When the sergeant smeared ash across my face I should have resigned, gone home or anywhere else, and never come back.
I’d moved to Indianapolis that spring, 1944, more or less certain my fiancé Daniel was forever lost to me in some European foxhole. Days spent waiting for word of his whereabouts, waiting for war to finally end, bled together. Life grew tedious, fell into ugly patterns. I needed a change in scenery and an income, so I took Father’s car from Cleveland to Indianapolis and soon I, timid little Anne Enna, found myself swearing in as an honest-to-goodness officer of the law.
I trained for patrol duty at first, trotting around downtown on a horse, but after a month I was assigned to security at the entrance to the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. That was what the others called a “cush job,” sitting on a stool by the door with a gun on my hip and a Redbook in my hands. Boring, maybe, but I’d have been foolish to complain.
On day one I arrived early, engulfed in gray morning mist. The city was still, the only sound that of my horse’s clacking footsteps. He slowed and snorted as we neared the monument. The statue-laden monolith burst through the haze, its surrounding bronze and stone figures reduced to shadows.
One shadow moved and glowed orange. I gasped; the mare took two steps back, and the silhouette chuckled.
“Hello, Mizz Enna,” it said and stepped forward. There, Sergeant Mills rolled a cigar around his wormy lips and struck another match, puffing. “You’re early.”
So early we were alone, encircled by the concrete roundabout surrounding the monument. I dismounted and saluted Mills. “Reporting for duty, sir,” I said.
“Right,” he said. “There’s a cot in the basement. And you’ll find you’re fully stocked in there. Soup, bread, water.” He took a drag and looked at his feet. “Toiletries. You should be set for the week.”
My grip on the horse’s neck tightened. “Sir?” I said. “What are you saying? I don’t leave here?”
The tip of his cigar ignited again. “Not for seven days’ time, no.” He patted the steed’s nose. “Hope you left food out for the cat, Mizz Enna.” Mills had never once called me “Officer.” In a ridiculous gesture he spread his arms and pivoted. “One week. You don’t leave the confines of the Circle,” he said, referring to the ring of road around us. “You leave, you don’t get paid.” He took a flat glass jar from his pocket. “That all right with you? Or should I call in somebody else?”
My gaze drifted to the monument, to its metal watchmen, the gargoyle bears and birds of prey. They stared back. I smoothed out my jacket and nodded—to assure myself more than the sergeant. “No,” I said. “The job’s the job. Anything else?”
“Actually,” said Mills, “here.” He spun the lid off the jar and dipped two fingers in, removed them to reveal a thick, gray coating of ash from the knuckles up. Without hesitation, he held my chin with hIs other hand and proceeded to smear clumpy dust across my cheeks and forehead. After taking a step back he gave an apologetic shrug.
“There. You’re set.”
That was when I should have tendered my resignation.
“Make sure your gun’s loaded,” said Mills. “See you in a week.” And he hugged me. “Good luck, Mizz Enna.” Then he mounted my own horse and rode off into the fog.
So that was orientation.
The keys to the monument building dangled from the entrance door. I scooped them up by their burdensome hoop and stepped in, at once struck by a harsh buzzing so intense it seemed to originate from within my own head. When the door clicked shut behind me the racket stopped, perhaps some air pressure effect of my entry. I took a breath and found the welcome desk and, behind it, a stool awaiting me. For the time being I neglected them, paced around the small concrete lobby. In its center, a flight of stairs led up to the observation deck as well as down to the basement.
At the stairwell, I craned my neck. The climb up seemed infinite from there; I put a foot on the first step and touched the rail. Something in me recoiled, and I thought better of such a long upscale hike so early in the day, opting instead to plod downstairs and take a look at my sleeping quarters. There was a small museum there dedicated to the Great War, but war didn’t interest me and I didn’t stop to browse. In a small offshoot room were my cot, a pillow, and a pile of bed sheets.
A spattered mirror hung by a screw above the bed, enabling me to see Mills’ handiwork. The soot smeared across my face made me look like a coal miner. I took out my handkerchief, thinking I’d wipe it off—but didn’t. It made me seem, I thought, somehow more serious, more a real cop. I took the mirror off the wall and slid it under the cot.
