A novelette set in the backwoods home of an AWOL soldier, in a near-future where alien intelligences steer the bodies of the deceased.
Tyler’s life is dedicated to the Silvers, but when word arrives that his alien-hating father is dying he races home to make peace. Will he make it? Family and duty collide in HARLAN’S WAKE.
(Click through to read a passage from the story)
Tyler walked between his primary and the street, right hand near the butt of his pistol and left hand sketching subtle signs for the rest of the security detail to follow, as they passed the waist-high wire fence holding the mob of screaming civilians on the sidewalk.
Some carried signs scrawled with hate, or praise. Some wore expressions of anger, or love, or fear. One carried a long, thin stake of nickel. Tyler caught a glimpse of it beneath the man’s leather bomber jacket and instinctively shoved his left hand back into the primary’s chest, drawing his side-arm with his right.
The attacker clubbed Tyler’s gun away with the post of the sign he carried, and raised the stake above his head as he vaulted over the fence.
Tyler’s eyes raced to his backup, saw he’d been distracted long paces away, where the crowd had heaved against the fence.
Alone, he acted. Tyler leapt into the air, pushing his body between the Silver he guarded and the nickel spike that would end his long, long life.
The world shuddered as the stake buried itself in Tyler’s chest.
The world shuddered again, as a boot dug painfully into Tyler’s hip. “Gittup, army boy!”
Tyler’s leg spun clear of the blankets he wore and pushed against the boot. Its wearer stumbled, crying in surprise as he regained his balance. Arms balled in fist and spread for attack, Tyler’s eyes slitted open against the morning light. Blue yelped in surprise and clattered off the bed, following a blurry form that backed silently out the door almost before Tyler recognized the red and black plaid shirt, the old jeans, the absurdly big, walnut-handled hunting knife that his brother, Tom, always wore.
Tyler sagged back onto one elbow. Deflecting a pissed-off kick like it was a knife-attack wasn’t how he’d seen their reunion getting started. He shook his head in a silent curse… and his head began to throb.
Almost forgot how bad Uncle Hugh’s ‘shine kicked, Tyler thought, realizing the little he’d had the night before was still way, way too much.
There were others in his father’s small cabin. Too many people for his overloaded senses, and smells from the kitchen his brain couldn’t handle. He stood and fled.
His head throbbed worse when he pushed the squeaking screen door wide and stepped out into the bright morning sunshine. The chop of Tom’s axe did little to alleviate the pain, as wood flew apart with violent force on the block before his brother. “He should be up soon,” Tom said, as he wiggled the axe-blade free from the block.
The prodigal son rubbed the backs of his hands against both his eyes, tearing in the raw sunshine, and took in deep breaths in his attempt to rid himself of his first moonshine headache in six years. Tom didn’t look, or let up from his chopping. He watched on silently, recalling the cords of wood the two of them had run through to prove themselves against each other in their youth. In his mind’s eye, he could still see his father sitting on the front steps, smoking his corncob pipe and judging the boys’ many competitions. “How long does he have?”
Now the axe sunk into the chopping block down to the haft, Tom’ s shoulders flexing almost to the limit of his frayed plaid shirt with his powerful swing. Tyler could hear his brother blow the air from his lungs angrily as he abandoned the axe and stood straight. One massive hand pushed his black hair back from his eyes, and turned back towards the house–and Tyler.
“We’re all real glad you could take the time from playin’ hero for the zombies to attend Pa’s funeral, ‘brother’…but don’t fret none, I’m sure he’ll be dead before your weekend pass from the boogeymen expires!”