Read Altered America Online

Authors: Martin T. Ingham,Jackson Kuhl,Dan Gainor,Bruno Lombardi,Edmund Wells,Sam Kepfield,Brad Hafford,Dusty Wallace,Owen Morgan,James S. Dorr

Altered America

BOOK: Altered America
5.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Altered America

Alternate Realities & Forgotten Possibilities

 

 

Edited by

Martin T. Ingham

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published by:

www.martinus.us

 

The stories contained within this compilation are all fiction.  All characters and events are fictitious.  Any resemblance to actual people or happenings is purely coincidental.  Any historical figures who appear are used in purely fictitious accounts.

 

This compilation is Copyright © 2014 by Martinus Publishing.  All Rights Reserved.  No part of this text may be reproduced in any manner without the express consent of the publisher, with the exception of brief quotations embodied within critical articles or reviews.

 

Cover art by Yakir Ben Haim

 

Special Thanks to Jackson Kuhl for his assistance with the front cover lettering.

 

First Edition, Released March 2014

 

The Road Not Taken

by Martin T. Ingham

 

You're the road not taken

A place I've never been

An opportunity that passed me by

That'll never come again.

 

You were likely a big mistake

A
path of pain and despair

B
ut did perchance I tread down you

I
n an alternate world so fair?

 

A sidestep through reality

C
reated at the crossroads of chance

W
here points of decision twist and turn

Showing
every choice at last

 

So somewhere beyond yesterday

I chose the other lane

And there the road not taken

B
ecame my destiny

 

Did we dance, did we sing

D
id we cry in misery?

We could have done it all,
you see,

In an alternate reality

 

A tale of tomorrow's never

C
an always bring a smile

F
or it's nothing but a fantasy

F
ull of promise and denial

 

And I often wonder

I
f somewhere over there

U
pon the road not taken

W
e're pondering what it's like here...

Table of Contents:

 

1:
  Rio Grande

–by Jackson Kuhl

 

2:
  We the People

–by Dan Gainor

 

3:
  A Single Decision

–by Bruno Lombardi

 

4:
  What If...

The Louisiana Purchase Never Happened

–by Edmund Wells

 

5:  The Orthogonian

–by Sam Kepfield

 

6:
  Revolution 1865

–by Brad Hafford

 

7:
   Ship of Souls

–by Erik Bundy

 

8:
   End of the Rainbow

–by Dusty Wallace

 

9:   The Loyalist Washington

–by Owen Morgan

 

10:  Guns of the Green Mountains

–by Ryan McCall

 

1
1:  The Shining Path

–by Jason Sharp

 

1
2:  The Union Forever

–by Sean Menken

 

1
3: Goodbye, Norma Jean


by William R.D. Wood

 

14:  Wild Blue

–by Jeff Provine

 

1
5:  Avoid Seeing a Mouse

–by James S. Dorr

 

16: 
Thomas Edison Visits Selwood


by Martin T. Ingham

 

17:  Divided States of America

–by Lauren A. Forry

 

1
8:  A Girl’s Best Friend

–by Cyrus P. Underwood

 

1
9:  The Lights on Broadway

–by Charles Wilcox

 

20
:  The Black Blizzard

–by Philip Overby

 

2
1:  The Road Was Lit With Moon and Star


by Bruno Lombardi

 

Author Biographies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rio Grande

by Jackson Kuhl

 

              They took turns. Two men held Lorenzo's arms while the third beat him. They broke ribs. They mashed his nose into butter. They punched his eyes until the skin swelled and purpled together and he couldn't see and the blood streamed into his mouth. They knocked out several teeth. In what order they did these things, he couldn't tell. Then they threw him over the rail and left him to drown.

             
But he didn't drown. Eight months later, Lorenzo leaned behind the post of a saloon porch, studying the building opposite. Passersby paid him no mind, either too intent on knocking through the batwing doors behind him or too drunk to care coming out. Just another loitering rowdy soul, exceptional only for his ugliness, a toothpick in his open mouth to keep it moist because he could no longer breathe through either nostril.

             
A half-dozen men exited the gambling house across the street, cheerful, back slapping. Pockets full of winnings. After months of hunting and hours of waiting, Lorenzo pulled farther behind the post, drew his Remington. Held it steady, deliberately
not
aiming at the man in the center, the man in the black coat and string tie. Lorenzo wanted to take down the others first, remove them from play, before facing Specht alone.

             
The hammer receded. He squeezed the trigger.

             
A hand grabbed his wrist, pushed the muzzle skyward.

