A Last Supper

By Philip Berrie

sfgenre"Are they ready, Judas?" The old man's voice was feeble but fervent.

"Yes, Master."

Judas felt strange in the high-collared shirt and gentleman's dress suit that his master had bought him especially for tonight's event. He dug a cold finger between tie and neck to ease the tightness on his throat, only to be reminded of the noose that had left permanent indentations there. With renewed reverence, he looked down at the frail old man who was the sole reason for his existence and regretted what the night would bring.

"Good, good. It is a special night. I do not want anything to go wrong." There was a light in those rheumy old eyes that was more than just the reflection of the gas lamp on the wall. His master took a deep, wheezing breath before continuing, "How do I look?"

The starched white shirt and the splendid black suit with its crimson cummerbund were much too big for the old man's disease-wasted form now, but he had insisted. There were important memories associated with that set of clothes. Something to do with the gold medallion from the Royal Society that lay with its velvet ribbon upon his master's sunken chest.

"You look fine, Master," said Judas, the lie coming easier to him now.

"And the new ones?" said his master, looking ahead expectantly at the brass handle of the closed door behind which subdued sounds could be heard. "You are sure they are secured?"

"Yes, Master," said Judas calmly, not wanting to worry his master with the difficulties he had had preparing some of the newer ones. He'd had the damnedest time getting some of them into suitable clothes, let alone getting them to behave.

"Good. Then you can wheel me in."

Judas stepped forward and opened the door — bringing a halt to the sounds in the room beyond. The wheelchair squeaked in the sudden silence as it crossed the threshold.

"Braaains!"

The word was the worst insult in Judas's world, and it brought a series of responses from around the room ranging from Simon's stern, "Be quiet, you fool!" through to shushes and a couple of strangled groans.

Its perpetrator ignored them all and instead heaved himself against the thick leather straps that bound him to a sturdy high-backed chair.

Incensed, Judas stalked to the end of the table. He towered over the pale-skinned form of the blasphemer who, in his efforts to get free, had almost pulled himself out of a borrowed tweed hunting coat.

"Braa —"

The word was left unfinished as the sound of a back-handed blow echoed through the room.

"Be quiet!" Judas enforced his order with another resounding slap. "Have respect for he who raised you."

"Judas!" The old man's voice threatened to fail him. "Don't damage him. Peter is still new. He'll learn."

Judas hesitated and finally dropped his hand. "Yes, Master," he said, turning to await new orders, fearful that he had overstepped his authority.

"You will learn, won't you, Peter?" said the old man, craning forward in his wheelchair, nodding his head with short spasmodic jerks.

Peter, bloodless and staring eyes still on Judas, grunted and also gave a small nod of his head.

"Good, good. Attend me, Judas," said the old man, gesturing weakly for him to comply.

With some misgivings, Judas adjusted his cuffs and returned to his master's side. Then, after a final glare at Peter and a stern look at the rest of the fearful diners, he pushed his master's wheelchair to the other end of the long and elaborately set table.

His master felt thin and frail in Judas's arms as he transferred him to the ornate chair at the head of the table.

"Thank you, Judas." The old man's hand shook as he patted the strong forearm of his assistant. "The wine, it is prepared as I ordered?"

"Yes, Master," said Judas quickly, though it had taken him a long time to gather the courage to perform the act.

"Good. You can take your place now."

Judas took his seat at his master's right hand. He looked at the empty bone china plate and implements that lay before him with little pride in his social achievements. As per his instructions, the table setting was the finest the house could provide, laid out exactly as it would be in highest society. It was all white and silver, bar the contents of the wine glasses which, in the light from the gas mantles, shone a dark blood-red.

"Mary, my dear, you look very striking tonight."

Mary sat on his master's left hand, and Judas watched her closely as she turned her heavily made-up face in response to the compliment. Her rouged but sagging lips twitched once in a hesitant attempt at a smile before she dropped her eyes demurely as befitted the prim and proper dress that Judas had helped her don.

"A little more practice with that makeup and you'll be turning men's heads on street corners again." A brief laugh became a fit of wet coughing, and Judas fetched out a handkerchief from his coat pocket.

"Please excuse me, everyone," said his master, wiping his mouth with the proffered cloth, leaving a red stain on his cheek. "I hope you will forgive an old man one last laugh."

"And a very good joke it was too, Master," said Judas, as he looked pointedly at some of the oldest of the group.

