. He accepted his lashes stoically, all of them, as a king truly would.
When they fashioned a crown out of thorns and shoved it rudely over his head, Jesus bled profusely. He was spit on and hit with fist and club. The only change in Jesus was to blink more rapidly, keep the blood from filling his eyes.
The royal purple cape placed about the shoulders of Jesus was meant as the highest insult. His shredded back was then pounded by even more blows from the Roman soldiers.
None seemed to see that this Jesus was wordlessly taunting them back. He should not be able to stand after the abuse was liberally heaped upon him, but he stood straight and with a look in his eyes.
What was it about him, contempt? No; not contempt. Not madness either, his eyes were clear and sharp. Not defiant hatred or religious fervor; not one derogatory word has left his lips. Nothing has been asked or demanded from him. What was it then? He was…well…majestic.
Pontius Pilate rose from his chair. He strode purposefully toward the prisoner and the bevy of soldiers that were, without orders, abusing the bleeding man. One of the soldiers viciously backhanded Jesus, a back tooth shot out of the prisoner’s mouth.
“ENOUGH!” shouted Pilate and ran to them. With angry momentum behind him, Pilate punched the soldier in the face and broke his nose.
The soldier covered his bloody mess of a nose with his hands as Pilate sneered. Bloody mucous and tears escaped the soldier’s fingers and streamed down his front. Pilate said nothing. He removed the snot and blood from his fist, using the soldier’s tunic. Then he dismissed the soldier, even though there was none to replace him.
Pontius Pilate studied the prisoner. He was standing regal and straight. Pilate unabashedly studied Jesus, looking him up and down. There was something inside the man. It was something that fairly reeked of fully restrained power. And then there was that ever-present expression.
Pontius Pilate studied his face. It was the eyes, yes. How they looked at you, through you. Jesus looked at you as if he knew all your dirty little secrets.
That was it, Pilate thought, the look in the eyes of this Jesus of Nazareth. He seemed to be viewing this tragedy from afar. Jesus was seeing all this as a parent watched his coddled and spoiled children. Jesus was allowing this to happen. He was tolerating what they were doing. They were all, his men, this crowd, just children being children.
Right then, Jesus smiled at Pilate and he felt a sharp stab of fear. Pilate was taken aback from the straight arrow shot of terror that hit his chest like blunt force trauma. He felt the overpowering compulsion to bolt from the room and dive off the balcony ledge to the waiting crowd and certain death below. And then, as quickly as it came, the terror vanished. It left behind only the pounding of his heart and the shortness of breath. His hands shook, but Pilate now felt calm and at peace. As if it all should be as it is and he had naught to worry about.
Then the smile of Jesus stretched a little further. As if he knew Pilate’s hidden thoughts.
This must end, he thought. Pilate must show the crowd and shock them. He must give to them a true taste of Roman brutality. What Jesus had suffered at the hands of Pilate’s men would certainly be enough to placate the mob.
“Take the prisoner out, display him before the crowd,” ordered Pilate. The crowd roared loudly when they once again saw Jesus. “Turn the prisoner around and show to them his back!” shouted Pilate.
Flavius removed the purple cape. It tore free the scabs beginning to form. Blood puddled in deep, angry grooves. It ran wholesale from his stripes. His face was a sheet of red from the thorny crown.
Pilate’s hands went aloft. The mob quieted down. He spoke: “You have seen what has been done by me to him,” he said. “Is this not enough punishment for blasphemy?” he asked the mob.
The crowd responded with more demands to crucify. The crowd was afraid of the archers, but not when Jesus was standing before them. The people came full circle. They hated him now as much as the elders and religious leaders did.
They had threatened Pilate. They vowed to expose him to Rome if he did not kill the prisoner. They insisted the man is also guilty of treason for elevating himself above Caesar. Jesus claimed to possess the authority of their God, they stated. He stirred up agitators and planted wicked seeds of rebellion.
These men were shrewd. Their claims could never be proved, or disproved and they knew it. Proof was not mandatory. The Jewish leaders will be believed, because from Rome’s point of view, why would they lie? And even if Pilate convinced Rome the prisoner was falsely accused, so what? His single death, even if unjust, was more than worth the squashing of an uprising.
The Prelate’s main function was to preserve the order that was slipping through his fingers. Rome would have him removed, no doubt about that. And Rome can be rough when disappointed.
Pilate left the crowd and returned inside. The prisoner was standing. He watched Pilate study him with no smile. Pilate stared back. Who is this man?
Pilate could nail the innocent man to the cross to prevent an insurrection. Otherwise, a rebellion will spell the end of peace in this region and his career. This shameful business shall mark Pilate forever as a failure in the eyes of Rome.
He could execute the prisoner and all will be placated and satisfied. Peace will be restored and Rome will look favorably upon Pilate.
As simple as that, he thought.
The chants from the crowd were still bitter. Rage boiled off the people, drifted up to the Romans. The guards were getting nervous. They did the calculation in their heads. They all knew how this would end. If the crowd managed to get inside the building, every one of the soldiers would die. Pilate could not allow that to happen, not for the life of one man.
