“Phillip!” In the back of my head I heard the petrified voice of my wife. She’s calling out to me, begging me to come with her. “The soldiers are out there crawling the streets looking for you!” Her voice is strained and eyes wide with fear. “Please Phillip!” In my mind’s eye I can see her shaking form, covered by a flimsy gown. Her hair, soaked in sweat and blood, drapes down her slender face.
However I had a duty to fill, no matter the dangers. I turn away from her. Hopefully she doesn’t see the tears welling up in my eyes. “I have to go Gracia.” My voice, thicker then the smoke that now surrounds me, cracks from my conflicting emotions. I leave without saying another word.
“Burn the heretic!” Curses, filled to the brim with hatred and anger, bellow from the voices of the mob. Old men raised their fists in the air, calling for my execution; mothers with their children stared accusingly at me. Young men jeered and hooted, covered in their own filth. “Burn the heretic!” They screamed furiously.
A chant, many voices strong, inundated the town square. Townsfolk of all ages gathered to watch me die—the heretic of Guetsenberg. I was a menace and terror to the people in my village, people that I grew up to know and love. My own kin had turned on me, handing me over to the soldiers to die.
With sorrowful eyes, I stared into the charcoal sky, fouled with smoke and the town’s stench. “I will burn for you.” A wretched log pricked my back and rubbed my skin raw. Metal chains, strapped forcefully to my chest, kept me restrained to the stake. I could smell the smoke rising from the ground at my feet. “Burn the heretic!”
A tiny flame lashed out against my ankle.
“Now you are saved, brother. Welcome to the church!” Brother Nathaniel, a friendly old man with a hearty laugh, wrapped his thick arms around me. Pulling me close, he kissed both my cheeks and laughed from the deep depths of his belly. The sound reminded me of the trumpets that sound when an army returns from battle.
A soiled odour rose from his wet tunic, yet I didn’t give it a second thought. The truth was that we all really stunk. Even the water from the river did little to cleanse away years of grime and dirt. “God be praised!” I yelled into the air, as my fellow brother and sisters surrounded us. My heart, free from past sins and regrets, rejoiced at what had happened. I had been baptized, joining the underground church in Guetsenberg.
In my mind’s eyes I watched that day, many years ago, the day that my life gained meaning. “God be praised!” I repeated, this time louder and more enthusiastically. Those were the last words I got out before being tackled by two of my closest friends. The rest of the afternoon was spent in the muddy shores of the river, enjoying the coolness of the current. It was the last day I remember being truly joyful.
“Let this be a warning to all who preach the name of Christ!” My executioner, flaming torch in hand, tossed the burning stick into the wood pile. Along with ten other burning torches, his joined the inferno. Sparks flew and hissed, causing the crowd to step back in fear that they too would be consumed.
Flames reached out towards me and smoke forced its way down my throat. In that moment I forgot the smell of freshly baked bread, the grass after a sprinkle of rain, or my dear Gracia’s hair. The smoke eroded my senses and saturated it with its own foul reek.
“God help me!” The metal chains across my chest went red with heat and the stake was sent ablaze. Pain quickly became the only reality that I could sense. Another blast of smoke ate away at my eyes and coated my tongue in a hellish flavour. The flames grew longer—hotter as they moved up my body. The skin on my feet slowly peeled away as flames consumed the lower sections of my body.
The pain was so intense that no words could explain it, I couldn’t even scream. Any tears I had were dried up by the blazing hell that surrounded me. My skin bubbled and dripped as the flames intensified. Flakes of blackened skin fell all around me, while the bone on my legs dripped with molten skin.
“Dear God take me now!” I hadn’t defied or rejected Christ, nor had I blasphemed his name. Ever since I gave my life to Christ and to spreading the gospel, I lived a perfect life. Or so I thought. Now, as I died a horrific death at the stake, I wasn’t so sure that God loved me. Why wasn’t he taking away the pain? What did I do wrong?
The flames licked at my face, moments before I lost my life. One last memory blew through my mind before I was finally consumed by the fire.
“You have a lot of guts to be doing this.” Gladius tipped his golden goblet so the cool liquid cascaded into his mouth. “But no amount of heroism will ever take away how much of a fool you are.” He set the goblet on the table and reclined on his couch. “I will give you one more chance to live. Set aside your pride,” he waved his hands in the air, pointing a finger at me, “for Gracia’s sake, wont you just stop preaching about Christ? You have so much to live for! Just reject Christ and I will let you live.”
The flames buried me in a fiery cocoon, heat so intense I couldn’t register the pain. The flashback halted, then resumed as my legs buckled and snapped under my weight.
“I love Christ, I would burn for him.” With a steeled expression I faced Gladius.
I saw a light above my head, stronger and brighter than that of the flames. Even though my eyes had been scorched by the flames, I witnessed a great light, shining down on me. “Thank you God.” Raising a hand, completely removed of skin, I called out to God.
“Then you shall burn.” Gladius wiped the wine off his beard and scowled. “Heretic of Guetsenberg.”