Priya Sharma’s After Mary included in Ellen Datlow’s Honorable Mentions

Alt Hist Issue 5 coverSome great news for Alt Hist. One of our stories from Alt Hist Issue 5 has been included in the list of “Honorable Mentions” by esteemed Editor Ellen Datlow. The list covers her favourite Horror stories from 2013. She breaks the list into batches. Priya’s story is listed here along with some of her other stories.

Well done Priya!

You can read a preview of After Mary on this site – and of course the full story in Issue 5 of Alt Hist – so if you haven’t got a copy be sure to get one today – read some great stories and support Alt Hist.

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Through a funhouse mirror: the challenge of building alternate histories

Guest Post by Andrew Knighton 

Andrew has had stories published before in Alt Hist and has a new story for us coming up in Alt Hist Issue 7. Here he gives his thoughts on how to write alternate history.

Writing alternate history is an act of world building. Like science fiction and fantasy literature it involves creating a world like our own but different. Unlike science fiction and fantasy, alternate history is about the challenge of creating a setting that plausibly could have been. It is an act of adaptation rather than raw creation, taking the world and reflecting it as if in a funhouse mirror, distorted and yet familiar. That creates a unique set of challenges.

The right place to start

Most alternate history starts with a single jumping off point. This can be tightly specified, as when Josiah Ober explored the early death of Alexander the Great in Robert Cowley’s What If? collection. It can also be broader – I explored a Europe colonised by the Aztecs in one of the stories in From a Foreign Shore.

Whatever the jumping off point for your story, one of the challenges is getting it across without resorting to heavy handed exposition. This can come from showing the moment when everything changed, or it can come more gradually. Either way, that moment and its consequences should ripple through the setting, giving it its other-worldly element and reminding the readers of what has changed. You are faced with the challenge of asking ‘what about this world would be different, and how?’

This is further complicated by having two sets of readers – those who know the real history you’re deviating from, and those who don’t.

Being accessible

Readers unfamiliar with the real details are in some ways the easiest to please. Everything in the story is new to them, and they won’t be picking apart the real from the unreal, the convincing changes from the less plausible ones, the deliberate differences from the errors in your research.

But what they also won’t do is fill in the gaps as more knowledgeable readers would, or take an interest just because it’s about that moment in real history. You have to show them how the world hangs together and give them a reason to care about this world, regardless of its relationship with our own.

Ignoring that challenge can leave alternate history in a ghetto, accessible only to aficionados. Getting it right can create widespread appeal.

Being consistent

For the knowledgeable reader you have to go the other way, sweating the minutiae of your world. You won’t have created an alternate history consistent with their vision – no two imaginations are the same – but you can be consistent within your world and consistent with what’s known of history.

This is where research becomes important. If your story follows the triumph of the Spanish Armada, as described by Geoffrey Parker in another What If? article, then you need to know what sort of man Philip II was so that you can consistently show how he would have followed up on that victory. You need to know how many of the Spanish might have spoken English, how they would have been supplied, what their invasion plan was. You’re not writing about the real world, but by writing alternate history you’re claiming to spin out from it. There will be readers who know those details and who feel alienated when you get them wrong.

The writer’s tightrope

You’ll never please all of the readers all of the time. But as long as you’re aware of the challenges you face, you increase your chances of creating a plausible alternate history.

From a Foreign ShoreAbout the Author:

Andrew is a freelance writer based in Stockport, England, where the grey skies provide a good motive to stay inside at the word processor. His collection of history and alternate history stories, From a Foreign Shore, is available through Amazon and Smashwords. He blogs about books, film, TV and writing at andrewknighton. com and can be found on Twitter as @gibbondemon .

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Book Review: Coming Home by Roy E. Stolworthy

Coming HomeComing Home by Roy E. Stolworthy

Reviewed by Christopher Yates

  • Paperback, 368 Pages
  • ISBN: 9781781590713
  • Published: NOV 2012
  • Claymore Press

Purchase at Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

As we move through the centenary anniversary year of the Great War, one would expect the market to become saturated with the memories, untold stories and fiction novels chronicling the exploits of the heroes of both sides. How will one story stand up against the others? Will they approach the subject matter from a similar angle or will somebody step up and offer something different? I’m pleased to say that Coming Home’ by Roy E. Stolworthy offers the latter.

