Letters from Unsung Heroes: The Train – Johnathan Sandow

My Darling Katherine,

I apologize for my delay. The train which I have boarded seems to have broken down in a tunnel which no light can penetrate. It’s been very quiet and I’ve kept to myself as to not create a disturbance. Most here, at least of those from my car, seem to have the same idea. It’s been quite scary to say the least. I believe a man a few rows down from me passed away and the man next to him somehow didn’t seem to notice. What nerves of iron he must have to remain so calm in such a situation. He should be an inspiration to all of us. He was very well prepared too as seems to have an endless supply of matches which he lights whenever he wants to look at something. Or perhaps it is simply to cover the stench of the deceased next to him. A foul odor has been growing about the car and it is a relief every time he sparks one; I can only imagine what the smell must be like next to him.

On a more pleasant note, a sweet old lady sitting a few rows behind came over to me earlier today with an oil lamp strangely enough. She sat down beside me and we exchanged pleasantries. And then, out of the blue, she started talking to me about the Bible. I was so glad too, as I was feeling quite uncomfortable and squeamish. We talked at great length about Sodom and Gomorrah and had an absolutely wonderful discussion on 1 Corinthians 6:9. You should have seen her face, Katherine. She seemed so elated to have someone to discuss scripture with. I suspect she must get shut-down about it often as our conversation really seemed to make her day. We exchanged address and telephone numbers so that we can perhaps have a Bible study sometime. Until then, if we are to remain here for longer, perhaps I shall offer her some company and we can discuss some of the finer points of Origen and his writings

Anyhow, my darling. I hope to see you in Church this weekend. I pray that the Lord shall see us all safely off this train and into the embrace of our loved ones.

Yours in Christ

Johnathan Sandow

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Where We Put Our Faith

Matthew sat alone at his desk in the living room, the only light coming from the computer monitor in front of him and the kitchen through the doorway. Smoke rose up from the cigarette between his fingers as he stared at the bright screen. It had been a particularly miserable day and he felt completely drained. He scrolled down the screen until he found the numbers he was looking for and compared them to the piece of paper in his hand.

“Fuck,” he muttered under his breath. Not a single number matched. He wouldn’t even be getting his two dollars back. Matthew crumpled up the lottery ticket and threw it into the small can by his desk.

Picking up the 24 oz can of Milwaukee’s Best Ice on his desk, he gave it a shake. Save for a few warm drops, it was empty. Matthew put his cigarette down and headed for the refrigerator. It was time for beer number three. He reached in, opened the next can and took a swig. Closing the door to the refrigerator, he nearly choked on the beer as turned around.

Standing outside the kitchen door was a somewhat short but slim Asian man. The porch light was off, so Matthew wouldn’t have seen him if he hadn’t been standing so close. The man was older, probably in his fifties, and sported a dark gray wiry goatee with streaks of silver running through it. A black bowler hat sat upon the man’s head as he simply grinned a thin smile at Matthew, just enough to show a row of perfectly straight and white teeth.

Matthew reluctantly opened the door part way to find out what the man wanted.

“Can I help y…?”

Before Matthew could finish, the Asian man took the opportunity to pull the door all the way open and push his way inside. He was very well dressed in a suit that looked custom-made in the fashion of 19th century attire. Black jacket, vest, tie, and shoes, with a white shirt. A silver pocket watch chain hung from the waist pocket and buttons of brass on his clothes. In his hand was a black briefcase which he promptly placed on the kitchen table.

“Let’s get down to business,” the Asian man said authoritatively as he opened the briefcase revealing a large stack of papers. “I’ll just need your signature on these forms and then I’ll be on my way.”

“Wait, what… who…” Matthew stumbled out the words. He didn’t know what was going on and was absolutely flabbergasted that this strange man just pushed his way into his house and basically started barking orders.

“Look,” the Asian man said, “I’m here to help you out, to give you a better life, but in order for me to do that, I need your signature. Legal documents to cover your ass and mine. Without this, there’s no deal.” The Asian man flipped through the pages until he found what he was looking for and pulled out a pen. “Ah! Sign here please.”

