Fear. Guilt. The salty aftertaste of both on his lips as he attempted to wet them. Somehow, in all his careful planning, he’d never given much thought to how he would feel when the deed was done. Somehow, he thought it would simply be finished and he could breathe deeply for the first time in weeks. Instead he found himself panting just to keep air in his lungs – and he didn’t even have the cursed money anymore. His eyes darted about the room, searching for the scrolls, something familiar. Something that would prove him right.
His feet were dirty. Of all the details for him to notice, that one suddenly had him trembling. For a moment, he was back in that room, with his rabbi kneeling before him, dipping the towel into the water... His feet had been clean last night. Perhaps there had been mud in the garden. He tried not to think about it. Many things had come to pass since that moment.
His scrolls were where he had left them, carefully tucked into his traveling pack. He unrolled the first, fingers twitching at the curling corners as he attempted to read. He had known from the start that following this rabbi would lead to fame, importance. His records of the Nazarene’s doings began with his first few days as a follower. He had been so sure that the time for Israel to rise had come, and he would be a part of it, one of the inner circle of the man who would lead Israel’s ascent to power.
The characters blurred before his eyes. Oh, the miracles, the signs. The thousands who poured out of the towns to meet him on the roads. It was glorious. This was the story of a conqueror. He had been careful to select the stories that illustrated the power, the majesty of the man. There were some he had been forced to cull from the collection, of his interactions with Samaritans and other undesirables. It was all very well to be charitable - no one would ever accuse the rabbi of being without compassion – but it did not create the story that needed to be told. He alone had been so discriminating. The world would thank him one day.
Or would it?
The scroll nearly dropped from his suddenly numb hands. He quickly rolled it up and reached for the second, searching for the place at which the stories had changed. His master had begun to talk of his death, to speak as if these morality lessons he was so fond of were his true mission. The stories on the parchment were shorter, their occurrences separated by weeks of nothing but teaching, or time spent with undesirables. The disappointment had become unbearable. Much like the guilt that was pressing the very air from his lungs at this moment.
The rope they had used for the colt lay on the floor. He stared at it, letting the parchment go blurry. His chest burned. His eyes felt gravelly as the twisted cords came into sharp focus. To end it, taste the black oblivion of death. Surely that would be better than living to see where his mistake had led. He had cost Israel its champion. The mocking laughter of the priests, the ring of the silver on the floor of the temple. Their words beat a heavy, burning rhythm in his temples.
What is it to us? See to that yourself. So he would.
He had meant it as a warning to the rabbi. Let the priests have their turn at questioning and mocking him – it would reawaken him to his true mission. Yet somehow, he had known. He had always known they would not keep their word. He could have foretold how the story must end – was even now being enacted.
His fingers tightened convulsively, crumpling the words. Then, with one spasmodic motion, he threw both scrolls into the fire. The flames licked greedily at the parchment, turning it glowing black. There would be no more stories of Jesus of Nazareth from his pen, for the man was dead. Crucified. Because of him.
The rope beckoned. Judas tore his eyes from the flames, and stooped to claim it. The rough strands chafed at his fingers. His chest heaved. The decision was made.
With one last look at the ashes of the scrolls, Judas curled the rope in his hand and walked out the door.
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