In this section Jay (Jesus) has left his best friend behind and is facing Armageddon alone, aside from a big cop named Dougie.
The following excerpt is from Mark Wilson’s upcoming novel, On The Seventh Day, available now for Pre-Order
Crouched, arse half on a wall, at the base of Christ the Redeemer on the peak of Corcovado Mountain, Jay looked out over Rio de Janeiro. Lost in his own grief, his eyes did not see the city and neighbourhoods below. He never imagined that he could feel so alone. Not even held by iron pins to a wooden cross had he felt so completely abandoned. Then, he’d known that Heaven awaited him, that earth would continue and that humans might be enriched by his time amongst them. Even the knowledge that his Father would be waiting for him had strengthened his resolve to see the execution through to the last. Jay had also had Moses in Heaven fighting his cause. Moses had been there for Jay since the moment of his creation: an immovable force for goodness, a confidant, a fearless ally and, simply, a friend.
And now Mo was gone.
Jay was falling into the deepest loneliness he’d experienced in his existence.
Jay sighed heavily and turned to look up at the statue behind him. Arms wide, welcoming the world, Christ the Redeemer possessed all the peace, confidence and purpose he himself felt none of at that moment.
Jay touched the pedestal of the statue, like a human would. For the first time he understood the human desire, the need, to make physical contact with an icon or statue. That hope that a portion of what one saw in the object might empower one, that some strength would heal a wounded spirit.
Feeling only soapstone, Jay pulled his hand back, shoving it deep into the pockets of his denims.
Bringing the sprawling city below into focus, Jay breathed deeply, filling his lungs with the smells of the mountain and his being with Heaven’s Light. Allowing himself to connect with the material world and Heaven’s immateriality simultaneously, with closed eyes he examined the intricacies of the people, the city and the mood below.
Excitement. Determination. Joy. Fear.
All the emotions and feelings he’d come to expect from a crowd of people anticipating his presence. As with all of the other cities he’d visited so far, there was no sense of pressing danger. Yes, there were elements of hate, people protesting his message, and him, but nothing immediately threatening.
Jay funnelled a larger portion of Heaven, at the same time diminishing his sense of the physical world around him, to the point where he was unaware of the stone and sand beneath his feet or the pedestal he leaned on.
With all of his ethereal senses he scanned the city for signs of Azrael.
Mo had told him that he had helped Azrael plan where and how her agents — human mercenaries who cared nothing for who paid them or why — would be most effective in riling and inciting the crowd. Hundreds of them, some dressed in Muslim attire, some posing as Christian fundamentalists or Jews, had seeded the crowd, sought out like-minded and fanned the embers of outrage until fires broke out, joined and became unstoppable swells of violence.
Jay doubted Azrael was present in the city below. She was too experienced to allow Jay the opportunity to sense her, and he would do so if she were nearby. Azrael was the Angel of Death, after all. She’d annihilated millions, razed whole cities, flooded the whole fucking world and all at God’s behest. Azrael left rather a large wake in the immaterial world, as well as the physical one.
Satisfied that no obvious threats lay below, Jay pulled himself back into the flesh, limiting himself once again to the physical plane.
“We should get going, Jay,” Dougie said.
The cop was standing next to him, having arrived whilst Jay’s attention was elsewhere.
Jay nodded. “Thanks, Dougie,” he said without looking at him.
Jay felt Dougie’s mood shift from all-business to concern.
Dougie planked his backside against the soapstone next to Jay’s.
“Did I ever tell you about Tommy Two-Dicks?” he asked.
Despite his morose mood, Jay let out a snort of laughter. “I think I’d remember if you had, Dougie,” he said, nudging him.
Dougie shrugged. Looking off into the distance, he folded his arms, relaxing against the pedestal at the foot of Christ the Redeemer.
“I was in the army, as a kid, y’know, before I became a copper.”
Jay nodded. Sometimes people did this — told him their story. It was natural for humans, especially when they accepted who and what he was. That Heaven was real and Hell was too. It made eternity loom large for them
He’d had the experience many times back in the Middle-East. It was how he’d met most of the apostles.
The compulsion wasn’t unlike what people felt sometimes when talking to a priest or other preacher. They liked to unburden themselves, especially when the end was coming.
With millions waiting for Jay below, and God only knew how many across the airways and internet, Dougie could’ve picked a better moment, but hell, he’d earned the right to say whatever he chose to Jay, whenever he chose.
“Aye. I knew that, Dougie. What’s on your mind?”
Dougie pointed out at the city below.
“People. That’s what being a soldier is about. At least, it was for me. Sure there are orders, Queen and country and all that, but in the end it’s about people.”
