Tuesday, February 28, 2017


   The trip to the Anatolian border took nearly three months, the group stopping at roadside markets in Lebanon and Syria to replenish his parent’s food supplies. When in town they stopped at local inns to bathe and refresh themselves. Informed of this fact early in the trip by his father, Jesus and his consort found that even vampires, regardless of fastidiousness in the taking of victims, were in need of a bath occasionally.
   During that time, the couple learned more about their undead natures, finding they could fast for a night or two when their form of food was not readily available, or could even substitute blood from lower forms of life if necessary. Both found such animal fare unappetizing, but it did fill the certain void they felt when pangs of hunger came calling. In these lean times along the desolate Roman highway, they had no other choice available. In their wake, they had left several auroch, ox, boar, and deer carcasses littering the road, drained of blood, bloating and rotting in the sun during the day.
   The New Year arrived, 34 of the Common Era coming uneventfully for the travelers while passing through southwestern Syria. A few weeks later they arrived at a large city named Antioch during the evening. The capitol of the eastern part of the Roman Empire, like Rome, Antioch was a city that never slept, inns, taverns, and brothels open all night long. A modern city by the standards of the day, Antioch was a beautiful place, with gleaming marble buildings, ornate fountains, a central forum or marketplace, and was surrounded by thick groves of cypress trees.
   “So this is the big city,” Joseph observed, watching shivering patrons standing in line outside a brothel on the cool night, “If you ask me they can keep it.”
   “I agree with you,” said Jesus, “I usually prefer the country and small towns too.”
   “Hunting will be much better here,” a famished Magdalene spoke up.
   “We won’t be here long woman, but I suppose it would be a good idea to take a breather at an inn and get a bite to eat.”
   Joseph smiled, amused at the euphemisms his son used to describe cold-blooded murder.
   Stopping at an inn, Jesus walked to the office and rented two spacious rooms for the group. “I want the rooms for two days, leaving on the evening after tomorrow.”
   “Certainly,” the innkeeper replied, “Breakfast is at seven, dinner at six, you buy lunch elsewhere.”
   “I find my own food,” said Jesus with a slight smile, “But my parents will be happy to know hot meals are available.”
   “Suit yourself,” said the innkeeper as Jesus handed him money. He pointed to their transportation and added, “You’ll have to stable your horses and wagon across the street.”
   “No problem, incidentally sir, can they give the horses a comb and feed?”
   “Sure, it’s five sestertii per horse.”
   “Thank you,” said Jesus, returning to the wagon. “I’ve rented rooms, numbers sixteen and seventeen,” he announced to the weary group. Handing his consort the keys, he climbed in the seat and added, “Mary, please take mother and father to their room; I’ll unload the wagon.”
   “I’ll carry Joseph’s satchel and tools,” the Magdalene replied, lifting them from the rear with ease and closing the door, Joseph watching in amazement.
   “By all means, thanks,” said Jesus, taking the reins and driving the wagon to the stable.
   “Ten sestertii to park for a day, take the rig to stall six,” the stable manager barked as Jesus entered.
   “I’m staying for two; I want the horses fed and groomed too.”
   “That’ll cost you twenty-five.”
   Jesus pulled coins from a leather pouch tied at his waist, handing him twenty-five orichalcum sestertii coins, obverses bearing the likeness of Tiberius, reverses bearing fasces and the abbreviation ‘SC’. Nodding to the manager, he moved the carriage to a stall marked with the Roman numerals VI. Stepping down, he called a stable hand.
   “Unhitch these beasts, comb and feed them,” Jesus ordered a muscular, bronzed Syrian slave.
   “Yes sir,” answered the slave, tending the tired horses.
   “These are fine animals sir, swift Arabian geldings,” the slave observed, inspecting the horses.
   “Yes,” said Jesus, opening a wagon door, “We’ve owned them for the past few months, a trader in northern Judea sold them to me.” Ignoring the sack of worthless clothes, he lifted out his bag of treasure, now weighing 220 pounds, while the slave watered and began to comb down the horses. Walking across the street, Jesus entered a dark alleyway. A lone figure approached, directly in his path.
   “What’s in the bag man?” asked the figure, clearly a common criminal.
   “None of your goddamned business,” Jesus spat, the man blocking his path.
   “Wrong answer,” the man retorted, pulling a dagger.
   “Don’t play with me asshole,” said Jesus in his vampire voice.
   “Give me the bag.”
   Narrowing his eyes in contempt, Jesus waited for him to make his move. It didn’t take long, the man lunging at him with the dagger seconds later. Dropping the bag, the vampiric Christ grabbed his assailant’s arm with his left and held it, breaking his neck with his right. The robber went limp, his dagger falling to the ground. Heaving the fresh corpse over a shoulder, he lifted the bag with his free arm. Kicking the dagger to the gutter, he headed to his room, depositing the bag and body beneath the bed. He entered the adjacent room where his parents and consort were relaxing and announced, “Please come to our room Mary, I have a present for you.”
   “Oh goody,” said the Magdalene, “I’ve always liked presents.”
   Jesus turned to his parents. “Please be certain to lock the door father; this is not the best of neighborhoods.”
   Joseph nodded, barring the door as they left. Returning to their pitch-black room, Jesus opened the door and entered.
   “Where’s my present?” asked Mary.
   “Under the bed.”
   Looking beneath the bed, she pulled the cadaver out by a limp, pale arm and exclaimed, “My supper, why thank you Jesus!” Noticing the lack of bite marks on the neck, she asked, “Didn’t you have some?”
   “No, please remember dear Mary, vampires do not live by blood alone. Besides, you were right, there are plenty of meals available here.”
   “Who was he?”
   “A robber who wanted my bag, so I broke his neck. Enjoy your supper, I’m heading out to find another,” said Jesus, leaving and closing the door behind him.
   Strolling down the alley, he passed by the inn’s registration office and headed to the main street. Seeing a drunken whore weaving down the sidewalk with one of her patrons, Jesus recalled his ill-fated ministry and silently observed, This world is indeed a terrible place – my simplistic view of this forsaken mess was really skewed. Dismissing the bitter thought, he continued past, heading for the heart of the city.
   His hunt did not take long, for within minutes yet another thief appeared from a side street, brandishing a dagger. Walking up, he growled in Aramaic, “Give me your money or I’ll kill you!”
   “I seriously doubt that, and I don’t have any money with me friend,” said Jesus in his native tongue.
   “I don’t have friends!” retorted the thief.
   “Your statement strikes me as obvious.”
   “Never mind, forget that I said it,” Jesus answered, annoyed at the thief’s stupidity.
   “Give me your jewels,” the thief ordered, waving his dagger.
   “I don’t have any of those on me either.”
   “What are you, a bum?”
   “No,” Jesus replied, thoroughly bored with the situation.
   “What are you then?”
   “A vampire, looking for someone exactly like you,” said Jesus, freezing his assailant where he stood. Saying nothing further, he plunged fangs in the throat, draining his life from him. Remembering that he should clean up leftover messes to avoid problems, Jesus retrieved the dagger, placing it in his cloak. Lifting the body from the street, he heaved it over a shoulder, looking about for a place to dump it. He spied a public lavatorium, made his way over, and entered. Making certain it was deserted, he checked the corpse for valuables. Tearing off the victim’s tunic pockets in search of the smallest coin, Jesus found nothing. Annoyed by the lack of a payoff, he hurled the body down a latrine shaft, where it landed in the sewer with a loud splash.
   “I wonder if he’ll clog the sewer, not that I care,” said a chuckling Jesus, smiling as he left.
   Returning to their room, Mary was on the bed relaxing, the emptied corpse on its side at her feet. “They go stale fast, not that it was bad or anything,” she observed, Jesus sitting down on the bed with her.
   “Yeah, what can you do,” Jesus replied, “Guess what, I’ve found a really good place to dump bodies.”
   “Public lavatoriums, I dropped mine down the shaft of a latrine, the sewer will carry them away.”
   “Just like shit, what a great idea! I’ve always said you were a genius, would you like to get rid of this one?”
   “Why not, want to come along?”
   “Sure,” said the Magdalene, “I love the night.”
   They headed to another lavatorium, the second cadaver over Jesus’ shoulder. He propped the corpse up on a commode seat, intent on checking the body for money. A disgusted Mary interjected, “I checked him, he didn’t have as much as a shekel.”
   “Figures,” said Jesus, stopping his search, “The other robber had nothing either, the thieves in this city must be poor, stupid or perhaps both.”
   “This one certainly was,” she agreed, as Jesus dumped the body headfirst into the latrine.
   “Lavatoriums will come in handy in the future,” said Jesus, “It’s too bad they’re not around everywhere.”
   “That’s the truth,” Mary replied, looking into the latrine and watching the floating corpse disappear headfirst into the sewer pipe.
   Heading to their room, Jesus related the events he observed while hunting for his nourishment. Unlike his new self and atavistically like his old, he was bitterly complaining of the decadence of Antioch, whores and robbers plying the streets like so many flies, concluding that the thief he had killed had mistook him for a bum.
   “So what, the entire world’s decadent and there’s nothing we can do about it, so why let it bother you?”
   “It doesn’t really anymore,” Jesus answered, not being completely truthful, “I was just making conversation.”
   “But you are bothered that a common thief mistook you for a beggar,” Mary countered, with keen insight into his personality.
