Somewhere in Eastern Europe between Budapest and Prague
Saturday, September 10, 2005, 11:51 p.m.
Alone again, Jason’s panic returned.
“We die!” the Hungarian prophet shouted. “We die! Yes. We die! Our blood for them! Our blood!”
“Oh, please, shut the fuck up,” Jason whispered in his concealed compartment. He didn’t have a gun, flamethrower or rusty ice pick to protect him. And he had dissed God more than enough times to forget about getting any divine protection now that a pack of demons were outside his window waiting to rip off his spiritual gonads. All he had was the Jesus lady and her holy ring of the talisman. “Just stop, please just stop.”
And then he listened.
The voices had returned. He could hear them again, only more clearly this time, not just whispering, but talking, conversing. Frantic. Jason pried up the cushion, put his hand against the cold metal base. He felt the vibrations of something moving beneath him.
“We die!” the Hungarian shouted from the hallway. “They come for us. You see! We die! Now is our time!”
Jason heard multiple voices now, not underneath the train, but outside. He ran into the hallway where two other passengers were already ducking beneath the windows.
Outside in the darkness Jason saw six men in coats and hats marching single file along a stretch of weeds and bushes, hands behind their heads, fingers interlocked. Their boots scraped along the pebbles in the roadside. Behind them were three soldiers pointing machine guns at their backs. One of the soldiers cocked his weapon, his gloved finger curled around the trigger.
“Smuggle,” someone said. “They smuggle across the border. We are fine now. We go.”
Jason nodded. Smugglers. Right. The redhead Theo hooked up with in Venice had said as much.
The train proceeded without further incident, speeding along into early morning. And as they made their way through Romania and into Czech, Jason sat alone, in the dark. He kept the door locked. Dazed and delirious, he reached into his knapsack. He rocked back and forth, rubbing the silver cross between his thumb and forefinger.
The old woman had faith—or possibly just a big ole case of the crazies—but either way she believed in God, something big and mysterious and powerful, and put her trust in that. In lieu of his own god to believe in, Jason would take any faith he could get. He started to think that all along he might have been basing at least some of his values on a very big mistake.
What had always swatted his internal beehive was other people telling him that he had to—had to—follow the rules of this religion or that, or that God or Jesus was true and real and believing wasn’t a matter of choice, but of divine fact, and if he didn’t believe, then what was wrong with him?
Even though he was a 24-year-old college graduate, he could still feel the sting from his elementary school days—during the right-wing, greed-is-good, me-me-me Reaganomic nuclear terror of the 1980s—when his schoolmates and relatives would practically interrogate him about his religious convictions, or lack thereof. At nine years old, all he knew about being Jewish was that you got a few presents at Chanukah, you ate Matzoh at Passover and that his parents—who believed they were doing right by sparing him from what they considered to be the oppressive teachings of organized religion—didn’t make him go to Hebrew school. He could go if he wanted, which he didn’t.
The social chastising about his lack of religious involvement ate at his pride and confidence, as if they had been left to dissolve in a bucket of battery acid. The judgments and accusations back then stayed with him over the years, damaging him far more than he ever realized. He had never found a way to let go of the shame. Or the bitterness. But maybe there was another option.
Rather than rejecting all thoughts of God and religion as if they were one and the same, maybe he could believe in some idea of God—any god—without having to believe in any type of religion. Jason started to think that maybe they weren’t as clearly linked as most people said. Maybe … maybe … there was some sense of spiritual peace he could connect with, whether it made sense to anyone else or not. Jason was used to feeling alone with his thoughts, so maybe feeling alone—with some type of God at his side—would be a step in the right direction.
He wasn’t exactly converted, but for the first time he could remember, especially since his parents’ divorce, Jason decided that he would listen for the voice of God, and find out if the man in the sky actually had something to say.
“Talisman,” Jason said finally, reaching for that Great Spirit. “Talisman.”