Dougie glanced at Jay, acknowledging his nod of agreement.
“When you’re a kid and you enlist, in your head it’s about good people holding back or fighting against bad people. You have all the permission, the justification you need to put a bullet in someone, or build a wall, or knock one down. Good guys, bad guys, simple.” Dougie held his hands out, palms up. “You get a bit older and the black and white simplicity of youth becomes greyer — a million shades of fuckin’ grey. The motives become murkier and the justifications more elaborate. Good and bad guys are replaced in your mind by awareness of political and corporate agendas that were always there but you were too naïve, or uneducated or selfish to notice.
“So you begin to feel the weight of being someone’s tool. You accept that people higher than you on the pay-scale make the decisions and you execute them. It can still be simple, if you want it to be.”
Dougie cast a glance again at Jay, who was nodding along.
“You get married, you start a family and you keep believing that what you do is good. Meaningful. That your superiors are privy to intel you aren’t. That you’re making a difference, being the good guy. Bringing your beliefs and standards to people who are oppressed. That the country you’re invading really needs you there, whether they want you and your superior culture or not.”
Dougie kicked at a rock, sending it flying out into the blackening sky.
“That the father with a rock in his hand, standing outside the shell of a home you just bombed into the dust, boy cowering behind him, is the enemy and not exactly what you would be if your roles were reversed. That your country did this cruel, heinous act for reasons of virtue you don’t comprehend, but desperately strain to accept on faith… That it was about people… and not oil.”
Dougie gave a long sigh. Jay placed a hand on his shoulder. “You are good man, Dougie.”
The big cop realised Jay thought that he was confessing or offloading and smiled. “This ain’t about me Jay,” he said. “It’s about Tommy Two-Dicks, remember?”
Jay smiled at his own assumption. He should have known better than to underestimate Dougie. He motioned for Dougie to continue.
“So Tommy Two-Dicks.” Noticing Jay grinning, Dougie offered a half-hearted smile of his own, acknowledging the ridiculous nickname. “He didn’t have two dicks, just behaved like a dog with two. Y’know? Happy as fuck all the time. First to volunteer for every job. Never complained, saw an opportunity for laughter in every task.”
Jay smiled in acknowledgment.
“Yeah,” Dougie continued. “Annoying cunt, so he was, but he was my best friend. Had been since the day we met.”
Dougie took a moment, replaying a memory he didn’t care to share with Jay.
“Anyway, my unit were making an arrest. Two middle-aged locals in Helmand. Chubby little guys, all jokes and waving hands when we arrived. Suspected of leaving IEDs along military routes. Pick up and detain. Simple.
“Four of us arrived in our transport and these two guys are standing at the roadside makeshift grill which is burning away, cooking fuck knows what, chugging cold water from bottles fished from an ice-filled cooler at their feet.
“We follow protocol. Park a hundred metres away, approach in formation, assess the environment, all the usual crap. There’s no-one else around, just these two guys having themselves a barbecue at the roadside. Nearest building is a bombed-to-fuck little house two hundred metres away.
“They’re dressed in fucking trousers and Man Utd tops; no weapons visible. Waving us over, one of them holding a slab of meat up with a long fork.
“‘Welcome, Americans…’ he’s shouting. Probably the only English he knows.
“I recall one of the guys grumbling about being taken for a fuckin Yank.
“So we’re on alert, but there’s on alert and on alert. We’re fairly confident that these guys are a couple of clowns. The only real potential danger is the ice-cooler, but bombs and watery ice don’t generally go too well, which means that as alert as we are, we’re also smelling the charred meat.
“Dooley, big guy, team leader, growls at me out the corner of his mouth, ‘Let’s get these pricks cable-tied and get some refreshments.’
“I remember shrugging.
“It goes unsaid: follow protocol. Secure the men and the area. It doesn’t need to be said because no-one, aside from the barbecue-boys, is even close to relaxed.”
Dougie whistles through his teeth, nodding. Acknowledging Jay’s knowing glance.
“Yeah, everyone except Tommy Two-Dicks.”
Dougie kicks another stone across the dirt.
“Fuck knows whether Tommy’s brain has baked in the afternoon sun, or if he just fuckin’ loves steak, but he breaks formation, stows his rifle and runs half-pace straight towards these guys.
“Fuckin’ smallest one — little rectangular glasses propped at the end of his nose, looks like a school teacher — he fucking grins at Two-Dicks, waving the meat at him.
“Dooley yells at him, ‘Corporal McTavish, fall in!’
Tommy laughs, he actually fuckin’ laughs, and approaches the steak-waving motherfucker, waving us over, c’mon, guys.
