A simple premise; a bold promise
To present one story per day, every day—providing exceptional authors with exposure and avid readers with first-rate fiction.

Today's Story by Forrest Roy Johnson

When the Japs really started coming in Uncle Sam needed somewhere to put em, so we put up some fences and shacks.

The Angels

One of Pedoka, Minnesota’s oldest and most well-respected citizens died last year. Arthur Hicks was a month shy of his eighty-sixth birthday when his eldest daughter, Lillian, found him in bed, alive but unresponsive. He passed away shortly after the ambulance arrived. According to Lillian, he opened his eyes and said, “My God, I see them. I see the angels,” then slipped away.

Technically she’s correct. But she leaves out the rest. We got the call around noon, arrived at the scene a few minutes later. My partner and I were about to move him from the bed to the stretcher when he came to. His liver-spotted and wrinkled face bore little resemblance to the long-time mayor and philanthropist I had known. He looked hunted, haunted. Eyes rolled around, but didn’t fix on or recognize anything. “My God, I see them!” he shrieked. “I see the angels!” What followed was not a slip – it was violence, thrashing and howling. We had to hold him down to keep him from injuring himself. That was the idea, anyway – like I said, he died right then, just went rigid and limp all at once.

The day before the funeral, I went to visit my grandpa at the Southridge Senior Living Center – a nursing home, but a nice one. He’d known Arthur Hicks, grew up with him. In fact, he was only ten months younger than Hicks. Every year on Father’s Day, the pastor of the Lutheran church they attended would ask the fathers to stand, then sit down by age until only the oldest remained. For the last few years, Papa and Hicks had been the last two, and Papa would lean over and say to me “Doggone it, Arthur Hicks beats me every year.”

Papa’s memory had been getting bad. He had four daughters and seven granddaughters, so it took him several tries before he got to my name.

“Oh, Maggie, it’s so good to see you.”

“It’s Val, Papa. Maggie’s gone, remember?”

He frowned, scratched his nose. “This dumb old head of mine. I’m sorry, Val.”

“It’s okay.” My aunt Maggie had died in a hit and run when she was about the age I was now. At least he thought I was my aunt – he kept calling my mom by Gramma’s name. “So do you think you’re going to Arthur Hicks’s funeral tomorrow?”

“Arthur Hicks died?”

“Papa, I told you that already.”

He made a face. “Dumb old head.”

I saw the sadness and frustration in his eyes. “It’s okay. I’m sorry about your friend.”

“Not my friend.”

“You knew him your whole life.”

“Not my friend.”

“Papa, what are you talking about?”

The mind is an odd thing. Papa could barely remember his own name some days, and other days he could list off every dog he’d owned since his childhood. He was a very intelligent man, even though he never made it past eighth grade, and I had always been in awe of his ability to tell a story. Sometimes, things line up just right, and the mind can surprise you.

“Arthur Hicks,” Papa said, beginning the longest stretch of coherent speech he would give from then until his death, “is a cruel man. He’s a killer. I was there. I saw him kill those Japs for no reason at all.”

“What do you mean? Did you and Arthur serve together? I thought you weren’t in the war.”

“No, not the war. The camp. Up where the football field is now. Used to be an internment camp for Jap POWs. Me and Arthur worked there. Coupla 4-Fs, couldn’t fight for our country, me with the dicky ticker, him with the polio limp, so we signed up to guard the prisoners.”

“I never knew you worked there! I knew there was a camp, but….”

“Oh, sure. That was back in ’45, when the Japs really started coming in. Uncle Sam needed somewhere to put em, so we put up some fences and shacks. Course the government didn’t send us hardly any guns or soldiers. Nope, it was almost all home grown boys, either too old or too ‘physically unfit’ to be overseas, carrying hunting rifles or shotguns.

