Modern Vampyre – Prologue

Contrary to popular belief, vampyres do exist. The modern interpretation, however, is so far removed from reality that one would hardly know a vampyre if it bit him to his face.
-William S. Christos

Somewhere in New England, 178X

As the rain beat down upon the roof of a horse stable with torrential might, two men looked at each other in the eyes. One was weak with a crippled leg and sallow skin. He wore an old leather hood and clothes that were worn well past their prime, yet still sufficed enough to do their job. His hands were tightly bound together with thick rope behind his back. He took long, heavy breaths that could be seen each time he exhaled. Drawing some phlegm back into his nose, he glanced down at the ground around him. Three of his fellow villagers lay dead at his feet; their warm blood soaking into the hay and dirt. With a gulp, he looked back up at the man in front of him.

“Are you going to kill me?” he asked.

The Redcoat before him pursed his lips together and paused to think for a moment. He glanced down at the bodies and then back at the man before him.

“What is your name?” the Redcoat asked.

There was a long hesitation and a trembling in the man’s jaw before he managed to compose himself and finally speak.

“Albien,” he said.

Before the war had started, Albien had been a humble farmer. He didn’t have much to his name; a small one-room house and a tiny plot of land to grow his food. Having little land was not good for a farmer. Having poor land was even worse, and his land was the poorest of the poor. Not much grew and what little did was considered of inferior quality. Oh, it was edible and nutritious, but to the eye and to the tongue, there was no delight to be found. In a general sense, there was very little flavor to the crops he grew and the majority of it was malformed. All in all, it was so unappealing that few were willing to buy his crops. This often meant selling what he could at a severely reduced rate, which afforded him very little income.

Despite his plight being the result of a poor choice of land, Albien had placed the blame solely on the British, so when the War of Independence broke out, he was quick to take up arms. In a sad twist of fate, however, this was perhaps the worst choice he could’ve made. If he had remained farming, his life would’ve likely improved as a steady supply of rations was always in need, regardless of appearance or taste. His decision to fight would, however, prove to be disastrous. Being a soldier was something he was altogether ill-equipped for. Though focused, Albien struggled through every aspect of army life.

The years of the war were hard on him and things took a turn for the worst a few months ago when he took a musket ball to the shoulder and another to the back of his leg. The one to the shoulder somehow went clean through without striking any bone. The one to the leg, on the other hand, had lodged itself in the calf muscles.

Albien was taken to a local hospital, which was little more than a large tent full of cots and curtains, where he was treated. With some remarkable luck, the doctors didn’t need to amputate. After extracting the musket-ball, the wound to the back of his leg healed surprisingly well, though it left him with a permanent limp. The shoulder wound, on the other hand, only seemed to get worse. Green pus began to ooze from the stitches while cold sweats rolled down his entire body. During this time, Albien didn’t eat. It’s not that he refused, he just didn’t have the strength to do so. As the infection from his shoulder seemed to spread and his body lacked the strength to receive nourishment, his belly began to swell and his skin began to shift to an almost pale greenish-yellow giving a ghoulish look to him.

And then, one day, the wound stopped oozing and healed, and he sat up.

Soon, he had the strength to again eat and to walk soon after that. Though the wound had healed, his complexion never changed and his belly remained bloated. While some at the hospital feared his ghoulish appearance, the staff remained ever considerate, which is why he was gracious and understanding when it came time for him to be discharged. “There is nothing more we can do, I’m afraid,” they told him. “Unfortunately, we don’t know how to fix what has happened to your body, but you are able to take care of yourself now and we need to make room for other patients. Surely you understand.” He did understand and he was grateful for all that they had done. And he returned home.

As he gimped into town with his discolored skin, bloated belly, and sunken features, few people recognized him as the man who once sold unremarkable crops and those that did let out gasps of horror. The women shooed their children into their homes while the men stared and judged. It seemed as though there was not a friendly face to show pity on an old neighbor. With a slow, yet deliberate pace, he soon made it back to the home he had left years ago to fight the British.

Albien’s home was much as he had left it, with few items except for the necessities. His crops long gone, there was nothing for him to eat, so he scrounged some coins he had hidden away in case of an emergency to purchase some bread. That would get him through the night at least. For the next few days, he got by with begging, though few would help him. Some that knew him from before the war gave him some fruit or coffee, but none would let him into their homes. The rest of the townsfolk shunned him. By the end of the week, with no money for food and so few willing to help, he was enervated and malnourished and as such, he took to the shameful tasks of survival.

Every evening after sun-fall, he would head out to the alleys with a wicker basket from home and rummage through the trash in search of food. Most of the time there was very little worth eating. On a good day, he might find a half-eaten piece of fruit or some stale bread. On a great day, maybe a bit of leftover meat. If luck was on his side, he’d catch a rat and kill it to cook and eat at home. Though he tried to be as discrete as possible, passersby would sometimes see him and turn their faces in disgust. It shamed him what he had become, but he knew he must do this to survive. Perhaps by spring, he’d be able to cultivate his crops once more and resume a more dignified life. This, however, was not meant to be.

One evening when Albien was making his rounds, he came across a body in the trash. It was naked and appeared to be male, though he couldn’t be completely sure as the genitalia was missing. Though the body seemed to have been dumped not long ago, it was quite withered in appearance, it’s flesh sunken in. He reached out with two fingers and gave it a push. The corpse’s limbs flopped over with the push fully exposing its left arm. The flesh felt dry, but not so old dry that it had been dead long. He also noted that by the way the arm flopped, rigor mortis had not yet set in. And then he noticed a peculiarity on the arm that was now exposed.

A chunk of flesh was missing from the underside of the wrist. It appeared as though it had been torn out, exposing the muscles, veins, and tendons. Splotches of desiccated blood held to the internals and edges of flesh where the tear had happened. As he leaned in for closer inspection, an ear-piercing scream broke the silence of the night.

Albien looked up to see a woman and her husband looking in his direction. He shook his head and pointed at the body saying, “No, no. This was here. I…I just found it.” As more people came to investigate the screams, he panicked and ran.