Matthew looked at the outstretched document confused, then to the man holding the document.

“What are you talking about?”

The Asian man looked mildly annoyed, then sighed reluctantly. He had come on a bit strong. Couldn’t really fault Matthew for being confused.

“My apologies. To put it simply, what this document states is that in exchange for your immortal soul, you will live the perfect life you’ve always wanted. Everything you do will be incredibly fulfilling, you’ll live in good health, and you can fulfill your dreams. At the end of said contract, your soul is forfeit and shall descend into the pit of Hell where it will burn forever in eternal torment. At your time of death somewhere between seventy-one and one hundred and twenty-two years of age, dependent on when the most Holy One has deemed your time on Earth to be finished, your soul will be collected. Though we cannot control the exact date and time of death, we can push it into a roughly fifty year window. We also guarantee that your death will be peaceful and comfortable as every moment living from the time you sign this contract will be absolutely perfect.”

Matthew just stared at the Asian man in silence for a few moments as he let what he had heard sink in.

“Did you say my immortal soul?”

“Yes I did.”

“Uh-huh. And who is ‘we’?”

“That would be myself and the denizens of Hell.”

Matthew pursed his lips together and furrowed his brows somewhat as he continued to stare at the man. He took a sip of his beer, not once taking his eyes away.

“Wait. Are you telling me that you’re the Devil?”

“Bingo!” the Asian man said with a smile, swinging a pointed finger into the air. “Now you’ve got it. I’m sorry for not properly introducing myself earlier.” He began walking a circle around Matthew. “I sometimes get so caught up in the agreement that I forget the important stuff like introductions and terms of the agreement and what have you. By the way, you can call me Todd.”

“But I didn’t ask for you to come,” Matthew said as Todd continued to walk a circle around him.

“No. No you did not,” Todd replied, “but any salesman worth his salt will identify and seek out those in need of his services. One cannot just sit there and expect the clientele walk through one’s doors. Though in my line of work most people do anyways. Despite this, it is still important to be proactive. Besides, if someone is going to spend the rest of time itself in the lake of fire, shouldn’t they at least have a fantastic life? Shouldn’t they get some small pleasure and enjoyment while they can? Shouldn’t they…”

“Are you stupid?” Matthew cut him off.

Todd stopped in his tracks on Matthew’s left. He turned his head and looked him in the eyes.

“Excuse me?”

“I’m a Christian,” Matthew answered. “I’m not going to sell my soul to you. What makes you think I ever would?”

Todd made an uplifting sigh and continued his circle around Matthew.

“Well, yes, you are a Christian, that I know, but just being Christian doesn’t get you into Heaven. Matthew 7:21. Look, Matt. I know you. You’re a very depressed individual.” Todd looked at the 24 oz can of Milwaukee’s Best Ice in Matthew’s hand. “That’s what, beer number three for you tonight?” Todd glanced into the room with the computer. On the desk was a half empty pack of cigarettes with one almost burned out in the ashtray and then back at the beer in Matthew’s hand. “Let me guess, you’ve got three more in the fridge. I know you. You’re going to drink yourself miserable and drunkenly jack off to whatever pornography suits your fancy at the given moment. You’ll lie down with a cigarette in one hand and the final beer in the other crying about how sorry you are, begging for forgiveness. Eventually you’ll pass out naked somewhere in the house and wake up in the morning feeling horrible about yourself. The next day you’ll try to pass it off and feel renewed, all peachy keen and living for the Lord. And it’ll go great for a few days. Maybe even a few weeks or months. But you’ll fall again and repeat the same process over and over again.”

Matthew inhaled deeply through his nose, eyes closed and held his breath. The words stung. Todd was right. He was a miserable sinner. God wouldn’t want him. Every good thing he ever did was just one broken promise after another to God. Every vow he ever made had been broken. He often became so depressed about it he would sometimes plan to get messed up, not because he wanted to sin, but because he wanted to forget about his sin, even if it meant intentionally sinning in order to escape for only the briefest of times. He hated himself and he hated his life. Oh why couldn’t Jesus come and take him in one of the brief moments of grace he sometimes felt?

