Heff in Dearborn by Michael Fertik – Free Extract

The fourth story from Alt Hist Issue 7 gets a free extract on the site this week.

“Heff in Dearborn” by Michael Fertik is an unusual tale that brings together a figure from Greek mythology and the champion of modern factory assembly lines, Henry T. Ford. Hephaistos, ancient Greek god of the forge, now living in contemporary Los Angeles recounts a key incident in his life.  The incident took place in early 20th century America, when Hephaistos, disguised as a man named Heff, met Henry Ford.  It was the dawn of the automobile; cars were still being made by hand.  Hephaistos and Ford race their hand made cars on the famous racing beach in Daytona.  Hephaistos wins handily, embarrassing Ford. Ford, secretly suspecting his opponent’s real identity, decides to invent a new process, a new way of manufacture that will kill the old ways once and for all.

Michael recently hit the New York Times Bestseller list with his book The Reputation Economy: How to Optimize Your Digital Footprint in a World Where Your Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset.

You can buy the book on Amazon and at other good booksellers.

Heff in Dearborn

by Michael Fertik

Much of what you’ve read about me isn’t true. I am unvulgar, actually quite neat in my habits. I’ve never even been to Lemnos. I am not lame. I can do every yoga pose. I do not carry a “pocket forge”. What a dumb idea that would be. What idiot would carry a pocket forge? A pocket forge would be huge.

When I moved to SoCal a few years ago, I had to start calling myself by a different name. Introducing yourself as “Heff” in LA makes people think that you suffer from delusions of grandeur.

But I was Heff in Detroit. I met Henry Ford on the beach at Daytona in Florida. He raced his Pirate and I was in my own handmade chariot. There were other guys. Ford bombed past most everyone except me, because I knew how beach sand affected wheel speed, and I had some other advantages, besides.

Ford was a hater. He lived big, everybody knows that. He liked machines, money, cars, women, planes, plantations, politics, and Nazis. He liked efficiency. That’s the Wikipedia version. They know he didn’t like Moses’ people. But that was only part of it. He was filled to the brim with hate for everything he couldn’t own or humiliate.

I remember meeting him. So much of my life since then has been an echo of that encounter that I couldn’t help it.

I’d just beaten the pants off him on the Daytona beach. He’d left the field behind in his noisy, spewing wake as he took off for the finish line, right out of the gate. I hung back to watch him go, admiring the lines and acceleration of his car. He drove his Pirate, curved like a hip and shaking like a boulder hurtling down a hill. The workmanship was fine. Whoever designed the car understood the poetry of symmetry and the essential virtue of echoing an object’s purpose in its contour, that how it looks is the spirit in which it will perform. It is enjoyable to see the divine inspiration appearing in people’s work that way. There were details, too. Ford had taken the time to etch long, parallel grooves into the chassis to emphasize the speed of his car, and I perceived the idea of some flares shooting backwards on the surfaces toward the rear. The automobile was black—he was famous for that before he was famous for that—but he betrayed a feeling for flair in spots with sharp chrome and rounded glass. He even stood in the cabin at times as he rushed forward, like it was a motorcycle. He bared his teeth in what appeared like a smile.

I watched him race. Even though he was lengths ahead of the field, pulling away, he kept the accelerator down and looked back at us to see if anyone was catching up. He would lean ahead, as if to egg on his car. He was admirable. You don’t see true desperation and talent bundled together that often. He raced like a starving leopard. I thought about composing a few lines.

I waited until the three quarters mark, and then I stoked my chariot. Passing Ford wasn’t difficult, all things considered, but for the sake of drama and to encourage the hero and our competitors, I left it to the last stretch to overtake him. There was a great deal of backslapping, and everyone looked pleased, except for Ford, whose smile could have been chiseled from rough stone. After the champagne had died down, he came over to me and shook hands.

“Hello, I’m Henry Ford.” He crinked his head left to right to loosen something. Ford wasn’t very tall, and he was skinny as a wraith. He had close-cropped hair and blue eyes set in deep, arched sockets. His nose, while aquiline, was made for a skull 20% larger than his, as was his forehead. He was what Life Magazine would have called a fine looking man. When I met him he must have been about forty.

“Hello, I’m Heff! Ha ha ha!” I shook his hand vigorously and decided to take the course of the jolly friend. No use rubbing in the victory. “A good race! You have a fine automobile there! Ho ho!” I slapped his back and beamed conviviality at him.

To put it straightforwardly, my kind of emotional energy isn’t easy to resist. But it seemed to me he deflected it without effort. He wore a grin that would make it look to the fellows around that Number One and Runner Up were having a good motoring chat. But his eyes burned with hate. He hated my guts for passing him.

“Where did you get that rig? It’s an unusual design.”

“Oh, ha ha, just something I made myself.”

“Maybe you could show me how it works.”

“Hee hee, yes, you are a good sport and a card! I’ve heard, ha ha!” I tried in vain to keep it light. “I hear you are quite an inventor, too, and by the looks of your car, it’s true!”

“More of a tinkerer. I’m a farmer’s son, Heff. You?” There was a twinkle in his eye as he started to work something out. It made me uneasy.

“I’m a tinkerer, too.” I said, feeling clever about my minor dodge.

For some reason I wanted him to like me. I probably looked younger than he did, though not young enough to be his son, but father figures have always been a weakness for me.

He tapped my shoulder, more familiar now. “Well, now, anyway, a good race, and congratulations to the winner.” He turned around and led the fellows in a cheer. “Let’s get some food,” he said, and we walked toward the barbecue.

We ate brisket and corn at a picnic table some feet from the others. “You like working with tools? Enjoy working with your hands?” He smiled at me, and the glimmer in his eye grew bigger. “I’ve got a huge warehouse full of the greatest variety of tools a man’s ever seen. You might enjoy visiting.”

I had a feeling Ford knew who I was. Watching him pick his food birdlike as the sun set and colored the sea coral, observing the slight arch in his back and the vague triangle shape to his head, looking hard at his eyes, I wondered for a second if I recognized him, too. Is that you, Scamander, come to take your vengeance? Promo, is it you, come to take vengeance on my vengeance? Or Kratos, you piece of shit, come just to be nasty somewhere new?

It happens from time to time. I saw Typhon in Venice Beach three years ago. He was hideous, his stench emanated for blocks, and when I finally saw him, having followed the scent, he was committing the foulest acts on two young corpses he had no doubt freshly killed. He sensed me and looked up and immediately bristled. I posed for a fight. These instincts run deep. But like the rest of us, he was much diminished from his former self, and it seemed neither of us wanted to battle. I made as if I had been distracted by something to my left and out of his view, and I stepped away and reset my countenance so that we both might pretend he hadn’t recognized me, though it was clear he had. He was fearsome but nothing like before, an acorn compared to the oak. It is true I was afraid of him still, but more afraid, I think, for him, something so perfectly powerful and evil, reduced to a mangy shadow. Our fight would have no stanzas, just a wrestle and a brain-bashing either way, nothing to recount, and no matter the outcome, he would be even more miserable. I didn’t have the heart to win or lose. Since that day, I have avoided that section of Venice.

But it wasn’t that. Ford didn’t recognize me from before. He was Henry Ford, as advertised. Still, as we sat there talking, our plates only barely touched and the revels of our meet-mates gaining volume, as the flames from the night torches danced across our faces and cast long shadows into the dunes, I believed he knew who I was. Sometimes people who are gifted can tell.

“Yes, you’re right, I do like working with my hands. My machine—I built it ground up. Ha ha!” I tried laughing again but found myself losing my footing. “Where is your warehouse?”

“Michigan. Let me invite you to visit and see what we’re doing there. I would love your opinion.”

He told me about his company. They were building cars, obviously. It was early days. A few guys in a cavernous building cobbling together new automobiles, handcrafting style and moving parts and engines, working hard and watching the fruits of their inspiration spring to life. Exactly my style. Ford was animated. He knew engineering, design, physical properties, metals, rubbers, combustion, gears, fuels. He was building a team that would fulfill a vision of the future in which every person could drive around in a car. When he mentioned the other guys around the US and Europe who were trying to do similar things, you could see the hate reappear in a flash. He hated the competition. If he could snuff out their lives completely, he would. His passion was infectious. That, and his invitations to “come up to Michigan immediately, no delay” were persistent and flattering. It’s nice to be wanted. I had nothing else in particular I was doing, so why not?

That, again, and something else. As he talked, he looked straight in my eye, as if to say, “yes, I know you, and you know that I know you”. He never said anything, but I had a stronger and stronger impression, and there was something about continuing this cat and mouse game with a man of his caliber that appealed to me. How long could we keep up the charade? Was I going to learn that he had no idea all along? What would it be like to appear to take his lure and then beat him at his own game, as I had done on the beach that afternoon? This was a fun diversion, and in the course of it, I could fashion new tools, new machines, and new instruments with my hands and heat. I could direct teams of men in the ways of founding and developing a whole new tradition. There had of course been no discussion yet of my actually coming to work with Ford. It had all been about “visiting the warehouse in Michigan”. But we both knew where this was heading.