   “You know, if you cut your hair and trim that long beard, maybe people wouldn’t think you were an indigent,” she suggested as diplomatically as possible.
   “You think so?”      
   “When in Rome, one does as Romans do.”
   “We’re not in Rome woman.”
   “We may as well be,” said Mary, “Antioch’s the capital of this part of the empire and most men here don’t look as unkempt. If you paid some attention to your appearance you might blend in a bit.”
   “Really?” asked Jesus, thinking he hadn’t gone to that much trouble while traveling when younger, not recalling the sheltering care his hosts had lavished on him. As a philosopher of some fame, it hadn’t mattered as to his appearance; most figuring he was simply eccentric.
   “We can give it a try if you like, I have a brush and shears.”
   “Why not,” said Jesus as they entered their room.
   Over the next hour, Mary gave Jesus a makeover, cutting off his long hair and trimming his beard, changing his appearance so dramatically that it was hard to for his consort to recognize him.
   Observing his reflection in her polished bronze mirror, Jesus declared that he indeed looked better, venturing that it might be appropriate if he were clean-shaven like the Romans were.
   “I’m afraid I don’t have a razor or even a strop for one; we could probably pick one up from a barbershop,” said Mary.
   “I definitely want to,” agreed a smiling Jesus, looking in the mirror like a budding narcissist, “Thank you very much, you’ve made me look a lot better.”
   The Magdalene smiled back. “At the brothel the pimps and whores always let me cut their hair, some said I should have opened a salon,” she not revealing she had been saving money to do so before meeting him in Magdala, as a whore can last only so long.
   “You’d have made a lot of money,” Jesus replied.
   At the tender age of 24, Mary Magdalene had saved nearly 100 denarii from her honest work of cutting hair for the local pimps and whores, and was on the verge of opening a salon until Jesus Christ came along. After meeting him, she had used the money to buy fish and bread for a multitude attending the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus having thanked her for helping him perform the miracle.
   “We’d best cover the window,” said Jesus, glancing to an open window near the ceiling, noticing the sky starting to lighten. Walking to the opening, he added, “It’s facing east, all we’d need is to be fried by the sun while we sleep.”
   “Close the shutters, I closed them for your folks in their room to deter bandits.”
   “Good idea,” Jesus replied, closing and locking the shutters.
   Tired, they moved to their bed for a good day’s sleep.
   The following evening, it was Joseph who was knocking on Jesus’ door, as the couple had overslept, thoroughly enjoying their comfortable quarters. Waking about an hour after dark to the noise, a groggy Jesus rose, rubbing his eyes and making his way to the door in the darkness. Unbarring and opening the door, his father, holding a shielded candle, was taken back for a moment.
   “I’m sorry sir, I have the wrong room; I was looking for my son.”
   “It is I father,” Jesus announced with a yawn.
   “What happened, you almost look like a Roman!”
   “Please come in and I’ll tell you,” said Jesus, again yawning.
   “Would you light a lamp please, I can’t see that well in the dark.”
   Taking his father’s candle, he lit an oil lamp as the Magdalene was rising from slumber. “Good evening Joseph,” she said with a tired smile, sitting up as he entered the room and closed the door.
   Joseph nodded to her, again asking, “So son, what happened to your hair?”
   “Mary gave me a haircut and trimmed my beard, what do you think?”
   “It’s about time,” said Joseph, “You looked strange with all that hair flying about, it’s no damn wonder you had so much trouble in Jerusalem. If you remember I tried to tell you that you know.”
   “Yes father.”
   “A robber mistook him for a beggar last night,” said Mary.
   “That doesn’t surprise me, he certainly looked like one,” Joseph retorted, looking to Jesus and asking, “I imagine you made him pay for that?”
   “Well, he was trying to rob me.”
   “I don’t blame you, in fact, you’re probably saving a lot of other decent folk from being robbed or even killed by feeding on such people.”
   “I hadn’t looked at it that way,” said Jesus, raising an eyebrow.
   “See, it all depends on your point of view,” Joseph replied, “From what I’ve seen, the pair of you are simply disposing of people who aren’t any good anyway, so as far as I’m concerned, keep up the good work.”
   “Thanks dad,” said Jesus, shocked by his father’s pronouncements.
   “Yeah, as to the reason I came by, your mother and I just had dinner and were wondering if you’d like to join us for wine and perhaps a game of latrunculi, that is after you have had your uh, meals,” Joseph offered, inviting the pair to join them.
   “You have the board?” asked Jesus, a skilled player of the game.
   “Of course, it’s almost a hundred years old, it belonged to my grandfather and I still have all the ivory pieces too.”
   “I’d like that very much; what do you think Mary?”
   “Why not, there isn’t much to do here anyway, except feed on criminals.”
   “We should be by in about an hour dad.”
   “We’ll be expecting you,” said Joseph, returning to his room.
   “Dad’s really warming up to us being vampires,” Jesus observed with a smile.
   “I like your folks, and your father’s a wise man,” said Mary, moving from the bed.
   “That’s true, but in the past I never realized how wise.”
   “You were too busy telling others how to live, so how could you notice? Not that what you said was bad or anything, but you never had time for anyone else’s opinions.”
   “I don’t think my suggestions were that far off, if people followed them the world would be a much better place to live.”
   “I won’t fault you there, you did have some damn good ideas,” said Mary, brushing her hair, “But you forgot most people are egotists who couldn’t care less about their own families, let alone their fellow man.”
   “I wouldn’t have agreed in the past, but I think that’s the truth now. I was wasting my time preaching to them, and many folks didn’t like what I had to say anyway.”
    “People everywhere, especially the rich and powerful, never like hearing the truth about themselves, and you constantly pointed out, rather bluntly I might add, that they were hypocrites. As a consequence, they hated you, and finally killed you for that.”
   “Yes,” said Jesus, “I recall you arguing with me heatedly, stating I was wasting my time and just pissing them off. I didn’t agree with you then, but I now believe you were right.”
   “Don’t worry dear Jesus, we’re all wrong sometimes,” a smiling Mary replied, taking his hand as they left their room.
   They stepped into the night in search of prey. It didn’t take long, for as usual the garbage of humanity appeared, bent on robbery or rape, and were quickly disposed of by undead custodians Jesus and Mary. Shortly thereafter, two corpses coursed their way through the dank sewers of Antioch, and the couple made their way through the cool night to his parent’s room.
   “Come in,” said Joseph, answering the door. They entered, and he added casually, “You both look well – who did you kill off tonight?”
   “A pair of robbers,” Jesus answered, looking to his mother.
   “You look very nice with your new haircut Jesus, and hello Mary,” said his mother. Surprisingly, she didn’t appear shocked or even faint from hearing his candid admissions of murder. At a loss for words, Jesus looked to his father.
   “I explained it all to her today,” said Joseph.
   “What exactly did you explain?”
   “I said you make a point to take only those who cross you, and that I think it’s very commendable.”
   “I do most times, but I must tell you mother, Mary isn’t as selective as I when it comes to that. Fortunately, as her master, I – ”
   “Jesus!” the Magdalene exclaimed, embarrassed at the revelation.
   “So what, shit happens,” said Joseph, his wife looking to the floor and shrugging. “Have a seat son, I’ve set up the board, would you both like wine?”
   “Please,” Jesus replied, and took a seat.
   Filling glasses, Joseph handed his guests strong Syrian wine, guaranteed to make even the most seasoned drinker happy in a short time.
   After several intense games of latrunculi, Joseph gave up. He threw up his hands and exclaimed, “That’s the fourth time you’ve trapped my eagle. I can never beat you at this damned game!”
   “I’m sorry father, I used to play a lot with my friend John, he was an expert and the only disciple who could beat me.”
   “I have a few tricks left, but I have to head to the lavatorium first,” a drunken Joseph replied.
   “They don’t have slop jars in the rooms; I need to go too,” Jesus observed, he also inebriated.
   “You still do that?” asked Joseph, raising eyebrows in surprise as they headed out.
   “Of course, but only liquids, I haven’t done the other since before I died.”
   “Incredible, but I suppose all that blood and wine have to go somewhere,” Joseph replied, walking into the dimly lamp lit lavatorium.
   “Guess what father, we’re using a lavatorium down the street to dump bodies,” said Jesus while answering nature’s call.
   “You are?” Joseph asked, not caring in the least as to where the leftover corpses went for disposal, as long as they were not found.
   “Yes, the sewers carry them away, preventing any possibility of discovery.”
   “Like so many turds.”
   “Mary said the same thing.”
   “You know son, it’s strange to think I may be pissing on someone’s head as he floats by.”
   Jesus burst into laughter, falling to the floor in drunken pleasure.
   Joseph, laughing, walked over and asked, “Can I help you up?”
   “Thanks dad,” said a still laughing Jesus, taking his father’s arm and rising unsteadily to his feet. The drunken pair made their way back to the room, weaving as they went.
   They played latrunculi and drank wine until the wee hours of the morning, with Joseph winning two games between trips to the lavatorium, the drunken Christ starting to make colossal mistakes in strategy. Mary and his mother quietly conversed, discussing housekeeping and fashions of clothing, at times gently complaining about their men as well. As the sky lightened, Joseph retired to bed with his wife, Mary helping Jesus to their room, where he collapsed unconscious, face down, on the bed. She joined him after barring the door, settling into sleep next to her snoring partner, having enjoyed the delightful evening.
