This continues my imagining of the Easter story.
The mountain was only a mile from the city. Upon its slopes were forests, thick with vegetation. Some parts of the land were used for logging, but here, where Dustin McCabe would often go, was the apple orchards. The fall harvest had yet to happen, and the trees were laden with their fruit.
As they walked, Dustin spoke plainly about what was going to come. “Soon, you’re not going to see me anymore. I’m going to leave. But it will only be for a little while.”
“What does he mean?” Aaron asked Homer. “Only for a little while?”
Dustin turned around, facing all of them. “It’s like a mother, going into labor. Although there’s pain while the baby his being born, once it’s arrived, she forgets all that because of the joy of bringing a child into this world. I’m going to leave, but your sadness will not be forever. I’ll come back, and then, no one will ever be able to take that joy from you.
“I’ve been talking figuratively, but here it is plainly. I have come from the Father, and I am now going back to the Father.”
“Now we understand!” Homer said. “Now that you’ve stopped talking in riddles. And yes, we believe that you were sent from God.”
“You believe,” Dustin said, “But I’ll tell you now, there will be a time when all of you will scatter, and leave me alone. But I won’t be alone. My Father is always with me. I’m telling you this because I want you to be peaceful. You know that I’ve told you, you’ll have trouble in this world. But take heart: I have overcome the world.” With that, he began walking again, into the apple orchard.
Dustin stopped a little ways into the orchard, turning back to the others. “Stay here. And pray for me, because I’m going to face-” he trailed off. “I’m going to face many hard things in the days to come.” He motioned for Lukas, Jonathan and Nigel to follow him. Together, the four walked deeper into the woods. Dustin looked at the trees. “Again, look at the harvest. It’s ready. We just need workers to do the job.”
“The farmers will pick them tomorrow, I’m sure,” Lukas assured him, following his gaze to the apple nearly falling off the tree. Some had already, and lay scattered on the ground.
“You three are some of my closest friends,” Dustin said. “Please, pray for me. Pray with all your might that I will stay strong.” He pointed. “I’m going over there to pray. Stay here, and uplift me in prayer, please. And pray for yourselves as well, that you will remain strong as well. Because what is coming is going to be ”
Dustin stepped away, and the three men knelt, uplifting their leader to God. They prayed so long that they lost track of time. They had realized what Dustin was talking about now, though they didn’t want to admit it. Their sorrow at his eventual departure wore them out, and one by one, they inwardly cried themselves to sleep.
Meanwhile, on the other side of a thicket, Dustin was praying. His knees squirmed into the dirt, his hands squeezing furiously, both going completely white. “Father,” he gasped, knowing what was to come, yet not wanting to believe it, “Father, I don’t want this. I don’t want to go through with this. Please, Father, take this from me, if you are willing. But I know your will comes first. So, Father, let what you want be done.”
Although his eyes were closed, he could feel the touch of one of his Father’s servants. The touch strengthened him, and he began to pray even more earnestly. His brow became wet with sweat. The sweat became tinged red, blood breaking into the sweat glands and beginning to run down his face.
Dustin finally arose, and returned to his friends, who were softly snoring on the ground. “Wake up!” he said, his voice breaking. “Couldn’t you even stay awake? Pray again, for yourselves that you will not give into temptation in these following days.”
As he was speaking, a distant thunder was heard. The group who had been left behind ran up. “Dustin!” Charlie said, “There’s a mob running this way!”
It was true. A huge crowd of people, some of them those who had welcomed him only days before, ran up to confront Dustin. In their lead was Michael Morris, who walked up to Dustin and stuck out his hand.
“You’re going to betray me with a handshake?” Dustin asked, taking the hand.
The others realized what was happening. Their pistols were out in a second. “Should we shoot them?” someone asked.
“Yes!” Lukas yelled, firing. His shot whistled through the air, embedding itself into the arm of John Malachus, the butler of Gabriel Rodgers. The crowd erupted, all of them ready for a battle.
“Put it down!” Dustin yelled, grabbing the gun and throwing it. “Those who live by the gun will just as easily die by it,” he told Lukas, then walked up to John. He squeezed the wound, and the bullet popped out. The entrance hole disappeared.
“What is this?” Dustin asked, looking at all the angry faces, men holding swords and makeshift clubs, several with guns outstretched. “Am I leading a rebellion? When I was here last, I was preaching in the First Church every day, and yet you never took me then. But that’s right, this is your our. This is when darkness reigns.”
“Oh, shut up!” one of the deputies yelled, marching forward and grabbing him. Another man grabbed his other arm and they began to march back to the city. Dustin’s followers were at a loss. They scrambled into the woods, afraid that they would be hauled off as well. Only Lukas followed the mob, and even then, it was at a great distance.
The crowd dragged Dustin to Gabriel Rodger’s house. As many men as could fit into the house went in, while the others lit a fire in the street. The night air was growing cold fast, and finally, Lukas crept up to the fire, staying away from the light, but near enough to feel the warmth.
Inside, Dustin was seated before Judge Travers, the leading authority in the judicial world. “Now look here,” he drawled, “Are you the one who was prophesied about, the Marshal?”
“You say it is so,” Dustin replied.
“I don’t want any lip, boy,” Judge Travers said. “If you claim to be the Marshal, that could be a reason to kill you. It’s blasphemy to claim that.”
Dustin remained silent, and Gabriel Rodgers exploded. “We should hang him now!”
