(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Johann was written by Daryl.)
It had been well over a decade since he had last had to really converse with anyone new. Well that wasn’t entirely true, was it? As Johann or as Ansgar he hadn’t had to converse with people who weren’t family, or who weren’t now dead. Now though, as he waited for his son, newly come into adulthood, to put the clues together and track him down, he had received word of another wishing to meet with him. The real him, a man who had led the world to believe was dead. That this Muse, this wanderer, had learned he was alive and located him was not a fact he was particularly pleased with but it was what it was. After all, once Jonas found him, it was all but guaranteed the rest of the world would learn he was alive as well. It was an inevitability really of the modern twenty-first century world. The moment anything once hidden was found it only took a quick picture by somebody with a cell phone and the world almost instantly knew about it.
Pacing along the recently fallen leaves, the crunching sound they made beneath his boots barely audible unless you were like him, possessed with a heightened degree of hearing amongst other senses. He had picked this particular spot for a reason, the very edge of a small wooded, precisely because it allowed him to know what was happening around him from a short distance. His leather jacket neatly folded and resting on a low tree branch not far off, the well worn plaid dress shirt it had previously covered up doing little to hide his large muscular frame. Dark eyes looked out over the quickly running creek beside him, scanning for any sign of either the Muse or other passersby. The latter was less likely he knew, after all he had chosen this particular spot precisely because it was far from where people tended to be. Crisp autumn air doing it’s very best to loosen the last of the leaves in the sparse trees, they certainly made up for how apart they were by the sheer volume of leaves they dropped this time of year. He found as he waited his hand absently running up to his head to check that the black do-rag still fully covered the top of it.
Kelly approached him—not bothering to silence her steps. She didn’t want to startle him. He heard her and locked eyes with her, and Kelly smiled as she greeted him with a nod. “Hello. You must be Johann.” She extended her hand to shake his. “Thank you for meeting me. I trust you are well?”
Johann nodded gruffly. He had heard her approach rather easily and so had been ready when she came into view. “Indeed, I am. And you would be the Muse I’ve heard whispered about on the wind.” Pausing in his words only long enough to accept her handshake. “No thanks are necessary. I had little say in the matter truthfully”
Wasn’t that the truth, but still Kelly preferred to be gracious to those she interviewed. “Of course. So, shall we merely stand around and talk, or may we take a walk?” She gestured to their surroundings but then looked back at him with raised brows.
“If I had intended to stay in one spot I would have had you meet me in whatever bar was closest to me. Be sure to watch your step, Muse. I find even in today’s world with everybody always stepping everywhere that the ground, when in any woods especially off the beaten path, can hold unseen dangers.” he said with a hint of a smile to her before he moved to collect his jacket from the nearby tree and toss it over his shoulder. “This creek is not as confined as it may appear so also best to not step to close to it lest your shoes get ruined. As for walking itself your choice as right or left”
“Let’s go left.” Kelly motioned to it and then fell into step with him as she glimpsed around their surroundings. She took note of his warnings, but she wasn’t overly concerned. “So, tell me about yourself. Why is it that you’ve convinced the world that you were dead?” She glimpsed at him as they walked.
“Straight to the point I see. Same as meeting with you, I had no choice in the matter really. Tell me, Muse, what would you do? What steps would you take to protect your family if they were in danger?” Johann asked quietly as he walked positioning himself so that he was the one closest to the creek. Listening intently to the chatter of nearby birds as he waited for her answer.
“What I would do is of no consequence, but rather what you have done. What drove you to that extreme? I know nothing of this world—or at least this version of it,” Kelly motioned to their surroundings, “So what endangered your family? What are you hiding from?”
“I think what you would do is very much of consequence. To understand fully. No matter though. The world can be full of things one doesn’t know about. I’d have said the same as what you did just now once. The world was changed on me and it took some time to get to understand this version. the world though had not truly changed, i had just become painfully aware of a part of it I hadn’t known before,” he said before gesturing to the creek.
“Once this creek was much more than a mere creek, but time has all but buried and diverted it until we have it’s present state. Does knowing that make you hate that it has been diminished? Bad things happen sometimes and an individual is irrationally blamed. Overtime everybody forgets the truth, it’s lost but the hate for who was blamed remains. That is why I did what I did.”
Kelly finally stopped walking thus forcing him to stop, and she crossed her arms. “Stop speaking in riddles. Did someone or something attack your family or threaten them? Did you discover some sort of power that would threaten them, so you made yourself vanish? Why did you leave them and vanished from existence until now?” She fixed her eyes with him, determined not to move forward until she received a more concrete answer.
