As I mentioned Sunday, my short story No Good Deed Goes Unpunished is now live at Crimson Streets. So here the backstory (illustration: The Wandering Jew by Marc Chagall, courtesy of Wikiart. All rights to image with current holder) on how I came to write it, and why I’m illustrating this post with the Wandering Jew’s image.
And by the way, this post will have some minor spoilers for the story, so you may want to go read it first. I shall follow this line with some blank space so you can now look away.
The first idea was inspired by a freelance spy who popped in DC in the 1980s, code-named the Bad Samaritan. My friend Ross made a passing comment which made me think of using the same name for a different villain, one who murders people for doing good deeds (“Just think of me as—a Bad Samaritan.”). I liked it but of course I had to come up with a reason for him to be doing this.
One I seized on was the Jewish legend of the 36 Lame Wufniks (I’ve heard other names used for them). The myth is that 36 people in the world are chosen to live lives of goodness, charity and compassion, thereby reminding God of our potential. Because of this, he doesn’t lose it at the behavior of so many other people and rain down fire or flood on us. So what if someone started targeting the Wufniks, killing them so that God would lose it?
And if that were the concept, the protagonist would obviously be Al Soares, the Wandering Jew. In my first published short story this century, “Where Angels Fear to Lunch” (in Realms of Fantasy, my biggest market to date), I had presented the Wandering Jew as a hardboiled PI, a cynic who nevertheless works to balance the scales and protect people he thinks got the shaft the way he did when he was cursed for mocking Jesus on the way to the crucifixion (“One lousy joke, that was all. I didn’t kick him, I didn’t fling cow patties like Simon the Zealot, so why me?”).
But that still left me with the problem of what the villain’s end game would be? And how exactly would he achieve it? After all, the Wufniks aren’t immortal, thousands of them have died through the centuries, so why would these deaths be any different? Suffice to say I worked all that out and it’s woven into the story.
In so doing, the Bad Samaritan became a somewhat smaller part of things. Instead it became very much an origin for the Wandering Jew’s decision to start lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness. The original ending was very consciously written to set that up; after my friend M. David Blake pointed that out (in the course of turning it down for Straeon Quarterly (not the exact issue shown at the link) I rewrote it so while it was still a launching pad it was less obvious. And I shifted the character Al has his final conversation with, which for various reasons worked much better.
Al is considerably more Jewish here than in the first story, which is set in 1996. My thinking is that he probably goes through cycles of rejecting the implication of his curse—that Jesus was in fact the son of God—and reluctantly accepting it, then rejecting it again (after all, why would a divine being inflict a fate as cruel as this?). If I do another story, set between the two, we’ll see where he stands then.
In the meantime, you have this one. Go read.