As he ran through the village, he could hear more shrieks and screams as more people came to witness the corpse he had left behind. He ran and ran as fast as he could, bounding around corners and darting through alleys, hoping to make it home unscathed when he heard another scream suddenly silenced by gunfire. This scream was different, though. It did not come from behind him where he had left the corpse, but instead from the direction he was running towards.

In an instant, Albien was frozen in his tracks, unsure of what to do. He stood still and firm like a plank, arms down to his sides, his body rigid as if it had turned to stone. He dared not even breathe. As he listened for anything at all, silence seemed to engulf the world around him. No screams. No gunshots. No footsteps. Not even the sound of the wind. It was as if the entire world stopped to prepare itself for the end of time. When it seemed like eternity had finally passed, the sky opened up and drenched the Earth in the tears of God.

The sudden downpour snapped him back to his senses. The rain was coming down so hard, that sound of it drowned out anything more than a few yards away. As a cautionary measure, he ran to a house nearby and pressed himself against the outer wall. With deliberate circumspection, he peered around the corner in the direction the gunshot rang from.

Off in the distance just on the outskirts of the village, he could see what appeared to be the body of a woman lying on the ground. He squinted a bit, attempting to get a better visual of what was happening through the rain. At first, she didn’t appear to move. She just lay there without any sign of life. He put his hand to his forehead in an attempt to shield his eyes from further rain. This allowed him to see her much more clearly. With this better view, she seemed very familiar to him.

She was young, around sixteen. Her skin was ashen and dotted with light freckles. Golden blonde hair spilled out of her cream-colored bonnet. Her dress was yellow and stained with grass in ways indicating that she had fallen somewhere nearby and either slid or rolled to her current location. Not far away was a basket with apples spilled about on the ground around it.

Oh goodness, he thought as he pulled himself back around the house. This was Harold Markinson’s daughter, Rebecca.

Albien peered back around the corner and confirmed that it was, in fact, Rebecca Markinson. She hadn’t moved in the slightest. Despite his fears, he thought it best that he should go check on her. He took a few steps out when without warning, her head turned in his direction. Stopping dead in his tracks, he looked into her eyes as she mouthed the word help. It was right then, a bayonet plunged deep into her heart and blood gurgled out from her mouth. The shock caused him to gasp loudly and at the other of the bayonet, a British soldier turned to look at him. They locked eyes and the soldier pointed at him and shouted. Albien couldn’t quite make out what the Redcoat said through the rain, but he was certain the words were Kill him!

Albien did not hesitate to see if there were more British around to follow that order; he just turned and ran with as much gusto as his crippled legs could muster up. He hadn’t crossed much distance when a musket ball cut through the air past his head and splinted the corner of a nearby house. With that, he turned into a nearby alley and began zigzagging through the streets, taking every unusual path he was able to. He wasn’t taking note of where he was heading, only that he was moving away from the British troops. If he had made note of his surroundings, he would’ve noticed that he had paused to catch his breath not far from where he initially found the naked body. However, he had not made note and had ended up a mere three houses over.

By this point in time, a sizable crowd had gathered at the scene and though many of the people were simply trying to catch a glimpse of the body, some were hunting about their surroundings for anything out of the ordinary; any sort of clue that may lead them to the murderer. Anything out of the ordinary. The crowd knew a man had been killed in a horrific and vile manner. The crowd knew that Albien was seen with the body. The crowd knew that Albien had become a scavenger and that he ran when confronted at the body. What the crowd did not know was that Redcoats were about to storm their village.

“Hey! It’s him!” a voice shouted.

Albien looked up to see a towns-person pointing in his direction. It quickly went from one towns-person to many and the many began marching to his direction. He ran, and they ran after him. Despite his crippled physique, Albien knew the streets of this town better than anyone and with a little luck, he was sure he could lose them. He wasn’t, however, sure he’d be able to return home.

Without warning, gunshots echoed in the distance and the screams of his fellow townsfolk could be heard. The Redcoats had arrived and they were offering no quarter. Albien hesitated for a moment as he considered going back to help, however, his consideration dissipated when he realized that some of the townspeople completely ignored their fellow villagers being slain to continue their hunt for him. And so he decided to run. Though at this point his ultimate goal was to escape the village lest he die by the hand of neighbor or by the hand of Redcoat, he had to make so many turns to avoid being seen that he never quite reached the outskirts.

Despite the heavy rains, Albien spent so much time running that he was becoming parched. Eventually, he had to stop and catch his breath. When a safe opportunity arose, he ducked behind a house as shots of gunfire and screams could be heard in the distance. His dry throat gasping for breath, he opened his mouth towards the sky to catch some of the rain and then slumped against the house as he reflected on his situation. He had sacrificed what little he had for his burgeoning country and now both the enemy he had fought against and his fellow countrymen were looking to kill him. He almost broke down to cry when he heard voices through the downpour.

“Come on. I think he went this way.”

Blast!, he thought. They’ve found me. And with that, he ran as best as his crippled leg could carry him. It wasn’t long before he found a small horse stable at the edge of the village. Knowing that he would be seen if he tried to leave the community with foes so close-by, it wasn’t a difficult choice to hide in one of the empty stalls and enshroud himself within the straw. Unfortunately for him, the footprints he left in the mud outside the stable led his pursuers right to him.

“Come on. Who do you think you’re fooling?” a voice asked. “Get out of there, lest we drag you out.”

Albien sat up and brushed the straw away from his face and torso. Before him stood three of his neighbors, soaking wet and with various implements to end his life. The one in front had a black mustache and held a musket with both hands at his waist. A large satchel was slung over his shoulder and lay by the opposite waist. As for the two in the back, one had a red wiry beard and carried a pitchfork. The other one was thin as a rail, clean-shaven, and carried a rope.

“Stand up.” The one in front said calm, but firm.

Albien did as he was told and most of the remaining straw slid off of his body, though some remained stuck due to his dampness. He attempted to brush it off but was interrupted by the one who told him to stand.

“Stop.”

Albien did as he was told and adjusted his posture to make himself as presentable as he could.

“You know why we’re after you, don’t you?” the man with the musket asked.

Albien gulped and nodded before speaking.

“I didn’t do it,” he said.

“Then why did you run?”

“I panicked. I was scared. There was screaming and people were looking at me awful.”

“Because you did those awful things.”

“No!”