Matthew exhaled slowly and then took another deep breath before speaking.

“What of it?”

“What of it!?” Todd exclaimed. “What of it!? I’ll tell you what of it. Heaven doesn’t want you. You’ve rejected the grace of God all too often. You’ve burned your bridges. Your words are empty and hollow. Let’s face it, you’re coming to see me whether you like it or not. You might as well enjoy life while you can because your suffering is going to last forever. And the thing is, you know deep down you deserve it. No amount of continuing to go to church is going to change that.”

Matthew looked away and spoke through his teeth, ashamed of himself, but angry enough about it to fight back against the accusations.

“You’re right,” he said. “I do deserve death and Hell. But you know what? I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!”

Todd froze where he stood. He was stunned, but only so briefly. An evil smile came back across his face and he started circling Matthew yet again.

“Quoting Luther will get you nowhere,” he said. “You Protestants think you’re so great, but you’re the most deluded of them all.” Todd’s clothes started to stretch and break at the seams as his body began to grow. “You don’t worship Yehoshuah. Your American culture won’t let you.” As the clothes fell off Todd’s body, horns began to grow from the sides of his head, his muscles increased, and his skin started turning to red. “Your independence is so ingrained in what you are that though you talk a big game, you rely entirely on yourself. So how about it? Would you like to enjoy your remaining years?”

Todd leaned in behind Matthew, stopping just over his shoulder. A large red hand with terrible claws held up the contract, another held up a blue ink pen. Matthew was sweating profusely and breathing hard. His life had been miserable. He’d always suspected he would burn in Hell for the terrible things he’s done. And here was Satan, offering him a chance to have some happiness before the end. If only he’d just sign.

And then something clicked in Matthew’s head.

If he’s going to Hell anyway, why is Satan trying so hard to get Matthew to sign? Being proactive is one thing, but this was resorting to scare tactics. Satan was supposed to be the most beautiful of angels, not this big red demon that shows up in the movies. This kind of effort is completely unnecessary unless…

Matthew took a deep breath and turned to look over his shoulder. There was the face of the devil staring back at him. A red dragon-like face with black beady eyes looked directly into his. Matthew gulped and then spoke softly, but forcefully.

“FUCK. OFF.”

Satan roared in outrage, throwing the contract and pen in the air. Reeling back, he lunged with his right arm and grasped Matthew firmly around the throat. Lifting him into the air, Satan slammed him down on the floor, squeezing tighter and tighter.

“Do not insult me boy or I will kill you right here where you stand!”

Matthew struggled with his hands to no avail in an attempt to pull Satan’s fingers from his neck.

“Go for it,” Matthew managed to gurgle out. “I hate this life anyway. I’ve got nothing to live for. You’ll just be sending me to Jesus early.”

Satan leaned in mere inches from Matthew’s face and scowled. There was no fear in his eyes. Satan squeezed his neck a little tighter. Matthew choked a bit, but managed to smile. He was telling the truth. He was ready to face death. With a snort in Matthew’s face, Satan released his grip and stepped away.

Matthew lay on the floor gasping for air. When he finally looked up, he saw the Asian man whom Satan had come into his house as stepping out the front door.

Todd stopped briefly and looked at Matthew who was still gasping. He smiled and said, “Just so you know, it is possible to lose your salvation.” With that, Todd tipped his hat and left, gently closing the door behind him.

The following Sunday, Matthew met with the pastor of his church after the service and told him all that had happened. The pastor quietly listened, not interrupting but making sure to absorb every detail. Though the pastor was skeptical about whether this really happened, he was deeply concerned.

“You said at the beginning of our conversation that you beat Satan,” the pastor said.

“Yes,” replied Matthew.

