Fantasy Short Stories: Issue 2 – Now Available

Mark:

Latest issue available of our sister magazine!

Originally posted on Fantasy Short Stories: the New Magazine of Fantasy:

FSS 2 Cover - eBook copyIt gives me great pleasure to announce that the second issue of Fantasy Short Stories is now available – and what a great issue it is!

It’s been a bit of a wait unfortunately since our first issue, but once you start reading the second issue, I hope you’ll agree that it has been worth the wait. We have five cracking fantasy short stories for you to read.

You can order your copy now from the following outlets – or download an eBook sample if you want to take a quick look first:

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Barnes & Noble amongst other good booksellers

And additionally in eBook format from:
Smashwords | Kobo | iBooks and a host of other retailers.

Click here for some more information about Fantasy Short Stories: Issue 2.

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Interested in Alt Hist but want to try before you buy? Get a Free Issue

I am pleased to announce that you can now get a free issue of Alt Hist – our first issue is now available free in eBook format from the following retailers:

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo | Smashwords

Alt Hist Issue 1 CoverThe first issue of Alt Hist features six short stories. Click on the links to read the first part of each story:

“The Silent Judge” by David W. Landrum
“Easter Parade, 1930” by Rob McClure Smith
“Holy Water” by Andrew Knighton
“Lament for Lost Atlanta” by Arlan Andrews
“The Bitterness of Apples” by Priya Sharma
“Travelling by Air” by Ian Sales

Alt Hist Issue 1 also includes an interview with Brandon H. Bell, co-editor of Aether Age, and information about the alternate history anthology Columbia & Britannia.

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Hitler is Coming by Martin Roy Hill – Free Story Extract

What would the United States be like if Hitler won the Second World War? In “Hitler Is Coming” by Martin Roy Hill protagonist Paul Klee is an OSS veteran and police investigator on temporary assignment to the post-war American SS to stop a plot to kill a victorious Adolf Hitler on his first visit to the U.S. From fascist cabbies to corrupt Party gauleiters, Klee wends his way through an America most Americans today never knew once existed.

Visit the page for Alt Hist Issue 6 if you want to order a copy to read more of this and other stories.

Free Extract from Hitler is Coming by Martin Roy Hill

It was a wet, miserable morning when I arrived at SS headquarters. Stepping from the cab, I turned the collar of my leather duster against the mist and tried not to get wet. No one trusted the rain much these days, even though the scientists said it was safe. It was 1946, only two years after the war ended. London and Moscow were still radioactive embers, but New York was starting to rise from its ashes. Nevertheless, even here in Washington, people still worried about radioactive fallout. Everyone had heard the stories.

I had, in fact, just come from New York where I had been following leads in a case of government corruption. Some construction magnate offering bribes to the wrong people—at least they were the wrong people for me. The Party didn’t like it when investigators tried to arrest their members. Oh, they didn’t mind us arresting the small fish, just the big ones. I’d caught the wrong fish. That’s why I was standing outside SS headquarters in DC, staring at the giant swastika on the top of the building that used to be FBI headquarters, dreading what waited for me inside, and cursing the doc who saved my life in Italy three years earlier.

I started toward the main entrance when I saw Bruno Hesse come out the door. Like me, Bruno had been a city cop before the war and we’d worked some cases together. He was a fat, balding little man back then, with a nasty opinion about everything and everyone, especially if you were a Negro or Jew. He wasn’t a very good cop. He liked beating up on anyone smaller than himself, or if he had help, someone bigger. He had been some kind of high ranking officer in the German American Bund, the U.S. equivalent of Hitler’s Brown Shirts, until the Bund was banished back in ‘42. Now he wore a different uniform, a black one with a high-peaked hat and double lightning bolts on his collar. He even sported a silly Himmler moustache and wire-rimmed glasses.

Bruno flipped his hand up in the kind of salute only the highest level Nazis get to use. He waited for me to return the salute, but I didn’t take the bait.

“Paul,” he said, “I was just talking about you with SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Günter. It looks like we may be working together again.”

He looked taller. I wondered if he were wearing lifts.

“My lucky day,” I said. “Where do I find this Oberst—whatever?”

“You may call him Lieutenant Colonel Günter,” Bruno said, with something of a sniff. “He’s taken over J. Edgar’s old office.”

“That helps,” I muttered and walked on into the building.

I’d only been in the FBI building once before the war, and I wasn’t Hoover’s guest. I remembered it as a non-descript building with drab government workers and an occasional photo of FDR hanging on the wall. Now it was a clean, freshly painted maze of hallways and offices occupied by severe, Aryan-looking men and women nattily dressed in Nazi black and death’s head skulls. Where Roosevelt once looked down at you benignly, Hitler now stared down with his messianic glare.

A young corporal stared at my credentials then at me, as if he didn’t trust his eyes. He finally handed my ID back with a haughty frown, and directed me to an office on an upper floor. I found the door and knocked.

“Enter!” someone sounded in crisp, German-tainted English.

SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Hermann Günter sat behind a desk the size of an aircraft carrier, and with as much clutter as a flight deck when all its planes are launched. He had a long angular face and hawkish nose, and thin, cruel lips that probably had never known a real smile. He wore a tailored SS uniform blacker than I was feeling just then. On a clothes tree behind him was an ankle length leather great coat, the kind that was becoming the style to wear. Pictures of Hitler and Himmler decorated the walls.

Guys like Bruno Hesse were a dime a dozen these days. This guy Günter was the real thing. A real German, a real Nazi, right down to the accent. You could almost smell the crematorium on him.

“Ah! Herr Klee,” he said in English, rising. “Come in. Come in.”

As he stood, he closed a folder that had my name and SS emblems on it. Seeing your name on an SS folder has a peculiar effect on you, like someone has just shot you in the gut. And I knew too well how that felt.

“Please sit. Sit.”

He directed me to an overly large leather chair, offered me a cigarette which I took, then lit one for himself.

“Forgive me, but Paul Klee…” He said my name slowly, hissing each syllable. “Any relationship to the degenerate Swiss artist Paul Klee?”

I shook my head and said, “I thought he was German.”

Günter regarded me with something like distaste. “Not at all,” he protested. “Quite Swiss. And probably a Jew as well.”

“Just for the record, I’m a lapsed Catholic.”

Günter considered what I said, then waved his cigarette in the air. “Yes,” he said, “so are we all these days.”

Günter returned to his seat and opened my file. “Captain Paul Klee, late of the OSS. Italy, I see. I, too, was stationed in Italy. Imagine, if we had met back then… I would have shot you on the spot.”

“Not if I shot you first,” I said, smiling.

He gave me another of look of Aryan distaste. “Yes,” he finally said. “And now here we are, sharing cigarettes and having a nice chat.”

He referred to the file again. “How long did you work with the Italian resistance, captain?”

“Until one of your Schmeissers rearranged my insides in mid-‘43,” I told him. “And I am no longer a captain.”

“Oh, I didn’t tell you yet,” Günter said, apologizing. “You are being seconded from your National Police to the SS. You will have the honorary title of Hauptsturmfuhrer—captain.”

He flicked an ash, then returned to the interrogation. “Once again, captain. How long were you with the Italian resistance?”

I figured he had the answer in the file so I told him.

“I dropped in by parachute in late ’42, about the same time as Operation Torch in North Africa,” I said. “I operated until the summer of ’43 when I was shot. An Italian doctor who worked with the resistance saved my life. It took me months to recuperate. By the time I did, Italy was pretty much out of the war. I spent the rest of the war on the invalid list.”

I was lying in an evacuation hospital in Naples when the news came that New York was destroyed, followed by London and Moscow. The Krauts launched a single giant A-10 rocket at each city. The A-10 was basically two V-2 rockets stacked one on top of the other. The Krauts only needed one A-10 for each city. Their atomic warheads did the rest. With Churchill and Stalin vaporized, Britain and Russia surrendered within days. Roosevelt held out until the pro-Nazis in Congress forced him to capitulate two weeks later.

Günter didn’t look up from the file. He just grunted and said, “Saved by an Italian resistance doctor. I should have him shot.”

“You already did,” I said.

Günter’s thin lips curled downward, not in sadness, but satisfaction.

“Tell me, captain, did you enjoy New York?”

“Not particularly,” I answered. “Not much to do there with Broadway turned to radioactive dust.”

“Hmm, just so,” he said. “But you did find some way to entertain yourself.”

“I was simply trying to do my job. I wasn’t aware there were two sets of laws, one for Party members and another for everyone else.”

Günter shook his head. “There is only one set of laws, captain. But there are also…” He waved his cigarette in the air again, trying to find the word he was looking for in the smoke. “There are politics, yes? Politics. That has always been true, here in America, as well as in Germany, no?”

“Is that why I’m being—what did you say?—seconded to the SS?” I asked. “To keep a tight rein on me?”

The Kraut pursed his lips in thought, then nodded. “In part,” he said. “You have Major Hesse to thank for suggesting that.”

He stood and walked around the desk, and sat on the edge looking down at me.

