Coming Full Circle

December 2009

           

      Shortly before Thanksgiving, Rose came into the living room and addressed the others. “Does anyone want to go to the Pearl Harbor Commemoration at the VFW Hall in Knoxville Saturday, December 5th? Our re-enacting group is having a dance.”

      “Dance?” Micah asked, perking up and looking more animated than he had in days. “Do tell.”

      Rose sat on the arm of the couch. “The VFW usually does a dinner and commemoration every year around Pearl Harbor Day and honors all the World War II veterans. This year, though, our re-enactment group is hosting a swing dance as part of it, and we’re going to have a proper band and be dressed up and everything. It’s going to be a dance like we used to have.”

      Micah grinned. “I haven’t been to a good dance in years. Decades,” he corrected.

      Anselm looked at Kalyn. “Want to go?”

      “I think it sounds like fun,” Kalyn agreed.

      Anselm suddenly smiled. “I’ll have to go back to the house and get my old uniform out of the attic.”

      “Think it still fits?” Micah teased.

      “It better.”

      “You were in the Army?” Kalyn asked, surprised.

      “Yes. Micah, Isaac and I were all officers. And Rose,” he said, gesturing to her, “was in the Women’s Auxiliary.”

      “During World War II?”

      “Yes.”

      “Here?”

      “Yes. That’s why we’re here, actually; Master Joshua asked for volunteers to go to America and help with the war effort, and Isaac signed us up—I think to keep me and Micah out of the trenches, more than anything.”

      “He did not want us going to Europe,” Micah agreed.

      “I think he was afraid for you,” Anselm said. “You’re not exactly known for your patience, you know.”

      Micah shrugged, as if it couldn’t be helped.

      “And the last thing an obviously Jewish boy like you needed to do was get captured by Nazis,” Anselm continued.

      “I would have relished it.”

      That is why Isaac didn’t want you to go.”

      “So, what happened after you came here?” Kalyn asked.

      “We were assigned to Oak Ridge,” Anselm replied.

      “You worked on the bomb?”

      “Not as such. Our main task was security at the entrance gates and around the facilities. But we had other purposes too. If there was an accident—a nuclear accident—it was our job to go in and get as many people out as quickly as possible. We would also patrol amongst the workers, looking for anyone who seemed nervous or secretive.”

      Abba caught someone doing a sweep like that,” Micah said. “He felt someone trying to hide something, and he called the guy into a room on some work-related pretense and made him spill his guts. Turns out the guy’s mother’s family was German, and they were in contact with the German government; he was supposed to find out anything he could about any government facility. He didn’t know what he was working on, but he was trying to poke around and find out.”

      “What happened to him?” Kalyn asked, intrigued.

      “I don’t know. The Army took him and that was the last we saw or heard about it. We’re not the only ones who can make people disappear.”

      There was something about the way he said it that made Kalyn shudder.

      Rose set up her sewing machine in the basement and effortlessly whipped out a dress for Kalyn. It was ruby silk, and the top hung in graceful folds to the waist, then flared into a full skirt. It even had a  matching hat with a long black feather elegantly cocked over it. Kalyn was excited when she put the dress on Saturday evening, and she hurried down to Rose and Marie’s room to let them fix her hair and do her makeup.

      When Rose was done with Kalyn’s makeup and her hair—with the hat pinned to her hair at a jaunty angle—Kalyn was amazed by her reflection; she looked like a 1940’s movie starlet.

      She smiled at her reflection, then twirled around once, admiring the full swing of the skirt; the silk rippled like water in the air. “I’ve always thought it would be fun to swing dance,” she said.

      “You will get your fill tonight,” Rose said confidently. “The other re-enactors are pretty competitive about it.”

      “Oh, I don’t know how to actually do it,” Kalyn said. “I just thought it would be neat to learn.”

      “If you really want to dance, dance with Micah,” Rose said. “He’s the best.”

      Kalyn looked at her in surprise. “Really?”

      “Micah is an excellent dancer. Even James admitted Micah was better than he was, and James loved to dance.”