 

Six weeks later I was standing with about one hundred other fellows and Henry Ford up there in Dearborn inside the chilly warehouse. We stamped our feet to keep out the cold. The fellows stuffed their hands in their denim jacket pockets and pulled down their wool caps. Only Ford wore no hat at all.

“You’ve all gotten to know Heff this past while,” he said, “and I don’t have to tell you how likeable and useful he is.” Though I say so myself, he was getting at something true. I had done what I could to charm the men already working there, and they seemed to respond favorably. In that context, only two kinds of men can be found: those who want you to acknowledge their status as having been there first, and those who want your ideas to be right. In this case, it wasn’t so hard to do both, if only I gave the attention necessary to standing.

Ford continued. “He’s got some fine ideas on how to make our products better. I’m sure you’ve heard a few of those already.” There was a murmur around the gang, and one especially jovial fellow, a team captain named Cunningham, shouted “attaboy, Heff!” and the men murmured approval. Ford smiled and raised his hands overhead for quiet. “You’ve also probably heard his ideas for improving how to make our cars. He has some proposals for training and workmanship that can make our automobiles more quickly and even better looking!” He shouted the last part and got some praise back. Turning to me, “Well, Heff and I haven’t been working out just exactly how much faster we can make a car using his new ideas versus our existing ones. We’ve sorted it out that one fellow, working by himself, might just be able to go faster than the regular crew of five who build a car together.” The crowd shifted and said something quietly like “it’s not possible” and “well let’s try it”. I hadn’t ever said it to Ford that way, but what was I going to say then?

“I figure we should put this into action and invite Heff to stay with us a little while longer before leaving on his travels, so we can run a contest between our best team of five—Cunningham’s crew—and Heff to see who finishes first and what the final product looks like.”

There were some raised eyebrows and stamped feet, but pretty soon the good-hearted fellows said “sounds good” and “whaddya say” and “how ‘bout it, Heff?” Cunningham, who was well liked because he was very strong, very funny, and very generous, shouted “Alright, Heff, you’re on, you old Devil, we’ll beat you into shortpants!” The gang erupted with laughter, and I couldn’t help but smile and nod, and then the fellows clapped my back. All except for Ford, who put his hand on my shoulder and said just “good thing, good”. He wore that marble smile again. His eyes were ablaze with hate, hate spilling out into his deep, broad eye sockets, hate at something, maybe me, but I could not tell.

So it was that I faced off against Cunningham and his top four men to build a car faster and better.

It wasn’t hard to win. Even then, even now, it’s not a fair contest. I knew all the best ways to heat and hammer a piece of metal just so, so that only a few strikes would bend it correctly into the proper shape. I possessed special experience in working materials so that a single effort would both mold and beautify the object. In an instant I could grasp the import of any tool I handled. And I could stoke the heat of a furnace to precisely the correct temperature for each bolt, rivet, or handle I was building. Then there was the other thing. I was just faster, stronger, and more accurate than Cunningham’s boys. The biggest worry bead for me in this contest was to avoid winning it by so much as I could. It took nearly a week for a team to build a car. I had to pace myself so as not to embarrass anyone or arouse suspicion. Anyone with a long life can tell you that people will admire and praise what they see as excellence, until it becomes so superb that it is beyond their scope of comparison, at which point they must fear it, contemn it, or revere it. None of those outcomes would have been good. I could sense old Ford watching closely, gauging, observing, measuring, even timing me on his stopwatch as my fingers deftly maneuvered tongs and anvil, hammer and steel. What I could have easily completed in seventy hours took me almost five days, with stoppage along the way to show fatigue, frustration, and fear of losing. I would utter quips crediting my speed to process and the good luck of broad training across tools and heat levels. The fellows looked on in astonishment as I kept pace and then exceeded the Cunningham crew. At first they were excited for the early returns and encouraged us in good sport. Then I could hear them grow incredulous as it became clear that I was at least keeping up. “Could he really beat them?” they quietly murmured. They gathered at lunch and in the evenings to place small bets on who would finish the engine block first and then whether I would slow to a crawl when it came time to lift and fasten the larger pieces together. Then they grew hushed again as I fashioned my own simple and reusable pulley system. I made sure to reveal enough devices and how they worked so that the men would feel they could eventually manage what I was doing. As their confidence in the new processes grew, and as they became convinced that they could manage this themselves one day, they began to see me as a hero for their future and not a threat. They loved Cunningham, but they admired me. They felt somehow that I was there to improve their lives. Cunningham and his team felt the same. As we locked down piece after piece of the cars with joiners and welding, the fellows would cheer the final rivets and sparks. Cunningham’s crew would whoop for me, and I would strike my foot hard on the floor for theirs.

By the end it was clear I would win and that I was probably slowing down to be fair. The men only loved that more. In the reflection of the windshield glass, I spotted Ford drop his stopwatch with a smirk as he figured out what I was doing. I felt a shot of embarrassment.

I popped in the hood ornament and wiped it with a clean rag as the piece de resistance, and the fellows shouted “well done, Heff!” Despite the cold, we dripped sweat. Cunningham’s boys were a solid four hours behind. I bought a crate of pop and passed them around to the men as we sat and encouraged them to finish with style.

Beer and sandwiches appeared. We spent the afternoon retelling the race. I hadn’t had that much fun in years.

END OF FREE EXTRACT

Don’t forget to order your copy of Alt Hist Issue 7 to read the rest of this story and others.

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The Independence Day by Pavel Nikiforovitch – Free Extract

Today we have for you another free extract of a story in Alt Hist Issue 7. Enjoy!

“Independence Day” by Pavel Nikiforovitch is an alternate history set in a present day when celebration of the 4th July in America is very much a minority activity. Most Americans aren’t patriots. One man struggles to celebrate the most important day in his country’s history. The main things he has to fight against are the indifference of his own family and neighbours—in this reality, the USA barely exists as a political entity. The cover of this issue of Alt Hist pays homage to a reference in “Independence Day”.

The Independence Day

by Pavel Nikiforovitch

“C’mon … Faster … Please …” Silas Smith was shaking with impatience and looking at the wall clock again and again.

“Silas, why don’t you just go to bed?” His wife shook her head. “Then you’ll just get up in the morning—and won’t have to wait.”

“Ah, Debbie, do you have any idea what you’re saying?” Silas waved his spouse off. “How can you even sleep on a night like this?”

Actually, he couldn’t sit on the couch anymore either. Silas got up and started pacing back and forth still throwing a glance at the clock every other second. According to the dial there were just five minutes left to midnight.

“Well, it’s not the New Year …” Debbie shrugged.

“It’s way more important!” Silas exclaimed, barely able to suppress his desire to turn the clock hands forward. Actually, the clock was electronic anyway.

“Fine. Do whatever you want,” his wife said in a decisive tone. “But I am going to bed.”

“Goodnight,” Silas replied indifferently.

Several minutes later he realized that the clock was not really necessary.

Because exactly at twelve he heard noise, thunder and explosions from outside. Just as American tradition dictates, tens of local amateur pyromaniacs deafened the whole of Charleston by their fireworks.

“Oh yeah!” Silas howled, not in the least afraid to wake his wife and son up.

After that he ran down the stairs into the basement. Not even fifteen seconds later, he flew up the same stairs, opened the front door and ran to the street. While doing this, Silas was carefully holding a stick with an attached piece of cloth in his hands.

When Silas reached his garage, he inserted the stick into a previously prepared hole, took a flashlight out of his pocket, turned it on—and admired his deed with a sense of earned pride. Now his garage was adorned with Stars and Stripes—the flag of the United States of America. Just like it should have been on an important day like this.

The Fourth of July—the Independence Day—had come.

 

After opening his bedroom door, Silas unceremoniously turned the light on.

“Silas!” Debbie said reproachingly. “It’s 1 am!”

“Ah, who cares?” Silas waved her off. “You ain’t sleeping anyway.”

“Of course I am not sleeping!” his wife replied with outrage. “How can I sleep when you’re making all that noise outside? Was it really so difficult to raise that darn flag?”

“Flag ain’t enough,” Silas said importantly. “On a day like this all of the façade should be adorned, right? But it sure ain’t so easy to work in the dark. So that’s why it took so long. And, yeah, there was some noise—why did you expect there not to be any? I hammered the nails, and I tripped and fell a couple of times, and I fell off the ladder once …”

“And you swore like a sailor, too,” Debbie added, thinning her lips in disapproval.

