“Alice, what are we doing here? This is crazy….”
“You’re going to like it, Jasper. Stop whining.”
“Enough. Put this on.”
With that, she shoved a bundle of clothing into my arms and forcefully propelled me towards the bathrooms. With a sigh, I did as I was told. Sometimes, there was no point in arguing with Alice.
When I emerged, the heel plates of my leather brogans clicking on the modern cement, I finally let myself survey the sea of tents that stretched as far as the human eye could see.
“Oh, Jasper! You look wonderful!” Alice cried, clapping her hands together.
I was amazed how right the outfit she had forced me into felt. I guess that the boy can be taken out of the time, but the time can’t be taken out of the boy. Even after 145 years, I was still a Southern boy at heart.
I cleared my throat, straightening the wool jacket I wore. “Thank you, Ma’am,” I drawled, touching the brim of my hat as I bowed to her. I couldn’t help myself. Even though I thought this whole situation was ridiculous….
I mean, honestly. The idea that there were humans who dressed up in period costume and reenacted the battles and lifestyles of the Civil War was preposterous.
And yet, thanks to Alice, here I was, prepared to join them, dressed as I would have been in my days as a soldier. My pants, jacket and vest were made of grey wool; my leather hat was a floppy, wide brimmed affair with a small feather tucked in the band. I also wore a red cotton shirt. Everything, from the skin out, was exactly as it had been in those same early days.
“Let’s get this over with,” I sighed, gathering up my rifle and blanket roll. My cap and cartridge box, the bayonet, a cup, and my canteen were already clipped to the belt I wore, a brilliant brass buckle emblazoned with the letters “CSA” holding it shut.
At least she hadn’t made me dress up as a Yankee…
I didn’t understand the anticipation I felt coming off of her in waves. It was mixed with excitement and… smugness? She was definitely very eager about something, but what? What did she think bringing me here was going to accomplish?
“Alice? What did you see?” I demanded. I knew she had seen something, had something planned, but I was at a loss to figure out what it was.
“You’ll see. Now go! I’ve got to get dressed myself.” She put her hand in the middle of my back and forcefully propelled me in the right direction.
“You’ll be fine, Jasper. Why do you think I insisted you hunt again yesterday? You aren’t going to slip.” She was glaring at me, determination in her eyes and the air around her.
I still didn’t move.
“Jasper, please. Trust me. This is something you have to do. You’ll understand, I promise. Everything is going to be fine. Please,” she begged.
I knew better than to argue with that tone. “Who did you say I was looking for?” I asked her with a deep sigh, resigned to follow along with whatever crazy scheme she’d cooked up this time. I never win when I argue with her, anyway. Even when I win the argument, I lose.
“His name is Captain Farquhar, and he’ll be with the Fifth Texas Company East,” she said, a glint in her eye. The anticipation spiked wildly, and her happiness grew. I walked off in the direction she had pointed me, shaking my head, my thoughts focused on the mystery she had presented to me. What had she seen? Why were we here? I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to know or not.
The sea of humanity seemed endless, and searching for one man in the chaos felt like a useless effort. I figured that it would be simpler to find him if I could find the military camps. It made sense. Captain of a military unit, military camp. They really ought to be together. Finding them would be easier said than done, however. There were several hundred people here, and my senses were nearly overwhelmed by the crush; though, thankfully, the monster within me stayed quiescent.
“You look lost. Can I point you in the right direction?”
Another reenactor had come up on me while I was lost in my own thoughts. He was of average height, dressed in the Confederate ‘uniform’—grey wool jacket, shirt of indeterminate color, and a pair of pants that were just faded enough to not be ‘Yankee blue’, and he carried a rifle and cartridge box slung casually over his shoulder. The Confederate army had no real uniform. Rather, they wore whatever they could find. It led to an interesting assortment of colors and styles in the line. The only constant was the grey coat.
“I am, a bit.” I replied. “Never been here before, and I’m not sure where the military camps are.”
“What unit you looking for?”
“Well, follow me. Always nice to meet a fellow Texan,” he said, laughing boisterously. “Name’s Jimmy MacGregor, corporal. Captain will be happy to see some fresh blood.” His good humor showed in every line of his countenance as he led me away from the civilian camps.
What were the chances that I’d run into a man from the very unit I was looking for? Ah, yes. Very good, considering my psychic wife had pushed me in this direction.