      “He’ll just embarrass me if he’s that good.”

      “Nonsense,” Rose scoffed. “Micah can make anyone look good. You’ll see.”

      Micah was standing at the foot of the stairs when Kalyn came down, and he turned to look up at her. She stopped on the stairs, shocked; Micah was amazingly handsome in his dress uniform.

He looked her up and down, then wolf-whistled. Kalyn laughed. “Ain’t you a looker,” he said in an obvious drawl. “You got a fella?”

      “Yes,” she said stepping down next to him, “but Rose said I should dance with you at least once.”

      In an instant, he had one arm around her waist and her right hand was in his. He pulled her so tight against him, she could feel his cold, brass coat buttons through the thin silk of her dress.

      “Do I get to pick which dance?” he whispered, his lips quite close to hers.

      “I… um….” Kalyn forgot what she was going to say; she was completely disoriented.

      “Micah,” a threatening voice came from upstairs, “I’ve killed men for less.”

      Kalyn turned to look as Anselm came down the stairs, a good-natured grin on his face. He stopped, though, halfway down, and stared at Kalyn as she stared up at him. If Micah was handsome in his uniform, he had nothing on Anselm. Anselm literally took her breath away.

       “I forgive you,” Anselm told Micah—his eyes never leaving Kalyn’s as he slowly descended the remaining stairs. “Who could resist temptation like that?”

      Kalyn was unaware of Micah releasing her; she was just suddenly in Anselm’s arms, his hand at the back of her neck, pulling her closer.

      Micah cleared his throat rather loudly. “Come on, you two can make out after the dance,” he said, opening the front door. He looked so put out, Kalyn had to laugh. Anselm, though, looked at him curiously.

      They took Anselm’s SUV and Rose’s car to Knoxville. When they walked into the large hall, it was dimly lit except for one end, where a band was playing and a few people were dancing. Round tables—covered with white tablecloths and set with large bunches of flowers—were arranged on three sides of the dance floor. Red and white balloons were everywhere—on the walls, hanging from the ceiling, and forming a large arch behind the band.

      They walked slowly through the crowd. The occasional person called out to Rose and Jeremy and waved at them; Kalyn assumed they were the other re-enactors she had mentioned. There were nearly as many real vets as there were younger people. Kalyn noticed that a few men had on their old uniforms—a little baggy and a little long, but still as well-maintained as Anselm’s. Others were wearing their old jackets over their regular dress clothes, and the rest wore civilian suits, but had medals pinned to their lapels.

      Kalyn glanced around the room. She seemed to be the youngest person there by about half. She wondered what that said about her generation.

      Anselm stopped and looked behind him, but the others had disappeared into the crowd. “Would you like to dance?” he asked, looking at Kalyn. “Or would you rather eat first?”

      “Lieutenant Anselm Johnson,” a voice called out behind them.

      Kalyn and Anselm turned around; Anselm seemed startled that someone was calling out to him.

      An older man, stoop-shouldered, with a green envelope cap on his balding head, walked closer, leaning on his cane, and peered closely at Anselm from behind large glasses. A young woman, in her late-twenties or early thirties, stood beside him.

      “Yes, it is you,” the man said with a big smile.

      “I’m sorry,” Anselm said politely, “but I don’t think I know you.”

      “That’s because I got old,” he laughed. He patted himself on the chest. “Edgar Barnes. Everyone called me Ed. Or Eddie. Do you remember the name?”

      Anselm stared at him, his mouth agape; Kalyn had never seen him look so shocked. “Of course,” he said at last.

      Mr. Barnes smiled broadly, his teeth a little too white and well-placed to be real. He turned to the young woman beside him and gestured at Anselm with his cane. “This man is the reason why you’re alive today. This…” he turned back to look at Anselm, “this is the man that saved me all those years ago when that building collapsed on me. He’s the one I’ve told you about. The vampire,” he added in a loud whisper. Kalyn glanced around, but there was no one near enough to hear them.

