Read War Online

Authors: Peter Lerangis

Tags: #Science Fiction


Watchers War
Peter Lerangis


















A Biography of Peter Lerangis


Case File 6955

Name: Jacob Branford

Age: 14

First contact: 57.34.43




Jake Branford looked up from his green steno notebook.

It’s only Byron. Don’t lose the thread. Keep it going. It’s good, Jake. It’s like you’re there.

he wrote.

“Hello-o-o-o! Welcome to real life, baby brother! Get down here right now!”

“WAIT!” Jake blurted out.

He tried to focus on the page again.
The nineteenth century. The Civil War. Come on, Jake, feel it. FEEL IT.


The mood was gone.

Jake couldn’t write without the mood.

He reached into the open steamer trunk next to him. Lying on top of a pile of old junk was a leather-sheathed dagger and a threadbare Civil War uniform and cap. Union Army. From the body of one of Jake’s ancestors, who died in the war. Or so went the rumor. Mom didn’t know for sure. She couldn’t care less about stuff like that.

The cap.

Jake put it on. The wool was soft, almost greasy from the years of accumulated grime. It smelled of the past, musty and dark.

From a nearby stack of books he pulled out a slim volume entitled
Nineteenth-century Hobson’s Corner: A Photo History.
He flipped it open, scanning the images. Main Street with its ancient-sounding stores — Central Apothecary, Hobson’s Corner Dry Goods — the three old brick houses at the top of the hill, the encampment of grim, uncomfortable-looking Civil War soldiers.

In the distance he heard artillery fire. He caught a whiff of campfire smoke and shivered in the morning cool. He felt the grit of gunpowder under his fingernails.

His heart began to slam in a way that never happened during computer games. Or on the playing field. Or even in Civil War “reenactments,” where you dressed up and pretended to be in combat, until a car horn spoiled the mood or someone had to leave for a dentist appointment.


I’ve got it.

I’m there.

THIS was real life.

A life where things mattered. Where every day you had something to fight for.

A country on the brink of destroying itself.

A war.

Dirty, loud, sneaky, exhausting.

Totally cool.

You were born at the wrong time, Jake.

Way wrong.

Jake smiled.

Not Jake. Corporal Branford of the Union Army.

He picked up the notebook and pen again. And he began to write.


Jake’s pen fell to the page.


Ripped apart like a canvas tent in a cannon blast.

The mood was over.

Jake slammed the steno notebook shut.

He dug his fingers under the uniform, below the blankets and tablecloths. When he felt the bottom, he pulled at a silken cord, opening a small, empty compartment.

With his other hand, he flipped the notebook so that the cover was faceup:


If Found, Please Return to

Jake Branford

25 Magnolia Avenue

Hobson’s Corner, Maryland 21000


Then he slipped the book into the hiding place.


Jake replaced the cap, let the lid fall shut, and left the attic.

He resisted the temptation to take the dagger.

The brother?

No, This one

He has no chance.

He has no choice.

His love for war —it’s



But very, very useful.

To whom?

I’m afraid to say


up there?” Byron snapped. He was pacing the living room, glancing out the front door. “Never mind. I don’t want to know. Just come with me.”


Byron gestured up the block, where a sports car and a black-windowed limo idled at the curb. Two men and a woman, all wearing sunglasses, stood in front of the cars. “Do you recognize the guy with the gray beard?”

Jake peered out. “Your parole officer?”

“Ha-ha. It’s Gideon Kozaar, Jake.
Gideon Kozaar? The movie director?”

“Never heard of him. What’s he done?”

Byron rolled his eyes. “You were in diapers when he made his last movie. That’s his style. Nobody hears about him for years — and then,
the rumors start: he’s making another film. Only no one ever knows for sure, because Kozaar keeps everything about the movie totally secret until opening day. But we know about
one — because his casting people were at the high school today, looking for total unknowns. Teens.”

what you called me down for? I don’t want to be in a movie.”

“Not you — me!”

“You can’t act! You had two lines in the school play.”

“Seven. And you don’t
experience. He said so. He doesn’t even use a script. He just gives the actors a situation and they improvise. Is that easy or what? And if you get cast, you’re automatically in the screen actors’ union, SAG. Anyway, I had a great audition —but about seventeen million other kids auditioned, too. They can’t possibly remember us all. So I have to stand out, Jake. To be different from the rest. You have to help me — ”

“Byron?” Jake said, turning back into the house. “Remind me to tell you sometime how much I hate your guts.”

“The movie’s about the Civil War, dork-face!”

Jake stopped in his tracks.

A Civil War movie? Here?

The feeling.

It was back. Instantly. Right there in the living room.

Careful, you’re talking to Byron the truth-challenged.

“I don’t believe you,” Jake said.

“In the audition they asked us to improvise a Civil War scene. Like we were on the battlefield.”

“Where are they filming it?”

“How should I know? It’s a secret. Anyway, you’re the expert. Tell me how I can impress them — like, dress up in that costume upstairs, go out there and talk in an authentic Civil War accent — ?”

“It’s not a costume, it’s a
Jake said. “And there’s no such thing as a Civil War accent.”

“So tell me what to do.”

Jake went to the door and peered up the block. One of Gideon Kozaar’s assistants was pointing to a house and comparing it to a sketch.

“That house wasn’t here during the war,” Jake murmured.

“So?” Byron snapped.

“So, they’re talking about it. Drawing it. Like they’re going to use it in the film. And if they do, they’ll be wrong.”

“That’s it. I’ll tell them that!”


I will.

“Let’s go,” Jake said. “I’ll do the talking. You just nod and try to look smart. That’ll be a perfect acting assignment for you.”

He stepped out the front door before Byron could reply.

“Yo!” Jake called out. “That house was built in, like, 1910.”

Three pairs of black lenses stared back at Jake. Three bored, annoyed expressions.

“You can’t say ‘hello’ first?” Byron whispered, walking behind Jake.

Jake gestured back to his own house. “Ours was here during the Civil War. So were Numbers Thirty-seven, Fifteen, and Fifty-three — except Fifteen didn’t have the extra wing.”

“Uh, this is my baby brother, Jake,” Byron blurted out. “Jake, this is Mr. Kozaar and his talent scouts — ”

“Set designers,” the woman replied.

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