The words "Nikki Braziel" made out of books

Picketing the Afterlife

Speculative History | Afterlife Fantasy | Novel

About the Story

It is 4:45 p.m. on March 25, 1911, when Kira Rothner—a draper at the Triangle Company Shirtwaist factory—goes for her overcoat. But before she reaches the elevator, a pattern cutter one floor below throws his cigarette butt into a bin piled with scraps of tissue paper. Within three minutes, a historic conflagration guts the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of the Asch Building, killing Kira and 145 other workers.

Kira wakes in the Lower Heavens, where she is instructed to await summons from the Reincarnation Committee. But Kira has questions about her death. She seeks to access the Akashic Records, maintained by Aristarchus of Samothrace—the long-dead head of the Library of Alexandria and chair of the Reincarnation Committee. Taxed by population growth, Aristarchus has cut off public access to the records. Labeling Kira a rabble-rouser, he vows to keep her out of his library.

But Kira has a background as a labor organizer; she stood on the picket lines during the Uprising of the Twenty Thousand and was a delegate for the Local 25. She builds alliances with other disgruntled volunteers and beings to foment a worker’s revolt.

Meanwhile, her grieving brother, Aleister, meets a popular séance artist. He struggles to reconcile his Jewish upbringing as he falls in love outside his faith while discovering that he, too, can talk to the dead.

If Kira can circumvent Aristarchus and use the libraries of the Lower Heavens to gather information, she and Aleister can pressure Tammany Hall to support labor reform—and save the lives of thousands of immigrants toiling in unsafe factories. But, if Kira missteps, she could find herself outside the cycle of reincarnation permanently.

The Thirteenth Arcanum is a historical afterlife fantasy at 60,000 words. The narrative combines elements of Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land with the social commentary on labor rights found in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. The manuscript is in its second draft and will be available in 2024.

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