The one with the musket curled his lip and thought for a bit before speaking.

“I’m sorry to say this,” he began before motioning to the other two to tie him up. “Under normal circumstances, we’d drag you to the courthouse to be dealt with by the law. That said, it is my regret to inform you that our current circumstances do not afford us such luxury.”

“I didn’t do it!” Albien protested.

“That may be so,” he said reaching into his satchel, “but at current, I don’t really have any choice.” His hand emerged with a small cartridge that he tore open with his teeth. “I don’t know if you’re aware, but the British have arrived and are unleashing a slaughter upon us.” Half-cocking the musket, he opened the flash pan and poured in a small bit of the cartridges black powder.

“But I fought against the British as part of the Continental Army!” Albien protested as he was being restrained with rope as another held him at bay with the pitchfork.

“And for that, we are truly grateful. That does not change the fact that you are most likely the murderer and for that, justice must be dealt.” He shut the flash pan and poured the rest of the powder down the muzzle of the musket.

“Please,” Albien pleaded.

The man inserted the musket ball into the barrel followed by the cartridge. Albien just watched as the man removed the ramrod and pushed the cartridge and musket ball in to seat the charge. After putting the ramrod back, he cocked and aimed the musket at Albien’s chest.

“For this, I am deeply sorry,” he said. “Do you have any last words before I execute sentence?”

“Oh, enough of this!” a distinct voice said from the next stall.

All four men turned to see disheveled Redcoat step out into the open. Pale skin hung on a skeletal frame with messy black hair and pronounced cheekbones. A slight red stain was visible around his mouth. His coat was opened and a torn cotton shirt revealed visible ribs. His shoulder belt was completely missing. In fact, except for his trousers, boots, coat, and shirt, he appeared to be missing every other part of his uniform. No tri-tip hat, no cartridge box or haversack or anything. Not even any weapons.

“I can’t bear to see another man go down for my crimes,” he said. “This individual you have tied up did not kill the naked man in the alley.” He paused for a moment while the others looked on somewhat perplexed at the situation unfolding before them. After an awkward silence, he said, “I did. I’m sorry. I was hungry. I haven’t had a proper meal in nearly three months. I was desperate.”

There was a long, uncomfortable silence before the one with the pitchfork twisted his face into disgust and spoke up.

“What kind of person considers another man’s penis a proper meal?” he asked.

The Redcoat was bewildered for the briefest of moments before realizing what he was talking about and gave a relaxed laugh.

“Oh, no!” he said. “No. No. No. No. Noooo. I can see why you would think that, but I assure you, I did not eat his penis.”

This time, the thin one who had brought the rope spoke. He thought for a moment to gather his words, and asked in a somewhat unsure manner, “Then……what happened to it?”

There was another uncomfortable silence in the stable. Albien had not expected to be accused of murder, yet here he was about to die at the hands of his fellow countrymen as a soldier of the people he once fought stood before them admitting the murder was his. The three accusers thought they had the murderer in their grasp, yet here was a lone Redcoat admitting the crime in a situation that would clearly get him killed. And as for the Redcoat, he was now having to explain to those who would surely kill him what happened to someone else’s penis. It was a confusing and awkward situation for all involved.

“It’s not one of my finest moments, I’ll admit,” stated the Redcoat. “The thing is, I was quite malnourished at the time of the killing and he was surprisingly strong and spry. I found him very difficult to restrain and I feared he may escape or worse, warn someone of my presence. As such, I felt it was in my best interest to disable him.” He held his tongue and then spoke his next words carefully. “I ripped his penis off to make it more difficult for him to fight back.”

The four recoiled in horror and disgust.

“I agree,” he continued. “However, this issue left me with another problem. While I had disabled the individual, he was now losing precious blood at a rapid pace. As such, I was forced to tear open his wrist with my teeth and consume as much blood as I could before he lost it all through his…..wound.” He sounded uncomfortable as he said that last part and even winced a little as he said it. “Anyhow, after I had finished eating, I needed to dispose of the husk. The first thing I did was toss his clothes into the fireplace. Then I bought the body out into the alley to hide in the rubbish. It was my hope that sanitary practices here were not any better than the part of England from which I hail and that the rats and insects would consume most of the body before it was found. It is my displeasure to say that before I could sufficiently conceal my work, I heard someone approaching and fled.”

For a few long moments, the sound of the rain seemed extra loud. The way it pounded down on the roof of the stable, the way it splashed in the puddles on the ground. Somehow, it seemed to drown out the gunshots and screams in the distance and the only thing in the world right now were these five men. All the cards and been laid out by the Redcoat and no one was quite sure what to do with the hand they had been dealt with. The sound of the proverbial table being flipped broke through that of the rain when the one with the pitchfork shouted out loud.

“You son of a bitch!” he yelled as he thrust his pitchfork into the belly of the Redcoat.

The Recoat staggered backward a few steps as a small bit of blood oozed out around the tines of the pitchfork. To the surprise of everyone, however, he seemed more annoyed than anything. He looked down at the pitchfork in his belly and frowned. With two hands, he grasped the handle and pulled it out of his body against the force of the one who had stabbed him with it. Then, with a thrust, he pushed it away, knocking the fellow to the ground.

“So,” the Redcoat said with disappointment, “this is how it is to be.”

With brutal efficiency and cat-like reflexes, the Redcoat thrust the fingers of his left hand into the stomach of the man with the gun and took his musket with the other hand. Then with the musket, he fired a musket ball into the throat of the man who had carried the pitchfork. And finally, to the man who had tied up Albien, he simply twisted the man’s head enough to snap the man’s neck.

After taking some time to survey the works of his hands, he looked up and locked eyes with Albien. Though quiet, Albien was breathing heavily through his mouth. Phlegm seemed to crawl down his sallow skin from his nostrils to his lips. The Redcoat studied him hard, as though he was trying to figure out what to make of this deformed man with a complexion he had not seen before.

“Are you some kind of ghoul?” he asked.

With a long draw, Albien pulled the phlegm back into his nose. He looked at the bodies of those around and pondered if he would be next. Swallowing the nothing in his mouth, he spoke.

“Are you going to kill me?”

The Redcoat before him pursed his lips together and paused to think for a moment. He glanced down at the bodies and then back at the man before him.

