Faith Untested

This story has been haunting me since 2013 and has gone through four revisions. I believe there’s one heck of a story here…somewhere…comments welcome…


Faith Untested

Many years ago Ben grabbed William by an ankle and dangled him outside my third story dorm room window. It was a warm, Spring afternoon that suddenly got hot. Ben, a muscular wrestler, spoke calmly. “Tell me where the Jews are.” Ben’s quiet voice reverberated in my room like a rifle shot.

Some of us gathered to discuss an Ethics class assignment: It’s The Holocaust. You’ve hidden Jews somewhere in your home. The Nazis burst in the door demanding to know where the Jews are. What do you do?

Some confessed they’d cave. Some professed they’d stay resolute and hoped they could endure torture. Much was said between these two points. I was in the resolute-endure-torture camp but secretly knew I’d go with the crowd: “Want the Jews? Well, here they are! All wrapped up and neatly waiting for you in my basement! Aren’t I a good doobie? Getting them all together for you like this?”

My room was at the end of a hall, tucked away in the top floor southeast corner of the dorm. A perfect place for lively discussions.

None of us noticed William, not in the Ethics class, on the other side of the doorway in the hall, standing stiff and attentive, listening, bible in hand. His father was a Bible answer man at a Christian radio station. In an era of long haired hippie freaks, William stood out in his close cut hair, pale skin, a perfectly starched and ironed white shirt with thin black tie that hung on his closet-hanger shoulders and billowed about his once-a-week-fasting frame. Blond and blue-eyed, he took every opportunity to evangelize us. He wasn’t a pain or a nuisance, though. He was more like a gnat.

He cleared his throat and we looked up. “I would tell the truth, tell them where the Jews were, and trust Jesus to perform a miracle and save them.”

“Really.” It wasn’t a question. It just sounded like one.

“I’d have to tell the truth because that’s what God requires of me.”

“You tell the truth, the Jews die. This is what God requires of you? You can’t lie and trust all that forgiveness of sins crap you talk about?”

“My faith tells me God and His Son Jesus Christ will save those Jews.”

“You mean a miracle of some kind? The Nazis go blind? Or just decide, fuck it let’s knock off early and grab some brews? Maybe the Jews disappear? You think God’s going to pull some kind of Jedi mind trick?”

“Please don’t curse.”

Ben, his massive arm eclipsing my small black-and-white TV on my bureau, chuckled at the Jedi remark. Moonless midnight sky black hair and always in need of a shave, he laughed when we described him with “arms as big as legs and legs as big as people.”

Ben lost people in The Holocaust.

He listened patiently, his brow furrowed, his lips silent, his eyes fixed on William and squinting as if William were some bright light on a close horizon. William started insisting that telling the Nazis where the Jews were hiding would be a test of his faith.

Ben quietly opened a window. He put his hands on the window sill, inhaled deeply, upturned William, grabbed him by an ankle and held him outside the window, three stories up.

“You have ten seconds to decide. Tell the truth, sacrifice the Jews and hope for a miracle, or lie, convincingly, and save your life. In ten seconds you’ll fall three stories. You may not die, but you’ll be badly hurt. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be spared in either case. You admit there are Jews in your house and you’ve harbored Jews, you’re an enemy of the state and will be killed as an example to others. You convince me there are no Jews here and I may kill you anyway as a warning to others.”

“Ten…”

We didn’t think Ben would let William drop. He’d never been violent or even angry that we could remember. Even when we went out for pizza, he was the one who stopped arguments and shoving matches with reason and quiet good humor.

Now he relaxed his grip a few times. Whatever blood should have been rushing to William’s head never made it there. He was blanched white and screaming for Ben to stop.

“Nine…”

William never called for Jesus to save him. He begged Ben to bring him in. He screamed at us to help him.

“Eight… Where are the Jews?”

More screams. We could hear people outside on the college quad shouting up at this strange play. Somebody hollered for others to call campus security.

“Seven…Where are the Jews?”