“It wasn’t great work, but it paid good. That’s why me and Arthur signed up. Him and Jan were already expecting their third child, both of em only twenty. I’d been working on my uncle’s farm for a couple years and thought I could use the camp as a way to serve. It was a sore spot, see, not being able to fight. Most of the folks I’d been at school with had enlisted or been drafted, or else gone off to work in the armament plants.

“So there we were, coupla small-town boys with dreams about playing soldier. Didn’t know then, but that’s all those Japs were too. Those weren’t the Kamikazes or whatchacallem that would fight until every last one of em was dead. Those ones were just scared kids or broken old men.

“Lotta folks didn’t like havin em around, thought they’d be in danger if there was any escapes. That mighta been, except none of em ever tried to escape.”

“I thought some did try,” I said. “I read about that in the paper, one of those old articles they dig up and publish.”

Papa shook his head, his face reddening. “It’s a lie! Lie from the pitta hell! I was there! Wasn’t no escape! Arthur – Arthur – ” He broke into a series of harsh coughs. When those subsided and he had calmed down, he began again. “It weren’t no escape. Arthur’s brother was a Marine, fought out in the Pacific. Randy Hicks, his name was, about five years older’n us. Lived through Iwo Jima, Okinawa, all them famous islands they took. Died when his transport ship caught fire, a week and a half after V-J Day. Mrs. Hicks, Arthur’s mom, took it hard. Laid in bed for a few weeks. Never was the same. Arthur though – he had a temper on him. Japs killed his brother, he kept sayin. Didn’t matter that the fire was an accident. Wouldna been over there, but for the Japs, so they did it.

“I knew the Lord had a reason for taking Randy Hicks and all those other young men who died. People say if it weren’t for the war, there’s millions of people would still be alive. Well, maybe, but maybe God woulda took em anyway. You know, with some sickness or with accidents at home. It was their time, is all. Tried to tell Arthur that, but he wouldn’t hear it, just kept sayin that Japs this and Japs that.

“I shoulda seen it. Every day, Arthur’d come in and stare at em. He’d tell us about these books he read that said the Japs were animals, didn’t have no souls. Sometimes he’s catch em talking to each other and he’d scream and holler at em and point his rifle at their heads. One time he even shot at one. Missed, but got their attention.

“Then finally, he snapped. There was four of em, no more’n sixteen years old, pickin up sticks to put in their stove. This was early December in ’45. They’d got near the fence and Arthur just opened up. He had his old man’s 30-.06, plenty powerful enough to kill a man in one shot. The first two he dropped like that, shot em through the chest. The other two… one he shot in the gut, the other one in the leg. I heard the shooting – I was close by, behind one of the barracks – and ran over. He walked up to the two he’d wounded and gave em each one in the face. He looked up at me, said, ‘Caught em trying to escape,’ then spit on em.

“The other guards got there a minute later. Most of em had to hold the prisoners back from grabbing the bodies. A bunch of the Japs seen Arthur do it too, so some of em wanted to grab him. He said the same thing to the camp commander as he said to me, and it shames me to say I never told anyone what I saw. Some of the Japs told, but it was Arthur’s word against theirs’. He got to be a hero for murdering four kids – even ended up being mayor because of his ‘heroics.’

“Reverend Larson, the pastor at the time, talked a lot about how God would punish the unrighteous at the Day of Judgment. Arthur sat in the front row every Sunday, and never once told anyone about what happened. He only ever brought it up to me one time, many years later. He’s been into drink at a Legion picnic, up in the park that overlooks the old camp site.

“‘I still see em, Jack,’ he says to me, ‘them Japs. God damn them, they’re still here. Why’d they have to do that? Why’d they try to escape?’ He’d told the same lie for so long he believed it himself. He leaned close, gripped my shoulder. ‘They’re angels now, Jack. I killed em, so God had to turn em into angels.'”


Forrest Roy Johnson is a Minnesotan living in Iowa. He has been previously published in The Whole Mitten and Miracle Ezine.


To comment on this story, visit Fiction365’s Facebook page