Tales From Alternate Earths 2 is the new anthology from Inklings Press and is out on 27 July. Enjoy these extracts from two of the stories.
From The Dust in the King’s Library.
“Drat this dust.” Jean sneezed explosively and reached up her sleeve for a handkerchief. “Why did I ever decide to study old books?”
She jumped as a voice answered her largely rhetorical question. “Because you love history, love the words written down by people that are themselves dust. As you read, so shall you sneeze.” The tall man smirking at her in the doorway of her small basement office was unwelcome, and Jean favored him with a glare.
“What do you want?” She walked across the book-cluttered room to put the table between them, and picked up a hardcover copy of War and Peace.
“What if there was a way to talk to those now dust? To change that which we thought unchangeable?” He gave her a paper cup. “I brought you a coffee.”
“Look, Edward, firstly try and remember I hate coffee,” Jean replied, dumping the cup in the sink. “And secondly, I have had a long day, and I am not going on a date, nor do I want to get involved with your crazy talk about changing history. You are the youngest professor of Physics the university has ever had – surely you know that time travel is impossible?”
Edward stepped up to the table under the fly-specked light bulb, and Jean could see the sweat globules running down his temples. She frowned; he had never been the healthiest looking man, but tonight he was a sickly greenish colour, and his hands trembled. He caught her glance, and steepled his fingers on the table, leaning towards her. “You are wrong,” he whispered. “So very wrong.”
From ‘Pillars of the Past’
Her father would not have approved. He warned her not to go, not to involve herself. Her politics were dangerous and a shame on her family. Even so, Maria Sobel slipped on her mother’s black angora sweater, and stole out into the grey-dawn darkness. Her sheepskin boots made quiet, yet satisfying, crunching sounds on the gravel square in front of her family’s Brownstone, as she eased toward the awaiting burnt-orange Citroen taxi at the curb.
She arrived at the Costa Coffee on Broadway in Upper Manhattan, across the street from her classes at King’s College soon after. Yet, there was no class today. All New York and the rest of New England was in preparation for the vote. By the end of the day, Maria re-assured herself with a nod and a mental affirmation, New England would no longer be part of the British Empire.
She handed the cabbie a tenner, slid out, and joined the trickle of half-awake people on the sidewalks. The first rays of sun speared through a shield of grey clouds. The smell of rubbish bins tinged the sweetness of the bagels in the coffee shop, and the early morning work crews in prison-yellow jumpsuits stifled yawns while eyeing Maria suggestively.
She strode past Teddy and his shaggy golden-retriever Buddy, asleep on the sidewalk by the doorway, and stepped inside as the taxi sped off. A few minutes later, she returned holding a small cup of coffee, her peanut butter-smeared bagel, and the lone coin she’d received as change.
“This is for Buddy. For food. Okay?” Maria opened Teddy’s hand and pressed the pound into his palm. She sighed at the “help wanted” sign that was stuck to the window behind him. “For Buddy, remember?” Occasionally, she brought a bag of dog food with her. She had no way of knowing what he did with the money, but Buddy looked just on the safe side of starved, so he was eating. Something.
Buddy padded over to lick Maria’s hands. There was no bark, certainly no bite, to the older dog anymore. He stood on shaky legs, a forlorn look in his eyes, while Maria scratched behind his ears and smiled sadly at his master. Teddy doesn’t have too much bite or bark left in him either. There are too many people like him, neglected by the Crown. Leaving England will help us better help them. We must succeed today. We must secede.
“He loves it when you visit,” Teddy slurred, as he pocketed the change within the layers of flannels and his threadbare camo army jacket. “I do too.” There were clean rectangles where his nametape, rank, and unit patches had been. Last week, a gang of kids ripped them off, angry with the homeless man for having the audacity to go to war for the British. Like he had a choice in what the Queen expected of him. “Good luck in class today, Maria,” he slurred again. “God bless.”
“Thank you, but there’s no class today,” Maria said. She was a junior-year political science student on normal days. When New England eventually gained their independence, they would need new leaders. She was going to be one of them. Perhaps even President. But that was only if today went as planned.
“Oh? It’s not one of them demonstrations again, is it?” Teddy pulled his dull blue beanie down further over his ears and eyebrows, until tuffs of unkempt grey hair poked out above skeletal sockets. “If the Sons show up, there’ll be trouble. You could be in danger.”
“Depends on which Sons.” There were moderate groups, like hers that called themselves the Sons of Paine. Others, the Sons of Liberty, were known to be more violent and extreme in their practices. Of course, people on the other side, like her friend Alexis, often lumped the groups together. “I’m a Son. The peaceful kind. All we want is freedom from Britain. Freedom to make our own choices and serve our own people. Like you.”