The pastor stood up and walked to the window. He looked outside to see the trees and birds. He felt the warmth of the sun on his face. Normally, he would marvel at God’s creation on the day like this, but not today. The pastor had dealt with tragedy many times over his career. Members abandoning the faith. Death in the congregation. But nothing had ever felt quite like this. Without looking back, he spoke to Matthew.

“If what you tell me is true, then I am afraid you did not beat the Devil. In fact, I fear he may have achieved exactly what he set out to do.”

Matthew was stunned. So much so that it took him a few moments to respond.

“What do you mean?” Matthew asked.

“Satan is the great deceiver and will do whatever it takes to bring us down with him. From what you describe, it sounds to me that his goal was not to get you to sign the contract, but to make you lose what faith you had.”

“What?” Matthew said as he stood up. “That doesn’t make any sense. It was my faith that saved me. That’s why he let me go. He knew if he killed me that I would go to Heaven.”

“In that moment, yes, perhaps.” The pastor turned around to face Matthew, a deep concern and worry for the member of his congregation showed on his face. “But despite your flaws and sinful ways, you still had faith in Jesus. You still hated your sin. But now, I fear, the Devil has turned your faith away from Jesus and onto itself.”

“I….I don’t understand,” Matthew stammered.

“Your faith is no longer in the one who saves but in your own ability to have strong faith. The switch was almost unnoticeable, but it happened. I heard it in the way you approached me. You said, ‘I beat the devil. My faith in Jesus saved me.’ The focus in your language was not on Jesus but on you. Don’t you see? You were already saved. You had your problems, but you were saved.”

Matthew dropped into the chair he had risen from, his face almost expressionless. The words Todd spoke at the end of their encounter rang through his mind. Just so you know, it is possible to lose your salvation.

The pastor carefully pulled a bible off the shelf and laid it open on his desk. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. And so the pastor began to read the Word and prayed that Matthew would hear.

Letters from Unsung Heroes: The Train – Sam Davis

Yesterday a young girl left her mother’s side and began walking in circles, chanting ceaselessly. “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” It was quite chilling, really. She attacked a man who tried to help her and then went back to her circle as though nothing had ever happened. Today she collapsed to the floor and died. A gunshot next to my ear went off and put a bullet in her head, apparently just to be sure. The bang was unexpected and left me doubled over, temporarily deaf except for the ringing. Save for some people that entered our car from the front, there was almost no commotion, or at least none that I could tell. I was too busy dealing with my own problems.

Stumbling to the back of the car, I pushed the door open and stepped outside. As soon as my feet touched the ground, I bent over and puked. There seemed to be no-one around me to witnesses my grace, so I slumped down against the cave wall on the dark side of the train and lit a cigarette as I watched the car.

How tragic that so few reacted. Surely they must have heard the gunshot. Perhaps they did hear it and were reacting cautiously, though if they were I certainly didn’t notice it and all I heard was the terrible ringing in my ears.

As I smoked my cigarette trying to comprehend what had just happened, I happened to see something reflect it if the corner of my eye. I don’t know why I initially got up to inspect it, though I suspect my subconscious telling my mind to cease considering what had happened on the car had something to do with it. It was a little copper name badge, one worn by much of the staff of the train. It seemed strange to find this outside the train and stranger still that I don’t think I’ve seen a single staffer since before we entered the tunnel.

I hate to cut my letter short, but the letter carrier shall be departing soon and I should be finding someone to show this badge to. I don’t know who or how they could help, but if I can find someone who could make use of this information, it’d probably be best if he knew before the letter carrier departs.

Sincerely, Sam Davis

Letters from Unsung Heroes: The Train – Jacob Edger

A child died today. By my estimate, she was somewhere between ten and thirteen. I don’t know what happened. But it shook me to my core. It was not long after the lights went out and the train stopped. We were sitting there in our seats quietly. It was pitch black and no one spoke a single word as though there was some form of unspoken etiquette about being trapped in the dark with a  bunch of strangers. It had been perhaps hours since everything stopped when it started to happen.