“Yes, I did swear.” Silas sighed. “Especially that time when I hit my index finger hard with the hammer. But it’s fine, honey, since now you can finally get some sleep.”

“And you?” Debbie asked, clearly surprised. Only now she realized that her husband’s late-night activities were not over yet.

“And I’ll change clothes and go to Murphy’s.”

“To a bar? In the middle of the night? How can you do it, Silas?”

“Oh, yes, I can!” Silas answered with a smug smirk. “I couldn’t do it yesterday, I won’t be able to do it tomorrow, but today—oh, yes, I can. I’d say I even ought to.”

“Silas!” His wife clasped her hands melodramatically. “Why do you always do stupid things just because you can? If, say, it were legal to run out into the street, would you jump in front of a Rolls Royce?”

“No, I wouldn’t,” Silas answered in an irritated tone, while taking a dirty shirt off and getting a clean yellow one from the closet. “But, if they issued a law that lets husbands put muzzles on wives who nag too much, I would run to the pet store right away.”

Instead of a response, Debbie just hopelessly waved her hand and turned away.

 

When Silas came back from Murphy’s early in the morning, he saw that Debbie was already up and waiting for him in the kitchen.

“Hi, honey.” Silas smiled.

“Hi yourself.” His wife sighed, adjusting one of the sleeves of her raspberry-colored robe. “I have never understood how anyone can spend five whole hours in a bar. How much have you had to drink?”

“Not that much.” Silas shrugged. “Five or six pitchers of Guinness, not more than that. We weren’t drinking that much there, anyway. Mostly we were singing.”

“And what were you singing?” Debbie asked suspiciously. “Probably, some filthy …”

“No, not at all!” Silas sounded quite insulted. “We sang the anthem, and then all sorts of other patriotic songs. ’Course, we talked a lot, too. Oh, and I saw Ben Hunter there, your friend’s husband.”

“Oh, really?” his wife said in a less indignant voice. “So, will he and Linda come over tonight?”

“Sure thing, ’course.” Silas nodded. “There ain’t no way the Hunters wouldn’t come to our party. We’ll have so much fun! Have you bought everything?” asked he in a concerned voice.

“Almost everything,” Debbie said, which calmed him down. “I still have to go to the bakery today. When I come back, I’ll start cooking. And you, Silas, go to bed. There is still enough time until the evening, so you’ll have no problem catching up on your sleep.”

“Oh no, no way!” Silas shook his head. “What I ain’t gonna do today is sleeping!”

“Silas! Don’t you understand that you can’t do that?”

“On a day like that, I sure can!”

“But your body has no idea what day is today. It does need rest.”

After eyeing his wife with suspicion, Silas did some thinking. Even though Debbie was a geography teacher and not a medical doctor, her knowledge in various sciences was noticeably higher than that of Silas. After all, he was just an electrician, not a college graduate like his wife.

“Well, in that case …” Silas finally broke the silence. “In that case, my body will have to make do with this.”

And he reached for the coffee pot.

“Don’t you realize how dangerous this is?” His wife looked at him with reproach. “In order to overcome your urge to sleep, you’ll have to drink a lot of it. Do you want a heart attack?”

“Oh, c’mon, a heart attack right away?” Silas scoffed suspiciously, pouring his coffee into the biggest cup.

“Well, maybe not right away.” Debbie shrugged. “But after a while.”

“Then I ain’t scared at all.” Silas snorted, picking up the cup. “If, say, I were to fall into a coma tomorrow—ain’t no big deal, nothing to worry about. As long as I get back out of it by the next Fourth of July.”

And he drank the whole cup in one gulp.

 

After walking outside and smiling to the morning sun, Silas noticed with much satisfaction that he was not the only patriot on his street. While looking left and right, Silas counted the total of five flags including his own.

And then Silas admired the adorned façade of his house. Of course the “USA ALL THE WAY!!!” banner over the porch was a bit crooked, and the “PROUD TO BE AMERICAN” poster, which was covering the kitchen window, was barely holding on a single nail. And all the red, white and blue ribbons on the roof were entangled so much that they somewhat resembled the proverbial Gordian knot. But, overall, the masterpiece was nearly perfect. After all, the lack of precision displayed by the homeowner/decorator was more than compensated by the abundance of his patriotism. And the most special achievement of Silas was undoubtedly the collage that combined the American Presidents’ portraits—all forty of them, starting with John Adams.

“Beautiful, ain’t it?” Silas whispered lovingly. “Bet you won’t find anything better than that in all of Charleston. And maybe in all of South Carolina. And maybe …”

“Good morning, Mr. Smith,” a familiar unpleasant voice interrupted Silas’ proud ramblings.

“Howdy,” Silas grunted, turning his head.

He already knew who was interrupting his process of self-admiration. In front of Silas stood Alan Jenkins, a spry bespectacled old man from 15, who moved to Charleston from Toronto the year before last.

“So that’s why I didn’t get any sleep!” Mr. Jenkins said mockingly in a creaky voice. “First, all these terrible fireworks, and then someone was making loud noise for an hour. Now I know who.”

“Well, I didn’t make noise for nothing,” Silas gave his best I-come-in-peace smile. “Just see how beautiful I made it all look!”

In spite of all his hatred of Mr. Jenkins, Silas didn’t want to fight him on a day like this at all.

“Yes, yes, it’s quite fascinating.” The Canadian nodded a couple of times. “Did you draw it by yourself?”

And he pointed at the picture hanging on the garage door, which depicted people in wigs and old-fashioned clothes. They somewhat resembled the Founding Founders, who were signing the Declaration of Independence.

“The wife helped … a bit.” Silas did not resort to a lie.

“Well, well, it is interesting, yes,” Mr. Jenkins said slowly, adjusting his glasses and attentively squinting. “In a way, Mr. Smith, it reminds me of … a certain work of art, yes.”

“Really?” Silas exclaimed, unwillingly starting to develop some sort of liking for his neighbor.

“Yes, yes, Mr. Smith, that is exactly the case. Actually, I don’t mean the art of painting, no I don’t. The art I have in mind is literature. Specifically … William Shakespeare.”

“No joke?” Silas scratched the back of his head questioningly.

Truthfully, he did not care for Shakespeare whatsoever—yet he did understand that being compared to the Bard himself meant praise rather than critique.

“Yes, Mr. Smith, I do mean Shakespeare, namely of his plays. What was its name, I can hardly remember … Oh yes! Much Ado About Nothing.”

Blood rushed to Silas’ head.

“You stinking Canuck!” he shouted as loud as he could. “How dare you make fun of me, you swine? Not just of me, either.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Smith, but I don’t understand,” Mr. Jenkins said, clearly in a state of total disbelief.

“Exactly!” Silas wailed even louder. “Exactly—you don’t understand nothing! All of you Canucks are alike! You’re worse than the Yankees—lame as they are, at least they’re Americans, too! And you? What can you bastards possibly understand, when you assholes don’t have no independence at all! All you Canucks do is kiss limeys’ asses and lick the boots of that freak in the Buckingham Palace!”

“Well, you know …” The Canadian became outraged as well. “I would ask you to …”

“Oh no, pal, no you don’t!” Silas was clearly not going to settle down yet. “I would ask you to get the hell out of here, you son of a bitch! Get the hell away from my house you stupid Canuck! And away from my street, too! And from my city as well! And from my state! Better yet, from my country!”

“I should have been smarter …” Mr. Jenkins muttered turning his back to Silas and starting to walk back home. “Next time, I’ll leave the city on the Third, and then come back on the Fifth.”

“Yeah, that’s right, get out of here! Go back to your stinking Canada!” Silas shouted at the neighbor’s back. “But don’t even bother coming back—not on the Fifth, not on the Sixth, not on the Seventh, neither! Just stay in your lousy Toronto forever, you’ll feel right at home there, you Canuck bastard!”

In response, Mr. Jenkins started muttering something again, but Silas could not hear him anymore.

“Well, I guess I told him!” Silas noted, turning back to face his patriotic masterpiece.

And he cheered up.

END OF FREE EXTRACT

Don’t forget to order your copy of Alt Hist Issue 7 to read the rest of this story and others.

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First Review of Alt Hist Issue 7 at Edi’s Book Lighthouse

Alt Hist Issue 7 eBook CoverThe first review of Alt Hist Issue 7 is now in – you can read it over at Edi’s Book Lighthouse.

Here’s a summary of the review:

It is a good mix of different stories and again a great opportunity to discover not only so well known but promising alternate history authors. It is also good opportunity for fans of Priya Sharma and  Jonathan Doering to read more from these authors.

If you haven’t yet, don’t forget to get yourself a copy of Alt Hist Issue 7 soon!