“What is your name?” the Redcoat asked.

There was a long hesitation and a trembling in the man’s jaw before he managed to compose himself and finally speak.

“Albien,” he said.

The Redcoat made an audible hmm and nodded ever so slight. He put his hand to his chin and seemed to think about something for a moment, then he sighed and walked behind Albien and removed his bonds. Albien pulled his hands to his chest and rubbed his wrists as the Redcoat walked back in front of him, but never turning to look at him. Instead, he kept his back to the recently freed man and looked out into the rain.

“You didn’t answer my question,” he said. “Are you some kind of ghoul?”

Albien removed his hood revealing a head of thick, graying hair which made his pale greenish-yellow skin somehow seem more vibrant. In all truth, Albien was not nearly as deformed as people made him out to be and his deformities, for the most part, weren’t all that uncommon. He wasn’t the only person in the village with a gimp; there were others before the war and even more after it had begun. And his hunch wasn’t a hunch at all, but merely a rounding of one side of his back from the way he carried his injured shoulder up and his head down close to it. Really, the only thing that was strikingly unusual was the color of his skin that he tried to hide by wearing a hood. But with a strange twist, the hood only seemed to accentuate all three of these things which may have created the idea of a monster in people. Yet without the hood, he seemed almost completely normal.

“I don’t believe so, no,” Albien replied.

“What are you, then?”

“Man to the best of my knowledge.”

The Redcoat thought about this before speaking. Then he turned to Albien and looked him over again. He had never seen such a person, yet aside from the color, there was nothing that couldn’t easily be explained away. Through the rain, the sounds of muskets firing the screams were becoming fewer, but they were slowly getting closer. He looked at the hood in Albien’s hands and decided that he didn’t care what he was. If Albien could help him, he would be most appreciative. Pointing at the hood, he spoke to Albien.

“May I have that?” he asked.

“Uh, sure,” Albien replied.

The Redcoat snatched up the hood and pulled it over his head. He then took his coat and shirt off and began undressing the bodies as Albien just stared and watched, unsure of what to do. He noticed that Albien was just standing there and reached out to shake his hand.

“Forgive me,” the Redcoat said. “My name is Abstinence. Abstinence Jackson.”

“Abstinence?” ask Albien as he returned the handshake.

“Yes,” replied, Abstinence. “My parents were puritans who were deadset on having a girl. Then I came along and like how stubborn puritans can be, they weren’t changing the name they had picked for anything.”

“Puritans? But wouldn’t that mean you’re…”

“Look, we can discuss my family history any other time, but right now, British soldiers are making their way through the village and if we are still here when they arrive, they will kill us both. If you help me get out of here alive, I will guarantee that the remainder of your days will better than you can currently imagine. Will you help me?”

Albien didn’t really see that he had much of an option. Help the man who helped him or die. He opted to help.

“Alright,” he said. “What do you need from me?”

“Thank you,” said Abstinence. “I can’t let the rain touch me and I can’t be seen looking like a Redcoat. Help me put on whatever will cover my skin.”

Quickly and carefully, they removed the most protective clothes they could from the bodies. Leather boots and gloves, a heavy shirt and pants. Unfortunately, these were not enough to completely protect Abstinence. Scavenging through the other stalls, however, Albien managed to find a thick horse blanket and Abstienece was quick to wrap himself in it.

The gunshots grew louder as the two looked out into the rain.

“You won’t regret this, Albien,” said Abstinence. “This I swear.”

And with that, the two ran out into the rain and headed for the forest. By the time that the British arrived at the stables, they were long gone and the rain had washed away any footsteps or mud that would point to them ever being there or where they were going. All that remained were three dead bodies and a torn British uniform.

Shadow Demon

Hi. My name’s Sammie. This is going to sound crazy, but I’m pretty sure that something is planning to kill me. I don’t know what it is, but he’s been toying with me for years. I say he because that’s what I can most assume from its shape, but honestly, I don’t know. What I do know is that he’s terrifying and every time I see him, he’s somehow more intimidating.

I don’t really remember the first time he visited me, but I first recall his visitations shortly after my father died. I think I must have been five or six years old at the time. I woke up late in the night. It was an extremely peaceful night which is why I think I remember it so well. There was no wind or noise from traffic, no strange lights to cause unnatural shadows. It was so peaceful, I almost immediately fell back asleep. However, just as I was closing my eyes, I heard a brief creak from across the room. My eyes opened back up just enough to see that my closet door was open just a crack. I stared at it for a while, and then after nothing, began to close my eyes again. This time, however, just as my eyes began to close, I saw the door open just enough to see inside.

At first, I thought I saw nothing, just blackness as one would expect from a closet in the middle of the night. I stared at the blackness for a bit and after a time of seeing nothing, I started to roll over and saw him. Not instantly, mind you. What I noticed was that the darkness at the top of the closet was not as dark as the rest of the closet. I squinted a bit and realized that the darker darkness had a shape. I couldn’t make out all of it, but I could definitely make out the side of a head and part of a shoulder.

And I froze up. I couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t look away. I couldn’t do anything at all except for lie there and watch.

As I stared at the darkness in my closet, I could make out a faint red where an eye should be.

And I screamed.

My mother came rushing into my bedroom, flicking the light on, and slid onto my bed pulling me close. I don’t know for how long I continued screaming. I just know that it scared the hell out of my mother. She stayed with me in my bed that night. By the time I finally fell back to sleep, the sun was beginning to rise.

After that first incident, I didn’t see him for quite a long time, or at least, not that I can remember. In fact, it was such a long time that I had completely forgotten about him until I hit my early twenties when I saw him again.

I was living on my own then. I had a small studio apartment that was cheap and since I was single, it was large enough for me. It comprised of three rooms; a kitchen, a bedroom living room combo, and a bathroom. One room led right into the next. My bed was between the kitchen and bathroom doorways, the foot of it facing the kitchen.

Three or four years passed before I had my first incident in that apartment. It was summer as I recall and though warm weather was expected, that night when I woke up, it was unusually warm. I was sweating heavily and my mouth was parched. Groggy, I attempted to build some saliva to wet my mouth but I could move neither tongue nor lips. Thinking this strange, I attempted to push myself up to get a glass of water, but my arms would not work. Not just my arms but also my legs and fingers and head and neck. Not even my eyelids would bring me respite by closing. All that I could do was to look around by rolling my eyes towards the various corners of my room.