Simon, the quickest amongst them, said a hesitant, "Hear, hear."

The old man gave a weak smile and nodded at the affirmation before he spoke again. "Ahhh... My creations... My unholy disciples..." He raised himself up as well he could in his chair. "Some of you are aware of what is to happen tonight. The others..."

Suddenly, he reached out and grasped the stem of his wine glass. "I never was any damned good at speeches. Best I just get it over and done with so you can all eat."

"Master?" Judas was troubled.

"No, Judas, I am determined... Simon, Andrew, help Peter and Thomas please," The old man lifted his glass. "A toast!"

There was a stirring at the table and clumsy hands reached out to pick up wine glasses. Judas was hesitant, but in the end also picked up his glass.

"To the Devil, Queen Victoria, and sentience in all its forms."

From along the table came the repeat of the toast. Many words were slurred and some only managed groans, but all raised their glasses and drank.

Once again, Judas was the last, for he waited to make his own addition to the toast. "May the Devil take you to his bosom, Master," he said carefully before lifting his glass and drinking deeply.

The old man was silent for a moment and then a smile appeared on his lips. "Judas. My dear Judas, you continue to amaze me with how far you have come since I raised you. You are... You are my masterpiece."

Judas forced a smile onto his face, but did not feel happy, proud or even possessed of devilish intent. He had just said what he knew his master would appreciate hearing. As far as he knew, there had been no Devil involved in the raising of himself or any of the others from their graves, just the brilliance and arcane science of his master, who he would miss terribly.

The spilling of the dregs of his master's wine brought him back from his dark thoughts. "Master?"

"No, Judas," gasped the old man from where he had slumped onto the arm of his chair. "The poison is working. It is you who will be master soon."

Judas rose to his feet and began wringing his hands; uncertain as to what to do now the dread moment was upon him. The others sat tense and intent.

"Do you remember what I told you?" A thin drool of blood ran down his master's cheek.

Judas could only nod.

"Tell me." The old man's voice still had some steel in it.

"I must keep them fed, in good repair and properly embalmed." He turned to look at the others, suddenly scared of the burden that had been thrust upon him.

"And?"

Judas couldn't keep the quiver from his voice. "I... I must continue to feed them human brains to make them smarter."

The old man smiled at him and then began to shake. "Judas..." The old man shuddered once more and then his head fell limply onto his shoulder, spattering crimson foam.

Feeling lost and alone, Judas remembered what was supposed to happen next. He looked down at the stainless-steel trepanning tool and serving spoon in front of him.

"Braaains?" came an uncertain voice from the end of the table.

That horrid word crystallised Judas's thoughts and brought him to the decision he had been battling with ever since his master had told him of his last desire.

"No!" he shouted at Peter. "Not food!"

***

The thirteen of them had apparently made something of a stir carrying the makeshift coffin through the darkened streets to the graveyard on the hill. Drunken late-night revellers and the occasional night worker had been their only witnesses, but that, and Peter's ravings, had been enough. Judas saw weapons in the hands of the people braving the gates at the bottom of the hill.

"Judas? What do we do now?" It was Simon, the man they had raised from a pauper's grave and who now wore his master's finest silk smoking jacket. Simon still clutched the haft of one of the shovels they'd used to bury their master. He held it as if he knew it could protect him from the attackers, and Judas realised that Simon, at least, he could depend on.

Still uncertain as to their next course of action, Judas turned to look at the freshly filled grave. He did not regret defying his master's orders. He even thought that perhaps his master might be proud of his independence. What he did regret was the lack of time to honour his master's passing properly.

"They are coming..." It was Mary, she who had once been a prostitute and who now wore the clothes of their dead master's mother. "What do we do, Judas?"

The others — even Peter — stood around, expecting him to speak.

Judas bent, picked up the other shovel, and pushed it into Mary's hands.

"Now we eat," he said, reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out his master's revolver.

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About The Author

Phillip Berrie

Phill Berrie lives in Canberra with his extended family and is in the second half of his first century. He is the author of the Canberra-based urban fantasy story The Changeling Detective from US small press Hotspur Publishing and the high-fantasy tale Transgressions (available now as an ebook and hopefully coming soon in print form from Satalyte Publishing). He is a member the ACT Writers Centre and the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, where he was one of the editors for their most recent anthology, The Never Never Land. He is also a specialist editor of speculative fiction and works part-time at the Australian Science Teachers Association as their Digital Projects Officer.

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