   “My aching head!” moaned Joseph as he woke at dusk, still drunk, afflicted with a severe, pounding hangover.
   “Are you all right Joseph?” asked Mary, knowing the answer.
   “No, Syrians brew a mean wine,” Joseph answered in throbbing pain.
   His wife had risen earlier, cleaning up from the night’s revelry. Joseph sat up in the bed, holding his head in his hands.
   “Give me some wine will you?” he asked with a cough, making his head pound even more.
   “Yes dear, this should help,” said Mary, handing him a filled glass while he sat on the edge of the bed.
   A seemingly loud knock came on the door, Joseph calling in agony, “Who is it?”
   “Open the door Mary.”
   She opened the door and the couple entered, Jesus carrying his sack of loot over a shoulder.
   “It’s almost check out time dad, are you ready to go?” asked Jesus while his mother closed the door.
   “Oh God,” Joseph groaned, “What’s the hurry, we don’t really have anyplace to go do we?”
   “Are you sick?” the Magdalene asked, looking in his direction.
   “I have a hell of a hangover,” Joseph moaned, finishing his wine. He looked to his placid vampiric son, focused and asked, “Aren’t you hungover too?”
   “I’ve never felt better in my uh, life,” said Jesus, “That’s strange, in the past when I got drunk I always felt terrible the morning after.”
   “Must have something to do with being a vampire,” Joseph replied, falling to the mattress with another groan.
   “Probably,” said the Magdalene, looking to Jesus.
   “I could fix it for you father, by bringing you to our realm.”
   “No, I’ll manage, but thank you anyway. I wouldn’t make a very good vampire, life’s bad enough without that.”
   Jesus looked to his father impassively.
   “I don’t think your father and I should travel tonight,” said his mother, frowning at her husband.
   “You’re right mother, I’ll rent the rooms for another night and we’ll leave tomorrow.”
   “Thanks son,” Joseph moaned from his bed as they left.
   They returned to their room, Jesus sliding his treasure-laden sack under the bed.
   Reaching for a tan robe to wear over his tunic, Jesus advised, “It’s cool tonight woman. I think we should start wearing cloaks and the like when we’re about.”
   “But I don’t feel cold at all,” said Mary, surprised that she had not noticed the change in weather.
   “Neither am I, but it will look strange if we walk around without warm garments in wintertime, this way we’ll fit in better.”
   “You learn fast,” said a smiling Mary.
   Putting on the robe, Jesus replied, “I’m heading to the office to pay the rent. I’ll be back shortly, then we’ll go out for dinner.”
   “Don’t be long,” said Mary as he passed through the threshold.
   Jesus walked to the manager’s office, renting the rooms for another night. Crossing the street, he handed 13 sestertii to the stable manager, telling him to keep the change. During the exchanges, both men complimented his new hairstyle, the stable manager suggesting that he shave his beard to complete the transformation. Jesus acknowledged the suggestions politely and made his way to his room, troubled about his parents, especially his father.
   “That’s the second time I offered to make dad a vampire and he’s turned me down on both occasions,” said Jesus, sitting down in a chair.
   “Maybe he doesn’t want to be one,” the Magdalene replied, “I imagine some folks aren’t cut out for this kind of life, you know, killing people most every night, and sucking their blood and all.”
   “That’s probably true, but he’s an older man, which means he will pass soon.”
   “You love your parents don’t you?”
   “Of course I do,” said Jesus, looking to the floor.
   “Well, you’ll simply have to accept the fact that they’ll be gone one day, as will all who we have known. Both of my parents are dead and I miss them, but they’re gone forever, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
   “But I can do something about it,” said Jesus, looking to her.
   “You haven’t changed one bit; you still think you have all the answers, and believe only your way is best.”
   “I do?”
   “Yes, it bothers you a great deal that your parents are content being mortal, and don’t seem to mind the fact that they will die.”
   Jesus sat a moment, contemplating. “But I could save them from that.”
   “You see? You haven’t changed at all, and remember you once thought you could save everybody.”
   “No I – ”
   The Magdalene pointed at him in emphasis. “That’s bullshit, you still don’t realize some folks don’t want, or even need to be saved.”
   “They don’t?”
   “Not at all, your parents are content with what they are, and they’re happy, so let it go.”
   “But – ”
   “No buts, one day you’ll realize that you can’t save the world, especially when it doesn’t even want to be saved,” she added, reflecting on the bitter truth of her statement.
   Jesus sat silently, knowing in his heart that regarding such matters, as usual, Mary Magdalene was correct. Later, they headed into the dark night, dressed appropriately for the season, on the hunt for their version of the evening meal. Strolling along, they observed that Antioch was truly a decadent town, walking past packed brothels, accosted with offers by depraved members of both sexes. Ignoring the solicitations, they continued to the heart of the city, knowing they would soon run across suitable victims.
   “Antioch’s worse than Sodom or Gomorrah ever was,” Jesus observed, making their way past a barbershop.
   “Who cares, let’s buy you a razor,” said Mary, turning and heading for the establishment with Jesus following. They entered near closing time. The Roman owner was cleaning his instruments in a basin, and the Magdalene asked in fluent Latin, “Excuse me sir, do you have razors available for purchase?”
   “Certainly,” the barber answered, drying his hands, “Two denarii for a bronze razor, three for a steel one; do you need a strop for it?”
   “Yes,” answered Jesus.
   “Ten sestertii for the strop, so what’ll it be sir?”
   “Buy a steel one,” the Magdalene advised, “You don’t need to sharpen them as often.”
   “The lady’s right sir,” said the barber, reaching for a gleaming steel example of a folding straight razor, “I exclusively use and recommend steel razors for my customers, made by Egyptian blacksmiths.”
   “Yes, this is satisfactory,” Jesus replied, inspecting the razor, “We’ll take the strop too.”
   “Three denarii, twenty sestertii,” the barber declared, wrapping the razor and strop in a cloth.
   “Here’s five denarii, would you have a pouch for it?” asked Jesus, handing him money.
   “Sure, but it’s only 5 sestertii,” the barber answered, looking at the coins in his palm.
   “Keep the change for your trouble,” said Jesus as the barber handed him a leather pouch.
   “Thank you sir,” the barber replied, Jesus placing his purchase in a robe pocket, and starting with the Magdalene toward the door.
   “Your quite welcome,” said Jesus. Heading into the street, he looked to Mary. “I never knew you could speak Latin that well!”
   “I couldn’t speak Latin at all till you made me a vampire and I listened to you speaking it,” Mary replied with an impish smile.
   “Incredible,” said Jesus, “I imagine there’s more to being vampires than we first realized,” neither knowing that an inherent predilection to learn languages or skills fast was part of a vampire’s camouflage, an ability akin to a chameleon fitting into its surroundings.
   “You can say that again, and I like it too,” Mary answered, taking Jesus’ hand in hers. They resumed their hunt for dinner, heading into downtown Antioch, and for the moment, seeing no one suitable, according to Jesus’ strict specifications. “Where the hell are they?” she asked a few hours later, looking about, beginning to feel hunger pangs.
   “It’s early yet,” said Jesus near midnight, continuing their stroll around town.
   “Where’s a criminal when you need him?”
   Pausing to relax, they sat down on a stone bench, taking in the sights of the big city from a deserted central park. While Jesus sat in placid contemplation of life, the world, God and his vampiric existence, his reverie was broken by a poorly aimed dagger, the blade coming to an abrupt stop in a tree only inches from his head.
   “There he is,” said Mary, seeing the assailant from body heat while he hid in the shadows.
   Jesus, undisturbed by the attack, reached in his robe with his left, pulling a dagger taken from another thief. “Watch this woman,” he said with a sinister grin, throwing the sharp dagger underhanded from a sitting position. The speeding blade caught the man in his chest with an audible ‘thunk’, cleaving his heart in two. Clutching his upper torso, he staggered backwards and collapsed dead on the sidewalk.
   “Good throw!” Mary exclaimed as they strolled to their quarry. Looking to the body, she asked, “Where’d you learn to throw a dagger like that?”
   “Verily I say, the Son of Man can be a dangerous person when crossed,” Jesus intoned in his Draculaesque monotone.
   “I know, but that doesn’t answer my question.”
   “When I was a child, I didn’t have many friends outside of my family and spent a lot of time alone. So, among other things, I learned to throw knives as a pastime. Ask my father, he’s the one who taught me how to use knives and swords,” Jesus replied in his disguised voice, now usually coming to him naturally.
    “I didn’t know that,” said Mary, staring at the corpse, dagger stuck in the chest, “I thought you were only a simple preacher in those days.”
   “There are a lot of things you didn’t know about me then,” Jesus replied, recalling his childhood loneliness as only an adult could: for had he only felt complete when his brothers and sisters were around? When their family started to break up shortly after his return to Nazareth, with his sister’s marriages and his brothers starting their own families and businesses in Capernaum, the introspective Jesus had started to feel left out.
   “Like what?”
   “Like when I left India when I was 28, by that time I was an expert swordsman, thanks to the teachings of their warriors, the Kushan priests stating that I was an incarnation of the god Shiva.”
   “Who’s that?” asked Mary, interested in the Hindu religion.
   “Shiva the destroyer, sort of like the Hebrew lesser god Satan, that deity considered an aspect of their supreme god, a being called Vishnu.”