That’s when I saw him, standing in the middle of my kitchen, staring at me through his two dull red eyes.

He was immense in stature, his head nearly touching the ceiling. Though he was darker than the shadows themselves, I could strangely make out definition and form. Two very small horns protruded from his mostly smooth head. Sparse wiry hair seemed to hang from the sides of his head, crooked and bending in many directions before falling down. Had long teeth that kept his lips from closing that were as black as the rest of him. Each of his fingers ended in points like claws and though I could not see his feet, I image they were of a similar nature.

The creature’s body was very muscular and toned, as though an artist has sculpted it out of marble. I could tell that even if he did not have those terrible claws or teeth, it would be no great feat for him to rip me limb from limb, tearing me apart effortlessly. Don’t ask how I could see all these features. I, myself, do not know either for the creature was darker than the darkness and logically, I could not have seen anything except for the basic shape and eyes. It’s as though he communicated something to my subconscious, filling in the details that I could not actually see.

And he just stood there, staring at me, barely moving. He must have stared at me for a good fifteen or twenty minutes, though it felt like much longer, every second the terror becoming much more intense.

I do not know when he left, because as soon as I regained the function of my eyelids, I immediately closed them. And then, almost as soon as I closed them, I was asleep. When I opened my eyes again, it was mid-morning and I felt strangely refreshed. I must have expended so much energy in my terror that my body took all the time it needed to fully rest.

I told of the incident to my friend Tom. He seemed to immediately recognize it.

“Oh yeah!” he exclaimed. “Sleep paralysis. That sucks. I get that from time to time. The most frightening thing I’ve ever been through. Happens to me every now and then. For me, it’s generally a witch crouched over the side of my bed just watching me.”

“How do you deal with it?” I asked.

“Honestly, I just keep telling myself it’s all a dream and that it will pass. The effect is minimal and it generally helps divert the fear.”

“Generally?” I asked.

“Well, sometimes, it seems to intensify it. A lot. You know, it’s moments like those when I wish I was one of those Christian fuckers.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Well, you look up anything that has to do with Christians and sleep paralysis and they’re always so sure it’s demonic. So they pray to Jesus, with their mind I guess, and it immediately goes away and they’re filled with real comfort and peace. What I would give to be able to make those moments disappear just like that. It’s like some kind of Jedi mind trick.”

I took in what Tom had to say and spent some time at my computer researching. It certainly sounded like I experienced sleep paralysis. People waking up during the REM stage of sleep report seeing all sorts of things, demons, aliens, witches, shadow men, etc., often in relation to their culture. For example, in the fifties after reports of UFOs and became more mainstream, sleep paralysis incidents reported as alien abductions jumped up drastically. It was good to know that I was not alone and that the demon was not real. I thought I would be able to cope should it happen again. I was, unfortunately, quite mistaken.

It was roughly three or four months before my next incident and it was so much worse. I woke up in the night again, completely paralyzed. I told myself that it was simply sleep paralysis and that there was nothing to fear, that it was all in my head. I looked around as best I could and saw nothing but my small apartment. If I could’ve, I would’ve have smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. As the only thing I could do was move my eyes, I just stared ahead into my kitchen. And that’s when I saw him.

At first, he wasn’t completely visible. He was there but hiding, as though he were waiting for me to notice him. I noticed an odd shape at the edge of the kitchen doorway. It was a just a shoulder barely visible from behind the door frame. The moment I saw it, what I can now only refer to as the demon leaned in from behind the frame. As he emerged, my heart began to race. First his hair, then his head and horns, and finally his dull red eyes appeared. The doorway being so near to the foot of my bed, he was much closer than the previous visit. And nearly as quickly as he leaned in and made his presence known, he quickly and quietly leaned back behind the frame.

At once, I let out a deep gasp of air and regained control of my body. Daring not to go into the kitchen, I closed my eyes and pulled the covers over my head, whimpering quietly. Hoping he wouldn’t hear me. Hoping he wouldn’t come after me.

Exhausted, I fell asleep in my own tears.

I woke up to birds chirping. The sun was shining through my windows. I was exhausted and still frightened. Carefully, I got out of bed and made my way to the kitchen. It was exactly as I had left it. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing it was, in fact, another bout of sleep paralysis.

After this incident, I thought future episodes would be easier, eventually learning to ignore the demon and go back to sleep. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

As time progressed, the shadow demon began appearing more and more frequently. First, he would appear once every few months, then every other month and then once a month. Soon the monthly visits would be every few weeks and then weekly, and so on and so on until it was every single night. He never did anything other than stare at me, so you would think that I would’ve grown used to it, but I didn’t. Somehow each night was more terrifying than the last. It got to the point where I could swear I was even seeing him before going to bed.

See, my bathroom mirror was right in line with the door to the bedroom which was right in line with the door to the kitchen. When I was brushing my teeth, if my eyes glanced up, I would often just stop and stare into the kitchen through the mirror. I would sometime stare for minutes, worried that he would be there. Climbing into bed wasn’t any easier. Even though he was always in the kitchen, I couldn’t bring myself to get close to the underside of my bed. I’d have to leap in so that the nothing that wasn’t there wouldn’t grab me.

All of this was taking its toll on me. I hadn’t had a goodnight’s sleep in months. It got to the point where I was trying to force myself to not go to sleep. I managed to stay up for nearly three days before I fell asleep on the couch in front of the TV. For better or worse, I fell asleep watching A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge. I’m not really sure why I was watching that while being tormented nightly, but it seemed to help, at least for the moment. Perhaps it was to help me cope, perhaps it was simply a distraction. Either way, I fell asleep watching a horror move about a pedophile who murders children in their sleep.

The next morning I woke up shortly after seven-thirty; the sun shining through my windows. Good Morning America was on. Al Roker was giving the latest weather forecast. Sitting up, I scratched my head and looked around. I couldn’t believe it. I actually slept the entire night and I felt completely rested. For once, I had a glimmer of hope.

