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…
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.”
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.
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?”
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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