   “Weren’t too far off were they?” the Magdalene observed, Jesus shrugging at her reply.
   Reaching down, he pulled the dagger from the man’s chest. Hot blood poured from the gaping wound, and he wiped the blade on the rags he was wearing. Noting this, Jesus said, “You’d best get to your supper before it runs out on the ground.”
   “Wouldn’t it have been easier to kill him in the usual way?” asked Mary, sinking fangs in the neck.
   “He seemed to like knives so much, I figured I’d give the bastard one,” said Jesus, tucking the dagger in his robe while Mary drained the corpse.
   Her meal finished, they dragged the body to an alley and checked it for valuables. Finding nothing, which was usual for the criminals of Antioch, Jesus grabbed the corpse by the hair and dumped it in a lavatorium, where it floated away in the current with other refuse.
   “Come to think of it, I wonder if he was a robber,” said Mary as they left, “By the way he behaved he could have been a simple killer, or a rapist.”
   “Who cares,” Jesus replied, heading to the stone bench and pulling the man’s dagger from the tree. “All I know is that he tossed a knife at me and I killed him for his efforts. Holding the blade, he asked, “Are you in need of a dagger woman, I already have one.”
   “Why not,” said the Magdalene, taking the blade and placing it in a nook in her cloak. “What do you want to do now?” she asked, taking his hand, resuming their stroll.
   “Find another I suppose, I’m getting a bit hungry myself.”
   An hour passed, the couple heading into an even seedier section of town, pimps and whores lining the streets, hawking their unseemly wares, drunks lying unconscious in doorways and gutters. Jesus looked aghast at the appalling spectacles passing him, Mary remarking, “Don’t be too shocked, this is the real world Jesus old friend, get used to it and move on.”
   “This is unbelievable.”
   “Believe it, then ignore it.”
   Walking past a gambling hall, a pair of undesirables standing in the doorway studied the couple and began to follow them, not realizing their clumsy moves had been noticed.
   “We’ve picked up trouble,” said Mary as they headed down a side street.
   “Just what I was looking for,” Jesus replied, deliberately turning into a dark alley with her. “Head for the end of the alley, I’ll stay here,” he ordered, sinking into the shadows next to a wall. “When they enter, let them walk past me but don’t let them pass you.”
   “Got it,” said Mary, heading to the end of the alley.
   The hoodlums rounded the corner and entered the alley. Seeing no one and looking about, one asked the other in Syrian accented Latin, “Where the hell’d they go?”
   “Probably ran to the other end,” his partner answered as they broke into a run, “We’ll get them, this is too easy.”
   “Not easy enough,” announced the Magdalene, moving from the shadows, standing in their path.
   Stopping, they pulled daggers, moving toward the apparently helpless woman.
   “Don’t you people ever use clubs or swords?” asked Mary, hands on hips.
   “I mean, can’t you be a little more inventive, you always seem to use daggers here and it’s getting a bit old,” she teased with a smile.
   Confused for a moment, then ignoring her statement, one asked, “Where’s the other one?”
   “Right here friend,” Jesus answered from behind, smiling and baring fangs while Mary did the same.
   “They’re vampires!” cried one, terrified, dropping his dagger and in panic attempting to run past Mary. Grabbing him by his hair, she threw him hard against a wall. He fell unconscious to the pavement, suffering from a badly fractured skull. Walking to the dying form, she lifted him with one arm, sunk fangs in his neck and drained him on the spot.
   “So, what do you plan to do?” asked Jesus of the bandit’s partner, leaning against the wall and smiling at his victim. The hoodlum stood terrified, dagger falling to the ground, an unmistakable noise coming from his posterior as Jesus walked up and grabbed him by his soiled tunic. Frowning at the noxious odor, he remarked, “This one just shit himself, can you believe it?”
   “Doesn’t surprise me a bit,” said Mary, rising from her victim, “I don’t think they expected this, do you?”
   “No,” Jesus replied, raising the struggling man in the air with one arm, sinking fangs in the neck and dispatching him. Dropping the corpse, he added, “I suppose we’ll never run out of idiots like these.”
   “The world seems to be full of them.”
   Laden with two cadavers, the sated duo looked for a lavatorium, skirting lit torches along the main thoroughfare. Finding none in the area, a bathhouse was pressed into service; a small lavatorium was in the rear. Jesus checked the bodies for loot, and flushed the remains into the sewers of Antioch.
   “At least these ones had money,” said Mary as they left the bathhouse.
   “Only a few denarii, hardly worth the trouble.”
   “They had plenty of blood in them didn’t they?”
   “True,” said Jesus, chuckling at the remark.
   Making their way to their room at about four, they entered the pitch-black lair.
   Sitting down in a chair, Mary observed, “You really loosened up tonight didn’t you?”
   “What do you mean?”
   “The way you knifed the first guy was neat, and you didn’t even try to entrance the other two, you had fun with them instead.”
   “It struck me as unusual, since most times you freeze them to their spots and suck their blood like a two-legged tick.”
   “You liked that?”
   “May I ask why?”
   “You can’t be that thick,” answered Mary, “I simply mean you made taking them enjoyable for a change and not so damn ritualistic.”
   “Oh yes, I see what you mean,” said Jesus, nodding and reflecting on the evening’s events.
   “Would you like to try out the razor?” Mary asked, changing the subject.
   “Sure, do you know how to use one?”
   Mary looked to him and frowned. “What the hell do you think?”
   “I’m sorry,” said Jesus, recalling their past conversation, reaching in his robe and handing her the razor.
   “Goddamnit,” Mary spat, “I usually use olive oil for a shave but we don’t have any.”    
   “There’s some sort of oil in the lamps, can we use that?” asked Jesus, pointing to one.
   “Sure, that’s a good idea, I never would have thought of that. Let me strop the razor and you get the oil,” said Mary, tying one end of the strop to a bedpost, holding the other end in her left hand, quickly stropping the razor with her right.
   Jesus walked to one of several unlit oil lamps hanging on the walls, removed one and brought it to her.
   “I’ve never had a shave,” said Jesus, handing her the lamp, “I’ve worn a beard since I was fourteen; what do we do with the oil?”
   “Really?” asked Mary, returning the lamp, “Take oil from the lamp and rub it into your beard, making certain it reaches your skin.”
   “Just do it, it lubricates the skin so the razor won’t cut you,” she answered, inspecting the freshly stropped blade, annoyed at his ignorance.
   Moments later, his beard was drenched in oil, much to the Magdalene’s chagrin. Frowning and ignoring the oil soaked beard, she asked, “What do you want, clean shave, goatee, moustache?”
   “Clean shave,” said Jesus, turning up his chin for the blade.
   “You’ll look like a Roman when I’m done.”
   “Good, I’m tired of looking like a Hebrew.”
   “Okay,” said Mary, giving Jesus his first shave. In minutes, he was shorn of his remaining beard, cheeks and chin smooth as any baby’s bottom. “You look great!” she exclaimed, the vampiric Christ rubbing his bare chin.
   “It feels strange.”
   “That’s because you don’t have any hair on your face,” said Mary, reaching for her mirror. Jesus looked at the reflection of his clean-shaven countenance, giving a smile of approval to his consort. “We’ll have to get you a toga now – you’d really look good in one.”
   “Only Roman citizens can wear togas,” said Jesus, informing her of one aspect of Roman law.
   “Who cares, Roman laws, indeed, any laws, don’t apply to vampires! Besides, I don’t think you’ll be walking around the forum in broad daylight anytime soon wearing a Patrician toga.”
   “Masquerading as a Roman citizen is also a capital offense,” Jesus added, “Augustus Caesar had the Senate ratify that law over twenty years ago.”
   “In case you haven’t noticed, we’re already dead, so what can they do?”
   “Well, they – ”
   “Well what, I don’t think the Praetorian Guard prowls about Asia with oak stakes at three in the morning, searching for vampires who wear togas,” Mary retorted, ‘Asia’ the term used by Romans for the Middle East.
   “Yes, that’s quite true,” said Jesus with an ironic smile.
   Talking for the remainder of the night about his plans for the following evening, he also resolved to replace much of his current garb as soon as possible, in exchange for fine Roman tunics and an accessorizing toga. As the sun rose sleepiness set in, the couple retiring for their daytime slumber. Joseph came knocking at dusk, holding his shielded candle, Jesus answering the door.
   “You’re changing rapidly,” Joseph observed, beholding his clean-shaven son.
   “We’re going to find a toga for him next, I think he’ll look good in one,” said the Magdalene.
   “Probably, considering he looks like any other Roman fellow now.”
   Jesus took the candle, lighting a lamp, and asked, “I see you’re feeling better, are you and mother ready to leave?”
   “As ready as we’ll ever be,” Joseph answered, “You know son, maybe your girl can give your mother and I a makeover too, she did a fine job with you.”
   “I’d love to,” said the Magdalene, “If you like we can do it at the next stop.”
   “That’ll be fine,” replied Joseph, walking to the door, “I’ll collect your mother, we’ll be back in a minute.”
   “There’s no need for that father, we’ll follow you to your room. After all, one of us has to carry your belongings,” said Jesus, lifting his heavy sack from beneath the bed.
   “Oh yes,” Joseph replied, still amazed at the incredible strength of vampires.