The Romans heard them beating down the entrance to the secured building. It was fortified, but would not hold up forever. After a few moments the storm of stones and fist-sized chunks of dwelling materials poured down on the Roman seat like a sandstorm.
“Seal the entrance,” ordered Pilate. Flavius took a small contingent of men, quickly disappeared. Pilate could hear the pounding intensify. The doors were taking a beating. “Have the archers hold their fire, but continue on full alert.” The debris kept coming. Several members of the mob below tried scaling the building’s outer wall, an archer reported. “Sight them,” Pilate ordered. A rock hit an archer and split open his cheek. “HOLD!” shouted Pilate. The archers’ knuckles were white with tension, their faces grimly set. The wall climbers made progress. The downstairs pounding was more rapid and pronounced. Pilate heard Flavius shouting. Wood creaked and cracked. He heard it splinter. The crowd seemed to shrug off their fear of Roman reprisal. One of the guards mumbled he smelled smoke. The rocks made a thick rug on the balcony. The most successful wall climber fell to the encouraging throng below and was quickly replaced by several others. The climbers behind the fallen gained fast. The archers made out facial details. There was heard more splintering and cracking of wood. Flavius called for his men to fall back and hold the line. They were in a defensive posture, awaiting encroachment.
Screams drifted up. Pilate had enough. He went to the prisoner, straightaway. Pilate grabbed him and pointed to the crowd: “You are no simple carpenter,” Pilate shouted at him, “nor are you merely a scholar!” The noise outside became an ocean, the angry mob was the rising tide and Pilate and his men were trapped offshore. “Who are you, Rabbi?” Pontius Pilate asked. “Who are you really?”
Heat rose from the prisoner. Pilate was doused in sweat from it. The quiet man looked his captor straight, eye to eye.
“Know this,” he declared, “I am the Son of God.”
Pilate paused. “You claim to be the Son of God?” he asked.
“I Am,” Jesus told him.
“And I am,” Pontius Pilate replied, “almost convinced.”
The bowl was large. It contained ordinary water and was placed before the crowd. Pontius Pilate had hands held aloft, calling for quiet.
“Your request shall be granted,” he told them through clenched teeth. The crowd cheered.
Pontius Pilate slowly and ceremoniously dipped his hands into the water, dried them with a bit of cloth. “He is yours now,” he told them in a loud, strong voice. “I have washed my hands of it.”
Pilate stepped from the mob scene below. He saw the prisoner being whisked away. The Rabbi will be handed over and they can do what they will. He thought it would now be over and forgotten.
Pontius Pilate was wrong.
He had hands in the air, speaking to the crowd below. The human was conflicted, Lucifer could tell. The Roman should have believed Jesus, but he did not. The seed of his doubt germinated, sprouted and would now bear him bitter fruit.
Unseen by all, the Mighty One massaged Pilate’s shoulders and whispered encouragement. Pilate was releasing the prisoner and the Diabolous licked the back of his ear. Good, good boy, thought he. And the Son of Man shall come before a fall. And the Morning Star rejoiced in it.
Pilate washed his hands of the whole sorted affair. The devil made damn sure. It sealed Pilate’s fate. Jesus was led away.
Jesus Christ shall suffer much. It pleased the Devil, it’s so precious. He is the Son of God and he shall hang from a tree and be crucified. The Devil was delighted.
The Father should have let me sit wherever I wanted to, thought Satan, Even if it was His holy throne.
The night sky lightened. Dawn broke brilliant. The first light of morning filtered into the great room and woke Pontius Pilate. He still was dressed from the previous day. He rose, stretched out the muscles in his back and scratched absently at his itchy ear. He yelled loudly for his servants. Pilate heard them stir.
He went to the balcony and watched the sun as it rose over the Holy City. The area below him was empty and quiet. Pilate folded arms across his chest and reflected. He squashed a rebellion as surely as night follows the day. If an innocent man died to prevent such an uprising, then so be it. His conscience was clear.
Pilate stepped back from the balcony railing and tripped. The servants saw him fall and rushed to his aid. Embarrassed, Pilate waved them off. He looked down to see what he tripped over.
Between his feet were two concave indentations right behind where he had addressed the angry mob. They were shaped like sandled feet and were big enough for Pilate’s feet to swim in.
He stared at the indentations. His itchy ear turned red-hot. A dagger of immense pain stabbed the ear. Pilate squeezed his eyes shut against the pain, scrunched his face. As fast as he could, Pilate pawed at the offending pain. He felt something pop. Warmth flooded his fingers.
Pilate thought the warmth was blood. It was not. He brought fingers before his eyes. One of his servants screamed.
The fluid was yellow/green and thick. Spots of blood dotted the mess. Pilate studied it. The muddle looked horrible and it smelled even worse. He couldn’t believe it had come from his ear.
The servant ran away from him, fearful Aramaic following her wake. Another servant gasped. Her hands flew to her face.