“Jasper Whitlock,” I replied, surprising myself when I claimed my own name. It felt—right—to do so here, like I was reclaiming a bit of my lost humanity just by being here. It was utterly ridiculous to feel that way. I could never regain my humanity, and being around a bunch of humans who held glorified illusions about my time was courting disaster more than anything else. I still couldn’t understand why Alice had insisted we come here. Even so, I tipped my hat slightly as I spoke. He was serious about his hobby, and some sort of formal response would be expected of me. I didn’t want to add to any suspicions they may have had about me by not playing along. Humans were always leery of my kind, even if they didn’t know that they were afraid of us. They watch us more closely, and wonder when the things they see don’t fit the pattern they think they should.
Like it or not, I was here, and I had to play along. I wasn’t about to risk shaking his hand. It would have tested my fragile self-control far more than I liked, not to mention that he would have noticed the icy hardness of my hand. He was a clown, not stupid. Despite all of my doubts, I was astounded to find myself smiling. I found myself liking him already. And that was strange, especially considering my personal feelings towards being here
“You ever done this before?” Jimmy asked me curiously.
“Reenacting. You know what you’re doing?”
“I was part of a unit a few years ago, when I still lived in Texas.” I admitted. No reason to tell him that it wasn’t as a reenactor.
“Good. Means we aren’t going to have to teach you to shoot that fancy rifle of yours,” Corporal MacGregor laughed. “Nice change from the boys who usually join up. Most of them don’t know how to shoot a modern handgun, let alone a black powder rifle.”
That wasn’t a problem I’d ever run into, back in my days as a soldier. Most of my boys had had to hunt to survive. They were, by necessity, very good with their rifles. It was their marching that had left something to be desired. Southerners, then and now, have a well-earned reputation for being fiercely independent. It was difficult to get them to function as a single, united front.
It was a desire to keep that independence, not a wish to spread slavery, which had led to the War. The main conflict centered on whether the state or national governments should reign supreme when it came to running the country. Prior to the war, a person would have said ‘the United States are’ rather than the more modern ‘the United States is’, because each state considered itself an independent, sovereign nation loosely united with the other states in matters of trade and defense. Slavery was an incidental issue, introduced in order to polarize the conflict. It worked.
Suddenly, the man next to me called out, “Captain! Found us a new recruit!” The sudden exclamation startled me, lost as I had been in my reverie. I looked up to see a small group of men in motley grey lounging around a fire. An older man in a captain’s uniform started toward us.
“Picking up strays again, corporal?”
“Yes, sir! But you’re gonna like this one. He can shoot.”
“Name?” the captain asked, turning his steel blue eyes on me.
He was a small man, hardly over five feet tall, but he had the piercing stare of a true commander. This was not a real military command, but his men respected him as though it were. He genuinely cared for them, and they worked as hard for him as any of my men had ever worked for me. The sense of brotherhood I felt was nearly overwhelming. It, also, was a familiar feeling. I began to rethink my initial opinions the moment the Captain’s eyes met my own. These people were not trying to borrow the glory of a bygone era. They truly loved the time, and wanted to share their passion with others. They wanted to bring the times back to life, teaching the spectators even as they enjoyed one another’s company.
“Jasper Whitlock, sir.”
“Captain Otis Preston Farquhar. Everybody calls me Opie, though. Welcome to the Fifth.”
“Thank you, sir,” I replied, saluting him properly.
A few hours later, I sat in the camp, still marveling over the authenticity these men strove to present. They truly loved what they did, and fought to teach others about their passion. When they were in costume, they strove to live the parts they played. It was utterly mind-boggling. And through it all was laced the same camaraderie that I had felt countless times as a member of my own unit, so long ago. They were brothers. And they welcomed me as easily as they did the men that they’d fought beside for years. That was stranger to me than anything else I’d seen today. Humans accepting a vampire. I was shocked to realize I was enjoying myself.
Like their historic counterparts, the day was not spent in inactivity. Even in the camps they held to the old adage that ‘idle hands do the Devil’s work’. Even as they lounged, joking with each other, men worked. Some cleaned their rifles, some whittled, some measured out the black powder charges they would need for the battle held the next day, and still others tended the fires and cooked for their fellow soldiers. Everywhere I turned, men were busy with the tasks that I had seen a thousand times in my own camp.