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Cold Flesh by Andrew Knighton – Free Extract

After the free story from Alt Hist Issue 7, which we posted a couple of weeks ago, here’s the first of our free extracts from the other stories in Issue 7. First up is a medieval tale from Andrew Knighton, “Cold Flesh”.

Andrew brings us a morality tale from Medieval England. Matthew Tinderfield is happy to see his neighbour, Sir William Bodray, hang for his part in a rebellion against the king. But his satisfaction turns to dismay and horror as he reaps what he has sown. Andrew has previously had other stories with a medieval setting published in Alt Hist—see Alt Hist Issue 1 and 2. “Cold Flesh” neatly combines dark humour with visceral horror.

Cold Flesh

by Andrew Knighton

Death had barely touched Sir William Bodray. He swung from the gallows, as cold and impassive as he had been in life, his stern grimace as fixed as ever. Matthew Tinderfield watched in satisfaction as the last drops of piss dribbled from the tips of his late neighbour’s armoured toes. The man looked like a strung chicken, thin dangling limbs and no real flesh.

Tinderfield patted his well-developed belly and turned to the small crowd. He wondered if any of them had joined Sir William in taking up arms for the Duke of Lancaster. Was John the smith’s bruised hand really the result of an accident at the forge? Had Bildern the shepherd actually grazed his flock in the high hills for the past six months? And where was the widow Elizabeth’s son Tom? Off with his wife’s family, or lying trampled in the mud at Boroughbridge?

Not that it mattered. Those who had survived the revolt could learn their lesson from the likes of Sir William. Those Tinderfield didn’t ferret out, once more proving his loyalty to the king.

“Back to your fields,” he called out, ushering them off with a flap of his hands, rings clacking in the morning stillness. “The show’s over.” And a very good show it had been too.

He relished the moment as they turned and shuffled towards the nearby huts, obedient to his command. Perhaps he could call them back, he thought, just to see them do it again. But no, that would be indecisive, and indecision had not made him the wealthiest man in the parish, would not reinforce his status as their leader now.

“Told you,” he said to the body, reaching up to prod at the torn chainmail. “It’s not about right and wrong, you arrogant old sot. You would only have got them all killed. My way, at least, we get to live.”

He took a jingling pouch from his belt, tossed it to the patiently waiting hangman.

“Most of us, anyway,” he said.

 

“Someone been at your sheep, Master Tinderfield.” Harold’s voice rustled like dead leaves, barely rising to reach Tinderfield’s ears.

“I can see that, you senile old goat.” Tinderfield sighed. There was no use snapping at the wrinkled shepherd. It was a waste of energy, no amount of fury would change him now. “What did they do?”

“They got old Nara,” Harold said, a note of sorrow in his voice. He hobbled up the uneven field, Tinderfield prowling impatiently along beside him.

“Old Nara?” Tinderfield was loath to ask. Was this really what peasants did, naming sheep? Or was it just a lonely old man’s habit? Regardless, it was all the information he had.

“Mother of the flock,” Harold said. “She had a fine fleece in her day, still not the worst wool.”

He stopped at the edge of a ditch, pointing down into a tangle of brambles. A dank woollen shape lay in the bottom, fleece soaked with brackish water. It didn’t smell like something long dead, though the ditch had the rotten egg stink of poor drainage.

“Why haven’t you dragged her out?” Tinderfield asked, scratching at an itch on his neck. Damned fleas.

Harold patted his leg, the joints twisted and frozen by arthritis.

“Can’t get down there, master,” he said. “Can’t reach with the crook neither.”

Tinderfield sighed and looked back across the fields. He could fetch someone to do this, one of his labourers or a man from the village. But they were busy planting, and after the past year’s disruption he didn’t want to risk losing time on the crops. Besides, he was the head of the parish now, and did not want people to see any sign of his failures.

Reluctantly, he scrambled down the bank, cursing as he lost his footing and slid to the bottom. Icy water soaked his britches, his second best tunic spattered with algae and mud.

He stared down at the sheep. It stared back with one cold dead eye, a fly buzzing at the lid. Old Nara had recently been shorn, and her stubbly hide showed gashes where she had caught on the brambles. Her neck was one big purple bruise.

“The stupid creature strangled herself on a bush,” Tinderfield said, scrambling back out of the ditch. There was mud on his hands now, and his knees, and his elbows. He was cold and filthy and the itch on his neck would not stop. The world was a bitterly frustrating place.

“Really?” Harold peered down at the body. “There one that thick?”

“Really,” Tinderfield snapped. “From now on, take better care of my flock.”

END OF FREE EXTRACT

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The Vivisectionist’s Daughter by Jason Kahn – Free Story from Alt Hist Issue 7

As a special treat for readers of the Alt Hist website we are making the whole of the first story of Alt Hist Issue 7 free online. So sit back and enjoy reading Jason Kahn’s “The Vivisectionist’s Daughter”. Free extracts from subsequent stories from Issue 7 will be published online over the coming weeks.

In “The Vivisectionist’s Daughter” by Jason Kahn the famous physician and anatomist Andreas Vesalius comes to Istanbul. The end of Vesalius’s life is shrouded in mystery. It is reported that he died in 1564 after being shipwrecked on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Jason Kahn gives us an alternative view of the last days of Vesalius through the eyes of Qadri, a construction worker in Istanbul who rescues Vesalius’s daughter from danger and from then on finds his fate being intertwined with Vesalius himself.

The Vivisectionist’s Daughter

by Jason Kahn

Qadri spent his short lunch break eating grape leaves as he sat in the shade of one of the many statues commemorating the Sultan. He stretched out his long, muscular frame, his back against the statue’s base as he watched the multitudes pass through Istanbul’s central bazaar. Qadri had spent all morning helping build a mosque designed by the architect Sinon. It was grueling work, hauling stone and mortar, but he was strong and it paid enough for Qadri to support himself, living on his own with no family.

He watched men of all sorts from places he would never see, some tall, some short. Some dark skinned like him, some pale, walking or riding or leading strange beasts, great and small. But one man caught his eye. Garbed head to toe in the robes of the desert tribes that roamed the plains away from the city, this one strode in a slightly different manner, hips swaying, arms held almost delicately. Then he realized—it was a woman.

A woman disguised as a man? Qadri shook his head. Allah alone could unravel the mysterious workings of the minds of women.

He was about to shrug it off as another of Istanbul’s strange sights, and he had witnessed many, when he noticed a figure stalking the disguised woman. Qadri corrected himself—three figures. He frowned, recognizing them as thieves who worked for Bekesh, the local crime lord. They strolled casually but in perfect synchrony, forming a triangle as they closed in on their prey. And she was completely unaware. They would be on her as soon as she crossed the bazaar and entered one of the shaded side streets.

Qadri did not know what spurred him to motion. Perhaps it was Allah’s teaching to protect the weak, or his curiosity regarding the woman seeking to hide her identity. Perhaps it was because of his hatred for Bekesh’s minions, always seeking to extort and steal from those who lived in near poverty such as himself. Whatever the case, Qadri found himself suddenly up and moving on a swift path to intercept the woman.

He shouldered his way through the milling throng, avoiding a rearing camel and a man with chickens squawking in their cages as they swung toward his head. Qadri felt the familiar oppressive heat on the back of his neck as he waded into the press, reaching the robed figure and falling in at her side.

He spoke loudly, as if meeting a friend. “Ho, Tarik, it is good to see you, cousin! Come, my sister will make us a meal that will put the Sultan’s table to shame!”

Qadri reached and grabbed for her. Beneath the robes, he felt a slender arm. The muscles stiffened and she was about to stop, but he muttered quietly, “Keep moving if you wish to avoid being accosted.”

He heard a soft intake of breath and before she could turn her head to look, Qadri muttered again, “There are three of them, thieves, and they will rob you and leave you for dead or worse if you do not follow my lead.”

Qadri could almost sense her swallowing in fear. Then a short nod of her head and a gesture for him to lead on.

He pulled her along, not so rapidly as to arouse suspicion. At the periphery of his vision, Qadri made note of the thieves, who were keeping their distance now that he had intervened. But their hesitation would not last long.

Qadri’s voice proclaimed loudly as he carried on a one-sided conversation with his “cousin”, all the while searching for the right opportunity. Just before they reached the other side of the bazaar, he saw it.

Four overburdened slaves carried a fat merchant on a palanquin to his right, while to his left a man pushed a cart with a cage full of tree monkeys, doubtless entertainment for some noble’s private zoo. Ahead of him several horses were being led, their eyes covered by blinders so they would not be spooked by the crowd pressing in on all sides.