“I have not found a solid reason for killing him,” Judge Travers said. “In any case, I am not sure this case is my authority. You should take him to Governor Chalmers. He’s the highest authority in the district, and if this is a case of blasphemy, then it is he who should examine it.”
“Then let’s get this over with,” Gabriel said, pulling Dustin from the chair and out of the room. The crowd followed, some shouting that they should just kill him then. Lukas left his place by the fire and went as well, keeping to the shadows. They walked to the Governor’s house, rapping on the door loudly.
“What is it?” one of the soldiers on duty asked.
“We have brought a man named Dustin McCabe here. He is accused of blasphemy of the highest degree.”
“Give him to us, and we will find out for you,” the soldier demanded.
The mob did as he requested, then all lounged around outside. Dustin was hauled through hallways, eventually being thrown down a flight of stairs in to a cellar. On the one side was a fireplace, which dimly lit the whole thing.
“You’re the Marshal, eh?” asked one soldier, who had stayed by the door a little longer, and so had found out what Dustin had been charged with. “In that case, we should give you a star!” Laughing, the men fashioned a crude metal star, then pierced it with a pin. “Tell us, are you the Marshal?”
“It is as you say,” Dustin replied.
“Then take the symbol of your office!” the soldier crowed, stabbing it into his chest. It wasn’t fatal.
“They say he’s a prophet,” someone else said. “Let’s see him prophesy!” A blindfold was pulled over Dustin’s eyes, and the soldiers took turns punching him, asking, “Tell us, prophet, who was it that hit you?”
When they finally stopped, and the blindfold was removed, Dustin saw that the governor himself was standing in the room watching. Dustin’s one eye was swollen shut, and the other wasn’t much better.
“Send him back to Judge Travers,” Governor Chalmers said. “This man is of no concern to me.”
By now, it was early morning. As Dustin was dragged back to Gabriel Rodger’s house, Lukas returned to his place by the fire. One of the maids who had been forced out of the house peered closer at him. “Well, I’ll be. You’re one of those men who followed that crazy Dustin McCabe, aren’t you?”
“Not me,” Lukas lied. “Get away from me.”
But the maid wouldn’t let up. “No, I can tell from your accent. You’re from up north!”
“I promise you, I was not with Dustin McCabe,” Lukas asserted.
Another man came over, looking at him as well. “No, I recognize you from the parade. You were with him.”
“By all that is holy!” Lukas roared. “I swear to you, I never knew the man! Let fire from heaven consume me if I tell a lie.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, Lukas caught a glimpse of Dustin through the window. Although only one eye was opened, it was trained on Lukas. Lukas felt his heart stop, then heard the distant bells calling for morning prayer.
“No,” he gasped, quietly, to himself. “Oh, dear Lord, no. Don’t let it be this way, don’t let it be this way!” His shame burning inside of him, he ran off, tears beginning to stream down his face.
Dustin turned away from the window, listening to the words around him. “We must hang him, he is claiming to be the Marshal!”
“If you must hang him,” Judge Travers said, “Then I want no part in it. Take him, but let it be on your own head.”
“That is fine,” Gabriel growled, enunciating each word clearly. Two of his cronies grabbed the seated man and dragged him outside, throwing him to the ground. Another man threw a rope down in front of him.
“Let this be your final shame,” Gabriel said, standing on the step, “You will carry the very object of your death.”
Dustin touched the rope, lifting it as best as he could. His hands were numb, and could hardly grip the thick rope. But finally, he managed to get a hold on it and began to stumble towards the gallows.
All of his followers, except Lukas, were in the crowd. All of them wanted to try and lead an uprising to save him, but fear trapped them. Instead, they watched mutely as the man they thought was going to save them dragged a noose meant for his own neck.
“Get a move on!” one of the men yelled, kicking Dustin forward. Already badly balanced, Dustin toppled to the ground. The man who had kicked him grabbed someone else. “Get the rope, or he’ll die on the way to the gallows.”
The man did as he was requested, lifting the heavy rope over a shoulder and dragging it along. The crowd pressed in behind them, eager to see the show.
After ten long minutes, they arrived at the place. It was called Blackbird’s Hollow, where the crows and other carrion would gather. Gabriel took the rope from the man, and stepped onto the platform. He grabbed a stool and reached up, tying the rope over the main wooden post, then weaving it through a series of pulleys, finally attaching it to a large metal weight. Dustin was pushed onto the platform as well, Gabriel grabbing the noose and fixing it over the condemned man’s neck.
“Have you any last words?” he asked, grabbing the wooden bar that would allow the weight to fall, applying pressure to Dustin’s neck until he asphyxiated.
“Father, forgive these men. They do not know what they are doing,” Dustin said, his prayer earnest, but it only made the men angrier.
“We know what we are doing,” Gabriel said, pulling the bar out from under the weight. It began to drop, Dustin’s toes leaving the ground.
Dustin’s eyes went wide. “No! Oh, dear Father, don’t turn your back on me now! My God, why do you turn away!”
The early morning light was suddenly blotted out. There were no clouds, it was as if the sun itself was producing darkness. Dustin screamed out again, “Why! Why do you hide your face! Do not leave me alone!” The words were garbled, Dustin’s air pipe slowly being closed off.
Dustin’s face suddenly became the picture of peace, and in a shout that everyone heard, he yelled, “It is finished!” then, softer, though everyone still heard him, he murmured, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
As he said this, he took his last breath. His body spasmed, arms and legs thrashing, then grew still. Dustin McCabe, the Marshal sent from God, was dead.
For the third and final part of the saga, click here