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7
2 YEARS

FIRST READ: 'Unholy Night' by Seth Grahame-Smith

It was a nickname born of the only two things the Romans knew about him: one, that he was Syrian by birth, in which case it was a good bet that he’d grown up in Antioch; and two, that he had a knack for slipping into the homes of the wealthy and making off with their riches without being seen or heard. Other than those scant facts and a rough physical description, the Romans had nothing—not his age, not even his real name. And while “the AntiochGhost”wasn’t particularly inspired as nicknames went, it wasn’t all that bad, either. Balthazar had to admit, he enjoyed seeing it among the “known criminals” painted on the side of public buildings—always in red, always in Latin: Reward! The Antioch Ghost— Enemy of Rome! Thief of the Eastern Empire! Sure, he hadn’t achieved the infamy of a Hannibal or a Spartacus, but he was something of a minor celebrity in his little corner of the world.

 

There was a second chorus of whistling, followed by a second strike of arrows behind him. Balthazar turned and watched the last of them fall.

 

While still too far away to cause concern, this volley hadn’t been quite as hopeless as the last. They’re getting closer, he thought. 

 

“Faster, stupid!” he yelled at the stubborn beast, kicking its sides with his heels.

 

If only he could get out of their sight for a minute or two, change direction. Even now, with an indeterminate number of Judean soldiers chasing him through the middle of nowhere, with only a tired, pungent camel and a dull sword to protect him, and even though his pursuers were only two minutes behind him at best, Balthazar still had a chance. He’d spent years memorizing a network of caves to hide out in, shortcuts across barren lands, the best places to scrounge up food and water on the run. He’d trained himself how to survive. How to carry on in times when the whole world seemed hell-bent on snuffing him out. Times like now.

 

He sensed his camel slowing down and gave it another swift kick in its side.

 

C’mon...just a little longer...