Each died in his own way, outside the gaze of history, save for the two who gave their lives on my trees. Some alone, some asleep, one in quiet pain and two more in shrieking terror of their lives. I remember them all.
Pete died wrapped in gentle robes, a staff in his hands and regret upon his lips, wishing, like all men, that he had done things differently. Lavender sprouted on his grave, healing hurts already forgiven.
Andy drowned in a storm, lost from a boat while fishing for strange beasts in stranger waters. The captain burned an offering of rue, to speed his soul.
Big Jim fell through the planks covering a dry well while preaching, dying with holy words in his mouth and a glimpse of the stars at noon. The people dropped dried amaranth after him to ease his rest before fetching fresh lumber to seal the hole.
John lost his head to an angry tribe with no desire for enlightenment. They boiled it with salt to improve his taste and theirs.
A wasting took Phil. One day he rose to dance in the dusty streets until a madwoman grasped his hand and led him to heaven. Afterward they scoured his rooms with shattered acorns to banish further illness.
Barth dreamed so great a dream that his soul took flight rather than wake from its vision of glory. His smile gave his mourners solace, so they buried him with a jar of mugwort to celebrate his grace.
Tommy slipped down a ravine, breaking both ankles. He sobbed his life away forty feet from a road. Every day that he lay dying he marked with a pebble in his mouth. Those who found him drew seven stones from between his teeth. Tansy grew ever after where he had lain.
Matteo saw angels playing chess on the roof, and slipped climbing the drainpipe only to drown in a barrel of water. They rubbed his eyes with bilberries that he might better see God.
Little Jim was thrown from a horse, fleeing robbers upon the highway. The bandits found two coppers in one fist and, though it was winter in the mountains, a fresh lily in the other. They kept the coins and his horse, but buried him with his lily, dusting the grave with myrrh as a death offering.
Thad walked into the desert one day, praying with each step. To frighten them into virtue, children are told his bones still walk, while old women leave oranges and the bitter herb maror on their doorsteps to feed his endless prayers, that they might be saved.
Simon danced himself to death, seeking ecstasy where the men ask no quarter and the women give none. His feet twitched until dawn, long after his heart stopped, for which the merciless women loved him, so they bathed him in warm seawater and sorrel.
Those are the eleven who went to heaven. As for the two on my trees, one was nailed up to glory, while the other hanged downward to soul's exile. My sympathy has always been for the poor bastard who had no choice, not even when the thirty-penny rope tightened around his neck. Without him, there would have been no miracle. Besides, nails come cheap with God on your side.
Copyright © 2003 Joseph E. Lake, Jr.
Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, with his family and their books. In 2003, his work is appearing in diverse markets such as Realms of Fantasy, Writers of the Future XIX, and The Thackeray T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases. For more about him and his work, see his website. To contact him, send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the Twelve