That was when I noticed the map.
The lower tip of what I recognized as the Indiana state outline jutted out from under the canvas bed. I scooted the cot a foot or two with my boot heel to reveal a map of the state—sloppy, hand-drawn, painted onto the floor in thin red streaks. An oblong circle (also red) decorated the center. Squatting, I traced a finger along the makeshift map, mesmerized, until I heard the distinct sound of footsteps in the lobby above.
Visitors, a mother and son, had wandered in and were beginning their climb to the observation deck when I returned. The woman looked over her shoulder and smiled at me. I took my place behind the welcome desk, seated high on the tall stool.
It felt like home.
Six days passed—slowly—with little incident. I fulfilled my duty from behind a desk, taking little more action than waving at passersby and tourists. Once I found two kids necking downstairs, but apart from that I witnessed nothing tawdrier than the backsides of folks climbing the stairs to the observatory. Not once in those six days did I make that climb myself.
Then, just after locking up on the last night of my watch, something happened.
It hit me when I came down to the basement. Even now it’s hard to describe. The moment my boot met the floor, everything became soft somehow. Half-there. The cement floor felt like a sofa cushion on my feet; the walls bulged inward, like the inside of a balloon. Short of breath, woozy, I struggled my way to the cot to bury my face in my hands and rub my eyes. Exhaustion, I thought. I’m exhausted. Though heaven knew I hadn’t lifted a finger in almost a week.
Something—below me, I thought—crashed, jolting me from my rest. Cloying thumps repeated, resonated, shook the room. I stood up and was thrown back onto the cot by a semi-solid, pulsating floor. The buzzing I’d heard when I first entered the monument returned, a thousand times louder and more disorienting. I thought I must be having a seizure or anxiety attack. The sudden need to get help and, more important, to get out pushed to the forefront of my consciousness. Going outside was all that mattered. All memory of Sergeant Mills’s orders vanished.
Knees wobbling, I lurched upstairs and unlocked the lobby door, stepping out into the cool night air. Flanked by bronze approximations of past Indiana governors, watched by stone soldiers and beasts, my thoughts turned animalistic.
Leave, they said. Home. Home now.
As if nudged by unseen hands, I walked toward the Circle itself, the road before me. I saw no bystanders, no cars—only the floaters in my eyes and a street lamp on the other side of the road, flickering like a beacon.
My foot was an inch from the pavement when I was jerked backward by my arm.
“Oi!” a man’s voice said. I fell into this stranger’s grasp as a car came zipping past.
“Nearly knocked your block off,” said the man, and he straightened me up by the shoulders. “Steady on.”
The duster jacket he wore fell only to his knees, so tall was he. Unkempt tendrils of sandy blond hair danced about his forehead to contrast with his black stubble. A cigarette angled where his crooked teeth bit into it.
He breathed out smoke. “All right, luv?” he said.
I nodded an outright lie.
“Let’s step inside, yeah?”
My mind screamed: No no not in there never! But I hesitated just long enough to realize how ridiculous I’d been. Disregarding my irrational unease, I led the way.
I cringed upon entering but found nothing out of the ordinary inside. “Thanks,” I said, “Mister—what may I call you?”
He offered a handshake. “Ignatz Costable, Esquire—as you like.”
My eyebrows flew. “‘Ignatz?'” I said. “A Kraut?”
He sucked on his cigarette, his eyes sparkling rubies in its temporary red glow. “No, luv,” he said. “I assure you I’m British as Earl Grey.” His head went side-to-side. “Nice monument you got here. Now, why on Earth would you ever want to just wander away from it like that, and you bein’ security and all?”
I shrugged. How could I have explained?
Costable picked some fuzz from his jacket and said, “And anyway, weren’t your orders never to step outside the Circle?”
“How…” My voice caught. “How did you know…?”
Ensconced in a tobacco cloud, he stepped around me, pointed to my stool. “Mind if I sit down, luv? Only me dogs are barkin’ mad.” No answer from me, but he sat anyway.