“Be ready,” he murmured, moving with her to the front of the palanquin. Qadri offered a silent prayer of forgiveness to Allah and delivered a sharp kick to the knee of the litter-bearer closest to him. With a cry of pain, the bearer went down, as did the merchant and the palanquin. Qadri jerked the robed woman out of the way as the whole contraption tipped and tumbled into the monkey cart. The wooden cage smashed open and out poured the monkeys, eager for escape. Cries and shouts went up as traffic stopped, the throng trapped in a human knot. Then a monkey landed on one of the horses.

The horse let out a whinny of terror and bucked, lashing out with its hooves, spooking the other horses, each of whom followed suit. Now the mass of people started to panic, trampling one another to get out of the way of the frenzied animals. Qadri smiled as he pulled the woman in his wake, noticing the thieves engulfed in the growing calamity as men and animals sought to escape the crush. He thought he heard one of them curse him as he dragged the woman out of the bazaar into a side alley.

He felt immediately soothed by the covering shade but he did not stop, leading her through several turns at breakneck speed until finally he found a simple, unmarked doorway hidden in shadow. Qadri propelled the woman through it, plunging them into darkness as they descended a steep stairway that twisted and turned, quickly becoming a maze of passages.

A few more turns and they entered what appeared a watery underworld. It was a torch-lit cavern, immense in size, within which resided a small dark lake, barely a ripple disturbing the placid surface. The walls were tiled with geometric patterns that ran all the way to the ceiling.

Qadri sat with the woman on a path that ran around the water. He spoke in a low voice, not wishing to disturb the hushed silence that reined in the chamber save for a distant drip, drip, drip. “We are safe here. We can wait until they tire of searching, and then you can return.”

She turned to Qadri and for the first time he saw her eyes, the only visible part of her. They were pale blue like a cloudless summer sky, framed by white skin and delicate eyebrows. She was a foreigner, but she spoke Turkish, albeit with a clipped accent. “What is this place?”

Qadri smiled, trying to put her at ease. “One of the great cisterns, I helped shore it up a few months ago. That’s how I know how to get down here. I am Qadri. What is your name, if I may ask?”

She dipped her head. “My name is Anne. I thank you for your kindness in aiding me.”

Qadri wished he knew of a polite way of asking her to remove the veils and wrappings covering her face so he could see her, but he did not. “Why are you traveling in such disguise?”

She looked at Qadri, perhaps deciding how much to say. “My father and I are but recently arrived in the city. He is a physician of some renown but we do not wish our presence known. I was returning home after making certain arrangements with agents of the Sultan’s household on my father’s behalf but it appears my identity has been discovered.”

Qadri shook his head. “No, they were common thieves who marked you as a target, seeing that you were a woman in man’s garb, as I did. They have no idea who you are.” He was still confused about something. “Why would a physician have a need for secrecy? What kind of doctor is he?”

Qadri detected a trace of sadness in her voice. “My father has powerful enemies. I am glad I was not recognized aside from my true sex, else it would have made things difficult. As it is, things will be difficult enough for my father. You see, his aid was requested in exchange for help with his studies. But if we are discovered, we will probably have to keep traveling.”

Qadri recalled a rumor from the market. “Is it because the Sultan is ill? Is your father come to help with that?”

By her quick intake of breath, Qadri knew he had it right, but he felt sorry for prying. “I apologize for my rudeness,” he said, dipping his head. “Please allow me to see you home safely, and I will trouble you no more.”

There was no hesitation this time. “I thank you, it is much appreciated.”

After waiting a few more minutes, they emerged via a different exit away from the central bazaar. The sun hung like a giant orange above the houses and stalls they passed. The buildings changed from mansions with hanging verandas to flimsier dwellings as the surroundings became seedier. They walked with no apparent urgency, Anne still clothed like a desert man. Qadri kept checking, but there was no pursuit in sight. At last her directions led them to a home at the edge of the Persian Quarter, not terribly far from Qadri’s own meager shack in the Poor Quarter.

Qadri looked at the three-story affair, cracked walls, boarded windows, sagging in a row of similar buildings.

He raised an eyebrow. “This is where you are staying?”

Anne bowed her head. “As I said, we do not wish to attract attention.” Then she grabbed Qadri’s hand, her smooth, cool skin sending a shock through him. “You have my thanks. You have done me and my father a great service today.” A whirl of robes and Anne was gone, disappearing inside the half-opened doorway.

So disconcerted was Qadri at a female touching him that he stood there rooted, unable to respond. Then he smiled and shook his head, happy to have done Allah’s will in helping someone in need. Qadri’s good mood lasted the rest of the day as he returned to the site where he worked, his pay docked for returning late from lunch. His mood lasted into the evening when he returned home to his hovel in the Poor Quarter, his dreams that night filled with sky-blue eyes that held the promise of heaven.

The next day Qadri grunted and sweated under the hot sun, toiling under the direction of the pitiless overseer as he helped place huge flagstones in the foundation of a temple he would never be allowed to enter. He let his muscles work as his thoughts wandered, still preoccupied with the mysterious foreigner with the alluring eyes. Perhaps it was this state of mind that led to Qadri’s inattention as he took his usual path during lunch toward the shade of his favorite statue. The path took him through a narrow alley hidden from view.

This was where he was stabbed. Unnoticed, the figure whispered in Qadri’s ear: “A warning to those who interfere with Bekesh.” Then searing pain in Qadri’s lower back, the warmth of his own blood as it flowed from the gash. Qadri fell to his knees, incapacitated as the world swam before his eyes.

The pain was excruciating as jagged barbs spread to his lower limbs. He clenched his jaw, gathered his will and rose, almost passing out from the fire that laced through his back. Qadri grabbed the wall to keep upright. He needed help, but had no money to pay for a proper doctor or even a less reputable one.

He pressed his hand against his lower back; it came away red and dripping. He ripped his shirt into strips, tying them around his waist hoping to staunch the wound. Qadri’s vision started to blur, but in his desperation, he realized there was one place he could go. He launched into motion, keeping to the shadows, pausing frequently to lean against the alley walls, panting and sweating until he felt strong enough to continue. If he allowed himself to sink to the ground, which seemed an ever sweeter proposition, he knew he would not rise again.

Qadri prayed to Allah for strength and gritted his teeth against the pain, at last reaching the edge of the Persian Quarter, his vision constricting to a long tunnel at the end of which was a rickety three-story dwelling. Icy numbness had spread down his legs, forcing him to stumble toward the entrance. It took a supreme effort to raise his arm and pound on the doors, and it seemed as if he watched from outside himself as he stood there swaying, waiting.

He did not remember sinking to his knees, but when the doors opened it was from that position that he looked up, able to focus only on eyes that were wide in shock and recognition. And of the purest blue. “Anne …” he gasped. Then everything faded.

 

For a long time Qadri felt nothing. Then once again there was pain in his lower back, receding eventually to a steady ache. It slowly dawned on him that any physical discomfort meant he was probably alive. Qadri opened his eyes, finding himself face down on a narrow table. In his field of view there were other tables on which lay bodies, barely covered, unmoving.

What is this place? Perhaps I am dead after all and Allah has consigned me to hell for my sins.

He tried to move, feeling a tugging pain in his back that was decidedly better than the fiery agony of before. Still, he let out a low moan. A shuffling sound followed and soon a face looked directly into Qadri’s. The man was middle-aged, pale skinned with a brown, bushy beard and eyes that burned with an intensity that bordered on madness. Or genius. Qadri could not say which.

The man’s voice was an urgent whisper. “Who sent you? Are you a follower of Galen?”

Then another figure came into view. Long, raven hair framed a heart shaped face with full lips and delicate features. And eyes of clear blue. “Father,” she said, scolding. “I have told you who he is. Do you think I would lie to you? Go and continue your studies.” She shooed the man away. He left, muttering darkly to himself while making vague gestures to no one.

Anne knelt, bringing her face inches from Qadri’s. She placed a cool hand on his forehead and Qadri quickly revised his opinion of where he had been sent in the afterlife.

“Your fever is down.” She looked at him, her smile hesitant before looking away. “My father saved your life, which is no more than he should have done after the kindness you showed me. But he is ever suspicious as you can see. I take it your wounds were on my account?”

From his position, Qadri shrugged and made to speak, but his voice was little more than a raw rasp.

“Oh,” Anne said. She held a cup of water to Qadri’s lips, tipping it gently as the cool liquid slaked his thirst. Then she helped him sit upright, her touch an experience Qadri treasured despite the pain in his back. After a moment, he realized he had no shirt on.

He looked down, his cheeks tinged red at his lack of decency in front of a woman. Anne smiled and gave him a loose vest to wear, which he quickly shrugged on.

“I assure you,” she said, amused, “I have seen the male form.”

Qadri’s face darkened, looking around him at the bodies. “What is this place?”

Her gesture encompassed the room. “My father’s workplace. He is Andreas Vesalius, a great physician. He fixed your wound.”

