First Chapter Review

Golgotha – Curse of the Crucifixion

Below if the first chapter of my upcoming book and your feedback is requested. This is a roughly edited second draft and any input, feedback, and/or criticism is appreciated. But, the biggest question; would you buy the book based on what you read here?

Pilatus is a faithful husband, loving father of two, and dutiful Roman soldier who is on duty the day Jesus is brought to the Golgotha and put to death. Although, he is torn between right and wrong, duty wins over conscious and he follows orders. As a result, he is cursed to live forever and must watch his wife and children grow old and die. He becomes an evil, vengeful, murderous person that we follow throughout history.

The story provides snippets of his life from near and distant historical perspectives and follows his search for redemption until we meet him in the present day. As an old billionaire philanthropist, he continues to struggle with good and evil and desires the one thing that his wealth can’t buy; death.

Greg J. Gardner
Author of Black Friday – An American Jihad
“Never give up on your dreams, or they will give up on you.”

Chapter 1

The three soldiers waited where they had waited many times before. In years to come it would be called a mountain. People would come from parts of the world that no one knew existed, to visit this place. They would claim to find it, but they would be wrong. In reality it was no more than a hilltop, a killing ground, a Golgotha, where the condemned came to die and soldiers did their job. It was his job this day and the day was hot, hotter than any he remembered before or after. In the shade his skin was hot to the touch and it felt as if the sun scorched his skin in spite of the cloth roof under which he sat. The water was gone and his sweat baked on his skin, as if it boiled and burned every part of his body.

Three solders sat under the tent and none spoke. This was a job no one enjoyed. It was always hot, the water ran out, and the condemned never died fast enough. It would have been much easier to put a sword through them and be done with the whole business, but it had always been this way and Pilatus couldn’t change it

The men were alone, save for the killing posts. 

Later drawings of this day would depict three tall crosses where men hung but drawings seldom resembled reality. The killing posts were little taller than an average man and there were always more than three. Some days required as many posts as the solders had fingers. They didn’t count and no one cared how many were there. Today they would use three of the posts and it wasn’t going to be long.

“Good. They’re almost here.” one soldier said.

They had all heard the cries of women, always the loudest, but today they heard more, many more. It sounded like a crowd and the dust stirred by the group could be seen, smelled, tasted and felt. Dirt seemed to fill the air and the taste was bad. No one could remember the last time it rained and the dry ground easily moved to the air. The dirt made the soldiers even more thirty. The cloud of earth seemed to hang in the air like a curtain. The air seemed to get hotter. They coughed and had trouble breathing.

Most soldiers desired to work in the palace, where water was everywhere. The stone walls made it cool, even on hot days. The work was easy and the women were beautiful. Pilatus met his wife in the palace. She was a young girl, hardly past the age of developing breasts when the two met and fell in love. Pilatus already shaved and had been a soldier since before he started. Age was unimportant, if you were strong, honest, and born right; it was simply what you did. His father had been a soldier and approved of the young couple. The two of them spent days walking, kissing, loving and enjoying each other.

They had been together long enough to have two children and his wife no longer worked in the palace. She stayed home with the children. The boy was old enough to walk but their daughter was still feeding from her mother and Pilatus loved her with all his heart. He saw the beauty that would become a woman like her mother and the girl that would grow to love her father like no other. His son would be a soldier, like his father. He already had a wooden sword, made by his father’s father and dragged it wherever he went. The boy was too small to understand what it was and simply made sure it was with him all the time.  

The four of them were happy. They lived where solders lived; a small house with a room for cooking and eating, a room for Pilatus and his wife, and a room for their children. Because of his father, one of the oldest soilders, Pilatus’ house had no dirt floor. The floor was stone. It wasn’t as cool as the palace but could be comfortable most hot days.

Pilatus wondered what his wife and children were doing and thought even the Palace must be hot today. He watched his son in his mind’s eye. He could see him walking from room to room dragging his wooden sword. He envisioned his wife feeding their daughter and longed to be with them. His heart was never with him when killing was his business but it was work that had to be done. There was never a question. There was never hesitation. This was part of being a soldier and to serve Rome meant not to question. But, his mind was always with his family.

