SHORT STORY
Worship
Timothy Hobbs

On his way to Calvary, Jesus stopped for a smoke.
The Roman guard said it was okay for a break and helped lay
down the cross. The guard took off his helmet, wiped the sweat
away, told the crowd to take fifteen and then watched as Jesus
pulled a smushed pack of unfiltered Camels from the pocket of
his bloody robe. Jesus offered one to the Roman.

“Don’t mind if I do,” the guard said as he pulled a cigarette from the pack.
Jesus then took one while the guard removed a pocketed Ronson
from his leathered vest and struck the flame; he held it under Jesus’ 
cigarette first.   
            
The crowd had moved down the street toward a McDonald’s and
Wendy’s.  They ordered fries and Cokes and looked impatiently at their
watches until a disturbance at the Temple got their attention and they   
walked over.

“Now what?” the guard grimaced and flipped away his smoke. “Stay
here,” he told Jesus, then walked toward a Centurion standing just outside
the Temple door. The Centurion looked at the approaching guard and then
at Jesus, who sat on the dirt street by the cross and smoked and gazed
upward. The guard shrugged and said, “Don’t worry, he’s,” pointing to
Jesus, “not going anywhere.” The Centurion groaned and shook his head.

“What gives?” the guard asked as music and a general murmur drifted out
the Temple doors. The Centurion pointed inside. “They’ve got the
projection television on. They’re watching the memorial service.” 
The guard squeezed by and walked in. A group of his brothers in arms
stood in a line behind the last row of seats with their helmets off and
shields down. They nodded to the fellow guardsman as he stood by them.

A giant screen hung down from the ceiling just behind and above the altar.
Images of long black limos moved across it, gliding into a packed stadium
where a crowd clapped and swayed. The limos halted and groups of
people dressed in mourning garb filed out. A flower draped coffin  
was taken from the last limo and placed on a stage erected on the
the playing field. Suddenly, the images on the screen froze.
The crowd in the Temple mumbled protests as a figure walked in
front of the alter. Pilate, adorned in his official white and gold robe,
raised his hands and the crowd hushed. He motioned to the side wall and
a slave child brought him a silver basin filled with water. He was about to
wash his hands when a snow white owl flew in the Temple doors, swirled, 
then perched on the altar menorah. Its reptilian eyes locked on Pilate.

“Just my luck,” Pilate whispered as he dipped his hands in the water. The
slave child handed over a towel. Pilate dried his hands and pointed to
the giant screen. “It’s on all day, all night, on every channel, every
network,” Pilate announced. “What say you?” he asked, pointing at the
screen, then to the open Temple doors. A woman jumped up. “What about
my soap opera?” she cried. “Or Big Brother or Survivor?” others inquired.

At the crowd noise, the owl soared from its perch and flew just above
Pilate’s head, disturbing a short waft of brown as it fled from the
Temple. Pilate smoothed his hair. “Sorry, only two choices,” he said and
again pointed to the screen and then the doors. He washed and dried his
hands and walked out of sight behind the screen. The crowd got
restless and started to stomp their feet, whistle, and clap.

Another figure emerged from the shadows. The high priest Caiaphas held
up his hands to quiet the crowd. He aimed a remote at the projector
behind him and the images on screen came back to life. The Temple
crowd cheered. Caiaphas adjusted a wireless headset under his headdress.  
He slipped a white jeweled glove on his right hand and stood sideways
while moon-walking to the left, then back to the right singing Bad.
“I’m bad, I’m bad, come on,” he wailed as the crowd answered, “Really
really bad.” The guards behind the last row joined in. The Centurion
stuck his head through the doors and yelled at the guard who had been
with Jesus, “It’s clouding up. We need to get this crucifixion going.” 
But the guard pointed to his ears indicating he couldn’t hear. The
Centurion tried again but knew it was pointless. He would get no help.

The Centurion went outside and walked up the street. Jesus was sitting
where the guard had left him. Jesus had removed his crown of thorns.
It hung on one end of the cross. A small group of cripples and lepers had
gathered around Jesus. As the Centurion approached, he heard Jesus tell
those to check back in three days. “Okay you loiterers,” the Centurion  
said to the derelicts. “Beat it or grab an end of that cross.”