“You are being attached so we can make use of your knowledge of partisan operations,” he said. “You will help us ferret out those who still resist the… peace… between Germany and the United States.”

“Resistance?” I said. “I didn’t know there were any resistance fighters in this country. You’ve already arrested all the Commies, not to mention the Jews. Those of us who fought in the war are too tired of fighting to continue. Those who didn’t—well, there was a reason they didn’t. They were either too busy getting draft deferments or they were on your side to start with.” I put my cigarette out and accepted Günter’s offer of another and leaned back in the chair. “Like Major Hesse.”

Günter smiled sardonically and nodded.

“Yes, Major Hesse provided us with good service both before and during the war,” he said, “and he has been well rewarded for his service. So were many others in the Bund.”

“And elsewhere,” I said with distaste. It was discovered after the surrender there were at least twenty members of Congress who were either Nazi sympathizers or paid German agents. “Quislings.”

“That’s a nasty word, captain” Günter said. “Many in Norway regard Minister-President Quisling a national hero and a patriot.” He waved the subject away. “But let us not argue politics. Let us talk about your assignment.” He paused for effect, then looked straight at me before speaking again. “Hitler is coming.”

“Hitler? Here?”

Günter nodded. “The Fuhrer is making his first visit to your country. He will arrive in two weeks to meet with your President Prescott, and to present Herr Ford with another Fatherland honor.”

After the surrender, the Kraut-lovers in Congress had deposed FDR and, with the approval of the Party, appointed Prescott president. Before the war, both Prescott and his father-in-law were big time bankers and fanatics for fascist politics—so much so they helped fund the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party. Prescott kept right on aiding the Krauts even as our Army was fighting them in North Africa, right up until he got his hands slapped by a government too timid to actually put him in prison for treason.

Henry Ford was an admirer of Hitler as well, and had already received a couple medals from “Der Fuhrer” back in the Thirties. Some of the Panzers that kicked our butts at Kasserine Pass in ’42 were built with the help of American companies like Ford and GM.

“Is Der Fuhrer planning to dance another two-step here like he did in Paris?” I asked.

Günter’s thin lips got even thinner.

“I don’t think so,” he said, dismissing my remark. He reached around the desk, pulled a file from a drawer and handed it to me. “We have reliable intelligence that there will be an attempt to assassinate the Fuhrer during his visit. I want you to make sure it does not happen.”

“Me? Why the hell should I care if Hitler buys the farm? All I ever got from him was a belly full of lead.”

“You care for the same reasons you did in Italy, captain,” Günter said. “Because if anything happens to Hitler, there will be retaliatory executions on an unimaginable level. You supported the resistance in Italy. You know what I mean.”

I nodded. I’d watched from a distance as the SS rounded up entire villages and shot each person in retaliation for partisan attacks. I led many of those attacks, and the knowledge that what I had done was responsible for the murder of hundreds of innocent men, women, even children, had haunted me ever since.

“This time it would be your own people,” the Kraut said slowly, obviously enjoying my discomfort. “And we have much more efficient ways of retaliation, as you witnessed in New York. That’s why you will care about what happens to the Fuhrer.”

He stood up and lit another cigarette. “You were OSS. You worked with partisans. You were also a police officer and know how American criminals work. You’re the perfect man for this assignment.”

I opened the folder and glanced at its content before looking back at Günter.

“It’s in German,” I said. “I don’t speak that much German.”

Günter picked a book off his desk and tossed it in my lap. It was an English-German dictionary.

“Considering the situation,” he said, “I think it’s time you learned.”

END OF FREE EXTRACT
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When Shots Rang Out by Lynda M. Vanderhoff – Free Story Extract

In “When Shots Rang Out” by Lynda M. Vanderhoff JFK was a well known ladies man, but his family has suffered under a curse that is nearly Shakespearian in scope. Could it be that Kennedy upset the wrong person with his philandering, putting in motion the death and bad fortune that would see his family destroyed?

Visit the page for Alt Hist Issue 6 if you want to order a copy to read more of this and other stories.

Free Extract from When Shots Rang Out by Lynda M. Vanderhoff

“From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: ‘President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time.’” The black and white image flickered across the screen showing a tired man with a drawn, gaunt face. He glanced at the clock off camera. “2 o’clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.”

Laughter rang out in the retirement home. Everyone turned and looked at Betty, but she merely threw back her head and laughed louder.

A nurse poked her head into the day room. She was dressed in crisp whites with a rectangular hat. Her face was pinched with concern. “Is there any trouble in here?”

Betty wiped at her eyes with fingers crippled by arthritis. “Kennedy. He’s dead.” She let out a guffaw. “Someone shot him in Dallas.”

The nurse blinked at her. “That’s awful.”

“You have no idea, sister.” Betty laughed again, let the feeling shake her body, tried to maintain bladder control . . . and marginally failed. It didn’t matter. Kennedy was dead, that bastard.

As everyone around her cried, Betty wheeled her chair to the windows that overlooked a sunny forest scene. The skyscrapers of Boston loomed in the distance, but from this angle, you couldn’t see them.

It had started. After so many years of waiting, it had finally come true.

Tears did burn her eyes now, but they couldn’t erase the joy that filled her heart. “For Damarra,” she whispered at the window while the other patients sobbed in front of the television.

She could die now. She could be happy knowing that it finally came true, and that justice was served. It had taken 23 years, but she’d never given up hope. In time, the rest of it would come true, but she’d planned to be long dead by then.

Kennedy was killed, and she was responsible. She could only be happier if Damarra was with her now. Damarra, my dear girl, it’s finally over.

January 9, 1940

Betty knelt in the cold, hard packed earth. It was snowing now, the wind blowing in off of the river. Boston was a grey slate mirage behind her. She brushed the snow away from the gravestone, and the tears burned the corners of her eyes.

She had cried so much in the past week that she was surprised she had any tears left. Was there ever an end to them? When would her heart stop breaking?

The tombstone read: Damarra Young; April 4, 1917 – January 3, 1940.

Coldness and wet soaked into the knees of her voluminous skirts where the snow was three inches high. She didn’t care. This was where her daughter was, and it was the only place that she wanted to be. Her knees ached, and she let her hand glide over the fresh turned earth of her only child’s grave. Betty leaned forward and pressed her head against the unyielding soil. A cry rose up in her throat, and she moaned, hands fisting in the snow and the dirt.

In time, she sat back on her aching legs and looked at the tombstone. She imagined she could still see her Damarra lying motionless in her smooth white casket. The girl’s dark hair floated around her like tangled seaweed. In the Romani tradition, they had thrown coins on her coffin as it was lowered into the winter ground, to ease her ascent into heaven.

Betty wiped her tears away with a corner of her brightly colored shawl. The men were waiting nearby, likely thinking that she had lost her wits when she lost her daughter.

She had not lost her wits. No, she had more clarity now than she ever had before.

It all started so simply, but Betty didn’t like it from the start. When her daughter said that she was in love with some rich Harvard man, a twisting rope of anxiety tightened her heart.

“Oh, Mama, he’s so handsome,” she had said on that day long ago. “He’s tall and thin and tanned.”

“And rich,” Betty interjected.

“Yes, but I don’t care anything for that. I love him and he loves me.”

Betty had rolled her eyes at her daughter. Puppy love came early and often to this girl with her head in the clouds. “What love could a rich Harvard man have for the little Romani girl who sweeps out the classrooms?”

“He does have love for me. He sees to the soul of me.”

“And what is this paragon’s name, might I ask, daughter?”

Her beautiful face blossomed into a smile, her dark eyes watering. “Jack. Jack Kennedy.”

“An Irishman!”

“There are those who would say the same of the Romani, mother.”

“And what do you intend to do with this boy? Tell me that, truly. Will he respect our customs? Will his father come and ask your father for the marriage agreement?”

Damarra shook her head. “Oh, Mama, you live too much in the past and the traditions. Jack and I, we are a modern couple. He’s told me his dreams, how wants to be a teacher, if his health holds up. His brother Joe may be destined for the limelight, but he will be satisfied with a quiet life of learning.”

Betty frowned at her daughter. “You’re making up a fantasy life with him already? When will you stop dreaming, daughter?”

The girl smiled, showing perfect white teeth in her dark skinned face. “I hope I never do, Mama.”

At the gravesite, Betty was cold remembering her daughter’s words. Did she stop dreaming when Kennedy led to her death? When she was dying, did she still whisper words of love for this man who didn’t even pay his respects at her funeral?

She hoped that Damarra had not lost her innocence, and that she went to heaven dreaming of a love that would last throughout time. She hoped her daughter would not know the true nature of the man she declared to love as ardently as her young heart could.

Betty rose from the gravesite. Her knees ached and creaked and popped as she stood. The arthritis and the cold were not her friends, but she braced herself against the top of the tombstone.

She spoke to her daughter, her voice hard and cold and utterly bereft of tears. “I will make him pay for what he did to you, my beautiful girl. I do not know the hour, and I do not know the day, but I will get to him and make him answer for his crimes.”

The still silence answered her, but that was as it should be. She would hunt down this Jack Kennedy, make him understand who she was, and utterly destroy him in this life and the next.