“They’re here.” one of the other soldiers said, snapping Pilatus back to where he was.

He drew in a breath and almost choked on the heat and the dirt. He coughed and took small breaths. The heat was too much. None of the men could breath and their chests burned and ached. One soldier leaned against the tent pole as if he couldn’t stand. Pilatus had trouble standing and the other man pulled him to his feet. Pilatus was the first to step out of the tent and he almost opened his mouth with the heat and pain of the sun. His sandals were no protection from the scorching sand and his feet felt as if he was walking on fire. The other soldiers followed him as he turned to watch them. It was obvious they felt the same pain, the same heat, the same uneasy feeling.

The three men looked at each other with fear. The youngest solder, a boy not shaving yet, stepped backward into the shade of the tent. Pilatus watched as the oldest of the three soldiers stepped toward the boy. He picked him up by his clothes. He was a strong soldier; big. His arms were bigger than Pilatus’ legs. “You’ll do you job, boy, or you’ll be beside them.” The big man set the small soldier down on the hot sand and turned toward the band of people approaching.  

The sun was high and there seemed to be no shadows, it was bright and no shade would be offered by the sky today. Pilatus wanted to run. He wanted to run home. He longed to hold his wife, his daughter, to hug his son. He wanted to love his wife. He wanted to be out from under the hot sun. He stayed. He stood his ground and watched to group approach. He heard more women crying, men’s voices.  But, the air was so filled with dirt he could make out no individual people. He could throw a stone further than he could see clearly and the air felt, it felt wrong.  The air felt wrong.

Pilatus realized for the first time, there was no sound other than the approaching group. He could hear no birds though he could see them in nearby trees. Even on a windless day, the birds should move the leaveshe thought, but no movement could be seen or heard. The nearby water, where they had filled their bucket, seemed to be frozen by the heat. He could see no movement. He could hear no trickle. The water made no sound. He looked to the nearby streets and saw no people, heard no sound and saw no movement. Not one curtain moved, not one door opened or closed, not one person could be seen or heard. Everything was … everything was wrong.

The group was closer now. The Jew was in front. His arms were already bound to the wood.  He was bleeding. He was bleeding badly. He’d been beaten. The path followed by the condemned was always the same. It led from the palace and through the streets where people would throw things from windows and open doors. Some would spit; others would throw the vilest thing they could find, many times their own waste. By the time they reached this killing ground it was hard to touch them and harder to smell them. The smell was sometimes unbearable and made many soldiers sick. The Jew was difficult to look at. He had open wounds from head to toe and Pilatus had never seen a prisoner in this condition make it this far.  

Many times the beating of the escort soldiers proved to be too much. The condemned died before reaching this place and the solder’s job was simply to clean up the mess. People closed their doors, went inside their homes and avoided the street for a short time. When the dead man was gone everything went back to normal. But, there was nothing normal about this day.

As the path left the street and away from the houses they would cross the small creek and were sometimes allowed to drink. Today they were not, but unlike all other days, no sound could be heard from the group walking through the water. The air was too thick for sound to carry. The disturbed dust was blocking the sound. As the crowd continued to approach the air became thicker with quiet.

The water made no sound. Three condemned, women, men, and soldiers all walked through the water and the air was as silent as it had been. Only the cries of the women could be heard and it seemed to come from far away. Pilatus and the other soldier shared uneasy looks. All felt something was wrong but all were too scared to give voice to the fear that gripped them. The air was getting hotter and beginning to become unbreathable. The three men made no sound. As they tried to breathe the only sound was the hot air filling their chest. As the air left their mouths it burned and they coughed.  All three soldiers bent slightly at the waste and their shoulders slumped, but they stood fast and watched the group grow closer.

As escort soldier drew back a large whip and brought it forward in a quick downward arc. Pilatus knew this move well. He’d been an escort soldier before. As the soldier’s hand was coming down it quickly reversed direction followed by what should have been a loud snap, like one stone striking another stone. Instead the sound was quiet. Then a woman’s voice “No!”  He couldn’t tell which one. The Jew dropped to one knee and was dealt a swift kick from another soilder; that sent him all the way down. “Get up.” the soldier said, spitting on the Jew.