   They headed to his parent’s room, Mary retrieving his carpentry tools and satchel of treasure, Joseph and wife following after he locked the door. Arriving at the office, Jesus handed the clerk the keys and checked out, walking across the street to the stable. Pulling out in the wagon, he drove to his waiting parents, loaded their belongings and climbed behind the reins, Mary at his side. His parents sitting in the rear, they headed to the city gates and resumed the trip north.
   As they were leaving the locale of the inn, the stable manager walked to the office and exclaimed, “That gentleman tipped me five denarii!”
   “He gave me five too,” said the innkeeper, “I’ll tell you something else, the older folks with them seemed okay, but there was something strange about that guy and his girl, and I can’t put my finger on it.”
   “I thought so too,” the stable manager replied, looking to the coins in his hand as the wagon disappeared in the distance.

* * *

   “Centurion Decius Publius is at the top of the duty roster,” Maxentius Jovanius remarked to the new procurator of Judea, Titus Marcellus, as they stood in the summer palace in coastal Caesarea with the aide Antonias, the new procurator preferring this residence only.
   “Call him here, Thucydides of Delos has connections with Tiberius,” said Marcellus, “If we don’t at least send soldiers to track this Jesus character, the Emperor will have my ass!”
   “Do you believe Jesus of Nazareth is a vampire?” Maxentius asked, Antonias occupied reading an official document concerning yet another Judean messiah named Lucius the Christ.
   “Hell no, there are no vampires, besides, he’s been dead nearly a year,” said Marcellus, “But Dr. Thucydides thinks he is and sent a letter to Rome.”
   “So Tiberius sent a letter from Capri, informing me that Thucydides is a good friend of his, and a learned genius, and that we are charged with tracking a vampire named Jesus of Nazareth.”
   “Are you kidding?”
   “If I were do you think I’d tell you this horseshit?”
   “No, and would you believe that a few idiots from Jerusalem are wandering about, saying Jesus rose from the dead as the Son of God?” asked Maxentius.
   “Who are they?”
   “Some of his disciples, I think they call themselves Christians.”
   “Are they claiming he’s a vampire?” asked Marcellus.
   “Not at all.”
   “I wonder if this Lucius Christ fellow is one of those,” Antonias spoke up.
   “Who in hell is Lucius Christ?” asked the procurator.
   “Another one of their messiahs, like Jesus Christ of Nazareth was, according to this,” said Antonias, handing his new boss the document.
   “By the gods, it figures, why the hell did Tiberius send me here?” Marcellus groaned, rubbing his forehead as he stared at the report.
   “Pilate said the same thing to Antonias,” Maxentius replied, jerking a thumb at his fellow bureaucrat as the aide nodded in agreement.
   “Did he, well, please see to it that the centurion is called,” said Marcellus, quickly reading the document.
   “I’ll tend to it immediately,” answered Maxentius, giving him a Roman salute.
   A little over two days later, centurion T. Decius Publius and his eight men, traveling from Jerusalem, appeared before procurator Marcellus, informed that he was in charge of a contubernia ordered by Tiberius to track Jesus, the vampire.
   “Are you serious sir?” Decius asked, feigning an incredulous look, knowing that Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, a former Levite rabbi, was in fact a bloodsucking vampire, but also a friend of his, sworn on his personal honor.
   “Yes I am centurion, Tiberius ordered it.”
   “I’m the one who crucified him, he’s dead as a coffin nail.”
   “You did?”
   “Yes sir, he died on the cross last spring.”
   “That doesn’t mean he didn’t rise as a vampire,” Dr. Thucydides declared, walking into the atrium.
   “Do I have to deal with this clown again?” asked Decius.
   “I don’t believe him either, but Tiberius ordered it and we must follow the emperor’s directives,” Marcellus answered, looking to Decius with a sympathetic gaze.
   “He’s a madman,” said Decius, looking to Thucydides.
   “Be that as it may centurion, you are charged with tracking Jesus the vampire,” Marcellus replied, almost laughing as he uttered the order.
   “Yes sir,” said Decius with a sinking feeling, giving the procurator a salute, their orders to march to the practically empty town of Nazareth.
   Several weeks passed, Jesus and company pressing on into Anatolia, passing through small towns, his parents dining at taverns, he and the Magdalene dining out, so to speak, on worthless members of society that they came across.
   “Where exactly are we heading son?” Joseph asked on a cool evening from the rear of the wagon, a full moon rising overhead.
   “Northeast,” Jesus said over his shoulder.
   “I know that,” Joseph retorted, “But where?”
   “The valleys of eastern Anatolia, in the region of upper Cappadocia near the Euphrates River. The area is remote, wooded, and the land is good for farming.”
   “You’re forgetting one thing son. I’m a carpenter, not a dirt farmer.”
   “So what, we’ll buy slaves too, you can use them to tend the farm.”
   “I suppose that’ll work,” said Joseph, falling silent, wondering where Jesus would find slaves for him, and what else his son had in mind for he and his wife.
   They drove on to a desolate section of highway, not far from the town of Mansahir.
   Mary Magdalene, like the hunter she had become, spotted a pair of warm figures in the distance, not waiting to ambush, they were lying still at the side of the deserted road.
   “I wonder if they’re sleeping,” she asked as they drew closer.
   “I think not,” said Jesus, pulling the wagon up to where they lay.
   Stepping from the wagon, he walked to the pair, both alive but battered and bruised by a group of thieves, having been left for dead. “My name is Euripides, a trader from Macedonia, help us please,” one called in Greek, holding out an arm in a gesture of pleading.
   “Do you speak Latin or Aramaic, I’m not familiar with Greek,” Jesus answered in Latin, half understanding the man’s sentence.
   “Yes,” said Euripides, telling Jesus in passable Latin of his woes.
   “Don’t worry friend, we’re here to help,” Jesus replied, giving him a pat on the shoulder.
   “You’re Roman aren’t you?” asked Euripides, trying to focus on Jesus.
   “No, I’m a Samaritan named James, what happened to you?”
   “Highwaymen robbed us and took off with our horses.”
   Joseph and Mary walked up, along with a hungry Magdalene, fangs baring in her mouth.
   “What did they look like?” Jesus asked the bruised and bloodied man.
   “There were four, I don’t remember exactly what they looked like, but one had an eye missing and wore a patch,” Euripides answered, trying to recall their faces.
   Jesus raised his eyebrows, making a mental note of the statement.
   “He sure looks like hell,” said Joseph, looking at Euripides’ battered face, “I imagine robbers beat the shit out of them, right?”
   “Yes,” Jesus replied, “Let’s move them to the wagon, we’ll take them to Mansahir for medical attention.”
   “My lord,” said Jesus’ mother, not at all used to such occurrences.
   “Why are you bothering with them?” the Magdalene asked, annoyed at having to take in the men.
   “It’s the right thing to do,” said Jesus, moved by his innate sense of justice.
   “Oh well, no dinner tonight,” Mary retorted while Jesus helped Euripides to his feet.
   “It’s early yet, perhaps we’ll find the folks who did this on the way to town,” said Jesus, “Please help the other man to the wagon Mary.”
   “If you say so,” the Magdalene replied, walking to the other man, concluding that Jesus would never change his ways, even as a vampire.
   Helping them into the wagon, his mother tended their wounds as best she could while her son took the reins, moving the horses at a gallop toward Mansahir, his consort and Joseph at his side. Entering the town, they pulled up to the first inn they found. Jesus headed to the office, asking the innkeeper if he had rooms to rent, and if a physician was available to tend to the injured men.
   “We have rooms, but there’s no doctor available. My sister’s a midwife, will that help?”
   “It’ll have to,” said Jesus, paying him for three rooms, asking if stabling was available for the horses and wagon.
   “No,” the man answered, “Park the rig in front of your room, that will suffice, there’s hay next to the water trough. I’ll get my sister, she’ll meet you at the rooms.”
   “Thank you sir,” Jesus replied as the man left the counter and headed to the back. “We have lodging for the night,” he announced, leaving the office, walking to the wagon and climbing aboard. Pulling in front of the rooms, he stepped down and tied the horses to a hitching post. The Magdalene walked to the rear of the wagon, opened the door and helped Euripides out, along with his partner and Jesus’ mother. Both men had recovered somewhat and were on their feet, but were in need of food and medical attention. Showing them to a warm room, Mary headed to her room as Jesus was placing his loot beneath the bed for safekeeping.
   “This is ridiculous,” said Mary, “Why the hell did you bother with a pair of silly Romans when we have to find supper!”
   “They’re Greeks woman; I think they deserved our help since it happened to them through no fault of their own.”
   “Whatever, I said you’d never change, you’re still going out of your way to help stupid mortal people.”
   “Please understand, it was the right thing to do, and remember I helped you out of a jam once in your hometown.”
   “That’s true,” said Mary, “I guess there’s nothing wrong with having compassion once in a while, just don’t do it too often will you?”
   “I don’t intend to, after they and my folks are settled in, we’re going out to find their attackers, then you’ll see how heartless I can be,” Jesus answered with a sinister smile.
   Mary smiled back, leaving to tend to his parents, carrying their belongings to their room.
   The innkeeper’s sister arrived while Jesus was walking the horses to cool them after the hard run. He pointed to the door of the injured men. She entered, cleaned them up and brought them much needed food.
   “James the Samaritan is a kind man,” said Euripides to the midwife, named Sarai, as she wrapped a bandage around his head.