END OF FREE EXTRACT
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The Iceberg by Andrea Mullaney – Free Story Extract

On Boxing Day, 1914, a teenage girl sits in an Edinburgh prison awaiting trial for a war crime. Her lawyer finds himself captivated by her as he tries to establish the truth of the case, whose roots lie in the Titanic disaster two years before. “The Iceberg” by Andrea Mullaney is based on an extraordinary true story.

Visit the page for Alt Hist Issue 6 if you want to order a copy to read more of this and other stories.

Free Extract from “The Iceberg” by Andrea Mullaney

Based on a true story

She looked so young. Seventeen, they’d told me, but I might have taken her for fourteen. Not at all like someone accused of a war crime.

The pug-faced wardress must have noticed my hesitation.

“Aye, that’s her—looks like butter wouldn’t melt, doesn’t she? But don’t be taken in. She’s a hardened liar.”

The slim, cool figure, perched schoolgirl-style on the edge of the cell bench, must have been able to hear: the grill on the door was open and the wardress hadn’t bothered to lower her voice. But the girl showed no indication of it, her gaze fixed on the bare stone floor at her feet, her hands neatly folded in her lap. I tried not to lower my own voice in compensation.

“I’ll see her now, please.”

The wardress grudgingly extracted the key from the ring clanking on her belt, her fingers fumbling to turn it in the lock.

“Back, Hume,” she ordered unnecessarily, while the girl remained still. “I’ll be outside. Twenty minutes.”

I waited till the door clapped shut before I moved further in.

“Hello, Kate.”

She looked up at me, incurious. She was wearing the usual black uniform with white apron, her dark hair pinned up, but her appearance was nevertheless striking, with those ‘delicate features’ the newspapers had described at length. Somehow I had been expecting a hysterical type—an attention seeker. Perhaps Calton Jail’s regime had tamed her.

As there was nowhere else, I sat on the cold bench alongside her, awkwardly addressing her side-on.

“My name is John Wilson. I’ve been assigned to represent you. Are you well…, have they treated you well?”

“Yes, thank you.” Her voice was polite, girlish, deliberately well-spoken.

“I’m sorry it has taken so long for me to see you. Christmas, you know …”

“Yes.”

I had only been assigned her case in the last week, but the prison governor had told me I was her first visitor in the three months she had been here. Her family, clearly, had washed their hands of her. It was Boxing Day; I’d spent the preceding days caught up in domesticity and watched my own daughters, almost half her age, delighting over their new dolls and books. The contrast was acute and stupidly, I wished for a moment that I had brought her something. A flower, perhaps, to cheer this bleak chamber. I pushed the sentimental thought aside.

“Now, however, we must prepare for the trial tomorrow. Have the charges been explained to you?”

“They say it’s forgery,” she said, her expression unreadable.

“Yes, in a sense. The formal charge is ‘concocting and fabricating letters with the intent of alarming the lieges’. That means the Crown—the King and his ministers.”

“I never—I did not intend to—to alarm the King!”

A flash of spirit, at last. “What did you intend?”

She made no reply.

“Come now, I am here to help you, Kate. I can assure you that if you speak honestly and give a good account of yourself, the judge will be lenient towards you. But these are serious charges. And I’m sure you know they might have been worse. This is wartime and you could have been facing a military court. Under the new Defence of the Realm Regulations, that could have carried a maximum penalty of death by firing squad.”

Her eyes widened like a child’s stunned by unfairness. The tendons in her fine, white neck tightened and I realised that I had frightened her; that she had been, indeed, already very frightened. I reached over to pat her wrist.

“Do not be alarmed—I said ‘could have,’ not ‘will’. The military authorities at Stirling had no desire to take you into custody, and abrogated the matter to the police. That is why they have brought this rather curious charge. Let me assure you that there can be no such penalty in court—nothing like so severe. And if you will tell me what happened, I can place a plea of mitigation on your behalf and there is every chance of a probationary sentence. Do you understand what that means?”

She breathed out, nodded; then stood up and took two small paces forward. They brought her almost to the opposite wall, like the rest covered with faded scratches from residents past. At least the place was clean, with a faint trace of carbolic soap, and the chamber pot in the corner had clearly been emptied recently. There were much worse places.

“Thank you, Mr Wilson. I will try… it is hard to know where to start.”

“Well, let us say—the day you brought the letters to Mrs McMinn. I understand she was the first person to see them?”

“I was staying with her.”

“And why was that?”

“She said I could. Robina—her daughter—and I were—were friends.”

“I mean, why were you not at home? Was there some trouble with your father and mother?”

She turned abruptly. “She’s not my—yes. It was about Mary.”

“Mary?”

“My brother’s girl.”

Ah. I had read about this: the court case which had thrown the family into the public eye in the first place, even before the publication of Kate’s letters. Of course, even three years on, anything to do with the RMS Titanic was still news.

“I see. You did not agree with your father and stepmother over the lawsuit that Mary Costin brought for support of her child?”

“No! That’s Jock’s baby. He loved her, they were to be married. Papa and Alice didn’t think Mary was good enough for him because her father drives a van and she works in the glove factory. But she’s decent, Mary is. He used to—he used to play for her and she’d sit there listening, just—just watching him.”

As she spoke, it was as if she were seeing something. I could almost see it myself: the young man playing violin while his sweetheart listened, unaware she was being judged by the young girl in the corner, but passing muster as attentive enough to be worthy of him. The papers had been very sympathetic to Mary Costin and her plea for justice, I recalled. The image of the band playing as the ship went down, as related by survivors of the tragedy, had struck a chord in the popular imagination and it was generally held that while not officially Jock Hume’s widow, his family’s refusal to acknowledge her was simply to retain their share of the Relief Fund. Kate’s father had been portrayed as shifty and unreliable. Perhaps there was something in all of this that I could use.

END OF FREE EXTRACT
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Battalion 202: Worm in the Apple by Jonathan Doering – Free Story Extract

“Worm in Apple” is the next instalment of Battalion 202 by Jonathan Doering: “For all I know, you’re dirty as well.” Christopher felt his chest flare. “Alright then, if you don’t believe me, shoot me.” A worm enters an apple. It is seeking food, shelter. It is only acting on its nature. But sooner or later the apple will turn rotten. Everything will explode. There is a traitor in Pontefract Auxiliary Unit. A traitor who places his own survival and success in the new Nazi state ahead of everything – even the lives of his comrades….

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Free Extract from Battalion 202: Worm in the Apple by Jonathan Doering

Author’s Note: Battalion 202 is the story of Christopher Greenwood, a young man recruited into an Auxiliary Unit (AU)—an armed resistance “stay behind” team tasked with fighting a successful Nazi invasion. The episode “Into the Darkness” related Greenwood’s orders to assassinate the most senior local police officer, Chief Superintendent Frederickson, to prevent the Nazis from forcing him to reveal intelligence on the local resistance network. “Worm in the Apple” now follows Christopher and his AU colleagues through the initial days of the Occupation…

§

Christopher Greenwood stands trembling, staring at the slumped body of a man on a couch. The standard lamp casts a yellow light onto the man’s face; the rest of the room is in shadow. He is in his late fifties, but looks older: his hair is more white than grey, and he has red splotches on his cheeks and neck. His skin has a raw, boiled look, but the loosened tie and the softened stare make him look vulnerable, a sacrifice ready for the knife. There is a neat, dark hole on his right temple, with a red explosion on the cushion by his left temple, where the bullet  has exited from his head, bringing blood and brain with it.  His lips start to work, first jerkily, then more smoothly, muttering: “Had a good innings.”

Now his dead gaze sharpens and he turns to look into the boy’s face, his lips twisting into a sneer, taunting him over the blare of the music in the background:

“Go on! Shoot me!”

Greenwood raises his rifle, feeling the butt against his shoulder. The man’s gaze becomes more sympathetic and he speaks on, the voice changing now, becoming younger, barely audible over the music. The music’s thrumming is palpable in Greenwood’s temples, a buzzing that increases to such a pitch that he cannot focus on anything else …

“Chris? Are you alright?”

Tommy’s voice bursts in over the gramophone music, and Christopher Greenwood realises that he has been experiencing a flashback to half an hour before, and the operation that they carried out this evening. Then his mind is filled with the splashes of red, and he runs to the edge of the field they are in, knocking earth up in little clouds as he falls to his knees and vomits once more. There is little left to be thrown up from his guts, this time; he retches helplessly, forcing up saliva and black bile, wondering what will happen if he continues in this way. After a second he feels a nudge at his elbow, and sees a canteen of water being proffered by Tommy. He takes it, rinses his mouth and drinks a sip.

“Thanks. I’m better now.” His voice isn’t convincing. There is an exasperated sigh, then the older man kicks earth over the tiny pool of sick.

“Christopher, you need to pull yourself together now. We can’t leave clues all over the place. The Nazis’ll track us. And you need to prepare yourself for when we meet up with the others.”