Then … as the group got close, Pilatus began to hear more.

He could hear the sand under every foot. He could hear the rustle of clothes. Even the Jew’s skin rubbing against the wood could be heard. Pilatus saw the astonished look of his fellow soldiers and knew they could hear the same thing. Dripping blood could be heard hitting the dirt and the air was cooling and becoming clear. The feeling of “wrong” was unmistakable but the heat was going away and that was a blessing from the gods. The three mean drew in clear, cool, deep breaths of air at the same time and that was a blessing from the gods. The men straitened themselves and continued breathing the cool, clear air. The sounds continued to increase as the group approached the soldiers.  

Dripping blood sounded like drums.

Rustling clothes sounded like a flock of birds flapping wings.

Breathing sounded like a wild herd of animals.

As quickly as it started, the sound died and became normal. The group was almost to them. Still no birds, no leaves, no people, other than the group could be heard. Later, Pilatus would realize they heard nothing beyond the small group of people. It was as if the world had frozen, except for them, the only movement was them, and the only sound was theirs. He would realize too late.

The lead escort soldier was in front of them now and those around him were helping the Jew to his feet. Other soldiers were behind him and Pilatus again noticed the wounds and wondered how the Jew had made it this far. “This Jew’s god is keeping him alive long enough for us to crucify him.” one of the soldiers said and spat on him as he walked forward. “I’m surprised he made it this far” another commented, “You should be home in time for hot food.” Then the soldier laughed and Pilatus saw the Jew walking toward him. He wanted to back up. He wanted to run. It was ridiculous. The young soldier who had mistakenly stepped back in the tent felt the same way and Pilatus could see he was getting ready to step backward.

He turned toward the boy.  “Get the prisoners.” His voice was horse, harsh, not his own. The cool air felt good, but the dry heat and dirt could still be felt and he repeated himself.  “Get the prisoners.”  

The young soldier moved through the group and the men and women got out of his way. He may have been a boy, but he was a roman soldier and no one defied a soldier unless they wanted to die. The boy could drive a sword through them with no retribution. If he couldn’t do it by himself, the other soldiers would help. They would hold any man or woman while the boy pushed his big sword through their body. The boy looked small and fragile beside the Jew but he expertly secured a whip around the Jew’s neck and led him the short distance to the Golgotha.

The escort soldiers led the other prisoners in and the transfer was complete. The big soldier directed one of the escort soldiers to remain and the rest left, their job complete. Pilatus envied them and again his thoughts went to his wife and children. He thought about his wife and her beautiful breasts feeding their daughter. He wanted to hold his young wife. He wanted to hold her breast. He longed to have her, as he’d never longed before. He wanted to be done with this killing business and go home. He thought about how easy it would be to run a sword through these three prisoners and go home. The Jew had caused enough trouble already. Everyone was ready to be done with him.

Four men now, the soldiers put to the business of killing.

The Jew and another prisoner were tied to their posts and the solders began working on the last prisoner. Always the hardest part, it was difficult to tie a strong man’s arms to the wood, but it was impossible to nail him without being tied. The smallest jerk would misguide the nail and it would have to be pulled out and started again. The man was struggling and tying was difficult. He was strong and the four soldiers were not able to secure the prisoner to the wood, when one of the soldiers picked up a rock and struck the prisoner in the head.

Blood struck all four men and the soldier with the rock laughed. “You should have been still.” The prisoner stopped struggling and his arms were tied. Before he could recover sufficiently to struggle, they were ready to nail his arms. The big soldier sat down on the man’s chest and shoulder. Another soldier already had the pouch of tools. Pilatus pulled one arm and put his knee in the palm of the man’s hand. The man’s arm wasn’t moving.

Everyone seemed to know their job and words didn’t have to be spoken and no direction was needed. One soldier stood guard over the other prisoners and the crowd.  The Jew wasn’t going anywhere. He was in no condition to move. The crowd spoke softly and several women gathered around the man. The prisoner was secured to his post with several ropes and struggled very little. 