The novel opens in Westminster Abbey, at the grave of an unnamed soldier. A man, Joshua Pendleton, enters the abbey and kneels at the grave. He removes a watch and, whilst placing it on the tomb, he recites the last part of a tribute chiselled into the marble ‘They Buried Him Among The Kings Because He Had Done Good Toward God And Towards His House.’ Then, after looking left and right to make sure he’s alone, he whispers to the unnamed warrior ‘Hello Thomas. How are you this morning? It’s raining outside, as usual. Although I hear the forecast is better for tomorrow’… It’s a beautiful opening. The iconic image, and one reminiscent of the unmarked graves that litter many a battlefield across the European theatre, created by the simple description of an ‘unnamed soldier’ sets you up for the atrocities ahead, the emotional rollercoaster you are about to embark on, and one that raises the questions for later; Who is Thomas? And why is he known only to one man?

The focus then switches back to 1916 and the story starts proper. The plot is a new, clever take on standard war fiction and can be broken down into three acts. Act one: introduces us to our protagonist, Thomas Elkin. Blaming himself for the accidental death of his brother, Thomas enlists in the army, under his brother’s name, with the sole intention of dying a heroic death in combat. Act two: Boot camp. We witness the deconstruction of the boy Thomas Elkin and the re-construction of the man, Archie Elkin. Act three: The war and Thomas’s attempts to immortalise his brother’s name, whist also coming to terms with the changes within himself and his environment.

As a reader, what we are faced with is a harrowing eye witness account of the horrors of the Great War. We learn as Thomas learns and grow as he grows. What starts out as an exciting adventure quickly turns into the nightmare it really was.  Through Roy Stolworthy’s use of beautiful prose, we are invited to share the sheer desperation those poor men on the frontline felt and the hopelessness of the task they had undertaken. Through allowing us to know Archie’s secret, we are asked to judge his character and the selfish urges that force him to undertake the most dangerous of missions. He not only puts his own life in danger, but also the lives of his comrades who have come to trust and rely on his leadership.

The character of Thomas/Archie is the back bone of the story. I’ve read too much war fiction (mostly glorified American acts of heroism) where the central character is always cut from the ‘Rambo’ mould, willing and wanting to win the war singlehandedly, and I’m glad to say that with ‘Coming Home’ this is not the case. In Thomas/Archie, Roy Stolworthy has created a character that could be anybody. A character that is an Average Joe off the street, thrust into an environment, who is reacting to that environment and the choices that he subsequently makes. Apart from his desperation for death, he has no qualities that are out of the ordinary and this is what makes him so endearing to the reader. In truth, and trying in vain not to be too patriotic, he embodies the real heroes who stood up to be counted when the time came. As such, you can’t hide form the emotional impact of the ordeals he experiences.

However, this is not to say the story is not without its faults. Parts of the narrative don’t sit well and are a bit out of place; for instance the feeding of the brother to the pigs is totally out of character with how Thomas is portrayed and the death of Corporal Wollard at the end of chapter 4 reads like a bit of a cop out. However, ironically, the problem with the story is the main plot point; Thomas’s attempts at death and his subsequent escapes. What starts out as a heroic deed, quickly descents into an annoyance with comedic overtones. Time after time he faces ever increasing odds and time after time he walks away unscathed. As the novel moves on, the reader quickly realises that only a nuclear warhead is able to end this poor boy’s life, whilst everybody around him drops like flies. Maybe I’m being a bit too flippant in my description, but somebody once said to me that reading a good story is like dreaming a dream. Every time there is a mistake or something doesn’t fit, the illusion is broken and you wake up. Unfortunately, these interludes of Thomas/Archie’s depression is where the illusion breaks. It gets old very quickly and at times I found myself skim reading these passages.

Having said that, ‘Coming Home’ is still a brilliant read and one that I would whole heartedly endorse. It deals with the subject matter in a frank, serious, and realistic way and contains an ending that will leave the reader thinking for many a restless night to come.

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Sealed by Noeleen Kavanagh – Free Story Extract

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

“Sealed” by Noeleen Kavanagh is an evocative fantasy tale about Mara who lives alone and friendless in her coastal village. However, one day, an act of kindness on her part forces her to grasp her own powers and in doing so she realises that her life is her own to change.  Noeleen’s story “The Pivot” appeared in the first issue of Fantasy Short Stories.

Visit the page for Fantasy Short Stories: Issue 2 if you want to order a copy to read more of this and other stories.

Free Extract from “Sealed” by Noeleen Kavanagh

The ship was there, a mile or so out to sea, driven onto the Banford Sands by the storm last night. She listed in the water at an unnatural angle, broken-backed, accepting the blows of the sea, for she could no longer fly before it.

A pile of ragged clothes lay near my feet, flung…

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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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