   “That’s rare these days,” Sarai grumbled, “He’s either a saint or a damned fool.”
   “Why do you say that?” asked Euripides, surprised at her surly attitude.
   “You’re new to this forsaken place aren’t you?” retorted Sarai as she patched them up, “There’s so many thieves and pirates in this area that it’s ridiculous. The army won’t do anything about it, and that guy blunders into town thinking he can make a difference?”
   “He saved us,” said Euripides, defending his benefactor.
   “You’re one of the few. It’s practically anarchy in this section of the province, if it wasn’t for the whores in this town giving free pieces of ass to the soldiers to keep them here, we’d all be dead!”
   “Really?” mumbled Thales, partner of Euripides, sitting up and looking to Sarai.
   “You’re damn lucky to be alive,” she said, moving to Thales. She checked his jaw and remarked, “Not broken, only dislocated, lie down on your back and stay still. I warn you, this is going to hurt.” Placing her right palm next to the hinge of his jaw, she moved her hand below it toward his neck, moving her left arm back and striking her fist sharply against her right hand. Hearing a pop as the jawbone snapped in position, Thales moaned in agony, his hands clutching the bedposts. Producing a bottle of strong Anatolian grog laced with opium, she handed it to him and said, “Drink a few slugs of this, it will ease your pain.”
   “Thank you,” a grateful Thales mumbled, taking a long pull from the bottle.
   “Your jaw will feel better in a few weeks, watch it for a while when it comes to eating. Nothing hard, no chewing, only soup and such,” the midwife advised, Thales sinking into his bed. Gathering up her bandages and herbs, along with a few healing talismans, Sarai left and closed the door, not uttering another word. Euripides looked to his battered partner from his bed, yawned, and both settled into much-needed sleep.
   Joseph came to Jesus’ door and knocked, Mary letting him in as she was brushing her hair. “That was a good thing you did son, your mother and I are proud of you,” he said, sitting down in a chair.
   “Thanks dad,” Jesus replied, “Mary jumped on me about it though.”
   “I didn’t mean anything, it’s just with all the trouble you’ve had in the past, by helping people and all, I figured I’d look out for you.”
   “She has a point,” Joseph agreed, “Mary’s a smart girl, it would do you well to consider what she has to say on occasion.”
   “Yes father,” said Jesus, feeling they were ganging up on him.
   “Nevertheless,” Joseph continued, “I think you did the right thing tonight regarding those poor Roman fellows.”
   “They’re Greeks father.”
   “Greeks, Romans, what the hell’s the difference?” Joseph retorted, turning to the Magdalene, “Do you think you could come over and do our hair while we’re here?”
   “Sure, but we have to find dinner first, will you be up later?”
   “Probably, knock on our door when you get back,” said Joseph, rising from his seat and leaving.
   Mary watched as Joseph closed the door. Turning to Jesus and folding arms across her ample chest, she remarked, “So, what do you want to do, I’m famished.”
   “I figured we’d fly from town and find the ones who robbed the Greeks.”
   “Good idea, they can’t have gone far.”
   Assuming chiropteric form, they flew from an open window and headed south, looking for warm bodies from the air. A short time later they spied their quarry encamped several miles from the road, a campfire burning brightly next to their tent. Alighting and transforming a few hundred feet from the camp, Mary asked, “How will we know these are the robbers and not nomads camped out in the wilderness?”
   “What do you care?” Jesus asked, trying to understand her seeming change of heart.
   “I don’t, you’re the one who cares about things like that.”
   “Yes I do,” Jesus answered, “Euripides said one will be missing an eye.”
   “Good for him,” said Mary while they headed toward the camp.
   A pair of Arabian stallions stood tied up to a twisted olive tree, with four men sitting around a campfire, getting drunk. One was wearing an eye patch, clearly proving they were the vicious assailants of Euripides and his business partner.
   “Okay, what do we do?” Mary whispered while they hid in the chaparral.
   “I haven’t decided, but these are definitely the ones who robbed the Greeks. What do you think woman, you always seem to have a better handle on this sort of thing.”
   “A diversion will work,” said the Magdalene, watching their victims.
   “Really?” asked Jesus, interested in her predatory tactics.
   “Yes, and have your dagger ready if you want to have fun with them,” she answered, brushing hair from her face.
   “Okay, it’s your move woman.”
   Planning further, she added, “Could you hit one of them in the head with the dagger, instead of the chest?”
   “Easily,” said a confident Jesus, “You want to save the blood don’t you?”
   “Why not,” she replied, “Watch this, my love.” Throwing pebbles toward the men and shaking a bush, she caught the attention of the inebriated road pirates. Growling something in native Anatolian, one rose and walked toward the disturbance, carrying a short sword. As he passed the Magdalene, she broke his neck by snapping it with one hand, draining him on the spot and dropping the corpse to the ground with an audible thud. Hearing the noise, the others rose and headed to their fallen comrade as Mary called, “Now Jesus!”
   Pulling a dagger, Jesus aimed the weapon at the temple of the one-eyed man. Throwing it overhand for maximum power, the speeding blade found its mark, piercing his temple. The dagger entered his skull, the man’s remaining eye crazily looking to the sky for a moment, as if asking God for a reason for his scrambled brain. It continued up to the hilt, and the man died on the spot, his body hitting the ground like a stone, dagger through the head. His comrades turning to view his demise, Jesus and Mary moved into the open, cornering their remaining victims next to the tent, baring fangs.
   “Vampires!” came the cry, Jesus declaring, “Next time fools, beware of Greeks who have friends.”
   “What?” asked one, understanding the Latin vernacular.
   “The men you robbed this evening, they were friends of mine.”
   “Only brief acquaintances really,” said Mary, running her tongue over her fangs.
   Grabbing the men, they sunk fangs in their necks, sucking their blood until they died.
   “That was fun wasn’t it?” Mary asked as Jesus walked to the one-eyed man’s body, knelt down and sucked it dry.
   Glancing at the corpses, Jesus belched and answered, “I get it now. It’s more fun to deal with them directly, rather than by using entrancement.”
   “I’ll tell you another thing, you’re damned good with that dagger, you nailed him in the temple, that’s incredible!”
   “I can hit anything within fifty cubits,” said Jesus, pulling the dagger from the man’s head and rising to his feet. No blood was evident on the blade, so Jesus slipped it in his robe.
   “Is that so?”
   “I’m good with a sword too. I told you before my father taught me the fundamentals as a child, but I really learned to fight with blades in my twenties when traveling through India.”
   “Yes, I remember you telling that to Simon Peter in Galilee.”
   “Ah Peter, I called him my rock, now he’s as dead as a stone,” said Jesus, waxing philosophical.
   “Are you going to rob them?” asked Mary, looking to the bodies.
   “Need you ask?” Jesus replied while checking the one-eyed man’s corpse for loot. “It’s as if this man were made of silver,” he added in surprise, finding a hoard of denarii on the body.
   “He’s wearing a nice toga too.”
   “That he is,” said Jesus, looking at the fancy clothing, “He was a Roman citizen, look at the signet ring on his finger and the leather shoes on his feet. Let’s take his clothes too; I could use a new pair of duds.” He robbed the other bodies, gathering a pile of metallic loot that he placed in two leather sacks, one bursting with silver; the other filled with gold and jewelry. While Jesus rooted through their tent, Mary stripped the one-eyed cadaver, saving the Egyptian cotton tunic, fine leather shoes, and wool plebian toga for her consort.
   “He sure had a small pecker,” Mary observed, looking to the naked body after her consort had returned from the tent.
   “Don’t be so coarse woman, it’s unbecoming of you,” said Jesus, “That’s a man’s province.”
   “You’re trying to say men are pigs and women aren’t?”
   “Not quite, but close.”
   “That’s not true at all, you’ll find women are much worse in that area than men are even capable of,” Mary retorted, a hint of anger in her voice.
   “What do you mean?”
   “Women are more carnal than men can ever be, or haven’t you noticed?”
   “Really?” Jesus asked, looking to her.
   “Remember, I was a whore in Magdala and Jerusalem and I liked it a lot, because it felt good to use men, especially when most of those flaccid bastards couldn’t satisfy me even if they’d screwed me for years. Hell, in the past I’d bed just about anything for money to feed myself, tell me dear Jesus, would you?” she asked, dropping the stolen clothing and putting hands on hips.
   “Well, I don’t think I could do – ”
   “That’s my point, men are pigs on the surface, where it looks good, women are pigs in their souls. Do you remember Adam’s wife Eve, in Genesis?”
   “I understand,” said Jesus, holding up hands in surrender.
   “Good, that means you’re one of the few men who can actually admit that!”
   “Are you serious?” asked Jesus, looking his angered consort in the eyes.
   “What do you think? Actually, it’s a damn good thing women are that way; otherwise, the race would die out in one generation. Tell me, can you imagine anyone in their right mind who actually wants to pass something the size of a melon in agony?”
   “You mean bearing a child,” said Jesus, understanding her vivid allegory.
   “Of course - women, out of unremitting carnal desire, take the risk of dying during childbirth, along with being tied to the demands of a child afterward.”
   “So what, that’s the truth of our existence, if you’re looking to blame anyone for the role of your sex, blame God, if such a being even exists.”
    “Even then no one appreciates us or what we do in caring for babes and children, men demeaning us or holding us in contempt for simply being women!”