I followed, the floor now firm again.
Up his hand went, having found my badge on the desk, and he flashed my own ID at me.
“This your name?” he said. “‘Anne Enna?'”
I smirked assent.
Costable laughed. “Brilliant, that is. Makes sense, you think about it.”
My eyes narrowed. “Who,” I said, “did you say you were again? Are you with the PD? Is Mills checking up on me?”
He waved the idea away. “Naw, naw,” he said. “I’m no copper, me. Just a…” he put a finger on his chin. “Just a tourist. Student o’ the world and that.”
My hand went to the holster at my waist. “And what are you doing here, Mr. Costable?” I asked. The dread, the disquiet from before, crept back into my heart.
Ashing onto the floor, he sniffed and said, “Smelt a rat. Followed me nose.”
My palms wrapped around the desk’s edge. “No.” I leaned in. “In the States. If you’re who you say you are, shouldn’t you be out fighting a war?”
Two fingers tapped his nose. “What’s it look like I’m doing, Miss Enna?” A pair of dirt-caked knee-high boots went thud on the counter as he leaned back.
“Officer Enna,” I said. “You call me ‘Officer.'”
Plucking the cigarette butt from his lips, he grunted. “How long you been holed up here, Anne?” he said.
“Oh, now you’re asking me questions?” In under a minute, the limey oaf had frustrated me so much I’d forgotten to be suspicious.
His wooly-worm eyebrows floated upward.
“Six days,” I said. “I go home tomorrow.”
Costable ground the smoking butt into his heel. “That’s optimistic,” he said, and stood. “Got you sleepin’ here nights, too, I reckon?”
He cocked his head. “Couldn’t sleep tonight, though?”
My palm grazed the butt of my gun again. “I think you should go now, sir,” I said. “The monument reopens at eight.”
The man sniffed and pointed up the stairwell in the lobby’s center. “Or,” he said, throwing a heavy arm around me, “you could show me what’s up there. Then I’ll go.”
I looked to the stairwell. A faint thrumming kicked in again between my ears.
He must have sensed my discomfort. “You ain’t been up there all this time,” he said, “have you? Why not?”
“Scared,” I said, adding, “of heights.”
“Who are you?”
“Like I told you. Student o’ the world.”
“Something’s up there,” I said, “isn’t it?”
He nodded, his whiskered face inches from mine. “Something,” he said. “Dunno what yet. Just got a hunch, but I mean to learn. Wanna go learn summat with me?”
Two hands on my shoulders spun me around to face the steps in the lobby’s center.
Swallowing, my head bobbed up and down. “Yes,” I said. “I think I should.”
He clapped, slicing the silence in half. “Groovy!” he said. “This way, then, luv.”
He led me, like a father leads a bride, to the stairs and we embarked. Our feet hit each metal step with a nasty clang.
“What was that you said?” I asked, my sweaty palm sliding up the railing. “‘Groovy?’ Is that a Brit thing?”
He stopped, looked over his shoulder. “Heh,” he said. “You know you got shite smeared all over your face?” And he continued to climb.
This mechanical and otherworldly whir polluted my hearing. More noise. I fixated on Costable’s feet, not daring to look up. He called back to me:
“You notice anything odd, these past six days?”
“No,” I lied. I couldn’t explain what had happened to me just before his arrival. “Not a single crime. Who would cause trouble in a war memorial during an actual war?”
Costable clicked his tongue. “Naw,” he said. “Not like that. Anything odd with you? You been regular? You know, bathroom breaks an’ that?”
I scoffed. “Hardly your business,” I said.
A few steps higher, I admitted, “My fingernails haven’t been growing.”
“Normally I bite them,” I said. We’d scaled half a dozen flights by now, but judging from his pace we weren’t even close to the top. “There’s been nothing to bite. Not here.”
He said nothing.
A new thought struck me. I waited a few seconds to ask, “What’s so odd about my name?”
