The day of the festival was at hand.

The people had gathered in the village church, many of them crossing themselves as they entered. The sense of anticipation was palpable, even painful, although it seemed that few knew what to expect.

He had spoken with his mother for the last time the night before. There was surprisingly little to say, though they talked for a long time. "I'm glad you're doing this." "Was my father an Angel?" Her eyes unfocused for a moment, and a slight smile came to her lips. "Yes. But for all that, I love you even more than I loved him. I'm very proud of you."

The Vicar was telling the story of the crucifixion. It was as Justin had always heard it, but this time each word seemed charged with meaning, and he found the scenes playing out vividly in his mind's eye. At last it was time, and the Vicar beckoned for him to assume his place before the congregation.

The night before, the Vicar had given him this advice, instructions for his final preparatory self-consecration: "Imagine, for as long as you can, that a form had never been inscribed in this world for your soul to inhabit. How unimaginably terrible, for all that you may object to some of the events of your life. Are you grateful for the years that you have had, for the miracle that has permitted your existence? If so, are you willing to pay its hidden cost? It is no flaw in God's work that innocents must perish to justify the whole. We are born into sin only for the possibility of redemption."

When the first nail punctured his hand and lodged itself in the iron cross, he cried out; he could not help it. He barely felt the second nail, except as a shattering echo of the first. He lifted his eyes from the assembled crowd; he had seen in their eyes all the proof that he needed. They did not know. They applauded his acting, the heartfelt passion in his moans, knowing that the false nails would be removed when it was done, the false blood washed away. They saw a truth that he had not: it was a false thing throughout, a pageant, a ritual made meaningful only by his suffering. That, at least, they could perceive.

The Vicar smiled. It was done.


An Iron Crucifix