      He gestured to the woman. “This is my granddaughter, Colleen. One of my granddaughters,” he added.

      Anselm held out his hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Colleen.”

      Colleen reached out and quickly shook his hand, but smiled at him sadly. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly, “my grandfather gets confused sometimes.”

      “I am not confused!” he said angrily. “And I’m not deaf, either. You don’t have to talk about me like I’m not here.”

He glared at Anselm. “Are you, or are you not, Lieutenant Anselm Johnson?”

      “I am. Or, rather I was; I retired from the service.”

      Mr. Barnes clapped him on the arm and turned to his granddaughter. “See?”

      Colleen looked rather helpless, as if she wasn’t sure what to do about her grandfather’s apparent mental slip.

      “Your grandfather is not confused,” Anselm assured her. “I am who he thinks I am.”

Colleen stared at him in amazement, but said nothing. Anselm looked around the room and then pointed to a table in the far corner; it was deserted.

      “Why don’t we have a seat, Ed? Catch up.”

      “That sounds good,” he said, as he let Anselm lead him over to the table. “Is it just you here, Lieutenant?” he asked.

      “Please, you can call me Anselm.” He pulled out a seat for the older man. “Micah and Rose are here too. Do you remember them?”

      “Micah… the little Jewish boy?” Ed asked, as he sat down.

      Anselm laughed. “Yes, that’s him.” Anselm pulled out a chair for Colleen, so she could sit next to her grandfather.

      “I remember it got around town that he knocked four other officers out by himself in a fist-fight.”

      Anselm pulled out a chair for Kalyn, too, then sat down between her and Mr. Barnes. “Actually, his father helped a little. But does it surprise you?”

      “Not knowing what I know now, no,” Ed laughed. “But I thought it was surprising at the time.”

      “They found it quite surprising as well.”

      Ed laughed harder. Then he glanced at Kalyn. “Who’s this then? I don’t remember her.”

      “No, you wouldn’t. She was most definitely not there,” Anselm said with a smile. “This is my… girlfriend, Kalyn.”

      She leaned across Anselm, offering her hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”    

      He grinned widely and shook her hand. “Oh, if I were only as young-looking as Anselm still is…” He laughed. “Not that I was ever as good-looking, even when I was young.”

Mr. Barnes looked at Anselm again. “I’m so glad I ran into you. I think about you sometimes, and I’ve always wondered what happened to you. Thought about you when each of my children was born. I had four sons and a daughter. My eldest boy, he got killed in Vietnam. I’ve still got my others, though. Got seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.”

      Anselm smiled at him. Kalyn was sitting close enough that, even in the dim light of the hall, she could see tears form in his eyes. “I’m… I’m glad I made a difference,” he said in a quiet voice.

Edgar’s eyes were equally teary. “Yeah,” he nodded. “Yeah, you did.”

      Kalyn felt as if they needed a few moments alone, and she stood up. “I’m going to get something to drink,” she said quietly to Anselm. He nodded.

      Kalyn walked across the hall towards the reception table. She was surprised when someone took her by the elbow and stopped her. She turned to see Colleen.

      “Did my uncle hire y’all?” Colleen asked.

      Kalyn blinked at her in confusion. “Hire us?”

      “Yeah, you’re actors, aren’t you? Did he hire you to play along with my grandfather?”

      Kalyn shook her head. “We’re not actors.”

      Colleen looked at her skeptically. “You can let me in on it. I won’t tell him and spoil his fun.”

      Kalyn stared at her. “I don’t know what I can say to make you believe me. Your grandfather is not senile; he really met Anselm all those years ago. I’ve known Anselm all my life, and my mother knew him all her life, and my grandmother met him when her family moved here in the ‘50’s. He is who—and what—he says he is.”

      Colleen stared at her, speechless.