I spent a major portion of the afternoon with Jimmy, being introduced to the rest of the boys and learning their stories. Each man had a story to tell, about who he was, where he was from, and how he ended up a member of the Fifth. I heard many stories that afternoon, but I generally enjoyed those about how each man had earned his nickname more than the rest, because those were the stories that the men themselves delighted in telling. There was Red, named for his hair, and George “Floppy Hat” Hatfield, named because no one could tell him and his brother apart when they weren’t wearing their hats. Robert Hatfield, his twin, wore a kepi, as compared to George’s slouch hat
And then there was Spider. Apparently, the 6’2”, 250 pound man was afraid of spiders. During a campaign the previous year, he and Corporal Hastens had been assigned to sniper duty behind the tree line, and a spider had dropped onto the back of Spider’s neck. He started screaming, dancing around while trying to get the spider off. The next thing they knew, they were surrounded by Yankees, and taken prisoner. Each man’s story was known as a “First Person Impression” and these were the stories that were told to the spectators in order to show what life was like. They were all well-researched, carefully thought out, and the men stuck to them for the duration of the reenactment. It was fascinating. I was truly surprised at how much I enjoyed myself, even without Alice at my side, and how pleasant I found the company of these humans.
That night, there was a company dinner hosted by the Civilians—each of the women had brought a contribution to “Stone Soup”, and they were going to feed all of the soldiers for the night. There was a general feeling of eager anticipation and excitement among the men. It was uncommon for the soldiers, many of whom had wives and children, to have a reason to spend much time in the civilian camps, let alone permission. This was an opportunity for them to spend time with those they loved, as well as their friends among the civilian men. I could completely understand their anticipation. I cannot remember the last time I spent so much time away from Alice—I wanted to see her so badly that it hurt. I didn’t know whether their anticipation was feeding mine, or if my own excitement was increasing that of the soldiers gathered around me. In the end, it didn’t really matter.
The captain marched us in proper formation down to the civilian camp, after reminding us to keep our first person impressions and making sure that we were a model of the time, because of the modern spectators that were still visiting the camps. I was going with a part of my own story for my impression—I joined up in 1861, lying to the recruiters about my age. I did not, however, claim my rank of major, because that would have put my rank above the captain’s, upsetting the chain of command. I was not here to take control of the unit – rather, I was here to understand whatever it was that Alice had seen.
As we neared the civilian camp, the wind carried the smell of wood smoke and home cooking to us. Enthusiasm and impatience spread like a wildfire through the ranks. I couldn’t help but feed both emotions with my talent, wondering as I was about where Alice was and how she had spent her afternoon.
Once we had all been dismissed from the ranks, and ordered to stack our guns and grab a bowl, I settled on the grass with my prop, far enough away from the humans that I wasn’t really tempted by the scent, but still close enough that I wouldn’t seem antisocial to my new ‘brothers’.
All thoughts of them were forgotten when I saw Alice emerge from one of the tents. She wore a simple camp dress of dark grey and red plaid cotton, and had a straw hat perched delicately on her head. The dress was long enough that I could barely see the toes of her black boots peeking out as she glided towards me. It did not cling to her body, but somehow, that made her soft curves even more tantalizing. The gathered bodice flowed freely to her tiny waist—the perfect hourglass figure. A row of simple wooden buttons held the bodice closed, and a white collar lay against her throat. The long sleeves rested perfectly at her wrists, and a simple apron protected her full skirts. I have never seen her more beautiful.
The bowl slipped forgotten to the ground as I slowly rose to my feet, my eyes focused solely on her. She walked over to me, the cotton of her skirts rustling softly around her ankles.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” she teased softly. “I knew you’d like it!” She giggled, and spun on the ball of her foot.
“I… Alice… Um…” I was speechless. I could barely keep myself from wrapping my arms around her and… well, never mind. “Yes,” I finally managed. “I like it very much.”
“Just wait until tomorrow night,” she teased again.
“There’s going to be a Reenactor’s Ball. It is going to be so much fun! I can hardly wait!”
“A ball? Now that’s something I’m eager to see. I’m having a hard time imagining something that will look any better on you. You are… absolutely breathtaking, darling.”
“Jasper! You gonna introduce us to that pretty lady of yours? You sure look like you’ve seen something you like!” Corporal MacGregor called, chuckling.
“Certainly. This is my wife, Alice. Alice, this is Jimmy MacGregor. He helped me find the military camp this morning.”
“Wife? Damn, I was gonna ask her to the ball! You know, be a gentleman and all. Guess that’s out, then?” he laughed.
“Sir, I would have to say that that is definitely out. My wife will be attending the ball with me.”
“I ain’t no sir. I’m just a corporal.” The laughter again wafted through the camp, because more men than Jimmy MacGregor had noticed my beautiful wife. They were all paying attention to us, their emotions ranging from lust to happiness to a twinge of jealousy. I imagine that Jimmy MacGregor was not the only man hoping to ask my Alice to the ball. I wondered how many would ask her to dance with them, come tomorrow night. Not that I would allow them to pull her away from me. There were dances where the participants switched partners, but they always ended the dances with their original partners. I could tolerate those. I hoped.
“Pleasure to meet you, corporal,” Alice said, trying out a Texas drawl for the first time.