Though in the past, I’ve had difficulty getting to sleep if there was any light brighter than a dim VCR clock, I now kept the TV on every night. For the first few weeks, I still went to sleep on the couch. It did not face the kitchen and it put me directly in front of the TV. Once I had gotten comfortable with sleeping again, I moved back to my bed.

My bed felt so amazing. It was like reuniting with a good friend that hasn’t been seen in years. I just sunk into the mattress and fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. Being able to sleep in my own bed again was true bliss. All was good for a few more weeks.

And then I woke up again.

I woke up on my side unable to move. The TV was still on; Austin City Limits was playing on PBS. It sounded like they had a country artist playing, a very lively country artist. As the credits began to roll, the glow of the TV cast shadows of a Coca-cola can and an empty box of crackers sitting on the coffee table onto the couch and opposite wall. Despite being paralyzed, I wasn’t immediately afraid. There was light in my room and though I could not see into the kitchen from the position I was in, there seemed to be no indication that my shadow demon was there. I wondered if perhaps my brain had finally come to accept my situation and relax. That is until my TV went dark for roughly half a second as it went to a commercial break between programs.

In that half-second of darkness, my shadow demon was revealed to me, not in the kitchen but instead standing in the corner of my room on the other side of the TV. He was still there when the glow of the screen resumed. He was standing just behind its reach, remaining firmly in the shadows. There was something different about him too. He looked mad. Very mad. And that terrified me.

Had I successfully kept him at bay for a short time while he figured out how to get back in? I don’t know, but whatever the situation, he seemed very displeased by it. I don’t know for sure if the glow of the TV was keeping him at bay, but he seemed like he was held back by it, so he just stared at me and I back at him. Though I can’t be sure, his chest seemed to be rising and falling, as though he were taking deep and heavy breaths, though I heard no sound except for that of PBS advertisements.

I’m not sure how long we stared at each other. I don’t even remember falling asleep. I just remember waking up again around ten in the morning feeling exhausted. I looked at the spot where the shadow demon stood and I realized something I perhaps should’ve realized when I woke up. The corner where he was standing was where my computer desk was. The monitors and desk would’ve been going right through him. He couldn’t possibly have been there.

I shook my head. What a stupid thought. There were so many reasons that didn’t make any sense, first and foremost being that if it was my brain causing hallucinations, then the desk and monitor never would’ve even been a factor. Secondly, if it was an actual demon, who am I to dictate how they do and do not operate. For all I know, the only thing they need is enough darkness. Material may be immaterial to them. The sheer absurdity of it all actually made me laugh for a moment.

Looking at my desk again though, I did get an idea.

That night before I went to bed, I turned on both computer monitors and made sure to set them to never go to sleep. I picked a nice white background with bouncing text for a screen-saver to keep that area bright. And it worked for a few months. I didn’t see my shadow demon except for once when my friend Tom crashed on my couch.

We had stayed up drinking and watching really dumb comedies. We actually fell asleep with all of the lights in the apartment on including the TV and monitors. The reason I know this is because I woke up on the floor half in the kitchen, half in the bed/living room with everything still on. Tom had gotten up to use the bathroom. I was still too out of it to get up off the floor and into my bed, so I closed my eyes and went back to sleep before Tom had finished. It was during this time that he must have turned everything off before going back to sleep on the couch.

I don’t know when I woke up again, but it was totally dark and I was on my back looking up. At first, I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening or where I was, then I recalled waking up earlier with the lights on and realized I was still on the floor. The next thing I realized was that I couldn’t move. My heart began to race as panic set in. In the past, I had generally seen my shadow demon in the kitchen or the corner of my room. Now here I was on my back in total darkness; not knowing where my demon was or what he would do. And then I saw.

Out of the corner of my eye, in front of the couch, I could see a long, black leg right next to my head; mere inches away. I could feel my breath slipping away as my eyes followed the legs path up to the body and eventually the head. It was my shadow demon, just standing over Tom, staring down at him. Watching.

In all my time I had never been so close to him. He’d always stayed at distance. But now here he was, right next to me, fixated on my friend. I panicked, but couldn’t move as he just watched Tom. But then, after a time, he turned his head slightly and looked down, right into my eyes. He’d noticed me and I could almost see his terrible grin as I stared into his dull red eyes. He started to crouch down and I lost consciousness.

When I woke up again, Tom was eating Lucky Charms at the table. I didn’t tell him about what happened, but after that point, I wouldn’t let anyone sleep in my apartment again.

Over the next few years, I would take to increasingly drastic measures to keep from being visited as I slept. It wasn’t long before the computer monitors were no longer cutting it, so I turned on a desk lamp. That was all good for a few weeks and then I’d have to add another light. Then things would be fine for a while again until he found another shadow to hide in. This cycle continued until all of the lights in the apartment were on. I couldn’t sleep in all the light, so I would have to lie on my side and face the wall. I would often stay awake for a couple days at a time eventually falling asleep from exhaustion, but never because I just needed sleep. This was taking such a physical toll on my daily life that I eventually gave in and went back to sleeping with the lights out.

He would come every single night and so my remaining strategy was to lie physically against the wall, face in. I could always tell he was there, but thankfully I could not see him, usually. Eventually, I learned to fall back asleep knowing that if I couldn’t see him, he couldn’t hurt me. While I still awoke in terror every single night, things seemed to be getting better until one night when he broke me.

I was lying to the wall like I always did, but I must have shuffled at some point in my sleep as my face pointed downward somewhat when I woke up. There was a small gap between the bed and the wall, maybe an inch or two, so when I opened my eyes, I was peering down that little tiny space. There, looking back up from the space, was the shadow demon. He was under my bed.

I think I must have blacked out because the next thing I remember was waking up cold and very wet. It was raining hard and I had left the window open all night. The sounds of splashing as vehicles drove through puddles were not as comforting as it would’ve been during previous incidents. In the past when I’d wake up, there was always a new step I could learn or trick I could do to keep him just far enough away. Seeing him under my bed let me know that there was no safe place. I broke down after that.

