I remember the dream well, because I had it so many times I've lost count.
A man died. My heart throbbed when blood poured from his side and he looked at me one last time. It was my fault, yet so much love filled his dimming eyes. He knew he was dying for me--someone so unworthy. His final breath left him, wavering like a shade in the stormy night. His life disappeared with all reason as his head lulled no longer having a purpose.
The moon shone on his once strong face. I wanted to bring him back, do whatever I could, but he was gone forever. He'd taken the blame and left me alone with my guilt.
My heart shattered in that moment, more than when I'd seen them torture the man I loved. I crumpled onto the ground and shivered in the coming rain. No amount of crying would take away the sorrow. I felt lifeless like the body near mine, as if existing in a world without God.
The fact remained, he'd looked at me last. He'd died for me . . . died because of me and I felt dirty.
I clutched the dirt by my face, dug my nails into the ground, and fell asleep at the foot of the cross.
I don't know how long I cried, but when I opened my eyes again, sleep clung to my eyes. A wall loomed behind me and a staircase spiraled far below.
I walked down the winding, stone steps--the only place to go. The hot granite stung my bare feet and I ran as fast as I could. No railing thronged the stairs. Instead, the only support was the wall which sweated with a strange smelling liquid.
After an eternity of running down aged granite, and leaning against eroding corners, I made it to the base of the stairs where a desk waited. A "Welcome to Hell" sign hung crooked from the front of the gnarled wood. It seemed such a funny room. Moss lined the ground, Gothic trees grew in clumps. And at the far end I saw a petrified door.
"This is a strange place," I said. And the more I imagined what I hoped for, the more I saw. It was inviting, as beautiful as Persephones' home. I swooned over its glory, until seeing the creature at the gnarled desk.
He wore a black cloak that wrapped over his face. "You've come. We've been watching and indeed you are ours now," he croaked. Huge horns protruded from the sides his hood and long-nailed fingers tapped the desk.
I stepped back, wanting to scream as the world around died reflecting the fear which ate at my soul.
"But don't worry. The Master would have a word with you first."
"The master?" I asked.
"Our Lord. The Prince. Don't worry, you'll meet him soon . . . just walk through that door. He always likes to speak to the living."
"The living?" I asked.
"Oh, yes. You are very much alive . . . for now." His finger ran across a large black book laying open on the desk. Its old pages were marred by time as if they'd gone through a fire. He scanned down to a name, highlighted in blood and I saw it was my own name.
I looked back, but the stairway was gone. In its place sat a pile of ash staining the wasteland's air. A long trail of women stood beside the pile and beyond it as far as I could see. They wore lacy black veils and dresses with bridal flares to their designs. Even though they dressed as if mourning, excitement showed in their movements and smiles. Their gaunt faces and flickering bodies made me run to the petrified door. I clutched the door knob before turning to the horned figure at the desk. "What are they waiting for?" I whispered.
"Eternity . . . They can't wait to come back . . . See how welcoming death can be?"
A chill ran the length of my body as I opened the door. The scene beyond it brought a moment from my past, relived in an even stronger beauty.
I suddenly understood the line of excited women. Purple flowers bloomed at my feet and I gazed at the bright sun-filled sky. I blinked and breathed with the same anticipation I'd seen on the women's faces seconds before. "Maybe death is welcoming?" I said aloud as the door shut behind me and completely disappeared.
"It is a beautiful day," a strong voice said from the field at my back.
The man appeared so much like my lost lover, I could hardly believe. "Are you . . ."
He nodded. "I've been waiting. It seemed like forever . . . without you."
"Have we both died, then? Are you here too, in this strange place?"
"Yes, and we can live again. I'll give you your heart's desires." He held out his hand, unmarred by the nails I'd seen driven there before he died.
I smiled, but his eyes turned hungry and when I touched his hand, his featured distorted if only for a moment. I shirked back.
"Don't be afraid, dear heart. Death is a strange thing."
The sun shone, but the more I looked, it appeared like a metallic glow. I picked a flower, smelled the lavender which seemed dusted with the scent of sulfur. As I turned back, the greed on the man's face told me more than words ever could. "And what is it that you'd want in return for my life and my heart's desires?"
"Just an eternity with you. Promise, you'll come back to this place, and I'll never leave you again," he said.
His perfect face made my heart dip with pain. I'd watched him die. I remembered how he'd taken me in and showed me truth.
"Just an eternity with you?" I asked.
"That's all and you can have everything, be anything, do anything." Evil laced his words, something so fetid no amount of deception could hide it. He pulled a necklace from his shirt. "You see these?" he crooned. "These are the keys to eternity now. I can let you in at any time."
"I . . ." He bent next to me and my lips faltered. He was so utterly perfect, so amazing, it seemed wrong denying him such a small request.
Even though, I wanted to believe his words, I'd already tasted the truth. So in that metallic sun, I spoke as bravely as I could. "I can't. I won't come back."
"No? No?! How dare you tell me 'no'!" The world cracked with the anger I saw on the man's vile face. His features shifted and changed as he drew a dagger from his cloak. "Did you see your name in my book?" he asked. "Did you see it? You are mine!" He held the dagger in the air and prepared to deal out my death. "Once your name was covered with the blood of the lamb . . . once. Did you see it?"
I stepped back, a shaky step. "Yes, I . . . did." I tried standing strong, but his face made my soul crawl with fear. "It's still covered in blood."
"His blood has no power now! His blood is useless. He's dead and can't protect you ANY . . . MORE! Did you hear me, you insignificant mortal? He's dead!" He cackled into the metallic light. "Tell me you still love him, even though he's powerless and weak. Tell me you still adore his perfect nature and flawed ideals. Tell me you still loathe me even though I'm the only one who can save your soul now!"
He loomed, like a blackened tree. His eyes pierced through my spirit, knowing every bad thing I'd ever done--every vile thought I'd ever had. "We deserve each other, you and I. We deserve an eternity together. Imagine staying here . . . forever. I'll give you one last chance, to save yourself from the ultimate pains of Hell. He's useless to you now anyway. What other choice do you have? Just tell me you hate him. Curse the name of Jesus and Hell will be more bearable."
The knife came closer. My legs shook and I dropped to my knees and cried. I'd seen the blood seep from my savior's hands and feet--the red pouring from his side. A part of me died with him the day I watched Him at Calvary, yet I could never curse His name, even if it would lessen my fate in Hell. I'd always love Him even if He'd lost all power.
"NO!!!" I spat at the devil's feet. "I will never curse His name. Even if He won't save my soul, I'll never curse the name of Jesus!"
The moment froze. I watched the confusion sprinting across Satan's face. He couldn't understand, would never understand that type of love. In his own world, the sky melted and folded in on itself as a light that passes all understanding ripped through the metallic sun.
Satan ran across the field, scurrying as fast as he could go, but the light encompassed him and he cried in pain. I closed my eyes and peace curled around, overcoming my soul.
I stayed wrapped in that hope, the feeling reminiscent of Heavenly visions. When I opened my eyes again, I rested at the foot of the cross.
Jesus was gone. The light of a new day lined the horizon and I smiled. Hell may have wanted me, but Jesus' blood was still my protection.
The cross drew my eyes; I saw the nails that had held my savior there. My smile broadened because from a nail hung a massive set of keys--they were the keys to Hell.