BY JOHN CONNOLLY
He wakes in darkness, constricted by bonds. There is stone beneath him, and the air he breathes is rank and still. He seems to recall that he heard a voice calling his name, but the voice is calling no longer. He tries to get to his feet, but the bonds around him hinder his movements. There is no feeling in his legs. He cannot see, and he struggles to breathe through the cloth on his face. He begins to panic.
Insects buzz around him. There is a sensation of movement throughout his body, as of small things burrowing into his flesh, yet he feels no pain. His body is bloated with gas and fluids, the liquids forced from his cells and into his body cavity.
There is a sound, stone upon stone. Light breaks, and he shuts his eyes against it as it pierces the cloth. Now there are hands on him, and he is raised to his feet. Fingers gently remove the coverings. He feels tears upon his cheeks, but they are not his own. His sisters are kissing him and speaking his name.
Yes, that is his name.
No, that is not his name.
It was once, but Lazarus is no more, or should be no more. Yet Lazarus is here.
There is a man standing before him, bearded, his robes covered in the dust of many miles. Lazarus recognizes him, beloved of his sisters, beloved of him, but he cannot speak his name. His vocal cords have atrophied in the tomb.
The tomb. He stares down as the last of the grave wrappings are torn from his body and a sheet is thrown over him to hide his nakedness. He looks behind him at the stone that had been removed from the mouth of the cave.
Sickness. He was ill. His sisters mopped his brow, and the physicians shook their heads. In time, they believed him to be dead, so they wrapped him in bandages and laid him in a cave. Yes, a mistake was made, but it has been rectified.
But this is a lie. He knows it even before the thought has fully formed itself. Something terrible has happened. Some great wrong has been committed in the name of pity and love. The one whom he recognized, the beloved, touches him and calls his name. Lazarus's lips move, but no sound comes forth.
What have you done? he tries to say. What have you taken from me, and from what have you taken me?
Lazarus sits at the window of his sisters' house, a plate of fruit untouched before him. He has no appetite, but neither can he taste any of the food that has been given to him in the days since his return. The maggots have been ripped from his flesh, and his body has begun to repair itself. He still struggles to walk, even with the aid of a pair of sticks, but where should he walk? This world holds no beauty for him, not in the aftermath of the tomb.
Lazarus does not remember what happened after his eyes closed for the last time. He knows only that he has forgotten something, something very important and beautiful and terrible. It is as though a roomful of memories has been sealed up, and what was once known to him is now forbidden. Or perhaps it is all merely an illusion, just as it seems to him that the world is obscured slightly by gauze, a consequence of the four days spent lying on the stone, for his eyes now have a milky cast to them and are no longer blue, but grey.
His sister Martha comes and takes the plate away. She brushes his hair from his forehead, but she no longer kisses him. His breath smells foul. He cannot taste the decay in his mouth, but he knows that it is there from the expression on her face. Martha smiles at him, and he tries to smile back.
Outside the window, women and children have gathered to gaze upon he who was once dead but is dead no longer. They are amazed and curious and-
Yes, fearful. They are afraid of him.
He leaves the window and staggers to his bed.
Lazarus can no longer sleep. He is terrified of the darkness. When he closes his eyes, he smells the air of the tomb and feels the bandages tight around his chest and the cloth blocking his mouth and nostrils.
But Lazarus is never tired. He is never hungry or thirsty. He is never happy or sad or angry or resentful. There is only lethargy and the desire for sleep without the necessity of it.
No, not sleep - oblivion. Oblivion and what lies beyond it.
On the third night, he hears footsteps in the house. A door opens, and a woman appears. It is Rachel, his betrothed. She had been in Jerusalem when he woke, and now she is here. She runs her hands across his brow, his nose, his lips. She lies beside him and whispers his name, anxious not to wake his sisters. She kisses him and recoils at the taste of him. Still, her fingers move down over his chest, his belly, finding him at last, stroking, coaxing, her face slowly creasing in confusion and disappointment.
After a time, she leaves, and she never returns.
The priests summon Lazarus. He is brought before their council and made to stand below the dais of the high priest, Caiaphas. Lazarus's voice has returned, but it is an imperfect thing, as though his throat is coated with grit and dirt.
'What do you recall of the tomb?' they ask, and he replies, 'Nothing but dust and darkness.'
'In the four days that you lay dead, what did you see?'
And he replies, 'I do not remember.'
There is a murmur of disappointment, of distrust. They believe him to be lying. Voices are raised, questions falling like dead leaves upon his head. They are the priests, and they must know all that he knows.
Only Caiaphas is silent. He regards the young man before him, taking in the discoloration on his skin, the marks of putrefaction that have not yet disappeared. With a wave of his hand, Caiaphas dismisses the rest, so that only he and Lazarus remain. Caiaphas pours wine, but Lazarus does not drink from his cup.
'Tell me,' says Caiaphas. 'Now that the others have gone, tell me what you saw. Did you see the face of God? Does He exist? Tell me!'
But Lazarus has nothing to offer him, and eventually Caiaphas turns his back on him and tells him to return to his sisters.
It is not the first time that Lazarus has been asked such questions. Even his sisters have tried to find out what lies beyond the grave. But in response, he has been able only to shake his head and tell them what he told the priests:
Nothing. There is nothing, or nothing that I can remember.
But no one believes him. No one wants to believe him.
Caiaphas calls another council, but this time Lazarus is not present.
'Is there no sign of the one who called him from the tomb?' he asks, and the Pharisees reply that the Nazarene has hidden himself away.