They scurried away. “I’m afraid you’ll have to put that,” the Centurion
said, pointing to the thorny crown,” back on.” Jesus nodded and stood.
He carefully picked up the crown and stuck it back on his head. New
rivulets of crimson spread over the old dried trails. Jesus grimaced.
“Let’s get started,” the Centurion ordered and helped lift the cross, 
placing it on Jesus’ shoulder. The two drudged forward toward Golgotha.

The executioner was the only one waiting for them there. “Where are the
other two prisoners,” the Centurion asked. “They are down at the Temple
watching the service with everybody else,” the executioner answered and
added, “they’re not getting paid in sesterces like I am.” The Centurion
stared at the squat, muscular man holding a wooden box of short spikes in
one hand and a small sledgehammer in the other and said, “Very funny.”

The Centurion did not care for the executioner’s hairy body and bald head,
but business was business. He ordered the executioner to help lift the
cross from Jesus and place it flat just behind a hole dug to accept the
wooden burden after crucifixion. He then told Jesus to lie on the cross,
spread out his arms along the top beam and then extend his legs, 
holding them together, down the center beam. A slight wind stirred the
dirt.

Jesus looked up as the robe was taken from his body, leaving him clad
only in a simple loin cloth. “Looks like rain,” Jesus said. The Centurion
nodded and told the executioner to tightly bind Jesus’ hands and feet. The
executioner took a wad of leather strips from his wooden box and did as
he was told. “Sorry,” the executioner said as Jesus winced. “They have to
be tight,” the Centurion explained. “Keeping still is not possible when . . .”

“I see,” Jesus said softly and asked, “Is anyone else going to be here as
witness?” The Centurion shook his head. “I think everybody’s going to be
at the Temple for awhile,” he said. “You know, people have their
priorities.” The executioner took a metal spike from his box and looked
questionably at the Centurion who nodded yes. The first smash of the
hammer sent a spray of blood and a horrid metal on metal screech aloft.

A wail of agony swirled from Jesus’ open mouth with a volume eclipsing
the rising wind and the executioner’s hammering. Jesus’ body contorted,
but his hands and feet were held in place to be spiked into the bloody
wood beneath them. Jesus lost consciousness from the pain.                       
When he had finished, the executioner grabbed one beam of the cross as
the Centurion grabbed the other. They lifted it and dropped it in the cavity.

The concussion of the cross falling in the dirt hole roused Jesus and he
screamed in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forgotten me?”
A frown creased the Centurion’s face as he stared at the pitiful body
extended on the cross. The executioner wiped the sweat from his brow
and walked to the Centurion and held out a hand. The Centurion
reached into the pocket of his leather vest and extended his hand.
        
The executioner grabbed the handful of silver sesterces, made a
motion as if to tip a hat, then turned and walked down the trail toward
the Temple. “Still time to catch some of the show,” he said as he left dust
clouds behind him. The Centurion looked away from the departing man
and glanced back up at Jesus who had passed out again. Jesus’ breathing
was labored. The Centurion knew it would only be a few hours now. He
took off his helmet, then his cape, and sat on it at the base of the cross. 

A steady drip of blood from Jesus’ feet followed the line of the cross and
fell in drops close to where the Centurion sat. But the officer of a hundred
men stayed in place. He had seen blood before. As time crept on, clouds
of stormy gray amassed in the heavens. After several hours, Jesus
regained consciousness. “I thirst,” he pleaded through a horse whisper. 
“I’m sorry,” the Centurion said apologetically. “I have no water to offer.”

Jesus took a jagged breath and said, “Father forgive them,” followed by
“Into thy hands I give my soul.” It was finished. The Centurion stood, put
on his cape and helmet, looked once more on Jesus and said, “Truly this
man was the greatest entertainer ever born.” The sky roared in a chorus of
ghastly thunder. Lightning split the heavens in fingers landing at the
bottom of the cross. A fissure formed and serpentined toward the Temple
with terrible accuracy.


He who troubles his own house shall inherit Primetime
. . . and Worship.


Timothy Hobbs is a retired medical technologist living in Temple, Texas. He has published three horror novels, two horror novellas, one short story collection, and one literary fiction novel. His collection of flash and short fiction "In the Blink of a Wicked Eye" was published by Sirens Song Publications in 2015. His author page can be found at amazon.com.