William screamed hysterically now. Hysterically. “PLEASE DEAR GOD SOMEBODY MAKE HIM STOP!” I remember thinking, “Does that count as a call to God or is he just using the adjectival modifier?”

“Six…You are going to drop to the ground unless you tell me where the Jews are. Where are the Jews?”

At this point one of the other fellows in the room said, “Ten dollars Ben can’t hold him the full ten seconds.” Ben wasn’t breathing hard. He looked like he could hold William out the window forever. I said, “What?”

“Five…”

A window in the room next to ours opened up. Somebody shouted “William says he’d let Nazis kill the Jews and hope for a miracle. Ben’s going to drop him unless he changes his mind.” There was a quick response from the crowd, “Let the fucker fall!”, but nobody laughed.

“Four…Where are the Jews?”

William screamed, “I don’t know! There are no Jews!”

“Three…I’m not convinced.” He took his eyes off William, turned his head and looked at us, “Are any of you convinced?”

Somebody said, “Ben, come on. Enough’s enough.”

“Two…Nobody here’s convinced, either. Where are the Jews?”

William is crying now. Screaming and crying, hysterically begging for someone anyone to help him. He’s calling to Jesus Christ and all the saints and not in ways I think they’d recognize as calls for help.

“One. Time’s up. You die.”


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The Kite

[A previous version of this story can be found at Shane and Tyler]

The Kite

 
I parked in the lot adjacent to the hillside field, its slight slope gently amplifying winds and making it easier to get kites aloft. Everybody used the park. The city built ballfields and a playground on the other side of the parking lot and a big gazebo in the middle of the field. A friend caught one of my kites’ lines in the gazebo’s roof once and it took some good flying to set it free.

I could hear the cheers and catcalls from people in the ballfields — must have been some exciting games going on — and laughter and chatter from families on the playground. People must have parked on the far side of the ballfields because the hillside lot was practically empty.

An empty parking lot is one of the things I look for, a good sign, it means the field will be open, plenty of room to run out my lines and fly a kite or two between the gazebo and the street. A good wind rustled the trees high up, their tops dusting the sky. I’d already chosen my SkyDancer — a half moon, rainbow kite with two one-hundred foot long rainbow colored tails — as the kite to fly. I walked down the field carrying it, its tails, lines and two ground pegs in my hands.

A man and boy had a little area set up on my right, between the gazebo and the parking lot. Not a problem, still plenty of room. A t-ball stand stood beside them, a whiffle ball rested on top, a broad, plastic yellow bat and several more balls lay on the ground next to it. The boy, a toddler based on his size, slightly awkward movements and shrieks of joy, threw the balls back and forth to no one. He’d throw one, go get it and throw it back to where he started then repeat the process over and over again.

The man knelt on the ground, his eyes focused and his hands busy. It looked like he was rigging up a single line delta. I thought that a small, single-line delta would be more work than it would be worth — general kiting rule: the smaller the kite, the stronger the wind — but said nothing. I had the day off and wanted some time to myself.

They got their delta up. Then down. Then not quite up, then definitely down. Then down and down and still down.

But the man wouldn’t give up. He’d get the kite up and he’d hold the line with the boy and let the boy take the line and the kite would come down and he’d go to work sending it back up.

And on one attempt, the boy called out, “I love you, Daddy!” and the man called back, “I love you, too, Son!”

I’d just finished driving my ground pegs into the earth and had walked out my lines, my SkyDancer still in its pack along with its tails, and something told me to offer them my Big Sled. The Big Sled is actually a fairly small, black, red, and white parafoil kite. I got it long ago. A local kite store was going out of business, I got there their last day, there wasn’t much left and I refused to go home empty handed. It’s more a kid’s kite than something an adult would fly, but I have close to one-hundred kites, kites for all levels of skill, all sizes of flyers, all types of wind and I love all kites. One more would round out the bunch so I got it.

I went back to my car and got out the Big Sled.