      When Kalyn returned to the table a few minutes later with a drink, Mr. Barnes was talking to Anselm. “I met Mattie Lou—my wife—when she was fifteen and I was eighteen. I got drafted a year later and we just knew I was going to get sent overseas. So we ran up to Knoxville here—we lived in Sweetwater at the time—and we lied to the court clerk and said Mattie was eighteen. I reckon the old boy there at the courthouse knew she wasn’t, but he wasn’t too particular. Everybody was running out and getting married back then. People wanted to get married before they got shipped out. And see, if something had happened to me, she would have gotten benefits. A girl didn’t get nothing if she was just a fiancée.

      “Damnedest thing, though,” he said, “a couple of weeks after we got married, they said they were going to put me on an assignment right there in Oak Ridge as an MP. Never saw a day of combat.”

      “And yet you nearly died,” Anselm said.

      He nodded. “Yeah. Even after you got me out, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. I had a collapsed lung and I forget how many broken ribs. There were times I was laying in bed at the hospital and was mighty glad Mattie would have those benefits if I died.”

      Kalyn winced at the memory of her own broken ribs. “What happened exactly?” she asked.

      “Some sort of gas leak in a lab on site cause an explosion and collapsed part of a building,” Anselm said. “We were nearby when it happened. Rose dug three people out alive, and I got Ed out, and Micah got another man, but seven people ended up dying—including James, Rose’s husband.”

      “I woke up when I heard someone shifting rubble,” Ed said. “I had this beam, I guess it was, across my chest and I could barely draw breath. I was just sort of gasping, like a fish. Then something moved and there was light in my face. And the Lieutenant here waded into the mess and lifted that beam up off me and pushed it aside like it wasn’t anything.

      “Now I had that thing laying on me—I knew how heavy it was—and I knew no one person could move it by himself. I didn’t much care about it at the time—I was just grateful I could breathe a little bit more—but I got to thinking about it later, when I was in the hospital. When my commander came in to see him, I asked him about it.”

      Ed looked at Anselm. “He told me what you were, off the record.”

      Suddenly he looked around the room. “Where’s my granddaughter?”

      “She stopped me to… talk,” Kalyn said. “I haven’t seen her since.”

      “She doesn’t believe me, you know,” he said in a disappointed voice. “Mattie believed me, though. I didn’t tell her who got me out until after the war was over and stuff like that really wasn’t secret anymore. She said she could believe it, though—the government having vampires, I mean. She said if they could kill that many people with one bomb, they could make vampires.”

      Anselm chuckled. “The government didn’t make us.”

      “Didn’t they? I thought that’s why you all were there.”

      “No, we were just trying to serve.”

      “So, where did ya’ll come from? If you don’t mind me asking.”

      “I was born in England. Rose is from here, and Isaac and Micah are from Israel—Jerusalem specifically.”

      Edgar chuckled. “No, that’s not what I meant. Where do vampires come from?”

      Anselm shrugged. “We come from wherever people come from: from God, from evolution, from direct descent from Cain… take your pick.”

      “Dad,” a voice said sternly behind them. They all turned to see an older man—probably sixty—standing behind them. Colleen was beside him.

      “Hey, Jake!” Edgar said happily. “I want you to meet some people.”

      “Yes, Colleen’s already told me,” he said in a clipped voice. “Why don’t we get you home, Dad?”

      “Naw…. I’m having a good time. I never got a chance to thank Anselm for saving me all those years ago. He’s the reason why you’re here, son. I’d have died before anyone else could have gotten me out.”  

      Jake frowned at Anselm and Kalyn. “I wish you wouldn’t encourage my father this way. It just agitates him and makes it worse.”

      “Your father is perfectly sound of mind,” Anselm said, looking up at him coolly.

      “Pfff,” Jake blew through his mouth, rolling his eyes. “Yeah, my dad was rescued from a collapsed building by vampires.”

      “Your mother believed me,” Ed said defensively.

      “Mom believed in UFOs, Dad.”

      “And who says they don’t exist?” Ed shook a finger at him. “I’ve seen a lot more than you have, young man. There’s a lot of stuff we don’t know. I’m living proof of that.”

      Jake put his hand on his father’s shoulder. “Come on, Dad, let’s go.”

