by Dan Swanson
Ernie Earnest slept soundly through the alarm, and probably would have been late for work if Grant Gardner hadn’t awakened him. Luckily, he did make it on time, though he hadn’t especially been looking forward to it, since his company was doing a quarterly inventory. Ernie was an entry-level metallurgist for the industrial giant I.E. DuPaul Chemical, and three days of doing nothing but counting everything throughout the giant plant was usually incredibly boring. But he had a lot of things to think about today, and counting left most of his mind free.
He had learned a lot last night, and the biggest part of it wasn’t fighting. Over the past three years, his life had changed tremendously. The question he needed to answer now was: did he still want to be Captain Democracy? And if the answer was yes, what did he still need to do to make himself ready to take on the role? His biggest driver toward being Captain Democracy had always been his family’s tradition of defending American from her secret enemies. Was that drive still enough? He was even beginning to question that entire tradition.
Ernie’s family had a written history going back to just after the Revolutionary War. The male line of descent was unbroken from that time, and the history was made up of the journals of each of these men. These journals clearly defined for everyone in Ernie’s family who were friends of America, and who were enemies, and he had been taught to hate those enemies.
The earliest journal had been written by Ernie’s grandfather seven generations removed, Isaiah Earnest. Each of his male descendants since then had also written a journal, and each new Earnest son had been brought up understanding his special role in the glorious tapestry of American history. Ernie thought back on how the whole thing had started.
Isaiah Earnest was one of the oarsmen in the boat in which George Washington had crossed the Delaware River, and he had been wounded in the ensuing battle. As he lay freezing, and his blood soaked into the soil of his beloved country, he calmly composed himself to meet his maker, secure in the knowledge that he had lived a good life. His only regret was that his life would end before he could see his country free from British rule.
As he lay there, he realized that something magical was happening to him. The pain of his wounds was receding, and a feeling of great wellness suffused his body. He felt a rush of air on his face, and when he opened his eyes, he beheld a giant bald eagle landing next to his head. The eagle walked completely around his broken body, examining him from every angle. When it reached the red-stained snow nearest his wound, the great bird used its beak to sample the snow. It tilted its head this way, and then that way, in that peculiar way birds would. Then it raised its head and made a mighty sound, a sound like the trumpet used by God himself, and launched itself back into the heavens.
From the ground around Isaiah arose the ghosts of twenty-one soldiers he had known, men who had recently given their own lives to the great cause of American independence. They silently formed a circle around Isaiah, loaded their muskets, and gave him a twenty-one-gun salute, firing in sequence around the circle. The magical muskets sounded more like mortars to Isaiah. He hoped those magical rounds would kill some British soldiers.
Then the ghosts disappeared, and Isaiah saw the clouds above gather together, forming the shape of a giant angel. The angel sank from the sky toward Isaiah, shrinking to human size as she approached. She was wearing a blue robe with white stars, and carrying an American flag in one hand and a rolled-up parchment in the other. She regarded him silently for several minutes, and then spoke.
“Isaiah Earnest, I am the Spirit of the Bill of Rights. Your destiny, and that of your family, will forever be intertwined with that of the great nation that is being born in this conflict. Throughout its long future, as long as the Earnest line of descent is unbroken, your family will provide warriors to protect this great country. And as long as there is an Earnest to protect it, this country will prosper.
“The warriors of your family will fight and vanquish many enemies. But they must long remember well each of these enemies, because though vanquished, they will still hold within themselves hatred for this great country. Though your future leaders may waver in their knowledge, the Earnests will always know that those vanquished foes will continue to be the true enemies of America.”
The angel touched Isaiah, and he was granted a quick vision of the future — a glorious American nation, spreading its righteous rule across the entire globe, grinding its enemies beneath its figurative feet. And always there was an Earnest, protecting this nation from the vast conspiracy of its secret enemies, whose mission would be to undermine the spirit, the very morale, of this nation and then defeat it. Only the Earnest warriors would know the true intentions of these secret enemies — and only the Earnests would hold them at bay.