The father was kneeling again, the delta in front of him as he adjusted the harness. I walked towards him. “Sir, excuse me, sir?”

He looked up.

I unfurled the kite. “This’ll be much easier to fly. It’ll catch the wind better and ride high on top of the wind.”

He was hesitant. “That looks like a professional kite.”

I laughed. “I’d never call myself a professional.”

He offered me his hand. “I’m Shane.” He had broad, flat palms. Thick fingers, calloused. A welcoming grip. A practical smile, open and evaluating at the same time. More laugh lines than frowns and deep brown eyes that took in all of you without leaving your face. He stood wide and solid with hair the color of his eyes and ruffling in the wind where it stuck out from under his green baseball cap. I took him to be a skilled laborer, someone both comfortable with himself and with tools in his hands, someone to whom making was automatic, without thought. He didn’t smell of resins or wires. Doors and walls, I decided. Not cars, there was no grease or grime under his nails or etched in his palms and a whiff of wood welcomed me as he moved. Not tanned, so a finish carpenter, someone who works inside, not someone who frames and builds houses. Someone who uses his blades as a painter uses his brushes.

“That’s Tyler. Say hello, Tyler.”

Tyler, a cherub as only little boys can be cherubs, called out “Hello!” Thin but healthy, both well and goodly fed, with clear eyes and a trust because he’s a little boy and everyone should love him, because that’s all he’s known is love of family and friends and, it seemed, a mirror that would grow into his father’s easy good looks.

He stood beside us comfortably, neither anxious nor wary, following his father’s focus on my hands, watching me stringing the line, his eyes full of joy and his father’s smile echoed on his toddler’s face.

I attached the line and handed Shane the line hoop. “It’s going to have a little pull, so hold the line with Tyler. Let him get a feel for how much pull it’ll have so he can brace himself for it.”

The father looked me in the eye, confused.

“Enjoy yourself. Have a good time.”

I went back to the SkyDancer and lines, strung it up and, as is my habit, talked to the kite and the wind. They rewarded me with some great flying and LineSong — the wind pulls the kite, the lines tighten, the wind vibrates the string like a bow crossing a violin. You hear the lines sing.

LineSong. It’s the wind letting you know it’s having fun, too, me thinks.

I flew for about an hour, maybe a little less. Every now and again I’d hear Shane and Tyler laugh from the other side of the gazebo. I’d glance every so often and see the Big Sled high in the sky, swooping and swirling as the winds whirled it about.

I told the SkyDancer and Wind, “One more flight, girl. Come on down when you’re ready and we can pack up and go home.”

We had one more glorious flight. Some people had gathered so I had the SkyDancer live up to its name and perform a little ballet. The wind, as promised, grew tired, which was fine because I was, too. I brought the SkyDancer down and began untacking the lines.

Shane and Tyler came up to me. Shane had the kite against his chest, the line hoop and line in hand. “Thank you, Joseph. That was great. Tyler and I really appreciate your letting us fly your kite.”

“Did you have a good time, Tyler? Did you have fun?”

“Yes!”

I smiled at Tyler. “Keep the kite. It’s a gift.”

Shane shook his head. “We can’t do that.”

“You and Tyler gave me a gift when I walked onto this field.”

“We did?”

“Tyler called out ‘I love you, Dad,’ and you called back, ‘I love you, too, Son.’ That’s a gift. Please. Take the kite as my thank you for that gift.”

Shane slowly shook his head, not quite believing. “Are you sure?”

I stood. “Yes, and here’s the catch.”

He pulled his head back a bit.

“Whenever you and Tyler don’t want to fly kites any more, or when you think it’s time, you pass it on to the next father and son, you give it to them as a gift because they gave something to you as a gift.”

Shane nodded slowly. “Okay. We can do that.”

“Pass it on. Pay it forward. That’s how it works.”

“Thank you. Thank you so much for this gift.”

“Thank you. Have a good day. Have a good life.”

They walked away and stopped. Tyler started running towards me and Shane called him back. They huddled for a moment then both came up to me. “Tyler has something for you.”

