Lazarus was not touched by the grandeur of the imperial palace. It was as if he did not see any difference between his dilapidated house, to which the desert had made her approach, and the strong, beautiful palace built of stone—with such an indifference did he look, and did not look, as he walked past. And under his gaze the hard marble under his feet became like the desert’s quicksand, and the multitude of well dressed, haughty men became like the emptiness of air. They did not look at his face when he walked past, wary of being subjected to the terrible influence of his eyes; but when, from the sounds of heavy footsteps, they deduced that he had passed—they lifted their heads and with an apprehensive curiosity inspected the figure of the fat, tall, slightly stooping old man, slowly making his way into the very heart of the imperial palace. The people could not become any more frightened if death itself went passing by, for until this time only the dead knew death, and the living knew only life—and there was no bridge between them. But this abnormal man knew death, and this cursed knowledge was mysterious and frightening. “He will kill our great, divine Augustus,” thought the people with fear and sent futile curses after Lazarus, who was walking slowly and indifferently further and further, deeper and deeper.
By now Caesar himself knew who Lazarus was, and he had prepared himself for the meeting. But he was a brave man, he felt his great, invincible power, and he chose not to lean on the weak help of others in his mortal duel with the miraculously resurrected. He confronted Lazarus one on one, face to face.
“Do not lift your gaze at me, Lazarus,” he ordered the new arrival. “I have heard that your head is like the head of Medusa, turning to stone everyone upon whom falls your gaze. And I wish to inspect you and speak with you before I turn to stone,” he added with regal humor, not devoid of fear.
Having come close, he carefully inspected Lazarus’ face and his strange ceremonial dress. And although his sight was keen and sharp he was deceived by the skillful forgery.
“Well. Your appearance is not frightening, respectable old man. But so much the worse for the people when the terrible assumes such a respectable and pleasant appearance. Now we shall speak.”
Augustus sat down and, interrogating with his gaze as well as words, began the conversation:
“Why did you not greet me when you entered?”
Lazarus answered indifferently:
“I did not know that it was necessary.”
“Are you a Christian?”
Augustus nodded his head in approval.
“That is good. I do not like Christians. They shake the tree of life without first letting the fruits fill it, scattering its fragrant petals into the wind. But who are you?”
With some effort, Lazarus answered:
“I was dead.”
“I heard about that. But who are you now?”
Lazarus hesitated giving his answer, when finally he repeated, dimly and indifferently:
“I was dead.”
“Listen to me, unknown one,” said the emperor, clearly and sternly speaking about the things on which he had previously meditated. “My kingdom: the kingdom of the living, my people: the living, not the dead. And you are not wanted here. I do not know who you are, I do not know what you have seen there—but if you are lying, I hate your lies, and if you are telling the truth—I hate your truth. I feel the trembling of life within my chest; I feel my might in my hands—and my proud thoughts, like eagles, soar across space. And there, behind my back, under the protection of my authority, under the shadow of the laws which I created, there live, and labor, and rejoice men. Do you hear that wondrous harmony of life? Do you hear that war cry that men throw into the face of the oncoming, calling it to battle?”
Augustus stretched out his hands as if in prayer and triumphantly exclaimed:
“Great, divine life, be blessed!”
But Lazarus remained silent, and the emperor continued more sternly:
“You are not wanted here. You are a pitiful remnant of that which death had failed to consume, you instill anguish and denial of life in men; like a caterpillar, you devour the fat kernel of joy and excrete the slime of sorrow and despair. Your truth is like a rusty sword in the hands of a murderer in the night—and, like a murderer, I will put you to death. But before I do this I want to look into your eyes. Maybe only cowards are afraid of them, and in the brave they will awake a thirst for battle and victory: in which case you deserve a reward and not an execution… Look at me, Lazarus.”
And at first it seemed to divine Augustus that a friend was looking at him—so soft, so gentle was Lazarus’ gaze. It had the promise not of dread but of quiet peace, and the Infinite seemed like a tender lover, like a compassionate sister, like a mother. But the gentle embrace was growing ever tighter, and already the mouth, eager to kiss, was cutting off his breath, and already through the soft tissue of his body he could feel the iron of bones, bound by an iron coil—and someone’s cold bones touched his heart and slowly sank into it.
“I am hurt,” said divine Augustus, growing pale. “But look, Lazarus, look!”
It was as if some heavy gates, locked for eternity, were slowly parting, and into the growing gap, slowly and coldly, flowed in the terrible horror of the Infinite. Now boundless emptiness and boundless gloom entered as two shadows and extinguished the sun, took away the earth from under one’s feet, and took away the roof over one’s head. And the icy heart ceased to hurt.
“Look, look, Lazarus!” ordered Augustus, trembling.
Time stopped, and the beginning of everything made a terrifying approach towards its end. Augustus’ throne, only just now erected, had already fallen apart, and already emptiness took the place of the throne and Augustus. Rome fell apart silently and a new city arose in its place and was itself absorbed by emptiness. Like spectral giants, cities, governments, and states fell and disappeared into emptiness, and indifferently, without ever satiating, the black maw of the Infinite swallowed them all up.
“Stop,” ordered the emperor. Already there was indifference in his voice, and his arms drooped down feebly, and his eagle eyes lit up and faded in his vain battle with the oncoming gloom.
“You have killed me, Lazarus,” he said dimly and feebly.
And these words of hopelessness saved him. He remembered his people, whose shield he was chosen to be, and a sharp pain of salvation pierced his deadened heart. “Destined to perish,” he thought with anguish. “Bright shadows in the gloom of the Infinite,” he thought with dread. “Fragile vessels with living, animated blood, with a heart that knows deep sorrow and great joy,” he thought with tenderness.
And thus, contemplating and feeling, shifting the scales now to the side of life, now to the side of death, he slowly returned to life so that in its suffering and joy he could find protection against the gloom, the emptiness, and the dread of the infinite.
“No, you did not kill me, Lazarus,” he said sternly. “But I will kill you. Go!”
That evening divine Augustus tasted his food and his drink with unusual joy. But there were moments when his raised arm froze in the air and a dim sheen took the place of the bright radiance of his eyes—and at times a feeling of dread ran past his feet like an icy wave. Defeated, but not killed, coldly awaiting his hour, he became like a black shadow at his bedside, possessing the nights and obediently yielding the bright days to the sorrows and joys of life.
The following day, on the orders of the emperor, they burned out Lazarus’ eyes with hot iron and sent him back to his native land. The divine Augustus did not dare put him to death.
Lazarus returned to the desert, and the desert greeted him with the whistling breath of the wind and the heat of the burning sun. Again he sat on a rock, lifting upwards his disheveled, wild beard, and, in place of his eyes, two black holes peered horribly and blankly at the sun. In the distance, the holy city stirred and bustled, but nearby it was deserted and mute: nobody came near the place where the one who was miraculously resurrected lived out his days, and by this time the neighbors had long abandoned their houses. His cursed knowledge, pushed back into the depths of his skull by the hot iron, lurked there as if in ambush; and just like an ambush it burrowed into man with a thousand invisible eyes—and by now nobody dared even to take a peek at Lazarus.
And in the evening, when the sun, reddening and growing, descended to the horizon, the blind Lazarus would slowly go after it. He would bump into rocks and fall, fat and weak, then rise slowly and keep going; and before the sunset’s red canopy his black torso and outstretched hands bore a terrible likeness to a cross.
It happened that one day he went out and never returned. Thus, it seems, ended the second life of Lazarus, who for three days remained under the mysterious dominion of death and was miraculously resurrected.