             
Lorenzo shook free and spun in fury. Next to him stood a man with waves of orange hair, smirking as if he had caught Lorenzo sneaking an apple pie off a windowsill.

             
Lorenzo cocked his fist but the orange-haired man pointed up and across the street.

             
Lorenzo squinted, following the man's finger. On top of the building beside the gambling hall was a cigar billboard. Awkward lines jutted from behind the nearest edge—the brim of a hat, a foot or so of carbine.

             
"Specht's man," said orange hair. "You would've been lucky to get off a single round."

             
A sharpshooter. In the event some chump in the gambling hall ran after Specht, defrauded and wrong for trouble. But not today. Specht and his associates, on horseback, were already thirty yards down the street. The squatting figure on the rooftop rose, wandered out of sight toward some invisible ladder or staircase. Onto the next town, the next hustle.

             
Lorenzo shoved his Remington into its leather holster. "What's it to you?"

             
Orange hair smiled wide. "Nothing to me whether you live or die, smart guy. But since I done you a favor, perhaps you could return the civility. There's someone who'd like to meet you."

             
Lorenzo stepped closer. "Walk on. I owe you nothing."

             
Orange hair shrugged. "Suit yourself. Just figured if you want revenge on Tanner Specht, you might as well be paid for it."

             
A few streets away was a large house with rooms for let. Orange hair ushered him into the sitting room before closing the door behind Lorenzo, leaving him alone with the woman.

             
She introduced herself as Bethesda Valasquez and invited him to take a chair. Lorenzo hesitated, afraid his slightest movement might tear the wallpaper or upset the claw-footed china cabinet or break the tea service spread in front of her. But he noted the estimation in her eyes—so brown they were almost black—and crossed to the table to sit without rattling any cups or saucers.

             
"I don't know the exact circumstances of why you're hunting him, Mister Lorenzo, but I can deduce two facts. One, because we're discussing Tanner Specht, it involved gaming for money. And two, due to your obvious injuries, you were accused of cheating, which led to violence."

             
"I've never cheated at cards in my life. I don't need to."

             
"I said
accused
, Mister Lorenzo." She sipped from her steaming cup. Lorenzo wondered how she could drink something so hot near the midday temperature.

             
"I already know how he did it," said Lorenzo. He’d had plenty of time to think, being laid up in the sharecropper's shack, the wife nursing him to health after her husband fished him out of the river. "He shook my hand before the game. I reckoned it odd at the time, but that's how he put the card in my sleeve."

             
Valasquez nodded—Lorenzo tried not to glance at the acorn skin of her throat and chest. "A magician's sleight-of-hand and a dab of spirit gum to make it stick. It can't fall out too soon. The game needs to be well underway. Eventually, the heat or sweat makes it loose."

             
It had been hot that night. Lorenzo had lifted his handkerchief to his forehead and the fifth ace launched from his sleeve onto the tabletop. It was the prearranged signal. Specht and his buddies snatched his gun while Lorenzo was still staring at the card.

             
"They beat you and took your money," she said. "Not just the money on the table but everything on you, which they considered fair penalty. And, of course, no one on the boat came to your defense because you were an obvious card cheat and card cheats are the lowest form of humanity."

             
Lorenzo pushed his saucer away. He couldn't have tasted the tea anyway—or the jelly and cream. He couldn't taste anything. A man needs a sense of smell to taste. "I've been tracking Specht from the moment I was well enough to walk. Your fellow interrupted me just now. I need to get on the road after them, Miss Valasquez." He made to stand.

             
"We... have a history," she said. "Specht has stolen a considerable sum from me, as well. But I have an idea of how to ameliorate my situation—o
ur
situations."

             
Lorenzo stayed in his chair. "I'm listening."

             
"Tanner Specht is not a United States citizen. He only comes north to make his money—to swindle Americans like you. Now he is returning home. To do that, he must take a steamboat up the river to his ranch."

             
"Where?"

             
"Outside Rio Grande City."

             
Lorenzo gnawed on his toothpick.

             
"Specht will be unable to avoid gambling on the riverboat. It's his nature. Someone adept with cards might be able to use his
nature
against him."

             
And she told him her plan.

* * *

              It was better if no one saw them traveling together. They agreed to meet in Brownsville, near the mouth of the river. Lorenzo rode to the coast, sold his horse, bought passage. Days later, the gangplank dropped and the tide of passengers pushed him off the ship and down the pier. At the foot he stopped to read the inscription on the iron gate overhead:

             
TRUST IN THE STATE A LITTLE LESS AND IN MANKIND A LITTLE MORE.

             
His saddlebags slung over his shoulder, Lorenzo walked under the gate and into the Republic of the Rio Grande.

