This is the first part of my short story “Eremos” from my site The Devil’s Take
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
The wind brought no relief, only tiny bits of sand that stung his skin. The barren ground around him was littered with sun scorched stones, and he watched rolls of heat emanate from them like ripples across water.
Jesus reached for his goatskin flask and lifted it to his dry lips. He sat quietly in the shade of a large boulder, waiting for evening to bring some relief. He took one more drink, and as he set the flask down he noticed his arms. They were so thin. He couldn’t remember ever seeing them so frail.
His father had been a carpenter. Joseph had taken him everywhere — to him, Jesus had been an ever present shadow. Jesus learned everything a carpenter could ever know because he saw everything a carpenter could ever see. And everything required so much strength. Sometimes brute force, and at other times a don’t-breathe-don’t-blink attention to delicate details that would mean the success or failure of weeks of work. It was an exhausting exercise of both mind and muscle. Joseph loved it, and Jesus did too.
He remembered as a young boy when he had finished building his first plough. Joseph had been so proud, he had laughed and grabbed his son’s sore arms exclaiming what a man he was becoming. Jesus had laughed too.
Ever since that day Jesus had taken great pride in his physical frame, knowing that it reflected his craft and — more importantly — the pride he and Joseph had shared. They were craftsmen. A father and son.
He wondered what Joseph would think of him now, sitting alone and half-dead in the middle of this hellscape wilderness.
Jesus closed his eyes, bracing his body against the pain and fatigue of hunger while steadying his mind against an overwhelming sense of isolation.
Father God, please…
Opening his eyes, he saw a man walking toward him. He took a deep breath and stared at the approaching figure, afraid to blink and lose him. Even if it was only a mirage, he didn’t want it to disappear.
But after Jesus was compelled to blink as the wind picked up again, the man continued to draw nearer. Jesus struggled to his feet, putting his hand against the boulder for balance. The stranger walked up to within a couple paces of him, then stopped.
They stared at each other, searching each other’s faces. Jesus recognized his eyes.
The man smiled.
“And I thought I was the ugliest thing wandering around this desert,” he said.
“Lucifer…” Jesus said, returning his warmth and opening his arms.
“Malakh,” Lucifer said.
They embraced, clasping each other tightly. Lucifer stepped back to take another look at him.
“It’s been a long time since anyone has called me that name — Lucifer, bringer of light,” he said.
“One’s true name is a name that is earned, not a name that is given,” Jesus said.
Lucifer smiled again as another blast of scalding wind blew past them.
“I’ve only know you as Malakh Yahweh, the Angel of the Lord, but what is this new name I’ve been hearing?” he asked.
“It is one I’ve been given, but I hope that I will also earn,” Jesus replied.
“Immanuel, god with us…” Lucifer said. “Did he send you?”
“Yes,” Jesus replied.
“He always trusted you. You were always his favorite, like a son to him,” Lucifer said.
“Only after you,” Jesus said.
“Well, whether that was ever true, it’s certainly different now.”
Jesus hesitated, trying to read Lucifer.
“He knew you were here too,” Jesus said.
“I’ve made no secret about it,” Lucifer said.
A silence hung in the air between them. Jesus could feel Lucifer studying him.
“He loves this world too,” Jesus said. “More than you. He wants to reconcile it to himself. To save it.”
Lucifer nodded again, his face growing serious.
“You do sound like him now,” he said.
He looked down at the bleached stones lying on the ground, then out across the empty wilderness surrounding them.
“Immanuel, god with us,” he repeated, his voice quiet. He looked back at Jesus, “He wants to save the world — I know what those words mean.”
“They mean exactly how they sound. We can do good. There is so much pain here,” Jesus said.
“I told him I would talk to you.”
They stared at each other. Jesus braced for Lucifer’s anger, but was surprised when his voice instead stayed steady. He felt a ray of hope.
“I love like a brother,” Lucifer said. “But you shouldn’t have put any hope in me.”
“You know that’s my flaw,” Jesus said.
“Among many,” Lucifer smiled. “And what — are you mortal now?”
“I’ve come as one of them,” he said.
“I can see that,” Lucifer said.
He looked calm, but Jesus could see something else in his eyes. His eyes had always been distinctive, and Jesus knew from experience that their depth reflected the soul behind them.
“How long has it been since you’ve eaten?” Lucifer asked.
Lucifer let out a low whistle.
“I do this to purify myself. To prepare for my ministry here,” Jesus said.
“You know what I prepared this morning?” Lucifer asked, grinning. “Breakfast.”
“I know you think I’m crazy,” Jesus said.
“No — I’ve called you a lot of things and some things a lot worse, but never crazy,” Lucifer said. He looked around then motioned his arms toward the ground around them.
“You have plenty of rocks,” he laughed. “If you really are Immanuel, why don’t you make these stones bread? Seems like that might alleviate some of your hunger.”
“Man doesn’t live on bread alone, but on the words that come from the mouth of God,” Jesus said. “I’m waiting for those words, listening. God will provide in His time.”
He watched Lucifer’s face trying to read any expression that would hint at what he was thinking. It offered no such help.
Lucifer moved his arm and slipped his sack onto the ground. He knelt down, rummaging through its meager contents until he pulled out half a loaf of bread. He unwrapped it and handed it to Jesus.
“Take some of mine. Eat this as we walk.”
Continued on The Devil’s Take