   “Whatever,” said Jesus, lifting leather sacks over his shoulder, “Why are you giving me such hostility Mary, do you really think men don’t appreciate women?"
   “Yes I do, look how your father treats your mother – would you want to be treated that way?”
   “He doesn’t mean it, he’s a bitter old man.”
    “You always said to treat others as you would have them treat you, did you mean it for men only?”
   “Of course not,” said Jesus, disgusted by the remark.
   “Your disciples certainly seemed to think so, look how they used to order the women who followed you!”
   “I wasn’t there all the time, what the hell could I do?” an angered Jesus asked, the couple having an argument in the middle of a desert, surrounded by cooling bodies.
   “They thought of us as camp followers, and didn’t even have the common decency to pay us for waiting on them hand and foot. We may as well have been their slaves for all they thought of us!” Mary exclaimed, ignoring her consort’s question, hands still on her hips.
   “Stop,” Jesus ordered, holding up a hand. “I understand, and it was not I who did that, especially to you, nor to any other woman I encountered!”
   Mary grew silent, obeying him, while Jesus knelt down and retrieved the stolen clothing.
   “Are we going to steal back their horses?” she asked.
   “Why not,” said Jesus, “These dead men have no use for them, besides, we have at least sixty pounds of loot, and we can’t carry that kind of weight around easily as bats, can we?”
   “No,” Mary replied, walking to the pair of Arabians, loosening their tethers from the olive tree.
   Jesus placed his sacks of booty over one horse’s back, Mary asking, “What do you want to do with the bodies?”
   “Leave them for the jackals. They’re in the middle of nowhere; by the time someone finds them, if they ever do, they’ll be bleached skeletons, and no one around here cares anyway.”
   They mounted the steeds, leaving the area with the campfire still burning brightly, galloping back to Mansahir. Tying up the horses in front of Euripides’ room, they walked to his parent’s room carrying their loot, and knocked.
   Jesus’ mother answered the door. “Please come in, we’ve been expecting you.”
   “Hello son,” said Joseph, “Did you kill off the bastards who beat the Greeks?”
   “Yes, we also robbed them and stole back their horses.”
   “Good,” Joseph replied, “After all this time justice is being done!”
   “I hadn’t looked at it that way,” said Jesus, dropping the sacks of loot to next to a table, still ruminating on what the Magdalene had said earlier.
   “Your father’s right,” his mother declared with an uncharacteristic harshness, “It’s about time somebody killed off rotten sonofabitches who do such things!”
   “You explained it to her well didn’t you father?” asked Jesus, never having heard his mother speak that way.
   “Yeah, she isn’t half as stupid as I once thought,” Joseph replied, forgetting himself for a moment and quickly adding, “I’m sorry wife, I didn’t mean that.”
   Mary looked to her husband and sighed. Turning from him, she asked the Magdalene, “So, Joseph told me you’re a beautician of sorts.”
   “I guess,” said the Magdalene, “I used to cut hair for the pimps and whores of the brothels I worked at.”
   “Is that so?” Mary asked.
   “Can you make me look like Jesus does?” asked Joseph, attempting to change the subject.
   His wife looked to him impassively as the Magdalene answered, “Certainly, let’s get started immediately.”
   Jesus and his mother watched while Mary cut Joseph’s hair short, making him look much younger than his fifty plus years, and trimmed off his long but neat beard in preparation for the razor.
   “I’ve never had a shave,” said a nervous Joseph, beholding the gleaming steel blade in the Magdalene’s hand.
   “Don’t worry father, it’s easy,” Jesus replied, trying to soothe his father’s justified fear.
   “Easy for you maybe, you’re a vampire,” Joseph retorted, “What if she cuts my throat with that thing?”
   “I won’t cut you, I have very steady hands,” said Mary, holding them out so he could see she did not tremble. Turning to Jesus, she asked, “Would you get oil from a lamp please?”
   “What’s that for?” asked Joseph, for a moment imagining his beard being burned off by flaming oil.
   “It lubricates the skin so the razor won’t nick you,” said Jesus, removing a lamp from the wall and blowing it out, handing it to his consort.
   “I see; if you nick me you won’t go crazy over the blood will you?”
   “Of course not,” Mary answered, rubbing warm oil into his beard, “We’ve already eaten anyway.”
   “You did at that,” said Joseph.
   “Besides, even if I did lose control, good Jesus would protect you,” she teased with an impish grin, Jesus smiling at the remark.
   “Okay,” said Joseph, turning up his chin, “Let her rip, or better yet, give me a close shave.”
   Within minutes, he was shorn of his remaining beard without the tiniest cut. Mary presented her mirror, Joseph marveling at the reflected image of his hairless face.
   “It feels so weird,” said Joseph, rubbing his smooth chin.
   “He said the same thing,” Mary replied, looking to her consort, “You’re looking a little haggard yourself Jesus, you could use a shave too.”
   “Really?” asked Jesus, rubbing stubble on his face. 
   “It’s been weeks since your last shave, you don’t want to go around looking like a bum do you?”
   “No, go ahead and shave me.” Sitting on a stool, he drenched his short beard in oil.
   “You use too entirely too much oil, next time let me do it will you?” said Mary, wiping the excess from his face. She shaved him, trimmed his mother’s hair, and even took time to give her, Joseph and Jesus a quick manicure.
   “We look so nice,” said his mother, admiring her nails as she stood near a wall lamp. Looking to her clean-shaven husband, she asked, “Do you think we could get some henna, I’d like to try on designs I used to see on the Bedouin and Samaritan women.”
   “Sure, I don’t care,” Joseph replied.
   “I must admit I found it attractive,” said Mary, “Like carrying around a beautiful piece of embroidery on your body. I never understood why the priests said we weren’t allowed to wear such things, it seems so - ”
   “Maybe because the priests were a bunch of sanctimonious assholes who liked to control people,” Joseph retorted, looking to his wife with a frown, not wanting to continue the conversation.
   Sensing her husband’s ire and turning from him, she looked to the Magdalene and said, “We thank you very much Mary, you’re very talented when it comes to cosmetology.”
   “I’m pretty good when it comes to clothing styles too,” the Magdalene volunteered, producing the sack containing the looted clothes, “Look at this fine toga, we stripped it from one of the robbers we killed tonight.”
   “My God!” his mother exclaimed, almost fainting while looking at the bloodstained upper area of the toga.
   “Don’t worry, the blood will wash out easily with cold water,” said Mary.
   “I suppose,” said his breathless mother, leaning heavily on a chair.
   Jesus sat oblivious while Joseph stared at the ceiling, smiling in amusement.
   Euripides came knocking on Joseph’s door a few hours after sunup. He opened the door, half-asleep, beholding the black-eyed and bandaged man. Knowing that most Greeks didn’t speak Aramaic or Hebrew, and familiar with the Roman tongue from his days in Judea, while rubbing his eyes he asked gruffly in passable Latin, “What do you want?”
   “Nothing sir,” Euripides answered in Greek, for a moment not recognizing the clean-shaven Joseph.
   “What the hell did you just say man, I don’t speak Greek!” Joseph exclaimed.
   “I’m sorry,” Euripides apologized in Latin, “Nothing sir, I was trying to speak with James, but when I knocked on the door I got no answer.”
   “Oh yes, my son James, he and his girl keep odd hours.”
   “They’re sleeping?”
   “Yes,” said Joseph, “So were we.”
   “I’m sorry.”
   “No problem, I’m hungry anyway; have you had breakfast?” Joseph asked, realizing he had to cover for Jesus.
   “No sir, and just where are we, I was out of it last night.”
   “Mansahir, about five miles north of where you were robbed.”
   His wife woke, startled, and asked, “What is it Joseph?”
   “It’s the trader Euripides,” Joseph answered in Aramaic, “He was looking for our son.”
   “Oh,” said Mary, sitting up in bed, “Did you tell him he’s asleep and hates being disturbed at this time?”
   “I told him,” Joseph replied, “I’m heading out for grub, I’ll be back in a little while woman.” Closing the door, he looked to Euripides and said, “I’m buying, let’s find breakfast shall we?”
   Pointing to the animals tethered in front of his room, Euripides replied, “Would you believe it, our horses returned during the night.”
   “Yes uh, we happened upon them, riderless on the road into town, so we tied them to our wagon figuring they were yours,” Joseph lied, making up the story as he went along.
   “That’s strange, I seem to remember the bandits riding off with them,” said a confused Euripides, trying to piece the events together.
   “Maybe you just thought they did,” Joseph answered, “You were rather delirious when we found you.”
   “Perhaps,” said Euripides, not buying the reply, but knowing he shouldn’t be so stupid as to look a gift horse in the mouth.
   “So, how’s your partner?” Joseph asked while they headed to a tavern.
   “Thales is feeling a bit better. I told him I’d try to bring food for him.”
   “You definitely will now, since I’m buying the grub.” Entering the tavern, Joseph ordered several carryout breakfasts along with a small crock of soup for trader Thales. Producing currency from a tunic pocket, he paid for the food in common orichalcum sestertii and they headed back to the inn.
   “When will James be awake?” Euripides asked, wanting to thank the other members of the rescue party in person.
   “He and his girl don’t often rise till early evening,” replied Joseph, as if it was as natural as the sun rising in the east, “Don’t ask me why, it’s a habit they picked up some time ago.”
   “I suppose some folks don’t like the day,” Euripides observed.