             
Brownsville was the country's only major port—also its biggest city. It was impossible for Lorenzo to walk a straight line; something or someone always seemed to cut across his path. Black porters hoisted heavy bags, stevedores rolled enormous casks, horse-drawn wagons veered close to his toes. Smack in the middle of the boulevard, a dozen mules stood hitched to posts, and traffic swirled and eddied around them in conflicting currents, the coach drivers hollering and shaking their fists. Lorenzo took to the boardwalk but it was an inconsonant trail, abruptly changing height or width or ending altogether, only to reappear intact a few yards later.

             
So he walked in the street beside it.

             
He dodged stalls and hucksters, many of them gold mad—they sold maps to gold mines, shovels for digging gold, pans to collect it. When he stopped to buy a cold lunch, the grocer regarded his American notes like the handbills from yesterday's traveling circus and pointed him toward a nearby bank. There Lorenzo exchanged his paper for gold and silver coins. Everywhere flew the colors black and white and red, unfamiliar aphorisms painted on the sides of buildings telling Lorenzo
Advise me, but do not force your opinion on me
and
By virtue of exchange, one man's prosperity is beneficial to all others
.

             
He found the hotel and was directed to the suite registered under the false name Valasquez said she would use. Orange hair—his name was Delaney—answered the door. He led Lorenzo to a parlor opening onto the veranda. Lorenzo helped himself to a bottle of whiskey and leaned against the balustrade, mesmerized by the street below. It was like a hundred gusts of wind rippling through tall grass every which way.

             
"I've lived in Texas most of my life," he said when he felt her standing in the doorway, "And I've never seen any people so well-armed. Even the young fillies strap six-guns around their waists."

             
Lorenzo turned to see if Valasquez wore a set too. She didn't. Instead she had her hair down, volcanic glass against the shoulders of her jacket. She had worn it pinned last time. Now it looked more...

             
He returned to staring at the street.

             
She considered him sidelong as he pulled on the bottle. "You really don't know much about this country, do you?"

             
Lorenzo shook his head. "I know women have the vote here. Understand they even want to give it to the Negroes."

             
"They won't, on general principle. Most would rather fall on a pitchfork than so much as wish a Negro
good day
."

             
"Still."

             
"The joke's on you and anyone who thinks it makes a difference. Women's suffrage is a protection against increasing the size of our tiny government. Men know voting for bigger government would give women more power. So out of spite they don't."

             
"They give the vote so nobody can do anything with it? Balled up way to run a country."

             
"Does it seem so awful?" Down at the river, a steamboat moaned its pipe-organ stack—coming or going, bringing people or shipping things away. "When the Republicans defeated the Mexican army at Morales, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Mexico tried again. They realized our little breakaway
estado
could only be held by force. Force means men. So they encouraged homesteading to grow the population. They tried various policies for a few years but nothing worked. Everyone wanted to go to California instead. Finally President Jordan discovered the writings of a French philosopher named Bastiat. This philosopher advocated free exchange. No taxes. No tariffs. No customs. A strictly confined government. 'Law is organized justice,' said the philosopher—anything beyond that is perversion. So they scrapped everything and started over with a new constitution based on his writings and principles. They advertised it in all the eastern newspapers.
Cheap land
.
Live tariff free
.
Women can vote
. And where there are women, there are men and soon enough children who grow up to defend against Mexico. Then there weren't enough branches in the trees to beat back the settlers."

             
"But how do you pay for the judges and the marshals? Who builds the courthouses?"

             
"The philosopher wasn't against taxes so much as their unfair and arbitrary application," said Valasquez. "So to keep everyone honest, there are none to begin with. Citizens can make donations. But that's exactly how Jordan managed to convince his
caudillo
supporters to agree to the constitution. It meant only self-sufficient people could afford to be judges and marshals."

             
"Only the wealthy, you mean."

             
"How is that worse than America? There the politicians and judges are just as rich as they are here. Except your government steals money from everyone else—to give to those politicians and judges, making them even richer."

             
Lorenzo coughed. It was his rendition of laughter. "Well," he said, inspecting the street, "I have to admit, I don't see any Mexican soldiers."

             
"If you want to see them, Mister Lorenzo, you have to go to the capital at Laredo. The Mexicans post a pair of sentries outside their embassy."

BOOK: Altered America
5.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie
The Mighty and Their Fall by Ivy Compton-Burnett
MIND FIELDS by Aiken, Brad
When I Was Cool by Sam Kashner
Joan of Arc by Timothy Wilson-Smith
Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
Carl Hiaasen by Lucky You
After Dark by Haruki Murakami