“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the Earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” — Matthew 10:34

Rolling into Bethlehem,
we’re rolling in tonight
Rolling into Bethlehem with
camels and grins of teeth so white…

Levi took a long look at the figure on the donkey; a stocky youth in robes. His gaunt beast plodded steadily in the baking sun, passing a herd of goats on the desert plain. Levi felt glad to see him. He’d not only refused to accept that the Son of God was at large, he didn’t even believe there was a man who made such claims walking the Earth. Somewhat of a cynic, seeing was believing for Levi; certain instances saw him stray from this belief, though, such as rumours of fruitcake in another room.

Levi was a fairly ordinary chap for AD 27. Now he found himself in a state of elation. This man fit the description well. He couldn’t believe he’d witnessed a real celebrity, riding his donkey through the desert.

Levi ran all the way home to his mother. Crashing into their abode, he tried to find his voice as pots, pans, straw, and chicken feathers went flying about the place. Levi’s mother had been cooking lentils. She saw madness in her son’s eyes and she was frightened by it. Like a scared tarantula, she implemented vicious assault as a defense mechanism; she seized her boy and forced him down onto the harsh, sweltering ground. Levi’s mother proceeded to beat him mercilessly with a pan until he lay in a trembling, miserable, but—most importantly—tranquilized heap.

The mother held the cynical gene; it was more prominent in her than in her son. It didn’t matter what Levi was so excited about. There was nothing that a beating couldn’t fix in a boy. Levi found his voice and screamed:

“I have seen Emmanuel, today, on my way East! I have seen the man they call God’s son! I mean, obviously he’s not, but what a celeb—”

A jug came crashing down on his head, followed by his mother’s inhuman screams. She had never liked madness, and this nonsense in the air at the moment was nothing less. She did not allow such tosh in her home and went storming out, leaving Levi with blood trickling from his mouth. She hurtled into the dusty evening. She would not return until she’d found the creature who had made her son so excitable.


At the corner of the market, Levi’s mother saw a stout, gibbon-like man. He was truly a wretched sight; his golden robes were too large and trailed along the ground, filthy. His stubby fingers massaged the neck of a malnourished donkey, which stood loyally braying beside him. It was him. The lunatic that everyone talked about. Nobody else wore golden robes.

She crossed the road, deciding to pass him, take a look, then look again when passing back, just to be sure. As she walked by him, she toppled to the ground. He had positioned his foot so as to trip her up. She fell onto her hands and knees, infuriated, and looked up in a choking fit of embarrassed anger.

“You crass urchin. What the hell do you think you’re playing at? Must I start wearing knee and shin protection every time I want to walk through town?”

The ugly little man just smiled. He reached down with a wrinkled, dirty palm. She was about to take it when she received a brutal slap around the face. Levi’s mother could take a slap; her husband had been a vicious, woman-beating pimp before he’d walked out. She was no stranger to being smacked, slapped, punched, or kicked. But the man then shoved her onto her back and stamped on her windpipe, shutting her off. He mounted his donkey and headed toward the domicile he’d seen the woman come out of, leaving her lying on the corner of the market.


Levi’s dreams were vivid. He wheezed in his slumber through a mask of blood, enjoying the surprisingly gentle visions of his subconscious. Through the cloak of battered sleep, he became aware of someone shaking him. Instinct warned him that his mother may have hatched plans for further punishment and his eyes opened. His congealed eyelids laboured up to reveal a small, dark face. Levi could hear a slurping noise. He sat up and beheld a strange little person before him. The man looked like an oversized baby, but was composed of solid sinew. Then he turned to see a skeletal donkey, its head buried in his mother’s pan of lentils. He looked back at the figure in disbelief, realisation dawning on him. Emmanuel’s mouth split open in a decaying, black-toothed grin.

“Women, eh, my boy? Lord knows why my old man created them. A real underclass. Look at the state of you. Father obviously didn’t do you much justice in the muscle department, did He?”

Levi sat rooted to the spot in both awe and agony. He attempted to explain the situation to himself in rational terms: You’re still dreaming. She did a real job on you. There was something in the tea she made earlier. No, you’re lucid. It’s a madman, that’s it. It’s a madman and you’ve got to get him out of here.

“Oh, I wouldn’t go thinking like that, my boy, I’d be back in here before you could take the Lord’s name in vain. Before you could even get His name out of your mouth.”

Levi shuddered. He didn’t know what to do, think or say. A bluebottle whizzed past Emmanuel and he reached out with whip-like reflexes, crushing it in his tiny fist.

“Father doesn’t much like me interfering with His creations, my boy, but some of them are just so damn stupid, eh? Women, and—and flies and elephants. Lord have mercy on me!”

Levi found his tongue.

“What is it you want?”

Emmanuel smiled again. It was a rotten, ugly gin.