      Anselm stood up. “Why don’t you and I talk about this outside?”

      “What’s to talk about? You’re confusing my father on purpose. Are you doing it for a laugh?”

      “Do I look amused?” Anselm said coldly. “I’ll tell you why I’m doing it, if you’ll step outside with me for a few minutes.”

      Jake frowned, but turned and walked out with Anselm. Colleen trotted in their wake.

      “I hope he straightens them out,” Ed said grumpily. “I’m tired of my own flesh and blood not believing me.”

They waited in silence for several minutes before Anselm and Jake and Colleen walked back in. Jake and Colleen were as white as sheets. Anselm sat down again without saying a word.

Jake patted his father on the shoulder. “You… you want to stay, Dad?”

      “Yes, I do,” he said firmly.

      “Well… um… do you want to call me to come get you when you’re ready to leave? You be okay here by yourself?”

      “I’m not by myself.”

      “Um… well… no, I guess not.”

      “I’ll take your father home whenever he would like to leave,” Anselm said.

      “O-okay,” Jake said. “See you later, Dad.”

      Jake and Colleen left so fast Kalyn was surprised they didn’t break into a run.

      Ed watched them over his shoulder, then laughed. “I see you put the fear of God into them.”

      “I just took them out to the parking lot and lifted my car up by the front bumper until the wheels came off the ground. They may or may not believe I’m a vampire, but they certainly believe I’m something other than human.”

      Kalyn and Ed laughed.

      Anselm looked at Ed. “Do you mind if I take my girl out to dance?”

      Edgar slapped him jovially on the shoulder. “You better, or she’ll take up with some other fella.”

      Anselm helped Kalyn out of her chair, then took her to the dance floor. The song changed as they arrived and became slow. He smiled as he wrapped his right arm around her and held her hand in his. He pulled her close, so their bodies were touching.

      “Are you having a good time?” she asked him quietly.

      “Yes, I am,” he smiled softly. “Although I didn’t think I would run into anyone I knew.”

      “That’s a pretty wild coincidence, isn’t it?”

      “Coincidence or fate?” He was thoughtful for a moment. “You know, it used to bother me that we were stateside during the War. I understood why Isaac didn’t want Micah going to Europe, and I couldn’t have gone and left him behind, but at the same time it… chafed.

      “The War was won without me on the front, but Edgar Barnes is only alive today because I was here, not there. And, as he pointed out, all of his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren are alive because of me.”

      He smiled a little. “There’s a Jewish saying—from the Talmud, I think—that says if you save one life, it’s as if you have saved an entire world. For him and his family, I did save their world.”

      “Speaking of Jews, mind if I cut in?” a familiar voice spoke beside them.

      Anselm glanced at Micah. “What, you again?”

      “I was promised a dance. I want to make sure I get it before you two end up necking in the parking lot all night.”

      Anselm sighed in a martyred sort of way and passed Kalyn’s hand to Micah. “Fine, I’ll go take Rose from Jeremy.”

      Micah grinned as he stepped in to take Anselm’s place. “We’re about to be swinging in more ways than one.”

      Kalyn laughed, her face turning red. Suddenly the music changed, a drum solo steadily building a beat. There was a swell of whoops as additional people rushed to the floor. Anselm winked at Kalyn, then disappeared into the crowd.

      “Okay, doll,” Micah said, getting her attention, “let’s get to it.” He grinned mischievously at her.

      “I have no idea how to swing dance,” Kalyn hurriedly whispered, as he pulled her close.

      He looked at her. “Just relax.”

      “How can I relax when I’m about to make a fool of myself in front of a room full of people?”

      He laughed. “You’re not. Just relax and trust me.” The next instant, he took her skipping around the dance floor with ease. Rose had been right; Micah could make anyone look good. Kalyn had no problem following his lead.

      And then he spun her around, and the next thing she knew, Anselm was holding her. He grinned at her and took over where Micah left off. She glanced around, but Micah was nowhere to be seen. As the night progressed, they did that several more times; one minute Kalyn would be dancing with one of them, then she would be with the other one. Anselm was a good dancer, but Rose had been right; Micah was great. He wasn’t the least bit afraid of tossing Kalyn in the air or flipping her.