Greenwood looks far off, into himself, into his memory. He sees the corpse of Chief Superintendent Frederickson, crumpled on his couch. Once again, Tommy’s instruction is in his ear: “Now take the revolver and shoot him in the head.” Once again he sees the sightless eyes, the slack mouth, the hand lying palm upwards. He feels the trigger of the revolver tightening under his finger, hears the spring squeak as he aims the weapon at the dead man’s head.

He shudders slightly, then takes a breath, becomes aware of the earth under his feet, the cold air cutting his lungs.

“I know.”

§

The Eve of the fall of Britain, October 1940, Pontefract AU’s Operational Base….

Cosmin  was on guard when they arrived. Strode, Adamson and Fisher  were waiting inside the OB.

“Welcome back, you two. Report, please.” Strode opened a notebook and uncapped his pen.

Tommy straightened slightly, “As ordered, we entered and secured Chief Superintendent Frederickson’s house. We were expected. After a short interview, Christopher shot him once through the chest and twice through the head. We took some extra provisions from the house and returned here.”

The three of them looked from Tommy to Greenwood. Even Fisher now seemed to show something like respect in the way he watched the youngest member of the AU. Adamson rose and turned to the stove, slowly stirring a cooking pot.

Fisher held his jacket in his lap, and with precise movements sewed a small tear in the sleeve. Snipping the thread, he placed it and the needle in a sewing box before returning his gaze to Chris’s face. Strode motioned with his pen. “I’ll make brief notes.”

Tommy shifted, “No names, though.”

“That goes without saying—as I would have thought would be the proviso that we don’t help ourselves to the property of the public. We’re not looters.”

Tommy reddened. “We hardly looted. I saw that there were some provisions that could be used, and he had made it clear that he didn’t hold any grudges, so I didn’t think he’d mind.”

“That sounds charitable of him.”

“The poor bastard was about to die, wasn’t he? It wasn’t like he was going to take any of it with him.”

Strode eyelids flickered. “Alright, you’ve made your point, Thompson. Now Greenwood, could you please take us through what happened, in your own words?”

Again, Greenwood’s stomach clenched, a hand gripping his innards. They had discussed what he should say, even briefly rehearsed it, although Tommy had said he should do it off the cuff, make it seem more spontaneous. As he drew breath he realised that he only had one chance to convince them. He swallowed on a dry throat.

Look them in the eye. Focus on Strode. He’s Patrol Leader.

“We got there. He was expecting us. He’d been drinking. He told us about how his wife had died and how he’d been destroying files so the Germans wouldn’t get them. Then he turned the music up louder and I shot him in the chest. Then I used his revolver to shoot him in the head. I shot him twice.” He heard his voice slurring slightly.

Strode traced a few words into the ledger. “Why the revolver? Where did that come from?”

“He had it out on the table.”

“But he didn’t threaten you with it?”

“No. It was out on the table, as if…”

“As if what?”

“As if he would have done it himself if we hadn’t arrived.”

“Why two shots to the head?”

“I—don’t know. Got carried away, I think,” he fixed the solicitor’s gaze. “Is there something wrong with that?”

“No, it just seems a little extreme….”

“Extreme? Extreme? You sent me to kill a police officer tonight. So I did it and I feel bad about it. I threw up I felt so bloody bad…”

“That’s enough, Greenwood.”

As quickly as it had burst in his chest, the hot anger withered like autumn leaves. He felt cold and ashamed again. “I’m sorry, Mr. Strode.”

The solicitor smiled politely. “That’s quite alright, young man. You’ve been through a lot. We know that. Believe me, I understand the… tension you’re feeling right now.” His face clouded for an instant. “But you have proved yourself and you have performed an invaluable job for the AU. Absolutely invaluable. Well done.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Do you think you could manage some rum?”

Greenwood looked from Strode to Adamson, on to Fisher, then finally to Tommy, who was staring at him as closely as the others.

They believe me. I’ve done it.

“Thank you, Mr. Strode, but I’m not sure.”

“He was sick, Mr. Strode,” Tommy put in.

Adamson turned and stirred some stew that was sitting on the stove, ladling it into bowls and passing them round the table. “That’ll be the shock. Here, try some of this.”

The stew was warm and filling, and as he ate, Greenwood felt the clenched fist in his guts ease a little, but then he remembered Tommy’s words as they returned to the OB.

“You’ll need to watch your P’s and Q’s from now on, Chris. You can’t be caught off-guard. Don’t drink too much. Don’t get too cosy with any of them. And don’t unburden yourself to anyone but me. Got that?”

His spoon scraped the bottom of the bowl. Adamson pointed. “More?”

“Yes, please.”

The farmer filled Greenwood’s bowl again, setting it down and taking his place beside the scribbling solicitor and watchful farm hand. Fisher cleared his throat and spoke.

“We had a firework display and a half at the railway line.”

Greenwood forced a smile and ate more stew. Does he want to impress me?

“Did you?”

“We laid out a load of charges along the line. Take ‘em a while to fix all that.”

“Good.”

Tommy pushed his empty bowl away with no second helping and brought out a tobacco pouch. Strode finished writing his entry, closed his ledger and looked at Greenwood again but said nothing. Suddenly Adamson spoke.

“I killed a bloke at the Somme.”

Are they all going to confess their killings now?

“Did you? Who was he?”

Adamson’s eyes grew glassy. Then he blinked and refocused on Greenwood. “Don’t know. Didn’t ask his name.”

There was a murmur of laughter around the table, not unkind, but Christopher felt as if he had said something gauche. Fisher cut a piece of farmhouse cob and passed it across the table to him. Adamson said, “Enjoy it, there’s not much.”

Greenwood took the bread and dipped it into his bowl. To fill the silence, he asked, “How did you feel?”

“Feel? How did I feel?” Adamson looked at him blankly. The bottom fell out of Greenwood’s stomach. Should I know how he felt? Then Adamson’s  eyes acquired that glassy stare once more and he seemed to stare far off over the young man’s shoulder:

“To be honest, I don’t think I felt very much.”

There was a pause. Strode cleared his throat.

“Have you finished, Greenwood? Good. We’d like you and Fisher to relieve Cosmin.”

END OF FREE EXTRACT
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“B-36”by Douglas W. Texter – Free Story Extract

We will be providing extracts of each of the stories in the latest issue of Alt Hist. Check out the first one below.

Set in a world in which the early Cold War grows very hot, “B-36”by Douglas W. Textertells the tale of what might have happened if the Soviet Union had taken Berlin during the Berlin Airlift. In this world, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal orders a B-36 piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Drummond and a very special mission commander to fly to the Soviet Union with a secret “gimmick” on board.  The results of the mission are world-changing.

Visit the page for Alt Hist Issue 6 if you want to order a copy to read more of this and other stories.

Free Extract from “B-36”by Douglas W. Texter

As Soviet troops overwhelmed US forces in West Berlin on July 5th, 1948, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Drummond soared over Key West, Florida, at 10,000 feet. He and his crew were on their way back to Eglin Field, the proving-ground command for the USAF. They were passing over the bridge to the Keys and into the Gulf toward home.

The new B-36 Peacemaker, the 44-2004, that Drummond was putting through its paces was a monster, its size making the B-29s he had flown over Japan three years before look tiny. Each tire on the main landing gear was taller than a human being. As Drummond’s arms, sore from fighting the stick, indicated, the B-36 was proving anything but easy to fly. Not only that, but the plane’s six engines possessed a disconcerting tendency to burst into flames at inopportune moments. Drummond thought that the combustibility problem had something to do with the locations of the engines. Mounted on the rear of the wings, they pushed the plane rather than pulled it. The warning lights indicated that a couple of them were very hot now.

“Radio traffic, sir, about Berlin,” Sparks said.

“Good or bad news, Sparks?”

“’Fraid it’s very bad, sir. Clay has surrendered, and the Russians are storming the rest of Germany. The Ruskies even shot down the Candy Bomber.”

“No shit?” said the copilot, Major Ben Matthews. He let out a whistle. “I actually knew Halvorsen. I met him flying transports to South America. Mormon. Wore weird underwear, saw it in a locker room once. But he was a good pilot. Too bad.”

Drummond shook his head. The demise of Uncle Wiggly Wings was the least of their problems. There existed only one way to stop the Soviets if they weren’t going to halt at the border with France. And as a Progressive, a Wallace supporter, Drummond hated to even think about that solution. He had seen Hiroshima after Tibbets had destroyed it. Although he didn’t know the candy bomber, he did indeed know the atomic bomber, and Drummond did not like him and what he stood for.

He had met Paul Tibbets in the Pacific, at an officer’s club. They had talked for a while, and Tibbets had seemed to take a liking to him. Tibbets had even talked about bringing Drummond into his 509th Composite Bomb Group, which had been up to something very special. While Drummond had been flattered, he had thought Tibbets’ eyes looked glazed over, as though he were on some kind of holy mission. Drummond didn’t believe in holy missions involving long-range bombers. Although he lived to fly the big planes, he was far to the left of most pilots he had met. War might be necessary, but it was never holy. After politely listening to Tibbets, he had turned down the offer. And in retrospect, he was glad he had. Drummond was a bomber pilot, and he understood that the destruction of war served larger ends. But atomic destruction was so terrible that it seemed to serve no ends at all.

