Here is Chapter Twenty-Two…
Chapter Word Count: 2730
Monthly Word Count: 42,540
Bethsaida was a dead end. The carpenter in that city was from Kadesh, a town just north of the area. The team knew he was not the man they were looking for before the he said a word about his origins. He was so dim-witted that it was obvious that this carpenter was not the one that they were looking for. They spent the evening camped under the open stars.
“Remember when we first got here? We used to boil the water every single time before we drank it? Now, we just drink wherever we know the locals drink.” Jaime squinted at the fire. Ambigo felt it was his duty to comment. “It’s still a good practice to boil the water to prevent sickness. If any of you get food poisoning, I don’t have the antibiotics to help you through it… Still, I must admit that I trust the water a lot more now than I did when I came here. Ever since that rotten meat incident…” The team chuckled and Ambigo finished, “… I just trust my instincts, I guess.”
They quieted and watched the fire. Ambigo felt lost. They had been too many years too late to catch Jesus in Egypt and he had no idea where to go next. Simon spoke, “I think we should go back to the towns near Nazareth and interview the inhabitants there. That’s the only plan of action I have at this point.” Father Garcia nodded thoughtfully, stretching out his arms. “Jaime, what do you think?” The thin young man continued staring at the fire. “According to the time line, Jesus is supposed to be preaching in Capernaum right now, but we know he’s not there. I… don’t really know…”
“Madi, do you see the aura the fire is giving off?” Madi crinkled her brow at Jaime’s question. “No… What do you mean?” Jaime shook his head. “I don’t really know… Since the last adjustment, things are… I don’t know. Sometimes they are really clear and focused. Like those divers… Other times, I’m getting strange auras… like this fire… Is this different wood?” Madi commented, “I don’t know. It’s just wood I found over there…” She pointed away from the campsite to a grove of bushes.
“Tad, stop cooking that meat over the fire and don’t start cooking anything else. I’m going to have Madi show me the trees.” Ambigo stood up and helped Madi to her feet. “In fact, all of you back away from it. I don’t want you inhaling the fumes…” He shrugged. “Just in case.” The two of them walked over to the bushes and Madi showed him the dry wood that she had gathered around the bushes, but she didn’t need to say a word. As soon as they got close enough to them to see, Ambigo recognized them.
“Wolfs bane… either that or oleander. Either way, it’s bad.” Ambigo showed her how to identify bushes from the Apocynaceae family. “Not all plants in this family are poisonous, but these ones definitely are. Come on. Let’s gather some different wood.” Ambigo and Madi walked further and found bark and branches from some substantial trees and brought back enough for the evening. By the time, they got back, Simon had already put out the fire. “I figured there must be something wrong with it. If not, I’d start another one, but I didn’t want to risk it. Was the wood bad or something?”
Ambigo and Madi put down their new stack of clean, dry wood. “Tad, you better throw away that meat.” Without question, the priest removed the meat from the stick he had been using. Then he held up the stick to Ambigo. “I guess I should toss this, too, huh?” Ambigo nodded. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even look at the wood Madi gathered. It looks like it was oleander. Any water that comes in contact with this plant is poisonous. Any food cooked over the fire is poisonous. It’s nasty stuff. Lucky thing Jaime questioned it.”
Jaime shook his head. “Hope this doesn’t mean I need another adjustment.” Madi scoffed. “Are you kidding? We got you to the point that you can tell a fire is poisonous and you can see further distances than humanly possible. I’m not touching your eyes until you’re blind…” She breathed deeply. “I’m actually considering having an adjustment to see if we can get my eyes as good as yours.” The entire team shouted, “No!” Jaime shook his head. “Sorry, Madi. I’m not touching your eyes until you’re blind…”
She looked at them and sucked in a breath. “Oh… yeah…” She shook her head. “Yeah… you’re right.” Simon expertly cleaned out the fire pit and built a new fire. Afterward, he washed his hands several times until Ambigo finally assured him that he was clean enough. Tad reviewed his supplies and a smaller piece of meat was produced. “We’ll be eating slim tonight. I’m glad I hadn’t started the veggies yet.”
They settled back around the fire while Tad cooked their meal. “There we go. That’s how it’s supposed to look,” Jaime commented and pointed to the fire. Father Garcia responded, “We’ll just have to trust you on that, son.” Ambigo breathed a sigh of relief and felt a little ashamed that he hadn’t taught Madi to spot poisonous plants before. It had completely slipped his mind and he felt the sting of it.