“You saw me riding Polycarp earlier, my boy,” he pointed at the four-legged specimen, now drinking from the tap he had turned on with his lentil-smeared snout. “The thing is, Polycarp was not my donkey at the start of the day. Most likely had a different name, too. I plucked him from a tree, ha ha ha. I plucked him, and my Father has this thing about plucking, you know. If someone were to tell Him they saw me on donkey-back, when He very well knows I don’t own one, I’d be withdrawn. Some other bastard would come down here to spread the Good Word. My vacation would end prematurely.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Levi was perplexed by this madman. “I do not know your Father. How could I tell him anything about you? I know who you’re supposed to be, but I know you’re not the son of a God that doesn’t exist. So your Father, whoever he is, is an ordinary man, and you can lie to him like any other youth would. But you won’t need to, because I do not know who he is. Unless someone else has seen you, I suppose.”

Emmanuel stroked his chin, appearing lost in thought for a moment. Then he surfaced. “I like you, Levi. I trust you, my boy. That’s why I’ve done something for you. I took care of Mother Duck. You don’t tell my Father anything, we are quits. There are many things my Father believes and sent me to push that I just can’t live up to myself. I am indeed what you think I am. I am not what most believe me to be, nor what many believe me not to be. You are correct. But you are wrong about my old man. God exists, all right.” Emmanuel shuddered.

Something about his words had jarred Levi. The back of his neck prickled. I took care of Mother Duck.

“The trouble with being the Son of God is that I’m grouped with my Father, my boy. Many sons are. The son of a lawyer is to be one too. He has failed if he does not become one and he is shunned by his family. The son of David will be Davidson. Deed poll would leave the father in despair. Everyone expects the torch to be passed on. They expect it from me because they group me with Him, my boy. But I’m nothing like Him. Nothing like Him at all. Ignorance is bliss, though; to hear Him tell it, I’m the golden boy. He is not such an omniscient being after all.”

I took care of Mother Duck.

“Did you do something to my Mother? Torturous as she may be, I love her.”

Emmanuel snapped back without a moment’s hesitation, looking at Levi, deadpan.

“I took care of that loud, crass whore. Trod on her throat to make sure. Do not suppose I have come to bring peace to the Earth, for I did not come to bring peace, but a sword! I would be grateful, Levi, if you did not tell my Father this, either.”

Levi felt queasy, then full of anger. He became uncharacteristically ferocious.


Emmanuel swiveled like the tongue of a snake and marched out. When Polycarp didn’t move, he roared at him to follow. Polycarp brayed and plodded after him, revitalised after a good meal. Levi could hear the man out in the street, ranting about ingratitude, women, bluebottles, and a few other loathsome things that his Father had instructed him to teach love for. Levi listened to a prophetic mouth spill its bile: one day women would be on the altar and communion given in the hand, all symptoms of power given to the problematic “fairer” half of his Father’s created sexes.

Levi waited until he heard the receding plod of Polycarp’s hooves. Then he staggered out into the dark street, frantically searching for his mother. He didn’t have to venture far. There was quite a crowd on the corner of the market; he pushed his way through and beheld a robed woman, lying battered and bruised. Levi knelt beside her, mourning the loss of the nutcase who’d slapped him around for years. She’d been firm, there was no doubt about that. Now she was lost to him, her life snatched by the violent tearaway and misogynist who called himself the “Son of God.” Perhaps she had deserved this. Levi didn’t know. He couldn’t think about anything now, other than the fact that Emmanuel had a lot of followers. Whether he liked it or not, there were a great number of maniacs at large.


It had been several years since Emmanuel had terrorised Levi and his mother. Since then, Levi had cleaned up his act as a cynical bore and joined the church. He’d had no choice but to submit after the Apostles came ‘round wielding bats a week later, demanding he join them. They had christened him Matthew. Matthew had really come to realise what was meant by a “God-fearing man.”

Sitting in the church of cold marble, incense filled his nose and ensnared his senses. He spoke to the Lord. The dull cannons of responses reverberated in the church, forced out by a tired congregation.

Matthew tossed his piece of silver into the collection basket as it reached him, then burst into hymnal verse for the offertory piece:

Rolling into Bethlehem,
we’re rolling in tonight
Rolling into Bethlehem with
camels and grins of teeth so white
Old Nick told me not to speak,
he’s telling me not to speak
Christ’s a glorious a tearaway from
women and flies and men so meek

It came to the breaking of the bread and sipping of the wine; the Consecration, it was called. Matthew took stock of three women being handed chalices full of the Eucharist. Before the Body could be corrupted by sinful flesh, he rushed up the aisle and punched one of them in the nose. His band of men came tearing out of their pews, assisting him with his work. The ground was littered with the Blessed Sacrament. They inflicted damage the way any devoted man of God should. The bedraggled midget who’d visited Matthew was the supposed face of Catholicism, and it seemed reasonable to follow his example. For had Emmanuel not said:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the Earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

He’d be proud, and put in a good word with the Big Cheese.

Matthew and the other Apostles visited a different mass every Sunday. They came packing a punch each time, reminding the flock of the dangers posed by women in the church. It was always the same communion of violence. Having schooled another disillusioned congregation, they marched out, and went about their day in the peace of loving and serving the Lord.


“The Rogue Messiah” was a runner-up in Terror House’s Easter Submission Contest. To read the winning stories, click here.