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Excerpt from The People of the Broken Neck by Silas Dent Zobal, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The People of the Broken Neck

by Silas Dent Zobal

The People of the Broken Neck by Silas Dent Zobal X
The People of the Broken Neck by Silas Dent Zobal
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  • Paperback:
    Oct 2016, 352 pages


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Excerpt from The People of the Broken Neck, by Silas Dent Zobal. © 2016 by Silas Dent Zobal. All rights reserved.

The People of the Broken Neck

AT NIGHT THE TILLED EARTH looked like a black lake. A stand of trees sheltered on the near side of the field and on the far side was a log cabin. The long branches of the trees leaned against the ground and something as dark as oil dripped from their tips. When the halogen lights began to sweep the inside of the cabin, the father did not rise from where he hunkered between his daughter and his son beneath the hollow pine. On each of them he rested one of his hands. The ground beneath them was still stiff with late-March cold and the scent of wood smoke drifting from their cabin smelled like his children's sleeping skins.

Down the hill, past the line of willows and the hollow pine and the plum tree, the Susquehanna River coiled like a black rope. Above them something moved in the branches. Something that moved quickly with unseen claws scraping against unseen bark. The wind brushed dead leaves off the ground, and the moon came and went, and the blossoms of the plum tree lifted and settled again like a thousand shushing tongues.

The cabin's screen door opened and closed with a metallic crack and two man-shaped shadows stumbled forward as though tethered to the narrow ends of their beams of light. A crackle of static on a handheld radio. The distance between the father's ear and the log cabin stripped away the particulars of enunciation, the likely raised vowels of easterners, and what was left was pared down to the bark of anger in a man's voice. Bootfall against stone. Headlamps appeared and a guttural engine sparked to life as if it was inside his chest, and then the gravel lane pattered and cracked behind the wheels and the headlamps circled back toward the dark, flat line of the road.

The father said the names of his children to himself under his breath. A kind of incantation to keep them safe. The older, the boy, he called "Clarke." The younger, the girl, "King," short for Kingsley. The cuneiform of his two kids in their downy sleeping bags looked sunken in rather than risen up. Like impressions in the ground.

NOTHING HERE. The first man into the cabin had known it from the start. Empty. He swung his halogen flashlight back and forth. There was nothing. He lightfooted through the dining room. A table and four chairs. A clock on the wall that did not keep time. A second man shadowed the first like an obedient dog. They rifled the medicine cabinet, then the first man stopped in the center of the living room and listened. Again, nothing. It was a small house. A cabin. He touched the black woodstove. Still warm. He wiped the sweat from his lips. He was tired of hunting men who'd mucked up their lives, who'd done things wrong. He played the light around the children's room. Unmade bunks. Baseball gloves. Sock monkeys. A worn doll. Spine-snapped books on a shelf of cement block and pine two-by-sixes. The first man put one hand to his neck. His skin felt hot enough to mold into a new shape. He wanted to go home to his wife and their cool sheets and their new bed. He opened the refrigerator in the kitchen. The second man leaned over him, breathing heavily. Two hot dogs. Leftover macaroni and cheese, no mold. No hot dog buns. His nylon jacket swished as he turned. The second man scrambled back, his shoe slipping on the vinyl floor. The second man fell sideways until the first man reached out to catch him by his forearm. Still, the second man's upper lip caught the corner of the countertop. The flesh split. When the second man straightened, the first man shook his head. One drop of dark blood fell. Two drops of blood. The first man stepped out on the porch and looked out. His flashlight petered into the darkness. The night was like a foreign sound. He put his hands in the pockets of his nylon jacket. "Let's go," he said to the second man. "There's nothing here."

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Excerpted from The People of the Broken Neck, by Silas Dent Zobal. © 2016 by Silas Dent Zobal. All rights reserved.

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