Tyler ran up to me and gave me a big hug. “Thank you for the kite, Joseph!”

I put my arms around him, held his precious little body next to mine. “Oh, thank you, Tyler. You’re the man, Tyler, you’re the man!”


Greetings! I’m your friendly, neighborhood Threshold Guardian. This is a protected post and requires either General Membership (free) or a Subscription (various levels). Members and Subscribers can LogIn. Non members can join. All posts are free to all members save certain posts in the My Work category. Enjoy!

Sabine Rossbach’s Happy Hour – 14 May 2020 Interview (wherein she waxes wonderfully about “Empty Sky”)

Sabine Rossbach is the wonderfully talented Luxembourg based actress and voiceover artist who’s blessing me with readings from my books. You can see the first one, a reading from my short story Cymodoce, here and on YouTube

 
You can hear the full interview on the ARA Happy Hour podcast which included several notables: Sandra Schmit, who started coronaliterature.org,

 
a journal entry by writer Jess Bauldry, a book promo and discussion with actress and voice talent Sabine Rossbach and a chat with author Jenna Liberatore, who shares a chapter in her new book.

And now, here’s Sabine!

 

Joseph Carrabis Signing and Reading The Augmented Man 17 Oct at the Nashua, NH, BookCellar

That Augmented Man…he sure gets around…

Come join the fun!

Thursday, October 17th, 6:00pm at the


34 Northwest Blvd
(in the Westside Plaza on 101A / Amherst St, next to Marshalls)
Nashua, NH 03063
(603) 881-5570

Local author, Joseph Carrabis, will read from his novel, The Augmented Man, answer questions, and sign copies!

 
What do you do with a deadly weapon when it's no longer needed?
Nicholas Trailer is the last of The Augmented Men, beings created first by society and completed by a political group the public can't even imagine exists. Captain James Donaldson takes severely abused and traumatized children and modifies them into monsters capable of the most horrifying deeds without feeling any remorse or regret.

But the horrors of war never stay on the battlefield. They always come home.

Joseph Carrabis signs and discusses The Augmented Man at The Barnes&Noble in Manchester, NH

Come find out what The Augmented Man is about in Manchester, NH, on 2 Nov 2019 at 1pmET

I’m on a roll, folks.

The good folks at the Manchester, NH, Barnes&Noble bookstore invited me to do a book signing on Saturday November 02, 2019 1:00 PM.

It would be crackers wonderful if all of you attend.

 
I mean, heck, I plan on being there…

A bit about The Augmented Man
The US Military concedes that any kind of combat leaves soldiers psychologically damaged and makes reintegration to society difficult.

The solution is to find individuals who are already so psychologically damaged the most horrendous combat experience will seem trivial by comparison. Better, find individuals psychologically damaged who’ve also experienced massive physical insult and trauma. Best, individuals psychologically damaged, physically traumatized, and emotionally vacant.

But where to find such individuals?

Captain James Donaldson suggests using massively abused and traumatized children as the basis, arguing “…they’ve already experienced more at home than they’ll ever experience in the field. All we need to is help their bodies catch up to where their psyches and emotions already are.

Nine individuals are selected for Augmentation and entered into combat.

One survives.

And comes home.

The backstory
I’m finding people’s reactions fascinating. Yes, the book reads like a military sci-fi thriller, and intentionally so. However, the real story is in the metaphor of the abused child.

Children from abusive families tend to think of themselves as monsters unworthy of love, hence the suffering they go through – often without even being aware that what’s happening to them isn’t normal, a “fish don’t know they live in water” kind of thing.

This monster self-concept is often reinforced by society which, not being able to recognize the child’s trauma, blames the child for its behaviors and problems.

So for me, the real meat of the story occurs when Trailer (the main character) uses everything he’s been taught (to be a monster) to heal himself from trauma, and then further when he realizes how much monsterhood he must retain in order to survive in a normal world.

About me
You can find out more than you need to know at my About page.