“Riddles? you see riddles where I see answers, Muse. You want to know in plain terms? So that you may paint me as a monster, or murderer? I seek to have you understand before you label. Far too many people label others without understanding. We were always looked down on. We were the outsiders, not to be trusted, and before they could learn to accept us as being just like they were, a great war broke out over in Europe. My brother, bless his noble and brave heart, may he rest in peace, and I, we served this country proudly. The people, though, when I returned home alone to my sister and parents? They still saw us as outsiders. I was born here in this country, Muse, but to the people in town? My family were Germans. Trust and acceptance never came. My brother fought and died for them, my parents died soon after I came home. It was jus me and my sister after that but even the love of the son of the most respected family in town could not make the people see us as being like them,” Johann said his voice growing slightly in volume as he had spoken. “Nothing ever changed, all they could do was decide to find more concrete reasons to hate us. I did what I did to protect my family. I always have and I always will. Does that satisfy you Muse?”
“Please, call me Kelly—otherwise I’ll simply have to call you ‘Human’.” Kelly gave him a smile. “Now though,” she began to pace. “You seek for me to understand without judging you, yet you’ve already judged me as the judging type.” She gave him a look before stopping in front of him and crossing her arms. “I am not here to judge what you have done, what you are going to do, or who you are or who you were. I may challenge you but only so you will face the truth you may deny even to yourself, but I won’t judge you. As I said, I am of little consequence here because I am not from here, and I will not remain here, and you will never see or hear from me again, and I will say nothing of our conversation this day. With that, you have my word, so all I ask for is you to be honest—with yourself.”
“Now then, let’s go back to before you had to hide and such. You mentioned your brother. Was he your older or younger brother? Did you have any other siblings?”
“”If I didn’t love some of them, I’d find you calling me Human an insult,” Johann answered coming just shy of growling the words at her. “Kelly, it is then. As for judgement. My apologies…I am…anxious and after a century of being judged and hated no matter what decision I make..it becomes almost automatic to judge others in return. I am always honest with myself. Just so we are clear…Kelly…older brother Erich, he was killed in the war, the Great one, not the second one. I had a younger sister…Karla…looked after her after our parents died until she was married.”
Good. She had meant the ‘human’ part as an insult because calling her ‘muse’ like he was sounded demeaning, and she didn’t like that, but she didn’t blink at his growl. Instead, she motioned that they could continue walking now. “I’m sorry to hear about your brother. If he had lived, would it have changed anything? Would you still have gone into hiding?”
“If he had lived? If he had lived, I would have an older brother, our parents may not have died when they did and even if they had Erich would have been the one to look after Karla, and so he, if anything, would have been there the day that…monster…the…hmm lets call it a werewolf…attacked her and I and Thomas. It may have been so very different, Kelly. Erich was the smart one, the strong one. Things would have been very different I suppose but then…I’d likely have been long dead by now and we would not be having this conversation about what ifs” Johann said almost muttering, the line of questioning bothering him slightly. “Before you ask me to expand about the werewolf, let me save you the trouble, I was bitten by it to the point I became the same as it was a fact I learned later after I killed it. I’m not the same as it was…I’m not a monster.”
Kelly shrugged. ”Monster or not, it matters little to me. You should see all the other people I’ve interviewed, and trust me, some of them take great pride in their terrible deeds. However…” she regarded him, “your insistence that you are not a monster indicates to me that you have some conscience even if you have done horrible deeds, so I would say there is hope for you yet.” She gave him a warm smile. “But it is neither here nor there. Now though, you had a family and a son. How old was he when you left?” She snuck him a glance as they walked.
“If only you could stay to convince others of that perhaps even my son Jonas. He’s a smart one, caring, brave. He might be a tad angry at me though, what with the fact I left when he was four years old. I had to though. If I had stayed much longer he would have known about scents and I’d never have been able to hide. I needed to have the world believe I was dead you see, so I could find some folks I knew that were like me they hated that I had left them to get married and settle down. If they believed I was dead, that freed me up to hunt them down and remove the threat they posed.”
“I asked you earlier what you would do to protect your family, Kelly. I committed murder to protect mine. I freely admit that, I know there was no other way.” he answered looking straight ahead on the path they were taking, so as to avoid eye contact with her.
She knew Johann absolutely believed there had been no other way, and perhaps he was right, but it was now the past. She set her gaze on their path through a shadowy part of the woods. “Did you kill them all? Or are there still those who would pose a threat?”
“To my knowledge? Other than some people in my hometown who grew up blaming my family for everything that went wrong because it’s what they had been raised to believe? No I made sure all those who would threaten my family were killed. If there were still any around I would have asked my wife not to give Jonas the letter on his birthday that has sent him looking for me.”
“And has he found you?”