Simon continued their conversation from earlier, “The question at hand is whether we should return to Capernaum before we interview the towns around Nazareth.” The team sighed with the thought. Father Garcia responded first, “I have no idea. What do you folks think?” Simon had a ready answer, “I think we should let Petros and the others alone. They should stay in Capernaum and wait for Jesus to come collect them. I think we should avoid the town on our way back to the south. Maybe Jesus only made it as far as Samaria… I don’t know…”
Ambigo made a noise, “…humph…” Simon questioned him, “What was that for?” Ambigo shook his head. “I guess I thought that you would want to take Petros and them along with us.” Simon lifted his chin a bit. “Why?” Ambigo shrugged, “I don’t know. I guess to protect them from the Romans… or the atheists… whatever they are.” Father Garcia asked, “Is that what you think we should do, Dr. Thomas?” Ambigo sighed. “I don’t know what to do. It’s all so confusing.”
Tad interceded, “I think we should give Petros a choice. We should tell them what we are planning to do and ask the three of them if they want to come with us or stay at home. Considering the long journey we have recently taken, I suspect they will choose to stay at home. Giving them the choice is the best option.” Madi interrupted, “You just don’t want to make a decision. Giving them the choice without giving them all of the information doesn’t absolve you from the responsibility, Tad.”
“You’re not suggesting that we tell Petros EVERYTHING, are you?” Jaime placed his hand on Madi’s arm. She nodded, “Since he was the one who was approached by the Romans or atheists or second team or whatever, I think he is the one we should talk to. We should tell him what we think and give him the full choice of whether to come… and whether to endanger his wife…” She looked at the fire. “I don’t see anything. Do you see an aura with this fire?” Jaime nodded. “Yeah, but it’s the normal aura fires have. Not that weird mustard stuff. It’s just the normal green…” She muttered, “…green… I don’t see any green…”
Father Garcia sighed. “We all know what becomes of Petros’ wife.” Ambigo scanned his memory, trying desperately to pull old catechisms out of his head. Madi blew out a puff of air. “I know… I just… didn’t expect her to be so pretty… especially when Mary was…” The entire team sighed in agreement and then looked at Ambigo. Tad asked the question that was on their minds, “So, what was the matter with her?”
So much had transpired since they had been chased out of Nazareth that Ambigo had almost forgotten about their encounter with Mary and Joseph. “Oh?! Well, um, I think that she has Huntington’s disease. The constant feeling of choking, the paranoid delusions, that swaying, they’re all symptoms of the disease… It wouldn’t explain the hallucinations, however.” The team looked at him questioningly and he answered, “You know, the visitation from the angel before the birth of Jesus. Huntington’s doesn’t have outright hallucinations as one of its symptoms, especially that early at the onset…” They looked at him strangely. “Have I said something wrong?”
Madi folded her arms. Tad responded, “No, Ambigo. We just wanted to know what her problem was. Is it hereditary?” Ambigo nodded. Jaime asked, “Do you think Jesus might have this disease?” Ambigo sighed. “It’s a fifty-fifty chance. It usually gets worse when passed from a mother to a son… Of course, if you believe that God placed Jesus in Mary’s womb, then heredity is just another science that is irrelevant… like… evolution.” He glanced over at Madi. She was still fuming on the other side of the fire, staring into it.
Things got quiet and Father Garcia asked, “Jaime, you haven’t said what you think about Petros.” Jaime stretched and unclenched his fists. “I have decided to put it in God’s hands.” Simon shook his head. “It’s people like you who give religion a bad name. Make a decision. If we avoid Capernaum, we make a decision. If we go into the town, we make a decision. How can you just leave the decision up to God?” Jaime looked at Simon, unblinking. “I just decided that God is going to guide us. I’m not going to interfere with His plan. I couldn’t, even if I wanted to.” Simon responded in disgust, “Bah!”
Father Garcia prodded Ambigo, “Do you have a decision yet?” Ambigo stood up and paced a bit. “I… I just don’t know the rules. It would be easier if I had some underlying facts. Is it possible to screw up history? No? Then why were they so worried about contamination? I don’t know how to answer because I don’t know what we’re dealing with. Based on what I know, I think it would be better to leave them alone. Let them stay in that little town. We’ll keep looking on our own. That way, we don’t have to risk further contamination. If we do give them a choice, however, I believe we should tell Petros everything. Maybe not the others, but Petros should know everything.”