There was a shuffling, and then the sounds of feet walking across the train floor. Then, a soft and gentle voice started to speak.

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

And then the voice spoke it again. And again. And again. And so forth.

We could not see anything, but we could hear the steps and the voice. They would fade slightly and come back repeatedly. Finally, I lit a match and leaned out of my seat to see what was going on and there was the girl of whom I had previously spoke of dying. She was walking in a circle, face looking down to the floor. Some of us tried to speak with her, but she did not respond. She just kept walking in her circle. One man tried to see if he could help. He got down on his knees and put his hands on her shoulders. She flipped out, went into some kind of rage while never moving from her spot. Flailing and screaming hysterically, she bit his thumb and it bled profusely. He lurched back to his seat and she went back to repeating her line and walking in a circle as though nothing had happened at all. That was the last time anyone tried to help her.

She did not stop for sleep, nor drink, nor food, nor bathroom. She just kept going all day, all night, and what I presume to be all the next day. And then she just collapsed. Her body didn’t move. She had no breath. And according the individual who eventually got down to check the body, no pulse either.

“She’s dead,” he said.

Then there was a loud bang and a spray of blood. No one was quite sure where the sound had come from, though it was definitely in our car. When our eyes gazed back to the body, we noticed a whole in its head. That’s when a voice spoke from the shadows.

“And now she won’t be coming back,” it said.

I don’t know who fired that gun, there was only enough light to see the body. About three people, a man and two women, rushed in from another car to see what had happened. They were horrified at the dead body when they saw it. The man started shouting questions, demanding to know what happened. No one answered. They just sat in their seats and fixed their gaze straight ahead like I did.

I never considered myself a Christian man. Now I’m sure of it. There is no God. What I am not sure of, however, is whether or not there is a devil. If there is, however, I have reason to believe he is here with us right now.

To whomever finds this letter,
Jacob Edger

Letters from Unsung Heroes: The Train – Ester Heraldine

Dear Mildred

Pardon my lateness but I have been stuck on the train for almost two whole days. There seems to have been a power outage of some sort and we’re stranded in the tunnel. I’m not sure how much longer it shall be, but I hope the power is restored soon; people seem to be getting restless. I admit, it is a long time to sit and my legs are getting a bit stiff. I imagine people would like to get out and stretch their legs a bit. I’ve noticed some men have stepped outside to smoke their tobacco.

Listen Mildred, you know I’m no prude and I know people need to de-stress, but don’t they realize how awful that tobacco is? Why, the Collins boy, you remember Jimmy, well he died a few months back from emphysema. He was only forty-three years old. I think it was due to all that tobacco he smoked. I heard that he smoked two or sometimes three of those little cigarette boxes a day. He didn’t care none what it did to him. He just liked the way it made him feel. Can you imagine? He tried to hide it, but I cannot fathom that he enjoyed all that coughing. I think he just had too much pride to admit he was wrong. There’s a reason pride is a deadly sin and the Collins boy is proof.

Speaking of sin, I’m beginning to think this train is turning into a haven for the devil. I saw this older man flirting with a young girl who couldn’t be anymore than twenty-three and then walk off into a restricted part of the train. I think they were up to some hanky-panky. It’s simply disgusting the brazenness some people will have in a public setting. At least the queer boy in the next row over seems to know enough to hide his shame in public and not flaunt it. He just remains quiet and keeps to himself. I wonder if anyone has talked to him about Jesus yet? Perhaps I should go sit with the boy after I hand this letter over to the nice postman. He seems like such a sweet child. It’d be a shame for him to burn in Hell on account of his sin.

Also, I’ve heard a few people using foul language. It seems the more time we spend on this train, the more obscenities I hear. It’s as though Satan himself has grabbed ahold of these people’s tongues. Why, it’s making me just a little bit frightened. Hearing someone utter the word “blast” is bad enough, but some of these words begin with f and d. I even heard a word that began with the letter c. I don’t know what it meant but I did know that it was horribly offensive.