A fat grub was plowing the foul, waxy field of his fingers. The grub feasted while Pontius Pilate gazed on in abject horror.
Pilate flicked off the bug and wiped the mess from his hand. It started to hurt him bad. The pain seared hot. Pilate grabbed his wrist, squeezing and wincing and rocking back and forth from the pain. His fingers felt in flame. He hissed through clenched teeth. The servant fainted dead away.
His flesh was melting off the bone and fingernails dissolved right before his very eyes.
A moment later, loudly and long, Pontius Pilate did scream.
Pontius Pilate sat with his gloomy head in his good hand and waited for the wine to kick in. His other hand had the three middle fingers amputated and the nubbins healed nicely. Pilate’s ear cartilage was also removed, but there were no more bugs, thank the gods. On that, he was grateful.
But still, it wasn’t really the pain of physical ailment that troubled Pontius Pilate so. A life-long soldier, he was used to physical pain. This was new and much worse than even witnessing his own fingers melt and drip flesh from the bones while he screamed in agony and terror. His heart was sick and he felt his soul dying. He poured himself more wine, emptying the jug, and drank it down. The wine did not help, nothing he tried did.
Pilate aged from the stress of this past year. Gossip and stories came to him from dozens of sources. Terrible and miraculous things were happening all around. Pilate tried not to pay credence to them, but some rang true . Quickly, the Prelate found that he was unable to deny them at all.
Pilate saw fantastic things himself, so the supernatural was no longer dismissed. He had witnessed first-hand the dead awaken. He saw the little crook. Barabas still harbored the archer’s arrow erupting from the back of his head.
Reports of similar sightings from across Judea came flooding in to Pilate almost daily: the dead arising, spirits becoming manifest, mass suicides and murder. And then there was the Christ. Yes, Pontius Pilate thought of him as the Christ. Not his Christ, but he did recognize that there was more to him than met his eyes. He thought about the Rabbi daily, almost non-stop. Nothing could remove the crucified man from the forefront of his thoughts. Pilate feared he may be going mad.
Pilate reached for the wine jug and remembered it empty. He shouted for servants to bring more. Jesus of Nazareth, he thought. Pilate heaved the empty vessel and it shattered against the wall. He needed more wine, or else he would never be able to sleep.
Pilate drank himself unconscious most nights. He couldn’t shake the carpenter’s face. It was right there whenever he closed his eyes. It haunted him. The eyes accused him. The Nazarene’s eyes knew Pilate had realized the Truth. Pilate had chosen to walk the easy path, the one paved with good intentions which still led to destruction. Pontius Pilate, and no other, allowed the torture and murder of a holy man.
Pilate yelled for wine again.
Pilate sat up bedside and cradled his alcohol addled head. The heavy jug was placed there on the table before him, beading cool condensate. The servant remained silent beside it.
“Took you long enough,” Pilate scolded and grabbed for the wine. He tipped up the jug and saw him from the corner of his eye, standing impassive beside the table. The dropped jug hit the fur beneath Pilate’s bare feet and spewed contents everywhere.
It was the glorified body of Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. The Messiah was right here in this very room.
He stood before a quaking Pilate, his robe pure white and radiant. He raised his hands and showed Pilate the scars in the center of his wrists, beneath the big bone. The nails bit him as he hung from the cross.
“Know that I am He,” said Jesus Christ.
Pilate blubbered and breathed in painful gasps. Jesus stood before him and the Roman was immobile with fear. It clenched his heart like a miser. The manifestations of Pilate’s fear were the only sounds heard. Time seemed to slow for Pilate, almost stop. The moment before the presence of the Risen felt an eternity. All that he saw was brightened and sharpened in detailed clarity.
The moment was meant to be remembered, the curtain drawn back. The Truth bathed in harsh light.
The Christ placed his hands upon Pontius Pilate. He felt the heat acutely and he couldn’t catch his breath. The radiant light issuing forth from the Christ bothered Pilate’s eyes. He watched in horror as his amputated fingers grew back and then split at the tips.
Jesus released him. Pilate fell to his hands and knees and uncontrollably voided all bodily wastes, violently retching until he was dry.
“You washed your hands of me,” Jesus accused him. Pilate’s hands began to burn. The talons sprung instant from torn finger tips and shred flesh, but the burning pain persisted. “Your soul shall now be cursed,” the Christ judged, “with eternal earthbound life.”
Pontius Pilate cried out in agony and despair. He knew what was coming. Pilate was cursed with earthly damnation. He rejected the Blood of Christ, so shall he now survive, instead, on the blood of man.
Pontius Pilate came to with a start. He looked all around. Jesus of Nazareth was gone. Pilate heard dark laughter faintly and fading. A servant entered the room behind Pilate. She was trying to be as quiet as a mouse. So quiet as to make no discernable noise, but he knew it was his servant. He even knew which one she was. Pontius Pilate could now smell her blood as if it was bread rising.
The vampire thought she smelled delicious.