Caiaphas is displeased. With each day that goes by, he grows more resentful of Lazarus. The people are unhappy. They have heard that Lazarus can remember nothing of what he experienced after his death, and some have begun to whisper that there is nothing to remember, that perhaps the priests have lied to them.
Caiaphas will not have his power challenged. He orders the stoning of three men who were overheard discussing Lazarus in this manner. They will serve as an example to the others.
Lazarus, lost in himself, seeking buried memories, burns his hand on hot stones as he heats water to bathe himself. He does not notice until he tries to remove his hand and instead leaves a patch of skin behind. There is no pain. Lazarus would find this curious, except Lazarus no longer finds anything curious. The world holds no interest for him. He cannot taste or smell. He does not sleep, and instead he experiences every day as a kind of waking dream. He stares at his raw, bleeding palm, then explores it with his fingers, tentatively at first, then finally tearing at the flesh, ripping it apart until the bones are exposed, desperate to feel anything, anything at all.
A woman asks Lazarus if he can contact her son, who died in his sleep two years before and with whom she had argued before he went to bed. A man asks him to tell his dead wife that he is sorry for cheating on her. The brother of a man lost at sea asks Lazarus to find out where his brother buried his gold.
Lazarus cannot help them.
And all the time, he is confronted by those who ask him what lies beyond. He cannot answer, and he sees the disappointment in their eyes and their belief that he is lying.
Caiaphas is troubled. He sits in the darkness of the temple and prays for guidance, but no guidance comes.
In the case of Lazarus and the Nazarene, there are only so many possibilities that he can consider.
i. The Nazarene is, as some whisper, the Son of God. But Caiaphas does not like the Nazarene. On the other hand, Caiaphas loves God. Therefore, if the Nazarene really is the Son of God, then Caiaphas should love him, too. Perhaps the fact that Caiaphas does not love the Nazarene means that the Nazarene is not, in fact, the Son of God, for if he were, then Caiaphas would love him, too. Caiaphas decides that he is comfortable with this reasoning.
ii. If the Nazarene is not the Son of God, then he does not have the power to raise the dead.
iii. If the Nazarene does not have the power to raise the dead, then what of Lazarus? The only conclusion to be drawn is that Lazarus was not dead when he was placed in the tomb; but had he been left there, he most assuredly would be dead by now. Thus, Lazarus should be dead, and his continued refusal to accept this fact is an offence against nature and against God.
Caiaphas decides that he is no longer quite as troubled as before, and he goes to his bed.
Rachel is released from her obligations to Lazarus and marries another. Lazarus watches from an olive grove as the bride and groom arrive at the wedding feast. He sees Rachel and remembers the night that she came to him. He tries to understand how he should feel at this time and counterfeits envy, grief, lust, and loss, a pantomime of emotions watched only by birds and insects. After a time, he sits in the dirt and puts his head in his hands.
Slowly, he begins to rock.
The Nazarene returns in triumph to Bethany. The people hope that he will give them answers, that he will tell them how he accomplished the miracle of Lazarus and if he is now prepared to do the same for others, for there have been more deaths since last he came to that place, and who is he to say that the grief of Martha and Mary was greater than that of others? A woman whose child has died holds the infant in her arms, its body wrapped in white, the cloth stained with blood and tears and dirt. She raises the corpse up and begs the Nazarene to bring her child back to her, but there are too many others shouting, and her voice is lost in the babble. She turns away and makes the preparations for her infant's funeral.
The Nazarene goes to the house of Martha and Mary and eats supper with them. Mary bathes his feet with ointment and dries them with her hair while Lazarus looks on, unspeaking. Before the Nazarene leaves, Lazarus begs for a moment with him.
'Why did you bring me back?' he asks.
'Because you were beloved of your sisters and beloved of me.'
'I do not want to be here,' says Lazarus, but the people have gathered at the door, and the Nazarene's disciples pull him away, concerned that there may be enemies among the crowd.
And then he is gone, and Lazarus is left alone to wonder which is worse - a God who does not care to understand His creation, or a God who thinks that He does.
Lazarus stands at a window listening to the sound of Rachel and her husband making love. A dogs sniffs at him and then licks his damaged palm. It nibbles on his tattered flesh, and he watches it blankly.
Lazarus stares at the night sky. In its blackness, he imagines a door, and behind that door is all that he has lost, all that he left behind. This world is an imperfect facsimile of all that once was and all that should be.
He returns home. His sisters no longer speak to him. Instead, they gaze at him with cold eyes. They wanted their brother back, but all that they loved of him died in the tomb. They wanted fine wine, but all they received was an empty flask.
The priests come for him again, arriving under cover of darkness. They make much noise - enough, he thinks, to wake the dead, were the dead man in question not already awake - but his sisters do not come to investigate. This time, he is not brought before the council but is taken into the desert, his arms tied behind his back, his mouth stuffed with a rag. They walk until they come at last to the tomb in which Lazarus had once been laid. They carry him inside, and they place him on the slab. The rag is removed from his mouth, and he sees Caiaphas approach.
'Tell me,' Caiaphas whispers. 'Tell me, and all will be well.'
But Lazarus says nothing, and Caiaphas steps back in disappointment.
'He is an abomination,' Caiaphas tells the others, 'a thing undead. He does not belong among us.'
They bind him once again in bandages, until only his face remains uncovered. A priest steps forward. In his hand he holds a grey stone. He raises it above his head.
Lazarus closes his eyes as the stone descends.
And Lazarus remembers.