The young soldier steadily held the nail in one hand and the mallet in the other. The nail was positioned just below the ropes, which started below the shoulder and wrapped the arm below the elbow. The soldier may have been young but what he lacked in size was covered by his newfound confidence. The unsecure look had passed and the mallet came down hard and true. The nail went through the arm with one strike but it took several more to drive the nail into the wood. Although the man began to struggle again, his arm never moved. He made less protest with the second arm and was quickly pulled into position on the post. He didn’t move but yelled loudly when his feet were nailed to the foot post.

“One.” Was the only word the big soldier said and Pilatus followed him and the boy to the second prisoner. His mind was back on his wife, his daughter, his son. He knew that one day his offspring would perform this duty and he was honored. Although it was a task few wanted, it put the soldiers in a position of honor.

The second prisoner was weak and required no rock.  He was quickly crucified and secure.

The Jew was another matter. The crowd had grown larger and they pleaded with the soldiers.  The women pawed at the men and pulled their clothes in a futile attempt to stop the business they were doing, the business of death.

The soldiers were paid well. Their homes were provided and they had food every day. Most days they ate more than once. They could take care of their families. Being a soldier was an honor and provided security that few had. Soldiers did what they were told, if they were told to kill, they killed. It was a simple life.

This was the first time any of the men had questioned that, and the fading heat was fading the questions.

Unlike most prisoners, the Jew put up no fight. He held his arm steady and the first nail was driven through clean with one strike. He yelled only once and that was the first strike. His eyes peered at each soldier, no pleading, no asking for mercy. The eyes were wide, attentive and seemed to have no questions. They were filled with love and mercy. They were not the eyes of a condemned prisoner. Each soldier looked at the man and each had the same uneasy feeling after looking at his eyes. 

Every man pleaded for his life.  

Every man begged for mercy.  

Every man wanted to live.

Instead, the Jew was quiet and calm.

He had been beaten worse than any prisoner the men had seen. He bled from his eyes, his nose, his mouth, and too many cuts on his head to tell one from another. A woven ring of thorns had been pushed onto his head and the blood still poured from these wounds. 

Drawings, statues and artwork of later centuries would never show the true carnage inflicted on this prisoner. They would never show the true brutality born down on the Jew.

As the soldiers pulled the rope, which rose over the post, the man tried to speak but the words could not be heard. Several from the crowd rushed forward to help but the soldiers did their job and kept them back. They would have their chance when the soldier’s business was done. The big soldier pulled and the Jew willingly placed if feet on the foot post. He was resigned to his fate, the soldiers saw this and it made them nervous. 

The soldier who had escorted the prisoners pulled his sword and turned to the crowd. The group did not back away, as the soldier raised his arm and stepped toward them.

“You don’t need that my son.” The Jew said, in a clear and strong voice, a voice that belied the fact this man had been beaten for hours and crucified. “These are not your enemies.” 

That was left out of the stories that would come later, as were many of the words spoken that day. But what he said next was haunting and would be repeated by many. “Forgive these men, my father. They understand nothing of what they are doing.”

Indeed, the men would not be forgiven and his words unsettled the soldiers. Never before had a prisoner spoken of forgiveness. Gone were the usual words of hate, vengeance and wrath, replaced by kindness and love.

His feet were nailed to the foot post and the rope secured. 

“He’ll be dead soon.” The big soldier said.

As they stepped away the crowd rushed to the man’s feet. The soldier’s business turned to waiting and the men walked to the tent. The original soldiers said nothings but had the same thoughts. The coolness of the sand was astonishing compared to the unbearable heat of before. The freshness of the air and renewed wind was unmistakably clean and the dust that had filled the air was gone without a trace. 

It was a good day for their business. 

The soldiers passed the time in the shade. Each man took turns walking through the crowd, which had grown. The Golgotha was full and people sat and stood nearby. Each time a soldier left the tent, more people had come.

“This king of the Jewshas stirred up many people.” One soldier said. The others nodded their heads in agreement but did not speak. The soldiers were badly outnumbered and the crowd could easily have taken the Jew, if they wanted.

