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.