   “That’s the goddamn truth,” said a chucking Joseph.
   Coming to the door of his room, Euripides opened it and sat their food on a table just inside. Joseph turned to his room and said, “Come back after dusk if you like, I’m sure James will be up by then.” Entering, Joseph closed the door as his wife was leaving bed.
   “What did you tell him about Jesus?” asked Mary.
   “That he was a late sleeper,” Joseph replied, smiling at the simple lie, “He seemed to buy that, and I also took the time to pick up breakfast for you,” handing his wife a warm lump of oil soaked, brown papyrus.
   “Thank you,” said Mary, unwrapping the food, aromatic brown meat and assorted vegetables spilling onto the table. “My God Joseph, this is pork!” she exclaimed, drawing back from the well-done swine flesh, “I can’t eat this – the Torah says it’s unclean!”
   “Who cares, those stupid scrolls don’t mean anything. If you remember Mary, our son now drinks blood every night! The Torah says a lot of senseless stuff and it’s all bullshit,” Joseph spat, taking a big bite of pork tenderloin, marinated in wine, seasoned with onions, carrots, and garlic. He swallowed a mouthful, chasing the delicious morsels with a gulp of strong wine. “Besides, we’re not in Judea anymore, so forget about that crap from there.”
   “We were taught by the rabbis from the Torah, they said pork will defile us.”
    “That’s ridiculous, we’re all defiled as it is,” Joseph retorted, preparing to take another bite, “Who were those pious fools anyway, trying to tell us what to think! After what I’ve seen in the last few months, the Hebrew faith is a fraud, just like everything else that has to do with religion, and the Torah’s nothing but scrolls of lies penned by deluded idiots.”
   “But Joseph, I – ”
   “Just eat the food woman, it won’t kill you and it tastes really good,” Joseph said with a cynical smile, enjoying the rich flavor of the forbidden food.
   She looked to her husband and then at the food on the table. Joseph was right; it indeed smelled good, so she took a small bite of the unclean meat.
   “See, you haven’t died, have you?” Joseph asked, popping a roasted carrot in his mouth, drenched in pork broth.
   “No, and it doesn’t taste bad either,” she answered with pleasant surprise.
   “Exactly, when in Rome, do as Romans do.”
   “If you say so,” Mary replied, first picking at, and then quickly finishing her delicious breakfast.
   They spent the rest of the day sitting mostly idle in their room, talking of the events of the past few months. Mary mended garments while they conversed, Joseph pointing out that flexibility seemed the best approach for them to take, as many things in their lives had changed. When dusk approached, Joseph and wife headed to Jesus’ room before Euripides did, to inform him of the lies he had told the trader on their way to breakfast. Jesus answered the door, letting them in while his consort lit a lamp. His father sat down in a chair next to a table and related the current situation, his wife taking a seat on the bed.
   “Thanks dad,” said Jesus, taking a seat at the table, “Verily I say, it is good that you lied to him, and I think it would be best to leave tonight to avoid any embarrassing questions.”
   “I agree,” Joseph replied, “That’s all we’d need, for all the rest of the world knows, we've died or disappeared, and we don’t need to screw that up do we?”
   Trader Euripides knocked on the door, accompanied by partner Thales.
   “Come in,” Jesus called.
   The door opened, and Euripides said in passable Latin, “Good evening, James the Samaritan, you look well, this is my partner, Thales of Lydia.”
   Jesus nodded and answered, “You’re looking much better gentlemen, I’m glad to see you’re recovering from your injuries.”
   “We wish to thank you again for what you did for us, how can we repay you?” Thales asked in an uncomfortable but intelligible mumble.
   “Maybe by leaving us alone?” the Magdalene snickered.
   “Mary, watch your mouth!” Jesus exclaimed, glaring at her.
   “That’s what I think, James old boy,” Mary retorted, studying her nails.
   Jesus turned to the traders and said, “There’s no need of payment my friends, simply remember when you see another in trouble, do your very best to help them if you can. In other words, from now on, you should always do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
   “You are a very kind and wise man,” Euripides replied, truly surprised at the generosity of the man he knew as James. Indeed, in this era, not many, if any at all, would have stopped to render assistance to a stranger, as it was usually considered best to care only for one’s own.
   “Thank you,” said Jesus, “Alas, I and my family must be moving on tonight; is there anything else you fellows need before we leave?”
   “Honestly, you’ve done enough for us already, but the robbers took our money and we have no funds available,” a mumbling Thales answered.
   “Hand me my silver satchel woman,” said Jesus, Joseph raising eyebrows.
   The Magdalene handed him the heavy bag of denarii stolen from the robbers, Jesus asking, “How much do you fellows need?”
   “We cannot take charity sir,” said Euripides.
   “It’s not charity to help those truly in need, it is a duty, and I have more money available than I know what to do with. You will need funds to continue in your journey, would a thousand denarii help?”
   “A thousand?” Euripides asked, jaw dropping and voice trailing off.
   “How about two thousand?” Jesus asked, not realizing he was preparing to give them what they considered a fortune.
   “A thousand is more than enough,” a breathless Euripides answered, “Fifty, or even twenty, would suffice.”
   “Consider this your lucky day,” Jesus declared, emptying the bag and dumping a pile of silver coins on a table, “Go ahead and take a couple thousand for your trouble.”
   He pushed two thousand odd coins across the table while Euripides stared at him in awe.
   “Are you sure?” mumbled Thales.
   “I insist,” Jesus answered, folding hands, “You’ll need money to recuperate from your injuries and to continue operating your trading business.”
   “Really, James has more money than even God does,” said Joseph.
   “Take the money and go,” the Magdalene implored, resting her chin on an arm.
   Euripides quickly gathered the silver into a fold in his tunic and prepared to leave, while Jesus rose and asked, “I forgot to ask friends, what exactly are you traders of?”
   “Opium,” said Euripides.
   “Oh yes, opium, I tried that in India,” Jesus replied, fondly recalling the experience.
   “We thank you James the Samaritan,” Thales mumbled with a bow, the pair heading for the door.
   “You’re quite welcome,” said Jesus in the way of a goodbye, closing the door.
   As he turned from the door, Mary asked, “Why did you give them all that money?”
   “I figured it would buy them off. At the rate we’re amassing loot, we’ll soon have enough money to buy Rome, so what does it matter?” said Jesus, leaning against the jamb.
   “I really like your style son,” said Joseph.
   Euripides and partner made their way to their room, Thales observing that Jesus, the man they knew as ‘James the Samaritan’, was one of the most remarkable individuals he had ever met. In later years, the pair of Greek opium traders, thanks to Jesus’ sound investment, would become incredibly wealthy men, moving to opulent villas outside Rome, and crown their success by marrying beautiful Roman women who bore them many children.
   One of the traders, Thales of Lydia, would become an acquaintance of an impostor disciple blundering about Rome in Claudius’ time, during the mid-forties of the Common Era, a lying charlatan calling himself Peter. This man, like many others who claimed to have known Jesus Christ, was a liar, as Jesus had murdered his disciple Simon Peter shortly after his triumphant vampiric resurrection. Thales would relate to this man the incredible story of being saved from certain death by a compassionate individual named James, who had came upon him and his partner Euripides, just outside the small town of Mansahir in Anatolian Cappadocia many years before. Indeed, this story would survive in an abridged form across the centuries to be retold in Christian churches as the wonderful tale of ‘The Good Samaritan’, said to have been a parable told by none other than Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, in the New Testament.
   An hour later, the group bid their farewells and pulled out of Mansahir, heading northeast toward a town called Heraclea, leaving traders Euripides and Thales behind. Another bright moon was rising, as Jesus, at the reins, the Magdalene at his side, proceeded at a leisurely pace on the desolate road. Joseph and Mary were sitting in the back with the sliding door open, conversing with them. The horses slowed as the elevation was increasing, passing steep foothills on the well-engineered Roman highway, low shrubs and brush giving way to dense woodlands. All were talking of the events of the past few days, of Euripides and his friend Thales, of the bitter, sarcastic midwife who had tended their wounds, and of Mary having to eat pork that Joseph had brought her for breakfast.
   “There’s nothing wrong with eating swine as a mortal if the meat is cooked well mother,” said Jesus, recalling the delicious flavor of pork. In his past travels he had met, eaten fine meals and conversed with many people who had either been fine cooks of porcine flesh, or even healers from religious groups who used swine meat in sacrificial rituals.
    “It really is?” his mother asked, still unsure.
    “Of course, it’s good for us too. A little over a month ago Mary and I sucked the blood of wild boars for nourishment.”
   “You did?” she asked, slowly growing used to her son’s vampiric ways.
   “Blood is blood mother, even from a pig, father’s right regarding these things. The Torah is nothing but worthless scrolls of lies, along with all that other crap the rabbis told you when you were a kid. Verily I say mother, never believe anything unless you can prove it to yourself first. Otherwise, dismiss it as a lie, told either by a simpleton or a charlatan who truly knows better.”
   “Really?” his mother asked, frowning at the coarse remarks, surprised that her formerly devout son was now so coldly cynical about religion.
   “Take my word for it mom, practically everyone is out for themselves, and always have some kind of angle. Remember, I found out the hard way, via the cross,” Jesus answered, the Magdalene nodding in agreement.
   His mother grew silent, reflecting on the terrible thought of her firstborn son’s crucifixion.

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