He chuckled at the mere mention of it. “‘Anne Enna,'” he said. “A palindrome. Perfick.”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” Below me, the stairwell wound down into oblivion. I couldn’t imagine how high up we were. He stopped. I bumped into him, nearly toppled—would have, had he not caught my arm.
Slipping a cigarette pack from his coat lining, he lit up and said, “I’m talkin’ about circles, Anne Enna. Of life. Of Hell. Loops. Like your name.” He inhaled and continued his ascent, me on his tail. Like a mantra, he repeated: “Ann-enna-ann-enna-ann-enna!” He cackled.
There was nothing to say, nothing else to do except maybe throw him down the stairs, so I clammed up. A minute later he stopped, held out a hand to halt me, and said, “Here we are.”
My movements grew stiff, guarded, as we scaled the observation deck. Steel support beams angled from the stairwell to the ceiling, leaving scant room to move. Paneled windows surrounded us, and through them I saw the sky light up and darken at even intervals, like an army of spotlights had been set off on the street below.
“Go on,” said Costable, nudging me to the window.
The fear I’d felt in getting up there subsided; now going to the window was simply something I needed to do, like eating or breathing. Effortless. My palm pressed against the glass. I looked down.
There was the Circle, a concrete band surrounding us far below. People, horses, vehicles all moved along the street, but somehow their activity was sped up. The figures below went around or turned a corner or jolted down the sidewalk at such a rate that you’d miss them in a blink. The sky dimmed in and out, and looking up I saw the sun rise and set in seconds’ time. Rain would fall briefly, or clouds would roll in and be gone before I could register them. The window grew hot under my palm. A bead of sweat pooled at the tip of my nose. As if its added weight was too much, I collapsed to my knees.
“What is it?” I asked.
I felt Costable behind me. “What I figured. The world,” he said. “Getting on.”
“Where are we? Really?” The grated flooring tore at my knees.
“Monument Circle,” he said. His fingertips rested on my shoulder. “Indianapolis. We are here, but we’re also…” he puffed, blew out smoke. “Somewhere else.”
A hand encroached my vision, an offer to help me up. I ignored it, pulled myself to my feet and faced him.
“It’s like I was sayin’, about circles,” he said, and offered me a cigarette. I held up a hand, and he tucked it behind his ear for later. “A circle is a powerful thing, luv. It binds. And this here… well, it’s a monument, yes, but this Circle’s also a prison.”
The shadow of his nose on his own face moved in the ever-changing light source. Focused on that, and not my chattering teeth or altered heart rate, I asked: “A prison for what?”
“Something old. And big.” He crushed another butt on a beam and started on his next smoke. “Something very old and very big. And mean.”
I stared him down.
“It’s hard to—” he paused. “Awright. Can you imagine existence before this world? Before this universe, even?”
I didn’t blink.
“No?” he said.
I shook my head.
“Then no use trying to explain. But this beastie highly objects to the continuing Dawn of Man, and until it learns to play nice, certain individuals have deemed it prudent to imprison it. So it sleeps, here, under the city. Held at bay inside this powerful magical circle. But it’s growing. This circle won’t hold it forever.”
“What’s it called?” I said, trying to look skeptical.
“Oh, no-no,” said Costable. “Don’t give it a name. Never give it a name. Like circles, names hold power. That’s why you, Anne Enna. You got the whole package—a name and a loop in one. Your presence here holds it all together.”
I took a step back. “I suppose,” I said, “you know all this because you’re a ‘student of the world’?”
His mouth twitched. “I do a lot of studying,” he said. “Had a lot of time for it.”
Locking my fingers behind my neck, I said, “Okay.” The exit leading downstairs beckoned.
“So I did my part. I showed up, put in the hours. And tomorrow morning I’m going home.”
Costable buried his hands in his greasy hair. “Oh, luv,” he said. “You haven’t been home in a long time.”
The room went bright and dark, over and over. I found my voice. “What?”
“What year is it?” he asked.
We stared one another down. Finally, I said, “It’s 1944.”
“No.” He shook his head, pinched the bridge of his nose. “No, luv. The loop. The circle.”
