[We at DWWP love to use writing prompts to jump start new work. This story is based on the prompt “the fool and the cosmos.” April 1st, 2018 was host to two holidays that are quite different from one another: April Fools Day and Easter. Though contrasting at first glance, the pieces in this series seek to explore their common ground.]
The magician’s real name was unknown to all but his parents. The stage name he’d adopted twenty years before, clung to his skin in comfort. Although this name was his, it was uttered by all throughout the land, for all agreed, Jesus was the greatest magician who ever lived.
Jesus performed the show’s finale before the crowd. The sand beneath his toes felt cool and powdery. He wiggled the balls of his feet side to side, planting them deeper into the earth. A cool breeze rustled through his long flowing hair.
His confidence was bolstered by the crowd’s rapt attention. They looked at him with an expression of awe. Only seconds before, the wooden bucket held water. When he turned it upside down, not a drop fell into the hot sand, the liquid having disappeared right before their very eyes. Presenting the dry vessel to the audience for their curious looks, he turned it upright and pulled out a dove. A brilliant white bird fluttered upon his outstretched hand. This simple trick had been his crowning achievement, a crowd favorite.
As Jesus watched the excitement of the audience, he was bolstered to begin work on his next finale; a feat which would give his name immortality in the pantheon of magicians. For now, he would stun the crowds with a trick he’d been perfecting for some time. One he knew would be a party favorite.
Performance. Magic. The stage. Entertaining. The astonished expression on the faces in the audience. These were the things Jesus lived for. He craved not the flash and dazzle, or pizzaz of fancy clothes. He did not seek out material wealth or fame. No, his payment was the audience’s joy. His life was the craft.
As a magician, his appearance was incongruous for his trade. His attire was described as lackluster. Those who didn’t know him, would compare him to a beggar or transient. His beard unkempt and frowzy. His clothing, white linen with antiqued patina. Brown leather sandals wrapped around his feet and ankles, the straps irritating, leaving red patches. His skin was dark in complexion, the cheeks above his black beard always sunburnt, a smoldering red coming through his darkened complexion. Compared to other magicians dressed in black and red or gold and turquoise, the outlines of their outfits sharp at the edges, Jesus seemed anemic and wan in his drab outfit. A peacock is resplendent in its beauty, but it cannot soar high overhead like other birds. It makes up for its lack of skill and talent with brilliant plumage. Seejus’ magic soared overhead those lowly birds that wowed the audience with spectacle and plumage rather than skill and mastery.
It was at a wedding he chose to unveil his newest performance. The venue perfect for such an illusion. A grand finale to an already magical day. This trick would not be for his benefit, but a gift for the couple. An act yielding excess mirth and merriment and wealth for the newlyweds. For in the desert the fermented juice of the grape is a rare treat, especially to have in glut and surplus.
Jesus’ roadies had become, in some ways, family to him. His entourage grew in numbers over time—a devoted group of aspiring magicians, hoping to apprentice and learn the craft from the great master.
The ceremony began. The bride was dressed in her white tunic, the groom, decked out in fresh tan linen. Jesus materialized doves from his hands, and released them. Rising high into the air, they shone shimmering white in the midday sun. The pair, flying into the azure sky, became faint dots. Disappearing from sight, white petals of chrysanthemum and magnolia rained down like a soft winter snow in the mountains. Languid petals drifted amongst the crowd, coating the hot sand in a silken fragrant blanket. As the couple exchanged vows and affirmed their commitments, 12 roadies carried amphoras filled with the freshest spring water, placing them behind the silk curtain separating the ceremony from the reception.
Tragedies come in many different forms. For a bride and groom running out of wine during their wedding was considered an utter embarrassment. In their culture, the amount of food and wine at a wedding was to show prosperity, reflecting a household’s wealth. So when the groom’s father informed him the wine had all been drunk already, the amount underestimated, a hot flush coursed through his body. In that moment of despair, humiliation replaced the day’s moments of joy. Jesus placed his hand on the groom’s shoulder, a reassuring touch. Moving past the dejected man, he stood before the crowd, and outstretched his arms. The reception fell quiet.
The curtain came down like a billowy cloud. It disappeared as quick as Jesus released it from his grip. With a show of hands he directed the audience’s’ attention toward the hundred of amphora placed atop the soft sand. The groom, bride, and two guests were chosen and rose to the occasion, sipping from a ladle they dipped within each clay vessel. Sampling all took 15 minutes. Throughout this entire process, the audience was captivated, waiting in anticipation of some clue to what would occur next. It was confirmed by these four, the most pure spring water they had ever drunk. Satisfied, Jesus clasped each person’s hands, directing them back into the audience.
Every small movement added to the illusion. Bending down to the earth, he grasped the white linen curtain which somehow had buried itself beneath the sand. It rose up as if pulled by some unseen force and hung back in place, clean, pure white as it stood before. Behind the translucent curtain, Jesus waved to the audience. They waved back to his silhouette behind the veil. Holding his hands over his head, he began to speak.
Word spread across the land with speed. Traders and merchants sought out Jesus, pulling him toward the harbors of whatever city he was performing in, hoping to line their pockets with wealth. The ships’ cargo was always the same, laden with amphora of spring water. They poured gold into his hands, begging him to perform his illusion. Rumor told it was the best wine in the land, and only one newlywed couple owned the vintage. They became the richest wine merchants in the land. It was the one and only time Jesus ever performed this trick. A transformation of spring water into the richest vintage of wine. Rarity works not only for commodity, but performance.