Not all is bad though. Some people are making the best of their time. One gentleman appears to be writing a correspondence to someone by match light as to not wake up the gentleman sleeping next to him. It’s so sweet to see someone being careful not to disturb those around him. I, myself, am actually writing to you by oil lamp.

In case you’re wondering, it was found in your sister’s attic. Apparently, it had belonged to your great-great-grandfather. He was a seaman of sorts and took this lamp everywhere he went. It lit his cabin on the boat and his way when he walked. It helped him to deal with a great many foggy nights. Anyhow, I was visiting your sister for tea and told of how I was coming to visit you. That’s when she sprang up and told me to wait as she ran into the other room. When she returned, she was holding this oil lamp. That’s when she told me all about the lamp and its history. She asked me if I would bring it to you because you so love to study family history. It even has the initials MHD carved into the side for Martin Henry Dennison; the same initials as you. A find like this is ever so delightful. And even though it hadn’t been used in over a hundred years, it was still full of oil.

I’d hope to have it all preserved for you when I arrived but it is ever so dark in here and I needed some light source some of the time. But, you’ll be pleased to know that it works splendidly and the light that it casts is most comforting. I cannot wait to hand it to you when I arrive. I hope that this letter reaches you in good fortune. And don’t worry for me. I have many other activities to keep me company. I brought my crosswords and my knitting. I cannot wait to see you again. Ta-ta!

Your friend
Ester Heraldine

The Unforgiving Christ

Deep beneath the Vatican is an immaculate painting of our Lord, Jesus the Christ, crucified upon the cross.  Painted entirely in browns and dark flesh tones, this painting is the most realistic representation of Christ’s death ever to exist.  And it is locked away in the deepest recesses of the Vatican in lone room long forgotten.  Where it came from, nobody knows, but the dark secret it keeps is one that strikes the very soul.

Legend has it that it was discovered in the rubble of a long fallen down home in early 17th century Germany by a young Lutheran minister.  As the tale goes, he would go through the cemetery into the forest behind his church.  There was an old footpath that had been overgrown with tree roots and various foliage that led to the house of an old Catholic Priest that had died a few centuries before the reformation.  Stories surrounding the old Priest’s home and his acquirements caused rumors to rise up and the church was soon abandoned.  After the Protestant Reformation, a group of Lutherans restored the old church and used it for worship.

The second pastor to minister to this Lutheran congregation found tranquility in nature and would often go out to the woods when he wasn’t needed and just walk.  One day, he came upon the Priest’s old house.  He did nothing that first time but shrug it off and return back to the church.  In the church archives left over from its Roman Catholic history, however, he found records of all the previous Priests and learned that the house belonged to one of the later ones.  With this information, he grew excited to see what documents and artifacts he might be able to find in the old house and so he would make daily treks to the old church.

The Lutheran pastor would paw through the rubble, but for the most part he would find nothing of value.  That is, until one day, he looked through the window of an old fallen down wall and saw what appeared to be a framed portrait.  He couldn’t make out what it was of, but it looked as though it was intact.  It took many days to carefully break away the wall and rubble that surrounded without damaging the item, but he eventually got it, a portrait of great size.

He picked up the large portrait and held it out.  It was very large at three feet in height.  It was also very filthy and he could barely make out what it was.  Deciding that it must be cleaned up, he placed it under his arm as best he could and steadied it with his other hand as he began to walk back.

However, as he walked back, he found himself becoming increasingly depressed for no explainable reason.  The portrait grew heavy in its frame and the normally reasonable walk seemed to drag on for much longer.  When he approached the church cemetery, the sun had gone down and tears of mental anguish slowly rolled down his cheeks.  He couldn’t carry it much further, it was simply too much for him to handle.  So the pastor entered the church and left it in the narthex and then went home.

That night was very restless for him and his wife and child could see it in his face when he arose in the morning, still full of sorrow.  After breakfast, he went to the church to clean up the portrait which took the better part of the day.  As it became more and more clean, he became more and more distressed, cursing himself and all that he was.  And when he finished, the eyes of a crucified Jesus stared down upon him.  Judging him.  Condemning him.  And he broke down in tears as he all at once knew all of his sins.  He pleaded for forgiveness, but he found none.