Unfortunately, at the moment Drummond had more pressing problems than world affairs. An alarm sounded. “Skipper,” Matthews said, “Engine Six is on fire.” A bit of panic laced the co-pilot’s voice.

“Take it easy. Let’s fly the plane, Ben,” Drummond said.

Drummond knew that there existed two kinds of pilots in the world. The first kind, at any sign of danger, panicked and prayed to God or screamed out the names of his wife and children. Dramatic but ineffective. The second kind just flew the plane. In a B-29 over Japan during a very bad mission, Drummond had once listened to the voice of his squadron commander, Max, whose plane had burned. Max’s voice had been dead calm as he gave orders to the gunners, feathered one engine, and tried to pull out of a dive. Max flew the plane until the moment of impact. His gunners even took out a Zero on the way down. No panic there. Drummond aspired to that kind of calm.

“Put the fire out, and feather the engine,” Drummond said. He checked his watch: about two hours or so until they made it back to Eglin. The B-36 was a miracle in aviation technology, able to fly from the US to Europe without refueling. But they had to work out the engine problems before the behemoth was put into regular service.

“Doing my best, Skipper,” Matthews said. “Haven’t had an engine on fire since two ME-109s almost took us out over Berlin.” After a minute, the alarm was silenced. “Number Six out and feathered,” Matthews said. The co-pilot’s voice was calmer now. Their airspeed slowed to around 185. While the B-36 could carry 80,000 pounds of bombs and cross oceans, it had a maximum cruising speed fully loaded of about 230 miles an hour. Thank God, Drummond thought, that it was also armed to the teeth and could reach 50,000 feet, above the ceiling of almost all pursuit planes.

“Let’s give the mechanics a workout,” Drummond said to Matthews. He turned on the intercom and said, “Drummond to crew quarters.”

“Sergeant Watkins here, sir.”

“Sarge, sorry to interrupt your card game, but I just feathered Number Six. Do you want to take somebody and go have a look at it?”

“Yes, sir. I was losing anyway. We’ll be in the communications tube and then the wing in five minutes.”

“That is amazing,” Matthews said to Drummond.

“It sure is, Ben,” Drummond said. “Welcome to the future.”

And that future, Drummond knew, was enormous. The B-36 was so big that it carried 15 crew members, and the plane could hold enough fuel to stay in the air for up to 40 hours, so they had sleeping quarters on board. A communications tube ran over the bomb bay between the forward and aft cabins. The wings were huge and hollow so that mechanics could get inside them and crawl out to effect repairs in flight.

As they limped back to the Florida panhandle, Matthews said, “Think the President will declare war on the Ruskies?”

“I have no idea, Ben. It’s a disaster, either way.”

“You got that right, Skipper.”

As they approached Eglin, Sergeant Watkins came on the intercom. “We took a look, sir. It’s not too bad. About an hour’s worth of work when we get on the ground. I’ll also make sure that we have all the tools we need if one of these babies goes out on us again.”

“Sounds good, Sarge. Ben, ready to do the landing checklist?” They went through the list, and the landing gear clicked into place. Drummond lined the plane up with the ultra-long runway designed to accommodate the B-36. They would need every inch of it to stop, Drummond knew. Piloting the B-36 was like flying a house.

They landed at about 120 miles an hour. Matthews put on the brakes and read out the descending speed: 90, 80, 70, 60, 50, and then they were safe, not about to speed off the end of the runway. They taxied to the huge hangar that accommodated the B-36.

After killing the engines, Drummond said over the intercom, “Gentlemen, a pleasure to fly with you.” As the rest of the crew left the B-36, Drummond spent about 10 minutes in the Aircraft Commander’s seat filling out the flight report: “These problems must be corrected before the B-36 becomes fully operational and is put into production. Once this difficulty is addressed, the B-36 promises to deliver the strategic superiority desired by the US Air Force.” That sounded official and optimistic, he thought as he put the cap back on his fountain pen.

After exiting the plane, he walked into the hangar locker room, changed into civies, and walked over to where his motorcycle was parked. Although his wife Jenny had told him that he was too old to ride, he loved the feeling of the warm humid air in his face as he drove to and from the little bungalow he and his wife and son lived in. He kick started the bike and headed for home.

Just another day at the office.

§

Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Drummond turned his motorcycle into the driveway of the family bungalow. Levittown this wasn’t, but it was comfortable in a tropical sort of way. Jenny’s little red convertible sat next to the house. White picket fences, over which red roses climbed, surrounded the bungalow. The top of a palm tree swayed in the breeze. This place bore no resemblance to where he had grown up, in Erie, Pennsylvania, with its knee-deep snow, dark basements, and huge, spidery coal furnaces. The bungalow didn’t even have a basement or a furnace, and everybody complained about the cold if the temperature dropped below seventy.

After turning off the bike’s engine, Drummond heard his 12-year old son, David, playing “The Drunken Sailor” on his trombone. He smiled. Maybe the kid would be the next Tommy Dorsey. Then Drummond heard David hit a wrong note, and thought: maybe not.

He walked to the screen door and opened it. Jenny sat on the couch reading for her course work for her Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Florida. They had met in Cambridge at a party on Massachusetts Avenue in 1936. Excited about Spain and the fight against Franco, she had been the charming local Irish girl with the brains to get into Radcliffe. He had been the MIT engineering student who jabbered about becoming a pilot.

“How’s that paper on Moby-Dick coming?” he asked.

“Hey, honey! I’m sailing round Perdition’s horn. How was the flight?”

“It was pretty good. One of the engines caught on fire and conked out. We’ll get it working right, eventually.”

David, having left the Drunken Sailor with the captain’s daughter for the moment, ran out from his bedroom and said, “Hey, Dad. The Reds are taking Germany. Are you going to go into action?” The boy hugged his father.

“I don’t know, David. We might see some. I hope not. The world’s already had two major wars in this century. A third isn’t going to help anyone.” No more wars, Drummond thought.

Jenny said, “Let’s turn on the radio. Truman is supposed to address the nation.” She walked over to the radio, on top of which sat David’s model B-17. There were a couple of old Seventeens at Eglin. Drummond had even taken David up in one for his tenth birthday. No one on the ground had questioned Drummond about his four-foot-high co-pilot.

After adjusting the dial, Jenny honed in on a signal from the NBC studio in Miami. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the voice said. “We are now switching to our Washington Bureau, where we bring you a live broadcast from the White House.”

There was another pause, and then a voice both familiar and distant came on the air: Harry Truman’s.

“My fellow Americans, I regret to inform you that General Lucius Clay, surrounded by 50,000 Soviet troops under the command of Marshal of the Soviet Union Zhukov, has surrendered Berlin. General Clay and his troops were airlifted out of the city a few hours ago. I have been in telephone contact with Mr. Stalin, who has assured me that the Soviet Union desires only to pacify Germany and protect its borders. At this moment US divisions in Germany, along with some British and French forces, are encountering the vanguard of a Red Army.

“Shortly—in keeping with my belief that it is men who make history and, not, as the Soviets believe, history that makes men—Mr. Stalin and I will be meeting at an undisclosed location to discuss the fate of Germany and arrange a cease fire negotiated according to mutually acceptable terms. While I do understand the Soviets’ desire to protect their Western borders, I will not allow this desire to serve as an excuse to invade not only the western portion of Germany but also France and the rest of Europe. To show Mr. Stalin that we mean business, Secretary of Defense Forrestal, with my approval, will send to England in the next few weeks a squadron of B-29s capable of delivering an atomic bomb to Moscow. While we do not desire war and will enter into good-faith negotiations with the Soviet Union, we will not allow an Iron Curtain to be drawn across France or any other European nation. Immediately after my conference with Mr. Stalin, I will report to you again on the steps he and I have taken to address our concerns. Ladies and gentlemen, I urge you to be calm. We will not be bullied, and we will not be coerced into a war that could mean the end of European civilization. I wish you good afternoon.”

Jenny said, “I think he’s going to let Stalin have Germany.”

“Maybe,” Drummond said. “God knows that right now, we don’t have the strength to push the Soviets back. Maybe, though, Truman has something up his sleeve.” God, not those bombs again.

David looked up at his father and said, “Dad, do you think there will be war?”

“I don’t know. I sure don’t want it, and Truman doesn’t want it. But that Forrestal is a real crusader. He will probably want to punish the hell out of the Ruskies for what they’ve done. Who knows? Maybe the Soviets will just stop at the border with France.”

As they talked, the phone rang. Jenny went over to answer it. “Honey, it’s for you.”

Drummond walked over and picked up the receiver. “Joe Drummond here.”

A voice that Drummond knew came on the line: “Colonel Drummond, this is General Jones.” It was Eglin’s commanding officer. “I have orders for you. This is top secret. You are to leave in three hours with your B-36 from Eglin. You are to fly to Walker Air Force Base, New Mexico. From there, I don’t know your destination. The orders were given by Secretary Forrestal himself. We’re calling your crew back now. You are to talk about this with no one. Is that clear, Colonel?”