Qadri’s hand reached behind him to touch his back. The stab wound was covered by a square patch of cloth. The skin beneath it felt tender, but much improved from before.

“My father stitched it closed, including some of the arteries,” Anne continued. “You lost much blood, but you appear to be out of danger.”

Qadri bowed his head. “I thank you and your father. How long have I been asleep?”

She sat on the table beside him, thrilling Qadri with her nearness. Her skin smelled like rose petals and honey. “Over a day,” she said.

Qadri started. “Then I must go, or another will take my place building the new mosque. The overseer may have already replaced me, and I cannot afford to miss a day’s wages.” He made to rise but pain in his back and a wave of nausea crippled him.

Anne made tsk, tsk noises as she eased him back onto the table. “Come now, you have suffered a grievous injury on my behalf. You must stay until you are fully healed. We are in your debt and it is the least we can do. Hush,” her soft finger on Qadri’s lips stifled any further protest. “I will hear no more of it.”

Thinking Allah could have decreed a far worse fate for him, Qadri acquiesced. With her aid, he lowered himself from the table to a chair, exclaiming in surprise when he found it had wooden wheels on the bottom. Using the marvelous apparatus, Anne transported him to a room with a window that overlooked an inner courtyard. This room was much less grim than the one with the bodies, marked by simple furniture, a bed and thick, leather-bound books lying about.

She placed Qadri by the window, sitting across from him on a small stool while she fed him figs and cheese. Qadri was famished, finding the cheese like none he had ever tasted.

Her face grew sad. “It is from home, one of my few reminders. We are from Brussels.”

Qadri had heard of it, but only as one of the faraway lands from which the countless heathens came. He poured more water down his throat. “What does your father do in that room? It seems unholy.”

She raised an eyebrow and picked up one of the books. Qadri opened it, amazed at the gruesome pictures it contained. Elaborate detailings of the human form, intricately labeled body parts as if the skin had been stripped away, revealing layers of strange tissues and structures.

“It is like a book of ghouls,” he whispered.

Anne laughed, touching Qadri on the hand and leaving tingles where her skin brushed his. “These pictures are but the truth of the human body, down to our very bones and sinews. My father studies the dead to increase our knowledge of the living.”

Qadri thought about the bodies in the next room. “He … looks inside them?”

Anne nodded. “Yes, it is his life’s work. Cutting them open, studying them.” She saw the revulsion on Qadri’s face. “It is such work that enabled him to save your life.”

Qadri could not deny how he had benefited, hoping Allah would see it the same way. “Is this why you are in hiding?”

She frowned, nodding. “My father is a brilliant man, but he has enemies. There are many who do not approve of his studies. There are others who cling to the teachings of Galen, which my father has proven wrong. There was an accusation; a powerful family accused him of performing his studies on … of cutting open a living person.” She shuddered. “There are some physicians and religious officials who have seized on this, denouncing him. Such rumors have caused him, us, to be expelled from several courts. But there are still many who seek his aid. We were traveling when we were contacted by the Sultan’s household, and so we came here.”

Qadri was about to ask something else, but she hushed him. “Come, you must rest. Lie down and sleep. When you awaken, I will check your dressing.”

In truth, he was extremely tired, but it was not the terrible near-death exhaustion of before. Anne helped him lay down—on his stomach so he would not disturb the dressing—and he was asleep before he felt her touch leave him.

It was the middle of the night when Qadri awoke, his stomach rumbling from hunger. He thanked Allah for the fruit left in a basket by his bed, remembering to include Anne in his expression of gratitude. Awake now, Qadri levered himself back into the moving chair and wheeled himself out of his room toward the light at the end of the hall, which ended at the chamber of the dead.

Qadri paused in the doorway, swallowing nervously as he watched Anne’s father bent over a body, his hands moving as if they had a life of their own. Light from lanterns along the wall flashed off the tiny blades that moved in slow, precise strokes, while Andreas’ eyes seemed to burn with a light of their own.

Andreas paused, his back to Qadri. “You may move closer to observe, if you wish.”

Qadri coughed. “That is not necessary.”

Andreas chuckled. “There is no need to be squeamish.” His hands continued their slow dance as he spoke. “No doubt this seems like some sort of blasphemy to you. Well, you are not alone. But I assure you, my work will change medicine for all time.”

Qadri found his voice. “How so?”

Andreas snorted. “Have you heard the common belief that women and men do not have the same number of ribs? It is a religious concept.” He said the word like a curse.

Qadri replied that he had not actually heard that.

Andreas shrugged. “It is something from the Bible. Regardless, my work has proved it completely false, like many of the teachings of that so-called master of physicians, Galen.” Qadri had never heard of Galen, but said nothing..

Andreas continued, his voice becoming more strident. “But do you know Galen’s greatest failing? He thought the soul was divided into three parts, the brain, heart and liver. What utter nonsense! That will be my ultimate contribution, my life’s work. I will discover the soul’s true nature and relationship with the human body. Then none will dare cast aspersions on my work, and I will be revered above the Greek charlatan. In fact, if what I suspect is true, the soul is in fact a much more metaphysical construct, tied to one’s very life force and consciousnesses opposed to being housed in a specific organ.”

Qadri knew from Allah’s teachings that the soul was connected to the body, but he had never heard it was connected to one’s life essence. Still, he was not about to gainsay the man who had saved his life.

Andreas paused again, turning his head. “You should be resting. My daughter would be displeased if you hindered your own recovery.”

Qadri bowed his head. “Yes, I will sir.”

Andreas nodded. “Good, perhaps fortune has brought you here for a reason. I will speak with my daughter about whether you can be of further help to me. Naturally, you will be well paid for your efforts. And I think my daughter would appreciate your company.”

Qadri stuttered his thanks, but Andreas waved him off and continued with his work, muttering about the soul and cursing Galen with every other breath.

Qadri returned to his room and laid down. His last thoughts before sleep were that he would be eternally grateful to spend more time in Anne’s presence despite his misgivings over her father’s morbid work.

The next morning and during the days that followed, Anne continued to nurse Qadri back to health. She talked to him about her and her father’s lives, their travels from Brussels to Italy and to the Court of Philip II, how she devoted herself to helping Andreas and his genius. Qadri told Anne about his own life, how his parents were killed in a pestilence when he was young, forcing him to fend for himself on the streets, how he had carved out a barely sustainable life as a laborer along with countless other poor menial workers in Istanbul. Whenever Anne mentioned her father’s work, he refrained from comment, not wishing to offend her. Frequently their hands touched, as if by chance, causing each to blush and look away. But that did not stop their hands from touching.

After several days, Qadri could walk normally, and Anne and her father sat him down and asked him if he would serve as Anne’s guide and protector as she went about the city serving as liaison between Andreas and the Sultan’s household. Qadri looked at Anne’s eyes brimming with hope and agreed without hesitation.

Qadri performed his new duties with skill and aplomb. He led Anne through the cisterns and underground passages to meet officials at clandestine locations, watching as she handed them compounds and medicines made by her father in response to reports about the Sultan’s symptoms.

Qadri, though, was not always so comfortable with his new role. It was midnight when he and Anne stood in the flickering torchlight that marked the courtyard behind the city constable’s jail. The constable himself, a man of great girth with a scar across the bridge of his nose, presided as a cart was rolled out through the jail’s double gated entrance.

He looked at Qadri, his thick arms crossed over his belly. “I do not know what you want with these, but fortunately I am paid not to ask.” He beckoned for two of his guards and they pushed until the cart stopped next to them. Qadri saw a dirty arm poking out from under a burlap covering.

The constable noticed and stuck the limb back underneath. “Here you are, ten criminals, killed within the last day or two.”

Qadri frowned while Anne gave the constable a sack of coins and a note stamped with the seal of the Sultan’s royal household. The guards pushed the cart as Qadri led the way via back alleys and hidden corridors.

Anne paced beside him as Qadri constantly scanned for unfriendly eyes. His voice was a soft murmur against the velvet darkness. “Your father has told me of his quest.”

Anne nodded. “His search for the soul. He believes it will be his greatest legacy.”

Qadri hesitated. “Do you not find his studies …” He did not wish to cause any affront. “Somewhat ghoulish?”

She put her hand to her mouth, and Qadri was surprised to see she was suppressing laughter. “I am not some young, delicate thing. I have witnessed my father’s work all my life. I would venture I have seen more of the dead than the living.” She looked at Qadri, a sly smile on her full lips. “I assure you, you need not worry for my innocence.” She slipped her hand in his. “Or are you one of the religious types who deem such activities to be blasphemy?”

A part of him did, but he would never admit it and risk her taking away the glorious feel of her soft hand in his. Instead he changed the subject. “How is the Sultan?”

She gave his hand a squeeze. “From what my father says, his health is starting to improve.”

