Chapter Thirteen: Christina the Astonishing Part One

Editor’s Note: Christina’s tale is one most children of Vine can recite at least some details of by heart. There are hymns and drinking songs written about her. Some things, however, can be corroborated by historical record: archives of sermons’ texts, even surviving fragments of Christina’s own journal (copied from the remaining pages for the first time here). I’ve tried to arrange a linear narrative:  

The Morning Of Christina’s First Funeral

On the morning of Christina’s first funeral, huge clouds covered the whole of Vine and orange sunrise dripped through cracks between their shapes. The two men digging in the graveyard paused to admire the sky, their heads poking out of the hole. 

“Have you ever seen such splendor in God’s majesty?” the younger man said.

The other man smiled and returned to his work. He knew the young man to have been recently engaged to be married. 

“Can you not stop and appreciate it for a second? We’ve been digging for hours. It ain’t gonna fill back up if you stop digging for one minute.”

“It might if them clouds open up before we get that girl in this hole,” the older man spoke. “Sure them clouds is pretty now, but you just wait til the rain come. Now help me finish this. We ain’t no sight for a funeral, especially one like this. Best to finish up before the mourners arrive.”

The young man gave the sky a final glance and picked up his shovel.

The Preacher Prepares As The Funeral Attendees Arrive
Family by family the people of Vine came to fill the pews. Preacher Alphonse Weber in those days was an old man of nearly 60. He was not born of Vine, having spent time as a Lutheran minister in North Carolina. He had seen the Lutheran Church drift further and further away from God since establishing a presence in the New World colonies, and he had gone searching for a community of those who would live humbly and serve God. Thus had he felt the call of Vine.

In the beginning, Preacher Weber found a home among the righteous of Vine, finding common cause with all congregants he met. A point of conflict occurred, however, when Preacher Weber was introduced to what he viewed as Vine’s strange custom: the practice of leaving the dead to rot in the open air of the woods. He had been attempting to introduce proper burial practice to Vine, and though he still faced his detractors and worrywarts, he had convinced the other Preachers to allow him to attempt burials in the lawn behind the Church.

Nearly all of Vine was in attendance, both out of genuine mourning and curiosity. Christina was a young woman in the springhood of her life. Known to be kind and gentle, she was a quiet-type of woman but well-loved by all. When the sickness had come on in the previous week, the family was overrun with well wishers and hot meals. And now the town had come to grieve a daughter gone too soon.

Given the melancholy cast by the youthfulness of the deceased it was determined by the Elders that the usual Biblical verses of comfort reserved for funerals would not be sufficient; that the people of Vine needed a reading from a more recent yet far more immediate revelation: that of the Holy Book of Vine.

The Angels Reveal a Vision of Heaven and a Vision of Hell (Christina’s Journal)

As my soul left my body I was embraced by two fiery figures of pure light who were at once terrible and wonderful to behold. My eyes were made blind and yet I could see vast wide realms of varying terrain: mountains and lush forests and the clearest water the Lord has made. The angels brought a glimpse of everlasting paradise less a vision than a feeling of purity and comfort and home. I could not see beyond their massive and terrible bodies. All I knew was void and the angels’ firm strength. We seemed to be simultaneously moving and stationary. I was weightless. The borders between my being and the void and the angels felt fluid. 

The angels turned me over. “Look and see,” they said. 

Before me was torment beyond description. Desolate land and sulfurous air and a mountainous fire fueled by the ruined objects of the world. And then the souls: the sufferers. Those whom had sinned without repent. Limbs melting off only to grow back in painful fits. Chains lashing against skin boils. They ambled—fruitlessly and endlessly searching their dismal surroundings for something they could not name. One of these poor damned turned their head towards mine. In place of eyes was an all-encompassing darkness. A blank and ingrained ambience of despair. A pair of deep pits which I would fall into without the relief of landing. Whatever remained of my consciousness disappeared when I felt the firm hands of the angels grab my arms. 