When Pilatus stood he saw even more people. He walked by each prisoner and the Jew was speaking. Pilatus walked close enough to listen and heard not one word of anger. Instead the man spoke of love and instantly Pilatus was with his wife. 

The home wasn’t a vision. This wasn’t in his head; he was home. His wife was looking at him and holding their daughter and his son stood nearby. He didn’t understand how this could happen and his wife seemed to shutter with fear. He didn’t care, he was glad to be away from the killing ground. Pilatus was glad to be home and wanted to hold his wife. He walked toward her and bumped into a chair that shouldn’t have been there. Looking down he saw a woman sitting in the dirt. He was back in the Golgotha and immediately drew his sword.

The Roman soldier’s sword had an unmistakable sound when drawn and the three soldiers were on their feet, swords in hand, as Pilatus settled in his battle stance. The woman screamed and crawled toward the Jew as the other soldiers joined Pilatus.

The Jew spoke. “Soildier. Your wife waits for you. Your son waits for you. Your daughter waits for you.” There was a long pause. “Your unborn child waits for you.”

“Shut up!” One solder yelled and struck the Jew. “What’s wrong?”

“What happened?” Another asked.

Pilatus couldn’t answer at first. His feet seemed to belong to someone else, a weak man, a man who wanted to sit and he went down to one knee. The other soldiers looked wearily at the crowd for the culprit. All eyes were on the big swords. No one spoke. Even the Jew had fallen silent. For the first time since being nailed in place, all was quiet. Everyone’s attention was on the four men.

Pilatus tried to stand but could not.

“Nothing.” He said.  “I’m just weak.” He put a hand on another soldier who helped him stand.

For the first time, the size of the crowd frightened the big soldier. He knew the power of large groups. He’d seen it in battle. The three soldiers put Pilatus in the tent and looked at the still growing crowd.  The day was getting late and the Jew should be dead. He should have been dead before he arrived. No man should have been able to walk with his injuries. No man should still be drawing breath. No man should still be alive.  

His sword still in hand the big soldier began moving with purpose. He moved directly toward the crucified Jew and the crowd shrank from him. Only two women remained as the soldier drew close. The crucified man stared at the soldier. The big man was scared but there was no hesitation. With his free hand the soldier pulled a knife, which he slid into the Jew. 

For the second time, the condemned man cried out. 

The big soldier backed up with his sword ready. He didn’t put it away until back in the tent.

“That should get us home, quickly.” He said.

It didn’t and the soldiers continued to walk through the crowd while the Jew continued to breathe.

Pilatus’ legs were still week and he thought he might have been poisoned. Nothing was said of what he now believed was a vision and it would be several days before his wife acknowledged seeing him and the two spoke about it. He couldn’t get his mind away from what happened. It seemed so real. As the crowd had grown, more commoners had sat near the soldier’s tent and the soldiers listened as they spoke of the Jew. They spoke of impossible feats, miracles and more. 

The soldier’s unease grew and Pilatus felt weaker.

The day was late and the sun was down but the Jew still drew breath and the crowd continued to grow. Pilatus thought of his wife as the other soldiers talked about the prisoner’s clothes.  The soldiers drew lots to see who got to choose first. Pilatus would be first and he already knew he wanted the man’s shoes. Everything else was covered with blood and of little use.  The garments were good quality silk but he didn’t want to put his wife through mending repairing and cleaning the dead man’s clothes.

The soldiers agreed what each would get and Pilatus stood for the first time in what seemed like many days. He was tired beyond the day and longed for his wife. The soldiers discussed killing the Jew so they could all go home. They began drawing lots to see who would kill him, but they never got the chance.

The Jew spoke. His voice was clear, strong and loud. He spoke like a battle soldier crying for his troops. No sign of the damaged man was heard in the voice which seemed to reach from the hilltop to the city and echo back, “Father, into your hands I delivery my soul. My work is finished.”

