The man made his way to the gate. Head bent, trench coat braced to the wind. Yes. This was the place. Overgrown with ivy, its black metal spikes pierced the darkness of the moonlit night. Its ancient posts signified a defense against the outside world. A mangy dog padded twenty paces behind him, paused, then sat on its haunches. Its head followed the man’s every move. The dog’s ears twitched, an alert reflex as they twisted toward the train rails to and from town. Resisting the urge to launch a rock at the hound, the man peered at the gate. Remembering. Was it a decade or two decades ago that this place had been called his home? Where he had supped with others of like-minded thinking. Desperate straits had brought him back. This was a last resort. The end of the line.
Wooo-woot. He could just barely hear the engine whistle. Must be the midnight rail. Locating what he was looking for, his hand couldn’t contain its unwelcome tremor. Could he really do this thing? Can a person ever really make peace with the past? His misdeeds had been many. His errors dark as the grime on his unwashed hand. The bell, a twelve inch affair, remained still. His hand tightly grasped the chain. His fingers traced the cross on its side above the rim. Indecision stopped him. Thud, thud, thud, the racing heart beat its staccato rhythm as alarm rose in his chest. Better do this thing, he encouraged himself, before I lose my nerve ... before its too late.
Clang. Clang. Clang. The sound pierced the frozen night air. No. They wouldn’t send him away on Christmas Eve. He was sure of it. He listened. The sound of feet tapping on cold stone pavement. Rustling of clothing increasingly becoming louder. The hound’s hair began to rise.
“Who rings?” The voice inquired.
“A stranger. One of your former brothers.”
“By what name are you called?”
“Just a friend who will cause no harm. My name will remain undisclosed. I am in need of your hospitality.”
An aging cleric peered through the slits. His eyes squinted as they focused on the bent figure. He unlocked the lock, then lifted the peg from the ground. The gate swung open with nary a squeak as it offered its path to salvation. The cleric gestured. The stranger followed then paused while the great gate closed behind them. The hound slunk over to the gate’s pier, huddling in a circle for body warmth.
A wooden door opened. The hallway echoed, their steps making strident sounds in the empty darkness. Sconces held lamps lit in somber yellow light. They passed a fountain. Its memory brought a stinging sensation to the traveler’s eyes. I remember. Oh, how I remember. Regret crashed inside his head. He swept his brow to push the thought aside. That was then, but this is now. They continued on in silence. He had forgotten how incredibly silent this place could be.
“Remain here.” The cleric's vestments swished, announced his departure.
“We’ve been expecting you. Come in. View our relics.” A voice came alive from the next room; masterful, calm, authoritative, rich—peaceful. He was not given a choice. Enter he must. The shivering lessened. The visitor rubbed his chapped hands; he wished he had gloves to hide their filth. He stepped inside the room. The voice continued on; it commanded truth from him, “Tell me about yourself.”
“Well, I, uh, it’s a long story, not very pretty. I’ve done a lot of wrong things, hurt people,” the words jumped out in a nervous jabber. He couldn’t quite make them behave. “I came because I want to make my peace. My life is over. I’m wanted ... and I’m tired. They will find me. Soon.” He gulped, his throat dry. In a whisper the rest was laid bare in a silent plea of regret. “I wanted to see this place one last time, to say,” ... the voice hesitated ... “I’m sorry. To seek forgiveness." ... "Before ...” His voice trailed off. The words spilled forth from a deep longing inside the haunted man. He saw the impossibility. It was too late. “Please forgive me for intruding. I’ll be leaving now. I shouldn’t ‘ve come. Really. It was bad of me. This place is not for the likes of me. I’m sorry.” A sigh escaped as he hung his head. It was over. His demise was eminent, he'd come prepared. He fingered inside his pocket--still there. It would culminate in the early hours of Christmas Day. The end was near, indeed. All hope erased, it had been a weak hope to begin with. Yes, the end of the line.
“I said, you were expected,” the voice spoke again as if not hearing the confessor’s confession. The traveler's confusion mounted. He glanced at the tall man standing a few feet to his side. How could this be?
The room burst into light. It was a museum. In awe the man looked around him. Horror surfaced at what he gazed. Each table had an artifact. Their repulsive images caused the man to retch, to involuntarily step back in confusion. His eyes glanced around. On each glass table was a pink-skinned creature long dead, denude of fur, it’s head and feet removed, each mounted to a table surface. The man gasped. They seemed to beckon. Remember? The urge to escape was in panic mode. But he remained, transfixed, glued to the spot. Something powerful was at work.
The stranger’s gaze rested on the first creature. What was it? ... “Poof,” it disappeared. What? Then his eyes rested on the next image. ... “Poof,” it was gone. His eyes looked at each image, recoiling at their ugliness, but remaining motionless until the beam from his eyes joined that of the image until it dissolved into nothingness. He looked at the last creature, an over-large phantom-freak with repulsive pig-like features. He spoke in a fragment of a whisper, “You, too.” ... The thing disintegrated. Depletion emptied him of all feeling. What did it mean? The robed figure nodded. Yes. An awareness entered. Gone. It was gone. Finally. ... Peace.
“You are free to leave or free to stay. It is your choice to make. All are welcome. None are turned away.”
The scraggly hound lifted its head, howled its lonely bay as a train clattered frantically into the silent night. On the other side of the gate Christmas claimed its miracle.
~Peace on Earth~
Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as wool.