Jesus’ ambition grew with each illusion performed. His repertoire of magic became a menagerie of mastery. With each illusion performed, the audience cooed and then burst into applause. The throng of hands clapping, voices cheering, rose high into the air. With a humble bow, he would depart the stage, the performance complete.
Murmurs rumbled throughout the land. Many truths turned into rumor and then legend, disbelief following the eyewitness accounts of those present. After one illusion, Jesus was proclaimed necromancer, after raising a local man from the dead. Those who had watched Lazarus writhe in pain for days, then succumb to his debilitating illness, claimed it could not have been a trick. That it was real. That it was nothing short of a miracle. Skeptics claimed otherwise.
Illusions are just that, illusions. A bending of light using mirrors. Sleight of hand. Misdirection. Plants. Manipulation of the body. Contortion. Magic is believable because it is unbelievable. When Jesus performed a show stopper that baffled crowds, freezing a lake in the desert and walking upon its surface, the spectators didn’t applaud, instead gasped in disbelief. His magic had risen to such theatrical levels, his dedication to his craft so meticulous, his illusions so good, whispers began to circulate. His magic was considered miraculous. A god was in their presence.
Every artist must have an end. Life itself is fragile, and although art may live on past the hands of creation, forever immortalizing the creator, the body itself will wither in the grave. All flesh must rot and decompose, this is an eventuality of life. Jesus waxed philosophical on this and lamented this fact, realizing his supreme performance must touch on this subject.
As long as Jesus could remember, his life had been dedicated to perfecting his craft. As a magician his life had been in search of the ultimate illusion, the one to end them all, one that generations would speak of and write about in history books. He only needed wait for the appropriate moment, one outside his control. And it came at the hand of Romans.
Whispers had reached the ears of politicians across the land. And what fragile egos men of power have. It didn’t take long for Jesus to find himself before a judge and sentenced to death. It all fell into plan for his illusion. He knew what was in store; crucifixion. Criminals strung up on wooden crosses, tied to large hewn beams of acacia, left in the sun to rot. It was simple, really. His illusion would defy the mightiest power in the land, The Roman Empire. Conflict always makes an illusion far more juicier to an audience.
The trick was laid out. Practiced. All corners and angles painstakingly thought out. He’d be tied to the beams, and flexing his muscles as they tied the ropes around his wrists, he would then unclench and relax, leaving less than a half inch of wiggle room between his flesh and bonds. Under cover of dark, he’d wiggle his limbs in slow, methodical motions, making sure not to deglove the skin on the rough abraded rope. Speed would be of the essence. For morning would bring sentries, and the sun would beat down in merciless fashion, baking his already tanned skin. Jesus had planned for all possibilities. All but the one they gave him.
Whispers had turned into rumor, rumor into belief, and belief into heresy. Jesus knew he would have to bear his cross, but a crown of thorns wreathing his head was unexpected. The needlelike barbs jabbed into the flesh of his skull. Blood rained down his forehead and stung his eyes. A magician though is dedicated to their craft, the illusion must go on.
Reaching the hill, the air was stifling hot. The dry heat parched his mouth and blistered his lips. He could see vultures looming overhead, lounging languid in the sky, biding time for their meals. Two criminals already affixed to wooden crosses baked in the intense heat of the day. A space was in-between them.
Soldiers lay the crucifix in the sand, and it was then Jesus noticed something odd. Iron spikes and hammer lay on the ground at the foot of a soldier. Panic set in, but his exterior did not belie his innermost fear. The illusion must go on. His crowd was watching. As he was placed upon the crucifix, the first iron nail was sunk through his wrist. Blood dripped upon the sand, clotting in the dry dust.
His entourage of twelve watched in awe from the crowd. Jesus never revealed his full methods and encouraged his followers to observe his illusions and problem solve. He believed that a true magician could teach themselves any trick by deconstructing the process. As each spike was driven through wrists and ankles, these twelve apprentices never realized the illusion had gone awry. That they were watching the greatest magician die before their eyes.
Later that night, the twelve apprentice magicians huddled in a rented room while Jesus hung on that crucifix. They wracked their minds, deconstructing the process, the innermost workings of the illusion. They each had their own hypothesis, and went round the room voicing in turn their process. One thing was unanimous, this was a resurrection illusion. Much like the one he had performed with his confidant, Lazarus. They knew where they’d be in a few days. They knew, in the cover of dark, where they must be.
Rolling back the stone from the tomb’s entrance was no easy feat of strength. It took all twelve to roll the rough piece of sandstone back. They felt the daytime heat radiate off its surface in the cool night air. Entering with torches, they found Jesus, swaddled in fine white linen. Blood encircled the head of the mummy wrapped corpse. Copper stain had bled through the cloth of the right rib cage. Believing this all part of the illusion, they imagined they’d unwind him, piece after piece, and find nothing but air within. He’d appear from behind them and would walk amongst his crowd tomorrow, their cheers and applause filling the air in a loud throng. This would be his singing moment. A moment only his twelve imagined. All but a hopeful dream.
The linen was peeled back, one twine at a time. The twelve stood there in abject horror at what they found. Jesus, dead. His corpse already beginning to decompose in the desert heat. Even though they had witnessed all the abuse he had sustained while nailed to those beams, the sight was incomprehensible. Magic such as his, illusions as perfect as he had performed, are not allowed in the realm of possibility. Magic is feared if it is believed to be true. His ability to render illusion into belief, had become his greatest downfall.
Picking up his corpse, the twelve decided to perform Jesus’ final illusion. Burying him far in the desert, in a grave deep and unmarked, he disappeared from his tomb. The next morning the cool cave would be found empty, only linen wraps left in his stead. The idea of resurrection a final testament to his magic. His final illusion to stand the test of time.