The soldiers went to their feet when a sound of thunder rolled through the air and shook the very earth. Tent poles fell and birds flew from trees. The sound seemed to be the only sound. The crowd stood but only the thunder could be heard. The falling tent, the flying birds, the screaming crowd was drowned out by the thunder. As mouths opened to scream the only sound was the rumble of the sky, which filled all the air.

The soldiers were almost knocked down by the returning heat. Each began to gasp for breath as their chests filled with hot air. It was as if a sun still stood in the now night sky. Again, the men bent at the waste and were almost helpless. Pilatus looked at the crowd, which seemed unaffected by the heat. No one seemed to feel the weight of the air. As the screams and cries of the crowd reached the soldiers the heat got worse. It was painful to breathe and Pilatus dropped to his knees, reaching for the sky. “Surely, this man was the son of a true god.”  History would misremember and credit another with those words but they would haunt Pilatus for millennia. 

The heat vanished as quickly as it came, his strength returned. Pilatus picked up his dropped sword and began to run. He ran down the path where the Jew had been brought when the sun was high. He crossed the water, which now sounded like water should. The night was brightening with stars. Running was easy and sure-footed. Small street fires burned brighter than most nights. The air was clean and clear; easy to breath. The dust, from earlier, had all gone. The streets seemed bright. As he ran, he began to see and hear with a clarity of never before.  

The soldier’s houses were close, a short walk and even shorter run.

The sound of his shoes was joined by the whispers of the people he passed, the voices of people in their homes, the sound of children coming to see the running soldier and the wings of unsettled birds as he ran past nests situated above doors, windows and on roofs. The sounds quickly became music as each sound become undistinguished from another until the only understandable sound was the drum beat of his feet. Each foot hit the ground with a slap like two large hands clapping, one after another, after another, after another.

The sound seemed to continue much longer than it should but Pilatus could not stop running.  His breath began to beat with his feet and soon the solder was breathing hard enough to be heard as he ran. The sound had passed his own ears and was heard by the people in the street. The site of a soldier was common, but a running soldier made people uneasy. His breath was like a wild horse and his eyes were that of a hawk intent on grabbing its prey, which was already in site, but no house come into view. He continued to run.

His mind began to play tricks and all the streets began to look the same. As he continued to run and breath, the details that had just come began to fade. The moving curtains of each window seemed to become more still. The color of each home seemed to become one, and the world began to slow down. Still, he continued to run.  

His chest hurt and his breath was hot enough to be seen on the now cool night air. Pilatus thought about the wrongness of the day and now the night. It seemed a lifetime had passed since he last held his sword in the hot night air of the Golgotha but he knew better, or did he. 

How far had he run?

How long had he run?

Knowledge was not within his reach. He thought he might have been running for many nights. Thoughts of the Jew returned, the earth shaking, the sound seeming to fill his very body, the people crying as the man died. What have we done?Still he ran.

The city of his childhood seemed foreign to his eyes. The soldier recognized nothing, no one.  All faces seemed new. He changed direction but continued to run. Still newer faces appeared in open doors and windows as he ran by. He began to hurt but couldn’t stop. Fires from the street had begun to burn in his body. His eyes began to blur and sweat rolled down his face. He was scared but could not stop. He continued to run.

The soldier had left the city only a few times and each trip had been brief. As a child, these streets were his playground, but on this night that child had lived in another city. This city was not his home. This city was a strange place. All the faces he saw, he knew not one.

Fear began to rise like a serpent preparing to strike. Still he ran.

The fires burning in his legs would surely burn his skin. Still he ran.

The strangers of this foreign city would certainly slay him. So he ran.

The strangers ceased to have faces. Their faces were replaced with empty skin, as plain as bed linen. No eyes peered back as he ran by and no mouths spoke any words. The only sound had become his drum feet, which beat a rhythmic sound on the stones of the street and the faceless people stood almost motionless as he passed. Without moving the empty linen faces followed him. They were looking as he approached and looking as he ran away, but the faces had no eyes and never moved.

What were these monsters? He knew not. He only knew he could not stop. He ran faster.  The drums beat harder.

Soon he would die.

About the author

Breakout author of Black Friday - An American Jihad.

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