I almost lost control again.
She sounded… wonderful. Add the accent to the dress, and she could have gotten me to do anything she wished. I was completely under her spell. If this was the high point of the weekend, I was satisfied. It was all worth it. And we were definitely keeping that dress.
And tomorrow night, I would see her in a ball gown. I couldn’t even imagine how incredible she would look. I don’t dislike modern styles, and Alice looks marvelous in whatever she wears, but as hemlines inch higher, necklines plunge deeper, and fabrics stretch tighter, a part of me longs for the modesty of my human days. I grew up in a world where a woman with her hair down was no better than she ought to be and a man without his vest was more than indecent. A world where the sight of a woman’s ankles led to marriage. In many ways, I miss those days, but in others I am glad they’re gone. I would never have been able to hold my Alice in public, no matter that she was my wife. Public displays of affection were forbidden. The rules seem so arbitrary, in today’s society, but they served their own purpose at the time.
But something in me still craves those times—they seem so much simpler, looking back on them, though I know that that feeling isn’t really true. We lived hard lives, where nearly everything we did had to be done with our own two hands. From a technological standpoint, modern times are much easier, though it was simpler to live in anonymity when technology did not allow for instantaneous communication.
More than anything, I miss seeing the connections between people. In my day, most people lived in the same town for their entire lives—everyone knew everyone else, and there were always people ready, willing, and able to help others should it be needed. I had lost that ability to connect, that sense of family, when I lost my humanity. Modern times seemed to reflect my own inability to bond with the community – it was almost as if the modern age had lost its humanity as well. Divorce, unheard of in my day, was at an all time high. Families rarely spent time together. People today can live next door to the same person for a decade and never learn each other’s names. It’s sad, really. We have, as a society, lost so much, and it will not be easy to get it back.
And yet, being here gives me hope that it is possible. These people all know and genuinely care for one another. They are, as a whole, willing to jump in and help whenever help is needed.
In short, I loved it. Alice was right. And we still had two more days here.
Drawing my attention back to the present, I turned to my adorable wife with a smile. “Alice, love, will you please be careful at the ball, especially when you’re twirling?”
She knew the answer, but the little minx made me say it anyway.
“And why would that be?”
Oh, God. That accent again… “Alice, you’ll be wearing hoops at the ball. They have a tendency to fly up as the person wearing them spins. And if they do, this being 1863, well, I’m the only one allowed to see that.”
“Again, why would that be?” I knew she was enjoying herself, the twinkle in her eye giving away as much as the emotions I felt.
“Because as your husband, only I am permitted to see those delicate, beautiful, perfect ankles of yours,” I informed her solemnly, as I ran my fingers gently along her jaw to her lips. “Or anything else, for that matter,” I added as an afterthought. I wrapped my arms around her and buried my face against the top of her head, the rough weave of her straw hat scraping against my cheek as her scent overwhelmed me. I let my voice deepen as I nearly growled, “I don’t share.”
Her twinkling laughter again swept over the camp, the beautiful sound stunning some men to silence. The rush of emotions brought a deeper growl to my lips.
“Don’t worry, Jazz. I don’t share, either,” she whispered fiercely as she pressed her small hands to my chest and stood on her toes to bring her face nearer to mine. Unable to resist, I bent down closer to her face and inhaled her delectable scent. I didn’t need to kiss her; being close like this had always been enough for us. As I stared into her brilliant eyes, I lost myself in the pleasure of her presence, her light touch on my coat and the love that shone from every line of her body. My Alice. She was everything to me, the only reason that the life I led was tolerable. The only reason I had not lost myself to the darkness long ago. No, I would not share. Ever.
The rest of the night passed in a swirl of positive emotions—happiness, love, camaraderie, brotherhood. The people here were a family in the true sense of the word. It was very nearly overwhelming, and the thirst ceased to bother me quite so much. I was beginning to let myself fully trust in my wife’s visions. I was letting myself enjoy the company of people outside my own family for the first time in far too long. I regretted my earlier opinions of these people and their hobby. They were not trying to borrow the glory of the past. Rather, they loved the times and wanted to share that enthusiasm and joy with others. They cared about the sights they presented, they cared about each other. It gave me hope. Hope for the future; both that of myself and society as a whole.
It was over far too quickly—we were called back into ranks, though two of the boys picked up the washtub that had held the soup—there was quite a bit left, and someone had had the bright idea to let the soldiers have the leftovers for breakfast. Another meal I would be skipping… We marched back to the camp, still surrounded by the warm feelings of the gathering.
And I would get to see my wife in a ball gown in less than 24 hours. I only hoped that I could control myself.