Ambigo sat down by the fire again and Father Garcia rubbed his eyes, drawing the greedy attention of Madi and Jaime. He sighed deeply and rubbed his entire face. “So, we have two votes for giving Petros the choice, two votes for avoiding Capernaum and looking on our own and one vote saying we should let God decide. I can’t make this decision tonight. I think we should all sleep on it and vote again tomorrow morning. Maybe things will look different then.” The team sighed in agreement and ate Tad’s food gratefully.
Simon shook Ambigo awake the next morning. He whispered, “Hey, Dr. Thomas.” Ambigo sat up and scanned the team. Everyone else was asleep or pretending they were asleep. “What is it, Simon?” Simon looked uncomfortable. “I’ve got to talk to you…” He looked at Jaime, who was quite obviously awake, but keeping his eyes closed. “…in private, okay?” Ambigo stood up and followed Simon away from the warmth of the fire.
They wandered over by the oleander bushes and out of earshot from the team. “Do you think we should save some of this, you know, just in case?” Ambigo was still groggy. “Just in case, what? You could snap a neck so quickly no one would see it. What’s poison compared to that?” Simon looked at the bushes fearfully. “I don’t know. It just seems like a good thing to have… you know… just in case.” Ambigo shook his head. “That stuff isn’t coming near my satchel. I don’t want it making all my medicinal herbs poisonous. No way.” Simon put his hand to his fuzzy head and nodded. “I guess you’re right.”
Ambigo started to head back to the fire, but Simon stayed by the bushes. “Aren’t we going back?” Simon shook his head and fidgeted. “I’m sorry I threatened to punch you in the nuts.” Ambigo tried to remember the last time Simon threatened him and gave up. “Simon, if I believed you every time you threatened to hurt me, I’d be as paranoid as Petros.” He stretched, trying to wake up. Simon folded his arms, staring at the ground.
“Just tell me what it is, Simon. It can’t be that bad.” Simon shook his head and looked Ambigo in the eye. “It’s my tooth, Dr. Thomas. I think it’s going bad and I need you to look at it. At first, I thought it was just headaches. Sometimes when I’m in high pressure situations, I get headaches, but this…” He shrugged. “…this is nothing… Last night, it got worse and it’s just on one side, and I…damn…” He looked away. “…I think it’s my implant.”
Ambigo’s stomach sunk to his feet. “Open your mouth.” Simon opened his mouth, but Ambigo was far too short to see anything. “Lie down.” Simon immediately lay on the rough grass and opened his mouth, expertly keeping his tongue away from his teeth. The gums had receded from the tooth and were red and tender. “Simon…” Ambigo stood up and started pacing. “It’s not good, Simon.” He shook out his hands, uncomfortable. “Is it the tooth with the implant?” Ambigo couldn’t bear to say it. He looked at Simon and shook his hands.
Simon sat up and clasped his hands around his knees. “I’ll have to ask Madi about Simon the Zealot. I don’t remember him being martyred. Maybe I’ll go to India with you. You’re going to India, you know.” Ambigo shook his head and paced. “I can’t take care of this on the road. If I pull that tooth, you need at least a week’s rest. If I don’t pull that tooth, the infection could kill you. Hell, pulling the tooth could kill you.” Ambigo shook out his hands. “I can’t do this out in the open. We need a safe place.”
Simon stood up. “I guess Jaime got his answer.” He walked back to the campsite and Ambigo followed him, sick with the situation. The team had gotten up and was stoking the fire for breakfast. “Father Garcia…” Simon paused and looked at everyone. “Everybody, listen. My tooth with the implant has gone bad. Dr. Thomas has to pull it out.” Madi cried out and several other members said, “…no…” Simon held up his hand to quiet them.
“Listen to me. I knew the risks when I joined up on this team. We’re going to have to go to a safe place to do this. It’s not like back home where you go to the dentist and he just pulls out your tooth and sends you home. Dr. Thomas said I’d need a week’s rest.” Simon put his hand on Jaime’s shoulder. “I should have listened to you, man. I… I think we should go back to Capernaum and stay with Petros or Andrew. It’s the safest place I know of right now. If I survive this…” He didn’t speak. He just stood there with his hand on Jaime’s shoulder. “I don’t know why I keep needing to learn this lesson…”
Simon’s face became hard as stone and he stood in front of them, just staring ahead. Madi came up to him and gave him a hug with her tiny, scarred arms, but he just stood still. She let him go and he sat in front of the fire. “When I escaped from the desert, I promised God that I would follow his will. I would do what he wanted…” He looked at Jaime. “Last night, the only person who voted on God’s side was you.” He shook his head. “I failed the test again. I can’t believe it…”