He paused. “And when he is fully recovered, what then?”

She gave a delicate shrug. “Why, I suppose we will continue our travels.” She gave him a sidelong glance, her eyes sparkling in the gloom. “Have you ever considered traveling? Seeing the world? I could speak with my father, I know he would appreciate your help.”

Qadri could barely get the words out. “And … you?”

She gave his hand an extra long squeeze. “Perhaps I find you useful, too.” They both blushed as they walked in silence, leading the cart of dead bodies through the darkness. For a moment, Qadri thought he felt eyes on them as they walked, but it was merely a few scuttling rats. Then they arrived at Vesalius’.

The guards waited while Andreas himself came down to inspect his wares. Anne made to take hold of one of the bodies, but Qadri stepped forward, refusing to let her handle them. She gave him an utterly endearing look and leaned into him. “My protector,” she murmured into his ear before disappearing into the house. The guards left, having been paid to accompany them and nothing more.

Together, Qadri and Andreas hoisted the dead criminals inside, carrying them up to his room of study and dissection. Qadri tried not to look at the bodies, preferring to focus on the gossamer thrill of Anne’s breath on his neck.

Qadri grunted and strained, surprised that the dead were so heavy. Finally he set the last one down, Vesalius laying thin blankets over the inert forms. Qadri wiped sweat off his brow, remarking to himself that it looked eerily like a room of silent sleepers tucked beneath their sheets. His eyes narrowed. Was that a wrist twitching? A cover trembling ever so slightly? Surely it was just a shadow from the torches.

Qadri was startled by Vesalius’ hand on his shoulder. “My thanks for your labors, my young friend. You may retire, my daughter will require your services in the morning, I am sure.”

Qadri nodded and took his leave, glad to lay down in his bed. That night he dreamed of faraway places, Anne at his side.

He thought his dream was reality, Anne’s soft hands against his chest, her voice calling his name.

“Qadri!”

His eyes snapped open. Anne was sitting beside him, her face pinched with worry, her voice urgent. By the blackness outside the window, only a few hours had passed.

“We are undone! Word has reached us that our enemies know we are here. We must flee immediately!”

Qadri clasped her hands in his, thinking they must have been seen the previous night. “Surely, no one would dare interfere with the physician entrusted with the Sultan’s health?”

Her mouth took a hard line. “It was the Sultan’s wife who sought our aid and her trusted staff who has helped us. Others in the court are not so sympathetic and would betray us to oppose her. It is ever such with politics in the courts of rulers.”

Qadri rubbed sleep from his eyes. “So now what?”

“We have an escape planned, a small boat that will take us to the mouth of the Bosporus, where a larger vessel awaits and will take us through the Marmora. Passage is already paid. My father is gathering his books and instruments at this moment. But royal guards are on the way to arrest him. Will you help us?”

Her voice shook with distress and all Qadri wanted to do was fold her in his arms. “Of course I will.”

A smile shined in her eyes for a moment, sending a flutter through his heart. Then she returned to the matter at hand. “Come, let us make haste.”

Qadri rose, throwing on a few items of clothing and hurrying after Anne, who led him into her father’s private room. Vesalius was a whirl of motion, grabbing books and instruments and shoving them into different satchels. They each grabbed as many bags as they could carry and hurried downstairs, Qadri leading the way through the darkened streets until they arrived at a small dock on a tributary leading to the Bosporus.

The first glimmerings of dawn painted the wooden planks pale grey as the three paused before a small, single-masted boat with a pair of oars. It could fit the three of them and no more.

That was when two figures materialized out of the gloom in front of them, long knives held out. Qadri’s eyes narrowed as he let his bags fall to the ground, recognizing them as some of the thieves who had tried to waylay Anne in the bazaar.

One of them, tall and lanky with a drooping moustache, spoke, his lips forming a wicked smile around broken teeth. “It seems Bekesh will pay a tidy sum to have a nice chat with you. Why don’t you come with us?”

Qadri fixed the thief and his shorter companion with a glowering look. “Out of our way. We have no time for scum such as you.”

The tall one laughed, his voice hooting across the dock. “Ho, listen to the motherless laborer.” Then his face grew serious. “You we do not need alive, so why don’t you scurry along before I stab you again?”

The two started advancing. Qadri instinctively moved Anne behind him with one arm as Vesalius, to Qadri’s surprise, remained at his right, a small, sharp blade in his hand.

The two came within arm’s reach when Vesalius’ hand became a blur, weaving a pattern of swift slashes. The short thief fell, blood spurting from an artery in his neck. Qadri was forced to react as the tall thief closed on him, thrusting with his blade. Qadri dodged, the knife catching and tangling in his shirt. It was a fortuitous occurrence, stalling the thief for a precious second as Qadri gripped his arm and slammed his fist into the other’s face with the strength he had gained from years of hefting stone and mortar.

The thief dropped next to his accomplice. The pre-dawn’s stillness was then broken by a gasp, and Qadri turned to see Anne shrinking away from the third thief who had snuck up behind them. Qadri pulled Anne away just in time to avoid the thief’s dagger, which continued on its path directly into Vesalius’ stomach. The physician bent over in surprised agony as Qadri recovered in time to grab the assailant by the hair, forcing his head down sharply as Qadri brought his knee up. There was a crack and the third thief dropped to the ground with the others.

Qadri turned to see Anne kneeling over her father, ripping open Vesalius’ shirt to inspect the wound. Her face was grim when she turned to Qadri. “Come, we must get my father into the boat. I will tend to him as you guide us to the Bosporus.”

Qadri took Vesalius’ arms and Anne his legs as they lowered him gently into the small vessel, and none too soon. The tramp of boots on cobbles reached their ears as Qadri cast off—soldiers sent to arrest them.

Qadri took to the oars, pulling with long, even strokes while Anne tended to her father, her hands moving with the same surety as Vesalius’. Qadri, though, was under no illusions. He had seen the wound and knew it was mortal. He also suspected they would not reach their supposed safe passage. Surely their enemies would anticipate such a plan. But Qadri could easily hide the boat in any number of inlets that were known to him, biding until they could make their escape. He hoped Allah would forgive him, but he found he did not care much if Vesalius lived or died. In truth, Anne was all he cared or thought about. He already saw their lives together, and the thought brought a joy to his heart that could light all the lamps in the Sultan’s palace.

His musings were interrupted as Anne came next to him. Her face was drawn, tears marring her perfect cheeks. Qadri reached out to wipe them, taking her for one glorious, comforting embrace in his arms.

She faced him. “He has asked to speak with you.”

Anne took the oars while Qadri went forward to sit beside Vesalius, who lay with death’s pallor over him, his skin ashen, crimson seeping from his stomach.

Vesalius placed his hand on Qadri’s arm, his touch cold as ice. “I do not fear death, young man. But my work, that is the important thing, that is what must continue.”

Qadri did not see how that would be possible, but he did not wish to contradict a dying man.

Vesalius’ voice was a rattling chuckle. “All this time I was determined to find the soul’s true nature. But only now, as I feel my own slipping away, do I truly comprehend … Before, I did not understand. But how could I? Galen would be amused, I suppose.”

He coughed, blood coming from his lips. His eyes lost focus for a moment before re-orienting on Qadri. “But now, as my last breath draws near, I understand its true nature, my young friend. And how I must make use of mine. ”

Qadri gasped as Vesalius’ grip became hard as iron and an excruciating burning sensation flowed from Vesalius’ hand up Qadri’s arm, filling his entire body. Qadri could not move, transfixed by Vesalius’ eyes, which burned like twin pits of fire. Darkness descended like night over Qadri’s mind, his last sensations the slow rock of the boat upon the water, and Anne’s distant voice, desperate. “Father, no! Please!” Then there was nothing.

 

Enzo owned one of the most prosperous inns in all of Padua, catering to the well to do of the city. As per his usual, he was enjoying a glass of wine during the slow period of late afternoon when the strange pair walked in, notable for their dissimilarities. The young man was tall and broad, dark skinned like an Easterner, while the young woman was fair and pale. He walked with a confident strut and his eyes flashed, while she stood at his side, eyes downcast, demure. He was dressed in the latest Italian fashion, while she was more simply clothed.

“Your finest room, my good man,” the young man said.

Ever curious, Enzo could not determine their relationship. Brother and sister? That seemed impossible given their coloration. A couple? Equally strange, but he supposed he had seen stranger.

Enzo rose, solicitous. “How long will you be staying?”

The young man smiled. “Indefinitely if your lodgings please me. I have just been appointed chair of surgery and anatomy at the university.”

Enzo’s eyes widened. “Indeed?” He snapped his fingers and his son, Paolo, appeared.

“Take our new guests to the room overlooking the avenue, and then see to their luggage,” Enzo said to his son.