I started going to therapy. I participated in sleep studies. I was even prescribed prescription medications to help me sleep. Nothing worked. The therapy uncovered nothing. The sleep studies showed that while I did enter sleep paralysis, they saw nothing out of the ordinary. The therapy and sleep study not being able to provide any sort of relief, they tried medications. Oh, that was so much worse. Most nights, the medications worked fairly well and allowed me to sleep through the night. The nights where I woke up, however, the shadow demon’s presence was so much more intense. Those nights, I could sometimes feel him put a hand on my shoulder or chest. The worst was when I’d feel him pat my hair with his hand, just letting me know he was there and I couldn’t escape.

The therapy and drugs not helping, I turned to alcohol hoping that I would pass out long enough to wake up in the day time. It got really bad, sometimes drinking an entire 30 pack of cheap beer or a whole fifth of whiskey in a night. It helped for a while. One of the beautiful things about drinking yourself to sleep was that you could easily fall asleep with all the lights on and so I did. It was great for a while. I’d wake up in the night and stumble into the bathroom to take a piss and then go back to sleep on the couch. I had long stopped sleeping in my bed since that time I saw the shadow demon peering up from the space between the bed and the wall. This became a boon to me. I thought, if I got drunk enough, I couldn’t fall into sleep paralysis and if there was no paralysis, there was no demon.

I had done it, I thought. I had found the trick. All that I needed to do was drink myself to sleep and make sure I leave on all the lights in my apartment.

It was good for a while, until one night when I woke up paralyzed on the couch. All the lights were on, so that was a good sign. My eyes looked around the room until they spotted him. I had left the bathroom door open and although the light in the bathroom was on, it couldn’t reach all the way into the bathroom closet which had no door. There he was, peering at me from behind some clothes hanging up in the closet. The closet had a shelf so he was crouched down. I could tell he was grinning, waiting for his time.

So the next night and from then on, I always remembered to close the bathroom door any time I wasn’t in it. Problem solved.

What I hadn’t considered, however, was how bad the constant stream of alcohol was affecting my sleep. I was passing out, yes. Losing consciousness, yes. But what I wasn’t getting was quality sleep. I soon learned that if your body doesn’t get the sleep it needs, then your body will find a way.

I woke up one night to take a piss. I opened the bathroom door and walked in to take a piss. When I finished with my business, I started washing my hands in the sink, then my face. As I wiped my face dry, I could see in the mirror that my kitchen light was out and in its darkness was my shadow demon.

The game had suddenly changed. Never before had I see him from a non-paralyzed state. His chest raised and lowered with heavy breaths. My heart pounded at my chest as I stared at him through the mirror. I was afraid to move, not knowing what to do. Do I keep my eye on him or turn to face him? Though it must have only been moments, it felt like an eternity. Finally, I decided to turn around with a bolt.

He wasn’t there. Thank God.

I breathed a sigh of relief before remembering that the bathroom closet was now behind me and the silent panic set in once more. Slowly, without turning to look, I stepped out of the bathroom and closed the door behind me. I then stared at the kitchen for some time before going to sit down on the couch. I pulled my knees up to my chin and held them close with my arms. I didn’t dare to go turn the kitchen light on; that would mean going through the darkness. I just waited until morning when the sun arose.

I later learned about micro-sleep. If your body doesn’t get the sleep it needs, it will snatch it where it can, in short half-second to thirty-second bursts. Perhaps that’s what happened when I saw him in the mirror. Perhaps, I was asleep. Perhaps I was paralyzed. Maybe it simply wasn’t long enough for me to know it. All this I tried to rationalize, but I couldn’t be sure. What the experience showed me, however, was that I couldn’t continue on the way I had been.

I got a job working overnight security at a mall thinking that maybe if I took a night job, I could sleep during the day when the number of shadows would be more limited. I hadn’t considered that in my current condition that walking all by myself through a big empty building full of shadows might be too much for me. The cameras apparently showed that I was way too nervous and jumpy to be considered reliable should an actual emergency arise. I was let go after a few weeks.

Unable to maintain a job or normal relationships or even help with sleep paralysis, I began looking down alternative paths. Specifically, I turned to ghost hunters and paranormal experts. None of them were able to find a thing and all concluded that it was all simply a figment of my imagination. That is until two people showed up at my door.

At first, I thought they were Mormons with their black pants, white t-shirts, and black neckties. One of them was tall and lanky with a small stack of books under his arm. The other was of more average height and build with glasses. Before they could speak, I almost told them I was not interested when I saw the van behind them. It was white with plain black lettering on the side: Deep Paranormal. I started to open my mouth, but before I could find the correct words, the average one spoke.

“You’ve become quite the anomaly of the ghost hunting world, Sammie,” he said. “I don’t know if we can help you, but I believe we can confirm?”

“Confirm?” I asked, perplexed.

“The shadow demon,” he said. “We can say with great certainty that they exist, but until now, no one has ever been able to get proof. May we come in?”

“Uh, sure,” I replied. “Right this…” They walked past me. “…way.”

They immediately began looking all around my apartment.

“Wow!” the average one exclaimed. “It’s smaller than I would’ve thought. This should be easy.”

“I’m sorry,” I stammered. “How do you know about this?”

“We ghost hunters talk to each other. Well, us smaller ones anyhow. We generally don’t share anything with the television groups. They have a tendency to make us all look like idiots. We have secret forums that only the most trusted can access. It allows us to improve as a community while at the same time protecting the privacy of those we work for.”

“Really?” I asked. “Because you showing up here uninvited doesn’t make me feel like my privacy has been protected.”

“And under normal circumstances, we would never have come or been given your personal information. However, considering your situation and what we have to offer, it was felt that it may be in both of our best interests.”

“And what makes you think you can do what no one else has been able to?”

“Photon detection,” the lanky one finally said.

“Exactly,” the average one explained. “It’s not new technology by any means, but it is something that’s been out of our reach until recently. Your shadow demon will be our first attempt at capturing one on camera with this method. Using an algorithm by Ahmed Kirmani and his colleagues at MIT, we can take a picture of something in near-total darkness. And not just ordinary pictures either. Three-dimensional pictures. These photos will have depth. Theoretically, we should be able to confirm whether this is all in your head or not.”

“Wait,” I began, “if you’ve never caught one of these on camera before, how can you confirm it’s all in my head if you don’t catch one with me?”

“All other possibilities have been ruled out,” the lanky one replied.

