Defiantly, walking down 7th St. He felt the surge of youth, reborn. Josef gathered his spittle from every passageway. He stopped near the front steps of the stone church and in a disgustful salvo that only hatred could enforce he let loose his revile. Then in a more precise force he emptied the remaining load at the church's signboard. Lips wiping on his sleeve, he gleamed, this could have been war.
Then as Josef prepared to leave victorious, the door to the church opened and Myron stepped out. "Myron, dear friend," Josef was shocked into formality. "Where, …why didn't you show up?" A second questioned pushed forward. "Is this your church? I, I mean," Josef didn't know what else to ask. He knew none of the answers would be to his liking.
"Yes," Myron replied, contently. "Today, this is my church. Would you care to join me?" Josef's honor prevented such notions, except for the challenge, which would lure him in, and Myron delivered it with the sharpest slice, adding, "Or does a German officer always continue his retreat for fear."
Josef was snared. He walked up those steps as if he were to pillage it. Standing next to the door, Josef looked at Myron and shook his head, saying, "A Slav, I suppose that's better than a Jew."
Myron held out his arm to grant a pause, warning Josef, "Be very sure of your next step. Once you pass this threshold there will be no turning back. A second outside can be a lifetime inside."
"I'm not afraid of any man's religion," Josef bragged his courage.
"But it is God's religion that you should fear not man's." Myron replied.
"One's the same as the other." Josef pushed aside Myron's arm and rushed in, saying, "Let’s get this game over with."
Inside the church, the smell of charred wet wood incensed Josef's understanding. He reached into his pocket and retrieved the handkerchief. The light was dim as he looked around to find some connection with what he'd seen from outside, and expected inside. There was nothing to grasp onto. It was as if he'd stepped into another realm of existence, a dimension which had stretched a ghastly sideshow into the corners of darkness. He turned to retreat but the door had been closed shut by Myron who stood before it. "What is this charade?" Josef demanded an explanation. "Is this some kind of magic trick, hocus pocus? --- Well, is it?"
"No, Josef, or should I call you by your proper name, Col. Josef Kleindorf," Myron replied. "This is the end of YOUR charade."
"So you know, so what," Josef angrily defied caring. "So what now, the authorities, newspapers...what?" Then as the sense of betrayal still crawled inside his senses, he added, "You told me that you were a conductor. What does a train conductor have to do with these matters?"
"But I am a conductor," Myron replied. "A conductor of souls. It was you who'd assumed the obvious."
"Out of my way, pig. I've had enough," Josef tried to step towards the door but his feet weren't moving. They felt rooted to the deepest part of regret. Submission ruled his fate. “So, what now, are you going to kill me?" He reached for his last thread, saying, "You won't get away with it. They'll hear you. The priest will come and he'll have to stop you. It’s his duty."
"Poor Josef. You still don't understand. Your outside world no longer exists," Myron explained. "Tonight they will find your body sitting at one of the pews. They'll think heart attack. And yes, they will determine your true identity and say amongst themselves --- ‘How ironic’. But once you entered this church your mortal life ended. We are now in the shadows of this church. Every church or house of worship is filled with such shadows of purgatory. This one happens to be yours.
"This is nonsense, the kind that means nothing to me," countered Josef.
"Then perhaps you need to look into each shadow," Myron continued. "Look deeply into your soul and you will see the sins of a butcher. All those innocent souls, tens of thousands, including mine, that were burned by you in churches throughout Ukraine merely as sport for your betting games. ‘How many can we squeeze into this one?’ you’d ask. And how even the tiniest baby was shoved into the count to match your quotas. How you loved it."
A snipeful laugh. "They made fine bonfires, didn’t they, especially in winter? So what."
"So now you will relive each death, over and over, in this your eternal purgatory. For as long as it will take to cleanse the memory of your soul from the face of existence, you will experience each point of pain until your soul will cry out for true sorrow, for forgiveness, for mercy. At which point you will be dissolved into the blackness of void and nevermore. For your crimes that is your only salvation. So, Colonel, prepare for your first victim, your first offering." And Myron pointed towards the altar.
Josef turned and saw the figure of a young girl, kneeling in prayer and being consumed by fire. Then the threshold of pain had given out and she screamed, wailing and flailing away the flames of pain sculpting on her melting face. And as she collapsed into her deathly terror Josef felt the heat appearing at his own feet. He tried, but couldn't move. He looked at Myron, but knew that a pardon was not on the board. And he finally understood as his soul cried out the pain. Each life...
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