He couldn’t remember how long he hanged there. The pain had been unimaginable, but now he felt only numbness. He could hear people around him; they talked and rustled about, never letting up. How long had they been there? He couldn’t say. They wouldn’t quiet down, always going on and on, murmuring, laughing, crying. He started hearing languages he’d never even heard of; sounds he barely recognized. His head swam, but he managed to lift his eyes and look around.
When had all those towers gone up? They rose up around him, immense grey monoliths that touched the clouds. And it was cold; why was it so cold? Was that rain? Had it been raining before? And the noise; an incessant drone that felt like it drilled through his ears and straight into his mind. He closed his eyes again, trying to shut out the noise, and attempted to cover his ears with his hands. The sudden resistance reminded him of his palms, nailed to the hard wood.
Right, he thought. Right. This is where I am; where I have to be.
He shook his head. Isn’t it?
He could see there were more people around him now, but they weren’t looking up at him anymore. Throngs of people, walking to and fro, riding strange metal carriages (he could see that was where most of the hellish din was coming from), hurrying to Father knew where. He looked around, tried to find the soldiers who stood under the cross, or the faces of his friends, or the jeering crowd. He couldn’t see anyone he recognised, and the hundreds of flashing lights blinded his eyes, and the din of a hundred noises assaulted his ears.
He shut his eyes again, tried to breathe through the pain and the confusion. When he opened them again, there was a man standing in front of him, looking up at the cross. He had a clean, stern face and his clothes looked expensive and refined, although he had never seen anything like them.
“Where am I?” he managed to stammer, between gulps of air.
The man didn’t speak for a moment, but kept on studying him, like he would a piece of ancient treasure, or a relic of a previous age. Then he spoke.
“You realise this is all your doing, don’t you?” the man said.
It was becoming harder to breathe. He wanted to ask what the man meant, but he only managed a tired cough. The man seemed to take that as a cue to go on.
“All this,” he said, gesturing around him, “all this you see before you is your doing. You let us do this; you let us make the world unto what it is right now.”
“How…?” he breathed.
“You came, and you told us our sins were forgiven. You told us ours was the kingdom of heaven. You said you would come and take all our sins upon you, and pay the price for all of them. That is how you did this.”
“I… I came to save you,” he moaned. “I was made to come and bring you the message you were forgiven. I came to help…”
“You can’t see it, can you?” the man asked. “You didn’t come to help. You came to tell us it was all right. Whatever we had done up to that point, whatever our crimes, whatever our sins, we were forgiven. You told us we could go on in peace, and you would just make it all right.”
“I didn’t…” he tried to protest, but the man didn’t let him. His voice was harsher now, but so was the noise, seemingly coming from everywhere at once.
“You came and took away our responsibility,” the man said, with finality. “You came and told us it wasn’t our fault, all our sins, all our transgressions. We weren’t to blame, because those weren’t our choices, it was the evil inside us. And you came and took it away, and you were strung up to pay for all of them. For all of us.
“And we were free then; free to make all this,” he concluded, and he opened his arms, as if he was trying to embrace everything in front of him. “Free to make our own kingdom. And now… we don’t need you anymore.”
The man didn’t wait for an answer; he turned on his heel and walked away, until he was lost in the rippling crowds. He was left all alone again, with millions of people walking by with nary a glance up at him on his cross. The noise only grew louder and harsher, until it filled the whole world. The rain kept pouring down.