“Yes, sir. I’ll get back to the base right away.” He hung up the phone, walked over to Jenny, and said, “I have orders. I can’t talk about them. I have to get back to Eglin.” Drummond thought for a second. Oh, no. Walker is the closest base to Los Alamos.

“Be careful, Joe. I want you back in one piece.” She kissed him. He walked over to David and gave him a hug.

“I’ll see you soon. Keep working on that trombone playing. OK?”

“Sure, Dad,” David said. “Be safe.” Having said goodbye to his family, Joseph Drummond went outside, kick started the motorcycle, and sped back to Eglin and an uncertain future.

END OF FREE EXTRACT
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Alt Hist Issue 6 Published – just about!

Alt Hist Issue 6 Front CoverAlt Hist Issue 6 is pretty much published. We are just waiting for one more retailer to sort their catalogue out – Apple iBooks, but otherwise you can now get Alt Hist Issue 6 from the usual suspects. I’ll post fully all the details next week when iBooks is up to speed!

You can currently get it at:

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | All the other Amazons!

Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords – and others too numerous to list!

Alt Hist Issue 6 includes four wonderful alternate history stories, plus a great “straight” historical fiction set in 1914 about a teenage girl accused of war crimes. The alternate history stories cover some classic areas for speculative fiction and of interest to alternate history buffs: what if Hitler won the war, what if the Germans invaded Britain in WW2, who really killed JFK and what if the Cold War turned hot? But none of these tales are just speculation on alternative versions of history. They all share what you have come to expect from Alt Hist: a strong story and engaging characters.

Alt Hist is the magazine of Historical Fiction and Alternate History, published twice a year by Alt Hist Press.

Stories featured in Alt Hist Issue 6:

  • “B-36”by Douglas W. Texter
  • “ Battalion 202: Worm in the Apple” by Jonathan Doering:
  • “The Iceberg” by Andrea Mullaney
  • “When Shots Rang Out” by Lynda M. Vanderhoff
  • “Hitler Is Coming” by Martin Roy Hill

Set in a world in which the early Cold War grows very hot, “B-36”by Douglas W. Texter tells the tale of what might have happened if the Soviet Union had taken Berlin during the Berlin Airlift. In this world, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal orders a B-36 piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Drummond and a very special mission commander to fly to the Soviet Union with a secret “gimmick” on board.  The results of the mission are world-changing.

The next instalment of Battalion 202 by Jonathan Doering: “For all I know, you’re dirty as well.” Christopher felt his chest flare. “Alright then, if you don’t believe me, shoot me.” A worm enters an apple. It is seeking food, shelter. It is only acting on its nature. But sooner or later the apple will turn rotten. Everything will explode. There is a traitor in Pontefract Auxiliary Unit. A traitor who places his own survival and success in the new Nazi state ahead of everything – even the lives of his comrades….

On Boxing Day, 1914, a teenage girl sits in an Edinburgh prison awaiting trial for a war crime. Her lawyer finds himself captivated by her as he tries to establish the truth of the case, whose roots lie in the Titanic disaster two years before. ‘The Iceberg,’ by Andrea Mullaney, is based on an extraordinary true story.

In “When Shots Rang Out” by Lynda M. Vanderhoff JFK was a well known ladies man, but his family has suffered under a curse that is nearly Shakespearian in scope.  Could it be that Kennedy upset the wrong person with his philandering, putting in motion the death and bad fortune that would see his family destroyed?

What would the United States be like if Hitler won the Second World War? In “Hitler Is Coming” by Martin Roy Hill protagonist Paul Klee is an OSS veteran and police investigator on temporary assignment to the post-war American SS to stop a plot to kill a victorious Adolf Hitler on his first visit to the U.S. From fascist cabbies to corrupt Party gauleiters, Klee wends his way through an America most Americans today never knew once existed.

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Alt Hist – Latest News

The good news is that Alt Hist Issue 6 is nearly available – I anticipate being able to announce it next week! Subscriber copies should hopefully be dispatched fairly soon – they will get copies before anyone else.

Another piece of good news is that the eBook versions of each issue of Alt Hist are currently $3.99 – so if you haven’t yet go and check out a copy. See How to Get Your Alt Hist for more details.

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Classic Historical Fiction Short Story: Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Young Goodman Brown is a well know short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne set in 17th century Puritan New England. It’s also a classic historical fiction short story.

Enjoy!

YOUNG GOODMAN BROWN

Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset into the street at Salem village; but put his head back, after crossing the threshold, to exchange a parting kiss with his young wife. And Faith, as the wife was aptly named, thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap while she called to Goodman Brown.

“Dearest heart,” whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her lips were close to his ear, “prithee put off your journey until sunrise and sleep in your own bed to-night. A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts that she’s afeard of herself sometimes. Pray tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year.”

“My love and my Faith,” replied young Goodman Brown, “of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done ‘twixt now and sunrise. What, my sweet, pretty wife, dost thou doubt me already, and we but three months married?”

“Then God bless you!” said Faith, with the pink ribbons; “and may you find all well when you come back.”

“Amen!” cried Goodman Brown. “Say thy prayers, dear Faith, and go to bed at dusk, and no harm will come to thee.”

So they parted; and the young man pursued his way until, being about to turn the corner by the meeting-house, he looked back and saw the head of Faith still peeping after him with a melancholy air, in spite of her pink ribbons.

“Poor little Faith!” thought he, for his heart smote him. “What a wretch am I to leave her on such an errand! She talks of dreams, too. Methought as she spoke there was trouble in her face, as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done tonight. But no, no; ‘t would kill her to think it. Well, she’s a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.”

With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose. He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind. It was all as lonely as could be; and there is this peculiarity in such a solitude, that the traveller knows not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead; so that with lonely footsteps he may yet be passing through an unseen multitude.

“There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree,” said Goodman Brown to himself; and he glanced fearfully behind him as he added, “What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!”

His head being turned back, he passed a crook of the road, and, looking forward again, beheld the figure of a man, in grave and decent attire, seated at the foot of an old tree. He arose at Goodman Brown’s approach and walked onward side by side with him.

“You are late, Goodman Brown,” said he. “The clock of the Old South was striking as I came through Boston, and that is full fifteen minutes agone.”

“Faith kept me back a while,” replied the young man, with a tremor in his voice, caused by the sudden appearance of his companion, though not wholly unexpected.

It was now deep dusk in the forest, and deepest in that part of it where these two were journeying. As nearly as could be discerned, the second traveller was about fifty years old, apparently in the same rank of life as Goodman Brown, and bearing a considerable resemblance to him, though perhaps more in expression than features. Still they might have been taken for father and son. And yet, though the elder person was as simply clad as the younger, and as simple in manner too, he had an indescribable air of one who knew the world, and who would not have felt abashed at the governor’s dinner table or in King William’s court, were it possible that his affairs should call him thither. But the only thing about him that could be fixed upon as remarkable was his staff, which bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent. This, of course, must have been an ocular deception, assisted by the uncertain light.

“Come, Goodman Brown,” cried his fellow-traveller, “this is a dull pace for the beginning of a journey. Take my staff, if you are so soon weary.”

“Friend,” said the other, exchanging his slow pace for a full stop, “having kept covenant by meeting thee here, it is my purpose now to return whence I came. I have scruples touching the matter thou wot’st of.”

“Sayest thou so?” replied he of the serpent, smiling apart. “Let us walk on, nevertheless, reasoning as we go; and if I convince thee not thou shalt turn back. We are but a little way in the forest yet.”

“Too far! too far!” exclaimed the goodman, unconsciously resuming his walk. “My father never went into the woods on such an errand, nor his father before him. We have been a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the martyrs; and shall I be the first of the name of Brown that ever took this path and kept—”

“Such company, thou wouldst say,” observed the elder person, interpreting his pause. “Well said, Goodman Brown! I have been as well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans; and that’s no trifle to say. I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem; and it was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip’s war. They were my good friends, both; and many a pleasant walk have we had along this path, and returned merrily after midnight. I would fain be friends with you for their sake.”

“If it be as thou sayest,” replied Goodman Brown, “I marvel they never spoke of these matters; or, verily, I marvel not, seeing that the least rumor of the sort would have driven them from New England. We are a people of prayer, and good works to boot, and abide no such wickedness.”

“Wickedness or not,” said the traveller with the twisted staff, “I have a very general acquaintance here in New England. The deacons of many a church have drunk the communion wine with me; the selectmen of divers towns make me their chairman; and a majority of the Great and General Court are firm supporters of my interest. The governor and I, too—But these are state secrets.”

“Can this be so?” cried Goodman Brown, with a stare of amazement at his undisturbed companion. “Howbeit, I have nothing to do with the governor and council; they have their own ways, and are no rule for a simple husbandman like me. But, were I to go on with thee, how should I meet the eye of that good old man, our minister, at Salem village? Oh, his voice would make me tremble both Sabbath day and lecture day.”

Thus far the elder traveller had listened with due gravity; but now burst into a fit of irrepressible mirth, shaking himself so violently that his snake-like staff actually seemed to wriggle in sympathy.