The vision had overwhelmed Isaiah, and he lost consciousness. When he revived, he was in a field hospital tent. He was weak from blood loss, and the surgeon had been forced to amputate a leg and several fingers due to frostbite. But Isaiah hardly cared — he knew he had been chosen for a divine mission. Even later, after the morphine had worn off and pain had returned, pain he would live with for the rest of his life, he never despaired. He and his descendants would leave a legacy that would live as long as this new country.
Each generation of Earnest fathers had passed on the secret legacy to their sons. Each Earnest son had become an Earnest warrior, and carried on the secret family tradition. And each Earnest warrior had added the vanquished enemies of his time to the family’s secret enemy list. Each vanquished country, each conquered people, treacherously joined in the vast secret conspiracy to bring down this great nation. And each generation of Earnest warrior waged his lonely battle against these secret enemies, as well as his more open battle against the current declared enemies of America.
As a reward for their loyalty to this lonely secret battle, each Earnest warrior had been visited by the same angel, the Spirit of the Bill of Rights, at least one time in his life, and each visit was dutifully recorded in one of the many journals. Always, the Spirit praised the nobility and bravery of the current Earnest warrior, and confirmed the dual sacred missions to which each warrior dedicated his life. And each Earnest warrior took his turn imparting the tediously gathered familial wisdom to successive generations.
Ernie’s grandfather, Jacob Earnest, had died in Italy in World War I. Ernie had heard Jacob’s story many times while growing up, especially the story of the spiritual visitation Jacob had received on his deathbed, in which the Spirit of the Bill of Rights had added the Italians, Austrians, and Germans to the family’s secret enemy list.
In the manner of the young, a puzzled Ernie had asked his father how this account had been added to Jacob’s journal after he had died, and his father had revealed yet another awesome family secret. Occasionally an Earnest warrior had died before completing his journal, and in order to preserve the family tradition, the Spirit of the Bill of Rights herself would later visit the modest family home, and herself complete the life story of the latest Earnest.
Ernie’s father, Sam, had died before he even reached Europe. His troopship had been attacked by a lone German fighter plane, which broke from the clouds and strafed the ship almost without warning. Many more would have died if a courageous soldier who had been wounded in the first pass hadn’t been able to crawl up a ladder to reach and operate a turret-mounted anti-aircraft machine gun, miraculously destroying the plane as it began its second run. The wounded soldier then passed out and fell from the gun turret to the deck, where he died among the corpses of several other soldiers who had died in the first attack. The posthumous medal was shared by the several dead soldiers, but Ernie knew the truth.
His mother had quickly remarried. Ernie despised her for abandoning the Earnest family, and he gathered together some of his belongings and all of the journals, and ran away from home. He had managed to stow away on another troopship, and ended up in England. He was adopted by an average G.I. named Joseph Jones, and lived with Jones throughout the war.
Ernie kept expecting the Spirit of the Bill of Rights to show herself and complete his father’s life story, but she never did. Eventually, he completed it himself, as he knew it must have happened; how his father had noticed the plane and made a valiant attempt to warn everyone, and had saved many who had been able to find cover, and then, wounded and dying, had managed to drag himself to the gun, and, with his last waking breath, save the rest of his company. And, of course, how he had died in the company of the Spirit of the Bill of Rights.
At the beginning of the Korean War, Ernie had enlisted, and he had nearly died from injuries he received on the battlefield. As he had lay there bleeding to death, he kept waiting for his own visit from the Spirit of the Bill of Rights. She had never arrived. When he recovered and received a medical discharge, he realized that he hadn’t yet fulfilled his destiny, and his visit with the Spirit must still be somewhere in the future.
And yet, with the end of the Korean War, who could he fight against? He realized that it was his destiny to add a new chapter to the Earnest legend, and take the fight to the treacherous hidden enemies of America. The foes vanquished in years gone by, who patiently lay low, licking their wounds and cultivating their hatred for his country. Yet he knew not how to begin his great crusade.
It was in this confused state of mind that he first met Grant Gardner, who had offered him precisely the solution he had always wanted.