“No, not yet. Not sure what the delay is, but I’ll know when he’s en route. He’s a good kid, Kelly. He keeps his mother posted as to how he’s faring. Heh, a thought occurs to me now that you bring up the subject though. When he figures it out, where to find me? If he’s angry at me still. he likely won’t tell his mother he’s heading towards me. He’s smart as I said he’ll realize telling her will mean know as well”
Kelly stopped at a tree and leaned against it as she regarded Johann. “Have you kept watch over him during all these years?”
“Of course. Bless her heart, Kelly, she is a hard worker and all but even with him working while in school and her working two jobs, there’s no way they’d have managed on bills.” he said shaking his head slightly. “I made sure she had as much money as I could leave her when I went into hiding and faked my death. Soon as I was done killing I slipped back into their life without Jonas knowing. Close enough that I could keep an eye on things, lend support financially in secret to his mother, and should he transform before he had I met and I could explain it all to him…well I was close enough by that I could intervene.”
This brought up another question as Kelly observed him standing before her, and she furrowed her brows. “And just how did you—the supposedly dead, werewolf-something kind of person—get those finances anyway?”
“How does anyone? I was in hiding but I still needed to eat and occasionally sleep on an actual mattress. Kelly, when you look like I do and according to records you’e over a century in age well you find ways to create falsified identification.” he said as if it was obvious as he slowed to a stop and gestured for her to sit if she wished indicating the raised roots of a nearby tree if she didn’t want to use the ground itself like he was. “Once you have that it gets quite a bit easier to find work. You just look for one where they won’t dig too deeply into your background in order to hire you”
Kelly nodded. This made sense, and she took a seat on the raised roots as Johann had indicated to. She leaned forward, hands clasped together. “So, you’ve obviously had many dark moments in your life, but what is your happiest memory?” She watched his face as she smiled a little.
Sitting on the ground, he made sure to choose a spot far enough from the creek that the ground would be solid and dry. Positioning himself to face her as he sat there with his knees up and his hands resting on them as he smiled back. His smile slowly but surely growing into a broad grin. “My happiest? I’ll give you three. The day Kurt was born…that’s Karla and Thomas’ boy. He was the best of us all in the family, the people in town actually liked him. The day Jonas was born is another. There’s a pride and a feeling of joy that overwhelms you when you first look into the yes of a baby and you know you helped bring the into this world, and finally the first time I ever laid eyes on the woman who became my wife. The world stopped moving, Kelly. As though there was nothing there but just her and I in that moment”
A fond smile touched Kelly’s lips as she heard the happiness in his voice, and she tilted her head to a side. “Well then, hold onto those memories, and never let anyone strip you of them. You face hardships with your son coming to see you. He mad be angry, but don’t judge him as you had judged me. Give him a chance. He might hurt you, but you, as a father, must always be ready to forgive.” Kelly rose to her feet. “Unfortunately, our time has come to an end, but I appreciate our time together. I hope you the best regarding your son.” She gave him a smile then turned to leave.
“Ha. I said he was smart, didn’t say he was strong. I fully expect he’ll hit me, maybe even curse at me, maybe tell me to stay out of his life for real this time. I accept that and I’ll hit him back, throw an arm around him to keep him from leaving and I’ll keep him that way until he listens to my side of things and then given how long he taking to find me maybe buy him a beet. He might just be old enough legally by then.” he said rising to his feet in turn as he spoke. “It isn’t much, but you’re a tough one, Kelly…” Johann grinned before he handed her his jacket still folded from earlier. “Something for you to hang onto, I don’t expect you to wear it but from one tough nut to another consider it a symbol of my respect…Muse”
This time Kelly smiled at him as she accepted the jacket. “Thank you.” She was tempted to say ‘human’ or ‘werewolf’ just to spite him, but decided to remain respectful. “Stay calm, refrain from judgment, don’t be vague, and be honest and patient, and things may work out for you and him…” then she shrugged. “Or they may not. I can’t predict the future, but I do hope you the best. Thank you for this though.” She motioned to the jacket, and then she gestured with her hand, and a portal tore the fabric of the reality, and Kelly gave him one last smile before stepped through the portal which closed behind her.
Johann watched her depart and almost chuckled at the way she so effortlessly opened a portal out of thin air and disappeared into it departing the woods they had been at the edge of without a trace. She really had known what he meant about the world having secrets that only became known when you were forced to see them. She had understood and not let on. ‘Good on you, Muse,’ he thought as he turned to leave to head back to civilization. ‘Good on you, Kelly.’
Daryl J. Ball began posting his story ‘Happy Birthday Jonas’ on Wattpad, and you can find it here: https://www.wattpad.com/user/DarylJBall
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