“Ha! ha! ha!” shouted he again and again; then composing himself, “Well, go on, Goodman Brown, go on; but, prithee, don’t kill me with laughing.”

“Well, then, to end the matter at once,” said Goodman Brown, considerably nettled, “there is my wife, Faith. It would break her dear little heart; and I’d rather break my own.”

“Nay, if that be the case,” answered the other, “e’en go thy ways, Goodman Brown. I would not for twenty old women like the one hobbling before us that Faith should come to any harm.”

As he spoke he pointed his staff at a female figure on the path, in whom Goodman Brown recognized a very pious and exemplary dame, who had taught him his catechism in youth, and was still his moral and spiritual adviser, jointly with the minister and Deacon Gookin.

“A marvel, truly, that Goody Cloyse should be so far in the wilderness at nightfall,” said he. “But with your leave, friend, I shall take a cut through the woods until we have left this Christian woman behind. Being a stranger to you, she might ask whom I was consorting with and whither I was going.”

“Be it so,” said his fellow-traveller. “Betake you to the woods, and let me keep the path.”

Accordingly the young man turned aside, but took care to watch his companion, who advanced softly along the road until he had come within a staff’s length of the old dame. She, meanwhile, was making the best of her way, with singular speed for so aged a woman, and mumbling some indistinct words—a prayer, doubtless—as she went. The traveller put forth his staff and touched her withered neck with what seemed the serpent’s tail.

“The devil!” screamed the pious old lady.

“Then Goody Cloyse knows her old friend?” observed the traveller, confronting her and leaning on his writhing stick.

“Ah, forsooth, and is it your worship indeed?” cried the good dame. “Yea, truly is it, and in the very image of my old gossip, Goodman Brown, the grandfather of the silly fellow that now is. But—would your worship believe it?—my broomstick hath strangely disappeared, stolen, as I suspect, by that unhanged witch, Goody Cory, and that, too, when I was all anointed with the juice of smallage, and cinquefoil, and wolf’s bane.”

“Mingled with fine wheat and the fat of a new-born babe,” said the shape of old Goodman Brown.

“Ah, your worship knows the recipe,” cried the old lady, cackling aloud. “So, as I was saying, being all ready for the meeting, and no horse to ride on, I made up my mind to foot it; for they tell me there is a nice young man to be taken into communion to-night. But now your good worship will lend me your arm, and we shall be there in a twinkling.”

“That can hardly be,” answered her friend. “I may not spare you my arm, Goody Cloyse; but here is my staff, if you will.”

So saying, he threw it down at her feet, where, perhaps, it assumed life, being one of the rods which its owner had formerly lent to the Egyptian magi. Of this fact, however, Goodman Brown could not take cognizance. He had cast up his eyes in astonishment, and, looking down again, beheld neither Goody Cloyse nor the serpentine staff, but his fellow-traveller alone, who waited for him as calmly as if nothing had happened.

“That old woman taught me my catechism,” said the young man; and there was a world of meaning in this simple comment.

They continued to walk onward, while the elder traveller exhorted his companion to make good speed and persevere in the path, discoursing so aptly that his arguments seemed rather to spring up in the bosom of his auditor than to be suggested by himself. As they went, he plucked a branch of maple to serve for a walking stick, and began to strip it of the twigs and little boughs, which were wet with evening dew. The moment his fingers touched them they became strangely withered and dried up as with a week’s sunshine. Thus the pair proceeded, at a good free pace, until suddenly, in a gloomy hollow of the road, Goodman Brown sat himself down on the stump of a tree and refused to go any farther.

“Friend,” said he, stubbornly, “my mind is made up. Not another step will I budge on this errand. What if a wretched old woman do choose to go to the devil when I thought she was going to heaven: is that any reason why I should quit my dear Faith and go after her?”

“You will think better of this by and by,” said his acquaintance, composedly. “Sit here and rest yourself a while; and when you feel like moving again, there is my staff to help you along.”

Without more words, he threw his companion the maple stick, and was as speedily out of sight as if he had vanished into the deepening gloom. The young man sat a few moments by the roadside, applauding himself greatly, and thinking with how clear a conscience he should meet the minister in his morning walk, nor shrink from the eye of good old Deacon Gookin. And what calm sleep would be his that very night, which was to have been spent so wickedly, but so purely and sweetly now, in the arms of Faith! Amidst these pleasant and praiseworthy meditations, Goodman Brown heard the tramp of horses along the road, and deemed it advisable to conceal himself within the verge of the forest, conscious of the guilty purpose that had brought him thither, though now so happily turned from it.

On came the hoof tramps and the voices of the riders, two grave old voices, conversing soberly as they drew near. These mingled sounds appeared to pass along the road, within a few yards of the young man’s hiding-place; but, owing doubtless to the depth of the gloom at that particular spot, neither the travellers nor their steeds were visible. Though their figures brushed the small boughs by the wayside, it could not be seen that they intercepted, even for a moment, the faint gleam from the strip of bright sky athwart which they must have passed. Goodman Brown alternately crouched and stood on tiptoe, pulling aside the branches and thrusting forth his head as far as he durst without discerning so much as a shadow. It vexed him the more, because he could have sworn, were such a thing possible, that he recognized the voices of the minister and Deacon Gookin, jogging along quietly, as they were wont to do, when bound to some ordination or ecclesiastical council. While yet within hearing, one of the riders stopped to pluck a switch.

“Of the two, reverend sir,” said the voice like the deacon’s, “I had rather miss an ordination dinner than to-night’s meeting. They tell me that some of our community are to be here from Falmouth and beyond, and others from Connecticut and Rhode Island, besides several of the Indian powwows, who, after their fashion, know almost as much deviltry as the best of us. Moreover, there is a goodly young woman to be taken into communion.”

“Mighty well, Deacon Gookin!” replied the solemn old tones of the minister. “Spur up, or we shall be late. Nothing can be done, you know, until I get on the ground.”

The hoofs clattered again; and the voices, talking so strangely in the empty air, passed on through the forest, where no church had ever been gathered or solitary Christian prayed. Whither, then, could these holy men be journeying so deep into the heathen wilderness? Young Goodman Brown caught hold of a tree for support, being ready to sink down on the ground, faint and overburdened with the heavy sickness of his heart. He looked up to the sky, doubting whether there really was a heaven above him. Yet there was the blue arch, and the stars brightening in it.

“With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!” cried Goodman Brown.

While he still gazed upward into the deep arch of the firmament and had lifted his hands to pray, a cloud, though no wind was stirring, hurried across the zenith and hid the brightening stars. The blue sky was still visible, except directly overhead, where this black mass of cloud was sweeping swiftly northward. Aloft in the air, as if from the depths of the cloud, came a confused and doubtful sound of voices. Once the listener fancied that he could distinguish the accents of towns-people of his own, men and women, both pious and ungodly, many of whom he had met at the communion table, and had seen others rioting at the tavern. The next moment, so indistinct were the sounds, he doubted whether he had heard aught but the murmur of the old forest, whispering without a wind. Then came a stronger swell of those familiar tones, heard daily in the sunshine at Salem village, but never until now from a cloud of night There was one voice of a young woman, uttering lamentations, yet with an uncertain sorrow, and entreating for some favor, which, perhaps, it would grieve her to obtain; and all the unseen multitude, both saints and sinners, seemed to encourage her onward.

“Faith!” shouted Goodman Brown, in a voice of agony and desperation; and the echoes of the forest mocked him, crying, “Faith! Faith!” as if bewildered wretches were seeking her all through the wilderness.

The cry of grief, rage, and terror was yet piercing the night, when the unhappy husband held his breath for a response. There was a scream, drowned immediately in a louder murmur of voices, fading into far-off laughter, as the dark cloud swept away, leaving the clear and silent sky above Goodman Brown. But something fluttered lightly down through the air and caught on the branch of a tree. The young man seized it, and beheld a pink ribbon.

“My Faith is gone!” cried he, after one stupefied moment. “There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil; for to thee is this world given.”

And, maddened with despair, so that he laughed loud and long, did Goodman Brown grasp his staff and set forth again, at such a rate that he seemed to fly along the forest path rather than to walk or run. The road grew wilder and drearier and more faintly traced, and vanished at length, leaving him in the heart of the dark wilderness, still rushing onward with the instinct that guides mortal man to evil. The whole forest was peopled with frightful sounds—the creaking of the trees, the howling of wild beasts, and the yell of Indians; while sometimes the wind tolled like a distant church bell, and sometimes gave a broad roar around the traveller, as if all Nature were laughing him to scorn. But he was himself the chief horror of the scene, and shrank not from its other horrors.

“Ha! ha! ha!” roared Goodman Brown when the wind laughed at him.

“Let us hear which will laugh loudest. Think not to frighten me with your deviltry. Come witch, come wizard, come Indian powwow, come devil himself, and here comes Goodman Brown. You may as well fear him as he fear you.”