Paolo led the two away, and as they passed, for a moment, the young lady’s eyes met Enzo’s. There was a sadness there that made the wine in Enzo’s mouth lose all flavor.

The two new lodgers followed Enzo’s son up the winding staircase and the proprietor heard the young man mutter something to his companion. Her response was in a low, soft voice, but Enzo could have sworn he heard her say, “Yes, father.”

But that made little sense. Surely, he had misheard.

About the Author

Jason Kahn lives in Brooklyn with his lovely wife amidst all of the other young families fleeing Manhattan for more space. His online series, The Dark InSpectre, is soon to be released by Pro Se Productions. His debut novel, Badge of Lies, was released in June, 2013 by the same publishing house. His most recent story, “Cold Comfort”, appears in the July issue of Abandoned Towers, while his story “The Killer Within” was recently released as an e-book by Damnation Books. Other stories of his have appeared in Baen’s UniverseThe Best of Gryphonwood 2007, and Strange Stories of Sand and Sea (Fine Tooth Press, 2008). When not writing, Jason enjoys rooting for his University of Michigan Wolverines and chasing after two mischievous gnomes who claim to be his children.

Don’t forget to order your copy of Alt Hist Issue 7 to read more stories like this.

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One Week Left of Alt Hist Issue 7 Giveaway

Alt Hist Issue 7 eBook CoverIf you’re a member of the Goodreads website then you can enter the Alt Hist Issue 7 Giveaway!

We’re giving away FIVE print copies of the latest issue of Alt Hist. If you want to read the latest and best historical fiction short stories then you might be able to grab yourself a free copy.

The giveaway finishes on 15th February, so hurry over to Goodreads now to enter.

Alt Hist Issue 7 features the following stories:

  • “The Vivisectionist’s Daughter” by Jason Kahn
  • “Cold Flesh” by Andrew Knighton
  • “The Independence Day” by Pavel Nikiforovitch
  • “Heff in Dearborn” by Michael Fertik
  • “Battalion 202: The Sheep and the Goats” by Jonathan Doering
  • “Set Britain Ablaze” by Jonathan Doering
  • “The Red Vortex” by Priya Sharma
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Alt Hist author Michael Fertik hits New York Times Bestseller list

Reputation EconomyMichael Fertik, who contributed “Heff in Dearborn” to the latest issue of Alt Hist, has just hit the New York Times Bestseller list at #7 with his book The Reputation Economy: How to Optimize Your Digital Footprint in a World Where Your Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset.

You can buy the book on Amazon and at other good booksellers. And don’t forget to take a look at Michael’s wonderful story in Alt Hist Issue 7.

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Alt Hist Issue 7 is here!

The latest issue of the bestselling historical fiction magazine

I am pleased to announce that Alt Hist Issue 7 has now been published!Alt Hist Issue 7 eBook Cover

You can purchase eBook and Print copies from:

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Barnes & Noble

And eBook copies from:

Smashwords | Kobo | iBooks

Alt Hist returns with the seventh issue of the popular magazine of historical fiction and alternate history. This is the biggest issue of Alt Hist so far and this time we have seven wonderful short stories for you—including two parts of the popular Battalion 202 series and stories from Alt Hist favourites Priya Sharma and Andrew Knighton. If you like historical fiction, then you are sure to love this issue of Alt Hist.

Alt Hist Issue 7 features the following stories:

  • “The Vivisectionist’s Daughter” by Jason Kahn
  • “Cold Flesh” by Andrew Knighton
  • “The Independence Day” by Pavel Nikiforovitch
  • “Heff in Dearborn” by Michael Fertik
  • “Battalion 202: The Sheep and the Goats” by Jonathan Doering
  • “Set Britain Ablaze” by Jonathan Doering
  • “The Red Vortex” by Priya Sharma
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Alt Hist Issue 7 – Cover Reveal

For all of you looking forward to seeing the new Alt Hist Issue 7 – here’s the cover! Hoping to be able to announce the new Issue in about a week’s time.

Alt Hist Issue 7 eBook Cover

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Alt Hist Issue 7 – Blurb and Editorial Teaser

The latest issue of Alt Hist is nearly ready to be published. To whet your appetite here’s the blurb and editorial so far – may change a bit for the final version :)

Alt Hist returns with the seventh issue of the popular magazine of historical fiction and alternate history. This is the biggest issue of Alt Hist so far and this time we have seven wonderful short stories for you—including two parts of the popular Battalion 202 series and stories from Alt Hist favourites Priya Sharma and Andrew Knighton. If you like historical fiction, then you are sure to love this issue of Alt Hist.

Alt Hist Issue 7 features the following stories:

  • “The Vivisectionist’s Daughter” by Jason Kahn
  • “Cold Flesh” by Andrew Knighton
  • “The Independence Day” by Pavel Nikiforovitch
  • “Heff in Dearborn” by Michael Fertik
  • “Battalion 202: The Sheep and the Goats” by Jonathan Doering
  • “Set Britain Ablaze” by Jonathan Doering
  • “The Red Vortex” by Priya Sharma

Editorial

Welcome to Alt Hist Issue 7. We have now been going for over four years and pretty much staying on our target of publishing two issues a year. The main purpose of Alt Hist is to provide a home for quality short fiction with a historical setting—be it alternate history, historical fantasy or straight historical fiction. I think that our seventh issue has some outstanding pieces of fiction.

In “The Vivisectionist’s Daughter” by Jason Kahn the famous physician and anatomist Andreas Vesalius comes to Istanbul. The end of Vesalius’s life is shrouded in mystery. It is reported that he died in 1564 after being shipwrecked on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Jason Kahn gives us an alternative view of the last days of Vesalius through the eyes of Qadri, a construction worker in Istanbul who rescues Vesalius’s daughter from danger and from then on finds his fate being intertwined with Vesalius himself.

“Cold Flesh” by Andrew Knighton brings us a morality tale from Medieval England. Matthew Tinderfield is happy to see his neighbour, Sir William Bodray, hang for his part in a rebellion against the king. But his satisfaction turns to dismay and horror as he reaps what he has sown. Andrew has previously had other stories with a medieval setting published in Alt Hist—see Alt Hist Issue 1 and 2. “Cold Flesh” neatly combines dark humour with visceral horror.

“Heff in Dearborn” by Michael Fertik is an unusual tale that brings together a figure from Greek mythology and the champion of modern factory assembly lines, Henry T. Ford. Hephaistos, ancient Greek god of the forge, now living in contemporary Los Angeles recounts a key incident in his life.  The incident took place in early 20th century America, when Hephaistos, disguised as a man named Heff, met Henry Ford.  It was the dawn of the automobile; cars were still being made by hand.  Hephaistos and Ford race their hand made cars on the famous racing beach in Daytona.  Hephaistos wins handily, embarrassing Ford. Ford, secretly suspecting his opponent’s real identity, decides to invent a new process, a new way of manufacture that will kill the old ways once and for all.

“Independence Day” by Pavel Nikiforovitch is an alternate history set in a present day when celebration of the 4th July in America is very much a minority activity. Most Americans aren’t patriots. One man struggles to celebrate the most important day in his country’s history. The main things he has to fight against are the indifference of his own family and neighbours—in this reality, the USA barely exists as a political entity. The cover of this issue of Alt Hist pays homage to a reference in “Independence Day”.

Battalion 202 returns with two new stories written by Jonathan Doering. Battalion 202, for those who haven’t read recent issues of Alt Hist, is the what-if tale of British resistance to a Nazi invasion in WW2. The first story in this issue, “The Sheep and the Goats”, takes us back to Harold Storey, a local policeman in Pontefract who is forced to work with the occupying Gestapo. Will Sergeant Storey risk his own life to aid the British resistance? “Set Britain Ablaze” reveals a significant part of the back-story to the Battalion 202 series through a variety of personal records of figures such as Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill and the Head of the SOE, Major General Gubbins. You can read in their own words, how these historical figures might have responded to a Nazi occupation of Britain. We anticipate that there will be another four stories in the Battalion 202 series and that will be published in the next few issues of Alt Hist, concluding with the finale in Alt Hist Issue 10.

Priya Sharma has contributed a number of stories to Alt Hist in the past. Her last story, “After Mary” from Alt Hist Issue 5, was recently recognized by Ellen Datlow as one of the most notable horror stories of 2013. Her latest piece for Alt Hist, “Red Vortex”, is my favourite of Priya Sharma’s stories so far. “Red Vortex” is a compelling exploration into the psychology of a great figure in history. Priya paints a picture of an early life that is completely believable and fearsome. The “Red Vortex” lifts the lid on the psyche of a monster.

I hope you enjoy the stories in Alt Hist Issue 7. If you have any comments about them then we would love to hear from you.

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