It was almost midnight before he returned home.  He collapsed in a heap as he fell through the door, exhausted from repentance and tears.  His wife found him the next morning lying in the doorway sleeping soundly as could be as peasants outside looked at him in awe.  With the help of a neighbor, she got him inside and into bed.  When he finally woke up, he just began apologizing for his sins.  Every sin.  Sins that he never even knew he had committed but now remembered in every detail.

He stayed at home for a few weeks and over time he recovered.  The lord Jesus Christ had forgiven him of his every sin and he knew it.  God’s mercy through Christ’s blood shed on the cross had covered all his sins and he was glad.

The following Sunday, church services resumed as normal.  Parishioners were fed the flesh and blood of Christ.  Sins were forgiven.  Spirits were high.  And there was much rejoicing.

 Sometime after the service after he thought all had left, he heard a terrible weeping coming from the Narthex.  Under a table, he found a small child crying uncontrollably.  It was a boy and he was babbling over and over about how sorry he was, and that’s when the pastor saw it.  The painting he’d found had been shoved behind the table, and there was Jesus looking back at him, dying on the cross.  The pastor removed the boy and took him home to his mother before returning and examining the painting.

Just as before, he felt the complete guilt of all his sins at once.  He prayed for forgiveness and repentance in the Lord but received none.  He exhausted himself in sorrow and passed out on the floor.  When he eventually awoke, the anguish was still there as strong as ever.

The story goes that he was eventually dragged out of the church and taken to a hospital where doctors and preachers tried to nurse his mind back to health, but to no avail.  Nothing could convince him that he was forgiven.  They say he eventually killed himself by bashing his head against the stone walls of the hospital when he was left alone one day, a sin in the eyes of the church, but probably for the better.

As for the old church, rumors of demon possessions and evil sprang up and caught like wildfire.  The church was soon abandoned and slowly over time fell into disarray.

The painting would not turn up again until the late 19th century when some children playing in the woods came upon the old church, now over grown with plants.  They found the painting covered with dust rubble, but still intact.  Knowing their father was a man of the arts, they brought it home to show him what they’d found, although they were significantly depressed by the time they returned.

He sent them to bed with good tidings.  When his wife went to bed, he began to clean the painting.  And he felt the weight of all his sins.  And no forgiveness.

When his wife awoke in the morning, she found him dead, his wrists slit and straight razor lying limp in his hand.  Against the fireplace was the portrait of crucified Jesus, immaculately cleaned. And he judged her.  And she felt the weight of her sins.  And she found no forgiveness.

It was days before she was found.  She was next to her husband.  Dead with their two children.  She died of slit wrists and the children of impalement.

The painting moved around pretty quickly at this point, racking up quite a few deaths in mere weeks.  The Vatican heard about it and it was sent for it to be investigated, but only on holy ground.  It was covered, boxed up, and sent to Rome where it was to be examined on the holiest ground.

The group examining suffered from extreme guilt and it took weeks of being away from the portrait with constant supervision and consultation before they could feel the forgiveness and go back to their work.  It was decided that the painting must be destroyed, but when the time came, the guilt overcame them and they could not bring themselves to destroy such an image of their lord.

They covered it with a sheet and left it locked alone in a room for weeks on end until they could once again feel Christ’s mercy.  They called in a Priest who had no former contact with it to take it to the most recessed, dark, and unused areas of the Vatican and lock it in.  And it has been there since and still is to this day.  Nary an individual has seen it for over a hundred years.  Yet on occasion, someone will go down to the dark room to leave a strange trinket with specific instructions no to touch anything.  Those who go down say they feel an uneasiness about the whatever is under the sheet and express that, for no apparent reason, they begin to feel shame and sorrow.  When they ask about it, those who know of the portraits existence grow cold and simply tell them that, “The Devil works in mysterious ways.”