“Dooley and I and the third guy — can’t remember his fuckin’ name — we fan out, try to cover both these happy barbecuing cunts without getting Two-Dicks in our line of fire.
“Straight away, we clock how badly Tommy has fucked up. The two guys are fuckin’ pros.
“They shift positions, eyes on us the whole time, faces still smiling for Tommy’s benefit, but they’ve positioned themselves fuckin’ perfectly, placing Tommy in our line of fire. The older guy reaches down to the cooler, pulls off a three-inch-thick upturned lid, exposing the deep container beneath. Free from water and ice, it holds a fucking IED the size of an iPhone. The old cunt kicks the cooler over, leans in to touch it and falls to his knees. Steak-Waver starts laughing, but quickly falls to his knees, joining his mate in prayer.
“Tommy finally spots the set-up. He skids to a stop, maybe a metre away. We’re perhaps ten metres behind.
“Dooley does what all good leaders do and puts himself in harm’s way for his men. At a sprint he tears through the sand towards Two-Dicks. We didn’t have a clue how long the charge was set for. Tommy was already in range and now Dooley had joined the hot zone. What the fuck Dooley was thinking, I don’t know, he just acted on instinct.
“Tommy does this comedy double-take, back and forward for perhaps two seconds and gets this weird look, like he’s suddenly figured out what’s wrong with the world and accepted a burden of some sort. The happy, tail-wagging Labrador expression he’s worn his entire life vanishes and he runs at the IED.
“It’s laying face-down on the sand, thirty centimetres away from each of the barbecue-boys, almost exactly between them. They’ve made their peace and are clearly happy to take two coalition soldiers with them.
“Two-Dicks had other ideas.
“He threw himself into the sprint of his life, leaping onto the IED. Folding his body around it, Tommy held there for a second before being spread over thirty metres by the blast.
“In his head, I think the over-eager bastard thought he was gonna Captain America the shit out of the situation. Take the blast. Protect Dooley, bad guys’ death wish foiled.”
Jay’s eyes filled with sadness.
“The barbecue guys were killed instantly. One had his skull incinerated by the blast, the other had his chest opened. Dooley, who had got within five metres of the blast, lost most of his right arm, his face, his eyes and his left leg.”
“It’s a horrible story, Dougie. I’m really sorry you had to go through that,” Jay said.
“Yeah, well, like I said, I ain’t telling it for my benefit.”
Jay scrunched his eyes in confusion.
“Tommy Two-Dicks was a good bloke: heart of gold, found good in everyone, joy in everything. Couldn’t see people unhappy, loved life, loved his mates. Fucked up and put ‘em in harm’s way.”
Jay rubbed at the back of his head.
“I’m not angry with Mo, Dougie. I understand what He did. I’m all about peace and love and forgiveness… remember?”
“Dougie nodded. Yeah, Jay, I know, but that ain’t what I’m getting at. I told you, it’s about people. All of it is. Friends especially.”
Dougie lifted his backside from the stone. Moving around in front of Jay, he took his shoulders and gave him a gentle shake.
“Tommy tried to please his friends, and then protect his friends. He made a cunt of it. That’s what people do. He died. Mo’s still here. He won’t fuck up again. You have a chance to finish this thing together, with your best friend. Have you any idea what some people would give for that?”
Jay looked down at his feet.
Several long seconds passed whilst he chewed the inside of his cheek and thought hard about Dougie’s words.
Finally he looked into the big cop’s eyes.
“Thank you for trusting me with your story,” he said. He meant it. It was always a privilege when people… friends shared themselves with you. Especially when they were trying to save you pain they had suffered.
“But it’s different for us. Mo and I. We have eternity. When this is over, we return to… our existence. We’ll be exactly as we were before. Unchanging.”
Dougie straightened his posture. A tic of annoyance pulled at his cheek.
“Forgive me, Jay, but if you believe that, you’re a fucking fool.”
Jay smiled at him. A smile that held thousands of years of knowledge, of confidence, of certainty that Dougie could not comprehend. An unintentionally condescending smile that said you’re a mortal. You can’t understand.
Dougie spotted it immediately and turned away briefly before whirling back around. He wasn’t angry, just determined.
“People are people, Jay, and friends are friends. You’re wrong about this. Everything’s changed between you and Mo, but you do have a chance to repair it, before it ends. If you can’t do that… why should any of these people believe you can save them?”
Dougie didn’t wait for an answer. Treading off downhill into the night, he waved, beckoning Jay to follow after.
“Either way, boss,” Dougie said over his shoulder, “let’s get going. There are people waiting for you to give them all the answers.”
End of excerpt.
This excerpt is from Mark Wilson’s upcoming novel, On The Seventh Day, available now for Pre-Order