“Precisely!” the average one exclaimed. “Though no one has been able to get photographic evidence of a shadow demon before, there is enough anecdotal evidence that they exist, something that no other ghost hunter has been able to find with you. If we can’t find any proof with this method, you might just be crazy.”

I shrugged, not knowing what else to do. “Great,” I surrendered. “What do we do?”

“Just let us set up our equipment and then carry about your night like you normally would. We only ask that you make sure every possible light source is either out or blocked.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “Let’s get to this.”

The next few hours involved the setup of various equipment that I had no idea anything about. It all seemed specially designed for total darkness because there weren’t any little lights on any of the equipment to let you know it was working. They explained to me that they could read all of the instruments from their van, which is where they would be all night.

That night I went to bed around 11:30 after a few beers. When I woke up to the birds chirping at 7:30 the next morning, I realized I had a rare night of complete sleep. I felt fully rested. When the average-sized one knocked on my door, I expected him to tell me that because of my full night of sleep, they didn’t get anything and would need to run the tests for another night. As such, I was a little surprised to seem him looking deeply unsettled when I opened the door.

“Um…..could you please follow me to the van?” he asked. “We have something to show you.”

I grabbed a bathrobe and followed him out to the van parked in my yard. Climbing inside, the lanky one was preparing the footage for me to view. It was clear something bothered him too as he looked up at me briefly, shook his head slightly, and then back down at the screen.

The average one pointed at the monitor which was replaying the events of the night in an infrared night-vision at high speed from different cameras.

“This is you at night. The night-vision cameras are one of the tools others would have used. They detected nothing. None of our other instruments have either. However,” he began, “our photon detection camera……” He turned his attention to the lanky one. “Bring it up.”

The lanky one hesitated a few moments before ALT-TABing over to bring up a different screen. I became instantly paralyzed with fear.

The average one swallowed and then spoke.

“So, no one has ever found any evidence of any kind during times of complete sleep. In the past, it was believed that the Shadow Demons only appeared during the sleep paralysis state and the train of thought was that they caused it. Um…..this case has just upended centuries of belief and study. From this image as well as others we captured, we can presume that they can appear anytime and may always be watching the people they torment.”

I heard is words, but they seemed empty and hollow against what I saw on the screen. On a background that was mostly white, I could make out the shapes of some items in the distance. My desk, my television, etc. Things that were closer to the camera were much clearer. I could see myself lying in bed in black and white detail. It wasn’t the greatest image. My face looked like poorly done gray CGI, but you could make out details like my cheekbones, the depth of my lips, nose, and eyes. You could tell it was definitely me.

However, standing over my bed was a tall black mass that was very clearly defined. Despite looking like a terrible computer-generated image, it was clear that it was my Shadow Demon. You could make out every muscle, horn, and even wiry hair. From another camera, you could see white where his eyes would be and the shape of his teeth. He was real. He was real and he was there when I didn’t even know it. And now I know.

“Are you religious at all?” the average one asked.

“No,” I said vacantly. “Atheist.”

“That’s too bad,” he replied. “Listen. We’re going to continue monitoring you every night. There’s a lot of information we can gather that could potentially change the world as we know it. For now, I highly suggest you look for spiritual guidance. I would recommend Catholicism. I don’t much agree with it myself, but they seem to have the most experience with this sort of thing and are often the most willing to deal with it. I can put you in touch with some priests who deal with this sort of thing if you like, but it’s generally best to start local. It helps to have a connection with a congregation who can support you.”

“Thanks,” I said meekly as I continued to stare at the image on the screen.

Letters from Unsung Heroes: The Train – Franklin Millsborrow

Dearest Agatha,

I’ve had a most dreadful experience. As I’m sure you are aware by my lack of arrival, the train has failed. I have been trapped with the rest of the passengers for two seemingly whole days, though I cannot be sure. I, like most people here, have been sustaining myself on stale doughnuts and cheese. I have, thankfully, been nibbling on the beef jerky that I had brought with my in my luggage case. It’s been of great comfort and I’ve found that people have been willing to trade things for it; liquor, cigarettes, reading material, etc. It appears people will only consume stale pastries to sustain themselves for so long when other options present themselves. Suffice to say, I’ve been able to keep myself occupied.

My making the best of it could only last so long, however, before it turned to absolute horror. A few hours ago, I reached up and opened the overhead baggage compartment to get some more jerky. A young man had assisting with lighting and warmth for everyone and I felt he deserved some kind of payment, especially after setting up one of those oil lamps up right behind me. I had asked him to wait a moment while I get him the treat from my luggage, but when I open the compartment, the luggage case that I had been going in and out of for the past couple days was not there. Instead, to my horror, bundled up in the fetal position was a sickly looking man.

I screamed and fell backwards into the aisle, almost knocking over the poor young man bumping into a woman in the seat opposite mine. The man was terrifying; a pale, almost faint green, skin accentuated his bony frame. Knees pulled up to his chest, arms wrapped around his legs, twitching fingers clinging to his thighs. A full head of long wiry black hair seemed to stretch out in every direction. But most frightening were his eyes. All color seemed to be drained from them as though he had no iris, only pupil and sclera remained.

The woman seemed initially put off, but then herself screaming as she looked of at the frightening visage. The boy on the other hand, didn’t seem to notice. He instead jumped into action helping me up and placing me back in my seat. Though I could not physically resist, paralyzed with fear as I was, I managed to mutter the word “no” repeatedly, yet he paid no mind. He carefully put me back in my seat and left, returning moments later with another gentleman who took out a bottle and carefully poured some whiskey into my mouth. I was able to swallow, but other than move my eyes, that was about all.

Now, I don’t know if the man has left or not but he must no longer be there for the boy and the gentleman turned to the woman whom I had fallen into and she was still staring petrified into my overhead baggage compartment. Then, they turned, looked inside, shrugged and closed the door. Where the man went to, however, I do not know.

I have since regained my composure enough to write, probably thanks to the whiskey, but am afraid to open the compartment above my head for fear of that sickly man may have returned. I have tried to speak to the woman, but she will not even look in my direction. And if I mention the man, she just cups her face with her hands and bursts into tears. As such, I just sit here in silence, praying that help comes soon.

Prayerfully,

Franklin Millsborrow

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

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.”