      The lights came up in the hall at midnight. About half the crowd had already left, but Kalyn was surprised at the number of veterans who were still there; they seemed the most reluctant to leave.

      They took Mr. Barnes home, and Anselm helped him into his house. When he got back in the car, Micah looked at him critically. “He doesn’t live there by himself, does he?”

      “No, his granddaughter lives with him.” Anselm chuckled. “I’d like to be a fly on the wall when they talk about tonight.”

      A few days before Christmas, Anselm got a phone call.

“Hello. May I speak to Mr. Johnson?”

      “Yes?” Anselm said cautiously, immediately suspicious that it was a telemarketer; no one he liked ever referred to him by his last name.

      “This is Jake Barnes—Ed Barnes’s son.”

      “Oh, yes,” Anselm said, relaxing. “What can I do for you?”

      “I thought you might like to know that Dad passed away last night.”

      Anselm was quiet for a moment. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

      “He fell at home—about a week and a half ago, I guess it was—and broke his leg. He had to go into the hospital, and he set up pneumonia about as quick as they put him in there. I told them that would happen, because he only had the one good lung… and… I don’t know if there was anything they could have done better to prevent it or not, but he died from it last night.”

      “I’m very sorry for your family. He was a fine man.”

      “I’m… I’m sorry I didn’t believe him for all those years.”

      “Well, I honestly can’t blame you. I mean, it does sound like a pretty tall tale if you are absolutely certain that vampires are impossible.”

      “He talked about you all the time after he saw you. He kept saying God sent you to rescue him.”

      “I’d like to think that, Mr. Barnes. God can’t hate me too much if He uses me for good.”

      “Well, um… I thought I would just call you and let you know. Dad didn’t want a lot of money spent on him when he died, so we’re just having a simple funeral graveside tomorrow at three. At the First Baptist Church on Broad Street.”

      “I know where Broad Street is; I’m sure I can find the church. I would be honored to come.”

      Anselm arrived a few minutes before three at the church the next day. There were close to thirty people standing under and around a dark green pop-up tent sheltering an open grave. A casket, draped with a flag, was positioned over the grave.

      Jake walked over to Anselm and offered him his hand. “Thank you for coming. I know it would have made Dad proud.”

      “I’m honored to be here for him.”

      The funeral was simple and fairly short. Anselm was pleased to hear that Ed had gotten a job after the war in a furniture store and had worked up to owning several in Knoxville, Oak Ridge, and Lenoir City. He had put all five of his children through college, and had never remarried after his wife died, even though he was only in his early forties at the time. He had been active in his church, the Shriners, and at the VFW hall.

      When the flag on the casket was folded, it was handed to Jake. Jake walked over to Anselm—who was standing at the back, behind the rest of the family—and offered it to him.

      Anselm looked at him in astonishment, then held up his hands. “I can’t take that.”

      “Dad would have wanted you to have it.”

      “That… is for family.”

      Jake looked at everyone who was standing around them, then he looked at Anselm. “None of us would even be here now if it hadn’t been for you; we would have never been born, never married, never had children.”

      He pressed the flag on Anselm.

      Tears slowly slid down Anselm’s face as he reached out and took it. He swallowed. “Thank you,” he said quietly.

      “Thank you,” Jake replied.

 

Novels

Acceptance Trilogy

The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee

The Flames of Prague

Short Stories and Novellas

About Me

My Blog

Home

© 2012 by Keri Peardon. All rights reserved.

 

Web design by Keri Peardon.

 

Background for the website and the header is from Lilium medicinae by Bernardus de Gordonio, translated into Hebrew by Moses ben Shmaya de Castro in Escalona, Spain, January 11, 1466. The original manuscript is housed at the Bridwell Library at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. The female figure in the header is from the Manesse Codex, which is housed at the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg in Heidelberg, Germany.