His hand quavered as he rubbed his face. “You’re livin’ it. Y’see? It all comes around. One week in the monument? Sure. One week. Again and again. Look outside, Annie. The world’s gettin’ on, but you’re still here. Seven days. The same seven days.”
I shut my eyes to block the flickering sunlight. Out spilled warm tears. “That isn’t possible,” I said. “You’re lying or,” I choked, “or crazy.” I stomped a boot onto metal. “I’m going home.”
Costable pushed past me, his gangly form blockading the stairwell exit, sort of gasping. “You can’t,” he said.
That’s when I saw white. Red. Black. When I lost control, and the next thing I knew, the man was crumpled on the floor, bleeding from the chest, and I had a smoking gun in my hand. Adrenaline carried me to the lobby. Somehow, what had felt an endless climb yielded a descent I hardly noticed. My head pounding, skin tingling, and eardrums wailing, I charged through the lobby doors onto the Circle outside. The sky was still now, the same dusk it had been when Costable first approached me.
The ground, on the other hand, was restless. Pavement quivered beneath me as I marched to the street. Cobblestone bucked underfoot, and in my periphery the menagerie of stone carvings moved—not, I knew, as a result of the tremors, but as if alive. The statues turned their heads, considered me, watched, and I walked on.
I walked until I broke the Circle.
Instant daylight blinded me. Something erupted from the monument behind, went off like a bomb and flung me face-first into the wall of Christ Church. I managed to roll and land on my back. Inside the Circle, hell had broken loose. The monument fell apart in stony chunks that shattered upon landing. Large portions of the road cracked open into holes, and from each of them emerged enormous, dripping, writhing things my mind attributed as tentacles covered in what looked like teeth. I turned away, knowing that more than a moment’s glance at this could drive me insane—if I wasn’t already.
“Look what you’ve done!” That was Costable, running toward me, hand over his bleeding side. “You have to get back in there!” he said. “Now! Now!” One of the undulating extremities knocked into him, sent him flying.
I pulled myself up and half-jogged, half-limped back toward the Circle. It seemed the monstrous limbs kept their distance, careful to avoid me, and I thanked God for this despite knowing God was not here, not now. When I reached the edge of the loop, I hovered one foot over it—like a kid on the diving board—and called over my shoulder: “How much longer? How many more times do I have to do this before they send reinforcements?”
I couldn’t see him, but somewhere Costable yelled out: “It’s 1969, luv. Not much longer!”
Something slapped my arm. A rolled-up newspaper had been tossed to me; I scooped it up, tucked it under my arm, and yelled to him. “I’m trusting you!”
Then I stepped back inside.
The chaos subsided. The daylight vanished, replaced by a thick, billowing mist. I recognized that morning in 1944, my first morning here, one I’d relived God-knew-how-many times.
Unraveling the newspaper Costable had flung revealed a familiar image: the Indiana state map, and at its heart a white, imperfect circle sprinkled with tiny text and numbers. It was a road map, only for no road I recognized. A massive roadway fashioned after the same pattern I’d seen in the monument basement my first night there – or would see again soon, for the first time. Above the image, bold words proclaimed: I-465 CONSTRUCTION COMPLETE NEXT YEAR, SAYS D.O.T.
The paper’s date read November 11, 1969. A banner at the top mentioned the anniversary of the end of the Second World War, promising a beautiful memorial service at the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument downtown. Holding my breath, I tucked the copy of the Star into my jacket and shook out my arms.
That ring around the center of the state burned in my mind’s eye. I repeated Costable’s words—not much longer—and knew then that I was just a placeholder. An interim loop until the Big One got here.
Footsteps scuffed up behind me. “You’re early,” said Sergeant Mills.
I turned to face him. “Reporting for duty, sir,” I said.
While he gave me the rundown I had heard countless times before, I wondered where my horse was. Where Daniel, my husband-to-be, was. Where I was, the first me, the one who’d come here originally.
And when Mills daubed ash on my face, I thought of going home. Of escape. But I knew there was no escape. Not for me. Not for Costable, either, or for any of us.
You see, it all comes around.