In truth, all through the haunted forest there could be nothing more frightful than the figure of Goodman Brown. On he flew among the black pines, brandishing his staff with frenzied gestures, now giving vent to an inspiration of horrid blasphemy, and now shouting forth such laughter as set all the echoes of the forest laughing like demons around him. The fiend in his own shape is less hideous than when he rages in the breast of man. Thus sped the demoniac on his course, until, quivering among the trees, he saw a red light before him, as when the felled trunks and branches of a clearing have been set on fire, and throw up their lurid blaze against the sky, at the hour of midnight. He paused, in a lull of the tempest that had driven him onward, and heard the swell of what seemed a hymn, rolling solemnly from a distance with the weight of many voices. He knew the tune; it was a familiar one in the choir of the village meeting-house. The verse died heavily away, and was lengthened by a chorus, not of human voices, but of all the sounds of the benighted wilderness pealing in awful harmony together. Goodman Brown cried out, and his cry was lost to his own ear by its unison with the cry of the desert.

In the interval of silence he stole forward until the light glared full upon his eyes. At one extremity of an open space, hemmed in by the dark wall of the forest, arose a rock, bearing some rude, natural resemblance either to an altar or a pulpit, and surrounded by four blazing pines, their tops aflame, their stems untouched, like candles at an evening meeting. The mass of foliage that had overgrown the summit of the rock was all on fire, blazing high into the night and fitfully illuminating the whole field. Each pendent twig and leafy festoon was in a blaze. As the red light arose and fell, a numerous congregation alternately shone forth, then disappeared in shadow, and again grew, as it were, out of the darkness, peopling the heart of the solitary woods at once.

“A grave and dark-clad company,” quoth Goodman Brown.

In truth they were such. Among them, quivering to and fro between gloom and splendor, appeared faces that would be seen next day at the council board of the province, and others which, Sabbath after Sabbath, looked devoutly heavenward, and benignantly over the crowded pews, from the holiest pulpits in the land. Some affirm that the lady of the governor was there. At least there were high dames well known to her, and wives of honored husbands, and widows, a great multitude, and ancient maidens, all of excellent repute, and fair young girls, who trembled lest their mothers should espy them. Either the sudden gleams of light flashing over the obscure field bedazzled Goodman Brown, or he recognized a score of the church members of Salem village famous for their especial sanctity. Good old Deacon Gookin had arrived, and waited at the skirts of that venerable saint, his revered pastor. But, irreverently consorting with these grave, reputable, and pious people, these elders of the church, these chaste dames and dewy virgins, there were men of dissolute lives and women of spotted fame, wretches given over to all mean and filthy vice, and suspected even of horrid crimes. It was strange to see that the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints. Scattered also among their pale-faced enemies were the Indian priests, or powwows, who had often scared their native forest with more hideous incantations than any known to English witchcraft.

“But where is Faith?” thought Goodman Brown; and, as hope came into his heart, he trembled.

Another verse of the hymn arose, a slow and mournful strain, such as the pious love, but joined to words which expressed all that our nature can conceive of sin, and darkly hinted at far more. Unfathomable to mere mortals is the lore of fiends. Verse after verse was sung; and still the chorus of the desert swelled between like the deepest tone of a mighty organ; and with the final peal of that dreadful anthem there came a sound, as if the roaring wind, the rushing streams, the howling beasts, and every other voice of the unconcerted wilderness were mingling and according with the voice of guilty man in homage to the prince of all. The four blazing pines threw up a loftier flame, and obscurely discovered shapes and visages of horror on the smoke wreaths above the impious assembly. At the same moment the fire on the rock shot redly forth and formed a glowing arch above its base, where now appeared a figure. With reverence be it spoken, the figure bore no slight similitude, both in garb and manner, to some grave divine of the New England churches.

“Bring forth the converts!” cried a voice that echoed through the field and rolled into the forest.

At the word, Goodman Brown stepped forth from the shadow of the trees and approached the congregation, with whom he felt a loathful brotherhood by the sympathy of all that was wicked in his heart. He could have well-nigh sworn that the shape of his own dead father beckoned him to advance, looking downward from a smoke wreath, while a woman, with dim features of despair, threw out her hand to warn him back. Was it his mother? But he had no power to retreat one step, nor to resist, even in thought, when the minister and good old Deacon Gookin seized his arms and led him to the blazing rock. Thither came also the slender form of a veiled female, led between Goody Cloyse, that pious teacher of the catechism, and Martha Carrier, who had received the devil’s promise to be queen of hell. A rampant hag was she. And there stood the proselytes beneath the canopy of fire.

“Welcome, my children,” said the dark figure, “to the communion of your race. Ye have found thus young your nature and your destiny. My children, look behind you!”

They turned; and flashing forth, as it were, in a sheet of flame, the fiend worshippers were seen; the smile of welcome gleamed darkly on every visage.

“There,” resumed the sable form, “are all whom ye have reverenced from youth. Ye deemed them holier than yourselves, and shrank from your own sin, contrasting it with their lives of righteousness and prayerful aspirations heavenward. Yet here are they all in my worshipping assembly. This night it shall be granted you to know their secret deeds: how hoary-bearded elders of the church have whispered wanton words to the young maids of their households; how many a woman, eager for widows’ weeds, has given her husband a drink at bedtime and let him sleep his last sleep in her bosom; how beardless youths have made haste to inherit their fathers’ wealth; and how fair damsels—blush not, sweet ones—have dug little graves in the garden, and bidden me, the sole guest to an infant’s funeral. By the sympathy of your human hearts for sin ye shall scent out all the places—whether in church, bedchamber, street, field, or forest—where crime has been committed, and shall exult to behold the whole earth one stain of guilt, one mighty blood spot. Far more than this. It shall be yours to penetrate, in every bosom, the deep mystery of sin, the fountain of all wicked arts, and which inexhaustibly supplies more evil impulses than human power—than my power at its utmost—can make manifest in deeds. And now, my children, look upon each other.”

They did so; and, by the blaze of the hell-kindled torches, the wretched man beheld his Faith, and the wife her husband, trembling before that unhallowed altar.

“Lo, there ye stand, my children,” said the figure, in a deep and solemn tone, almost sad with its despairing awfulness, as if his once angelic nature could yet mourn for our miserable race. “Depending upon one another’s hearts, ye had still hoped that virtue were not all a dream. Now are ye undeceived. Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome again, my children, to the communion of your race.”

“Welcome,” repeated the fiend worshippers, in one cry of despair and triumph.

And there they stood, the only pair, as it seemed, who were yet hesitating on the verge of wickedness in this dark world. A basin was hollowed, naturally, in the rock. Did it contain water, reddened by the lurid light? or was it blood? or, perchance, a liquid flame? Herein did the shape of evil dip his hand and prepare to lay the mark of baptism upon their foreheads, that they might be partakers of the mystery of sin, more conscious of the secret guilt of others, both in deed and thought, than they could now be of their own. The husband cast one look at his pale wife, and Faith at him. What polluted wretches would the next glance show them to each other, shuddering alike at what they disclosed and what they saw!

“Faith! Faith!” cried the husband, “look up to heaven, and resist the wicked one.”

Whether Faith obeyed he knew not. Hardly had he spoken when he found himself amid calm night and solitude, listening to a roar of the wind which died heavily away through the forest. He staggered against the rock, and felt it chill and damp; while a hanging twig, that had been all on fire, besprinkled his cheek with the coldest dew.

The next morning young Goodman Brown came slowly into the street of Salem village, staring around him like a bewildered man. The good old minister was taking a walk along the graveyard to get an appetite for breakfast and meditate his sermon, and bestowed a blessing, as he passed, on Goodman Brown. He shrank from the venerable saint as if to avoid an anathema. Old Deacon Gookin was at domestic worship, and the holy words of his prayer were heard through the open window. “What God doth the wizard pray to?” quoth Goodman Brown. Goody Cloyse, that excellent old Christian, stood in the early sunshine at her own lattice, catechizing a little girl who had brought her a pint of morning’s milk. Goodman Brown snatched away the child as from the grasp of the fiend himself. Turning the corner by the meeting-house, he spied the head of Faith, with the pink ribbons, gazing anxiously forth, and bursting into such joy at sight of him that she skipped along the street and almost kissed her husband before the whole village. But Goodman Brown looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on without a greeting.

Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?

Be it so if you will; but, alas! it was a dream of evil omen for young Goodman Brown. A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream. On the Sabbath day, when the congregation were singing a holy psalm, he could not listen because an anthem of sin rushed loudly upon his ear and drowned all the blessed strain. When the minister spoke from the pulpit with power and fervid eloquence, and, with his hand on the open Bible, of the sacred truths of our religion, and of saint-like lives and triumphant deaths, and of future bliss or misery unutterable, then did Goodman Brown turn pale, dreading lest the roof should thunder down upon the gray blasphemer and his hearers. Often, waking suddenly at midnight, he shrank from the bosom of Faith; and at morning or eventide, when the family knelt down at prayer, he scowled and muttered to himself, and gazed sternly at his wife, and turned away. And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, an aged woman, and children and grandchildren, a goodly procession, besides neighbors not a few, they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom.

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