A Reading From The Holy Book Of Vine

At the funeral, Preacher Weber spoke, saying: “To attain true understanding is to know one’s place in the cosmic ordination received from the Lord God. For so it was in the seven days that God created the Heavens and the Earth and gave Man dominion over the lands of the Earth to be controlled by Man and exploited as deemed necessary; that it is understood that this lease comes from divine arrangement and hierarchy of order is preserved. Thus the humble servants of God shall proceed free and independent but by grace of the Lord God; and thus is it understood that in the passing of the seasons accumulating into long years there shall be feast and famine; flood and drought; so shall the tides go in and out and the bird migrate; thus does the Lord our God indeed giveth and taketh away. For so all is understood to be the ages of the Lord: the eons of universe. The unceasing march of history. We are but temporary lessees determined by God to have dominion in our time.” 

The people of Vine, still getting accustomed to burying the dead instead of leaving them at the Holy Funeral Site, spoke, saying: “Amen.”

The preacher said: “This is the Word of the Lord.”

The people spoke: “Thanks be to God.”

The Angels Reveal a Vision of Purgatory (Christina’s Journal)

When I awoke there was a Miller. He was grinding his wheat. Working calmly and thoroughly pausing only to wipe sweat with a rag. By the time his bushel of wheat was ground the fruits of his labor disappeared and new bushel appeared. He ground it. For a day I watched.

On the second day I saw a nurse. She was sitting next to a sleeping old man. The old man awoke with a start and demanded to know where was his father. The nurse explained his father died when he was a boy. The old man went back to sleep. One hour passed. The episode repeated on the hour for the whole day. 

On the third day I saw a woman. She was sitting on a sofa admiring a beautiful painting of a river lined with tulips. She sat serenely for a long time before jumping up and screaming “LET ME OUT” while sprinting towards a door slamming her body into its unyielding hardwood. Then walking around the room with her hand caressing the wall. Then she sat and admired the painting again. One hour passed and the episode repeated for the whole day. 

On the fourth day I saw a blacksmith. He was forging a shovel. When the spade was finished the work evaporated. Then the blacksmith forged a sickle. When the blade was finished the work evaporated. Then the blacksmith forged a great key—the size of a man’s arm—as if meant to unlock city gates. When the key was finished the work evaporated. One hour passed and the episode repeated for the whole day.

On the fifth day I saw a farmer plowing a field. When he finished one line his oxen collapsed and perished. A new one appeared as he went to plough the next line turning soil and ripping weeds and tilling until the end of the line and the oxen collapsed and perished. One hour passed and the episode repeated for the whole day.

On the sixth day I saw a sick child. The child’s mother was worried. A doctor came and administered a serum. The doctor left and out of sight of the child’s father the mother ushered in a witch. The witch crushed some herbs under the child’s bed and left. The child did not wake except to sporadically thrash their limbs about. One hour passed and the episode repeated for the whole day.

On the seventh day I saw a table set for a feast. Roasted lamb and chicken. Potatoes. Stewed greens. Charred corn. Cooked carrots. Loaves upon loaves of bread. Cartons of wine. Slowly all I had seen: the miller; the nurse and the old man; the woman admiring a painting; the blacksmith; the farmer; the child and mother and father and doctor and hidden healer; had all joined together on the seventh day for a feast. They prayed prayers begging forgiveness. Though their suffering and toil throughout the other days was unending, still they joined together for a feast on the seventh day. 

For the first time the angels spoke saying: “Christina. You have felt the joy of Heaven. You have seen the torment of Hell. You have seen the despair of Purgatory. Go now and witness to all in Vine the miracles you have seen; and do all in your ability to aid the downtrodden.”

Christina Astonishes The Funeral Attendees

It was before the Elders were to begin their hymns, and Christina’s body was to be carried to the cemetery, that the angels did release Christina’s spirit from their clutches, that she might return to Earthly life. Thus did Christina rise from her coffin: a harsh gasp of breath, holdover tug of the angels’ pull levitating her body above the pulpit, to the awe and adoration of all in attendance. For several shining seconds, Christina hung suspended in the glory of God for all to see: her eyes open, her soul returned from God. The people of Vine were amazed, and marveled at what they saw. As she descended to the Earth, she began to relate to the people of Vine all that she had seen; and the people of Vine celebrated for their daughter had been returned to them. So it was for the sick and downtrodden a joy multiplied tenfold, as Christina was understood to be a miracle for the common amongst the people of Vine. 

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