Authors: Janyce Stefan-Cole
Silas Dent Zobal
This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are either the
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance
to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events,
or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Silas Dent Zobal
All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof,
may not be reproduced in any form
without permission. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Zobal, Silas Dent, author.
Title: The people of the broken neck / by Silas Dent Zobal.
Description: Lakewood, CO : Unbridled Books, 
Identifiers: LCCN 2016011035 | ISBN 9781609531348 (alk. paper)
Subjects: | BISAC: FICTION / Action & Adventure. | GSAFD: Adventure fiction.
| Suspense fiction.
Classification: LCC PS3626.O236 P46 2016 | DDC 813/.6--dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016011035
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
We men are wretched things,
and the gods, who have no cares
themselves, have woven sorrow
into the very pattern of our lives.
Homer, The Iliad
AT NIGHT THE TILLED EARTH
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. Some
thing 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 metal
lic 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 en
gine 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 sleep
ing bags looked sunken in rather than risen up. Like impres
sions 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 scram
bled 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 straight
ened, 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
THE NIGHT NOISES
startled the children from
sleep. The turn of an engine. The pad of some quick dark feet.
A rock falling distantly into the river. When they half woke
and slit their adapted eyes through the narrow aperture of the
cloth cinched around their faces, they would see him. A great
shadow with broad wide-set legs. A breadth of shoulder that
they knew as intuitively as their own smaller shapes. A woody
smell to the air and a sense of immovability. Their eyes would
close again. Their breath would even out. On the ground, they
slept well, so long as their father, silent and impassable and
granitic, guarded against the night.
He waited in the dark with his hands cupped before his face.
His name was Dominick Clarke Sawyer. His kids’ faces were
like points of light circled by the dark fabric of their mummy
bags. Dominick did not think of who had been inside his house.
He did not think of how the lights had swept back and forth
systematically looking, looking. He did not think about whom
the lights had looked for. He did not think about his past or
about the weight of the pistol in the waistband holster beneath
his belt. He did not think about where his boot prints could
be seen crossing the mud of the field or how a barred owl had
hooh-hoohed in alarm because he and his kids had lain down
near the nest. He did not consider why he had disconnected the
cabin’s main line from the electrical box.
What he thought about was his children. The deep myste
rious ache of his love for them hurt like something huge he’d
swallowed. Where to take them now? How to keep them safe
from what had come for them? How to keep them as they were,
quietly at rest, wrapped and warm and cocooned in the dark?
Where? His sister’s house in Illinois? North? South?
His daughter, King, turned inside her mummy bag. Then
her eyes opened. She whispered, “Hi.”
“Hello,” Dominick said.
“Where are we?”
“Out behind our house. Camping out. Remember?”
“Go back to sleep now.”
“Have you been here with us all night?”
“Yes, right here.”
“You didn’t go anywhere?”
“Where else would I go?”
She went to sleep again, and then both his children slept
side by side. He sat next to them and waited. He felt some
thing welling up in him, maybe the past or the thought of the
flashlights in his house, lighting up his kids’ things, and he
clamped down on his thoughts hard, held them to the moment.
He sat quietly and waited. He held his mind still, the effort
as physical as holding back a leashed dog. Until, in the last
minute before the ground broke with light, Dominick saw it.
A hovering something for which he knew no adequate terms. A
dark cloud that rose from the log cabin and hovered and pulsed
with menace and swung a part of itself, a great insubstantial
head, back and forth as though searching all of them out. Dom
inick’s heart beat like two sheets of steel clapped together. He
let himself slowly sink between his two children. He held his
breath. His eyes squinted the cabin into a narrow line. The
edge of the sky broke into crepuscular rays and, as light began
to color the cabin’s cedar-shake roof, the dark cloud winked
out of existence as though it had never been a possibility at all.
But it left Dominick’s heart stuttering and the chimney smoke
crooked, like a thin finger, toward the north.
ON THE ROAD
to the hotel the second man shook the
first man awake. The Chevrolet Suburban’s huge lights arched
over the macadam. The first man’s chin felt wet. His eyes strug
gled open. “What?” the first man said. “What?”
The second man said, “You were making noises.” His hands
held the steering wheel loosely. Where his lip had caught
against the counter, it looked swollen and dark.
“What kind of noises?” the first man said.
“You were whimpering.”
“Come off it.”
“I’m not kidding. You got problems at home?”
The first man’s name was Charlie Basin. He didn’t speak.
He wouldn’t be home for a few days. An early riser, his wife
was long asleep. His youngest child, his daughter, was away
at college, which was a relief, and two days ago his wife had
said she was worried again. His wife was always worried about
their daughter. Whenever his daughter came home she avoided
looking at him, left the kitchen whenever he walked in. Had
something gone wrong? How long ago? Charlie Basin stared
at the road long enough that it looked bifurcated and stitched
together with white thread. “You know what?” he said.
“What?” said the second man.
“Did you see any photographs?”
“Just one in the whole house. Of the father. What kind of
people don’t keep photos of themselves?”
KING’S MOTHER CAME
back to her in her dreams.
Her mother crawled from inside the hollow pine. Her skin was
pale. Brown leaves caught in her hair and bits of bark and hon
eycomb clung to her skin. She wore no clothes and her nipples
looked like prunes. She pulled herself forward through the grass
with her arms. Half awake and half asleep, King struggled but
her limbs met some soft resistance. Her hands hurt. She tried to
call her brother’s name but the nameless fabric of the mummy
bag wadded against her lips. This was the way her dreams had
been for years. Half real. Half confused. Often she sleepwalked.
Her mother dragged her way toward King. Her skin tore
open near her neck. There was a light rain that dimpled the
earth at King’s feet. Bees landed on her mother’s neck and
chest. The red buds on the trees lifted and stood on the ends
of their branches as though trying to flee. Her mother’s face
moved toward hers and her eyes looked as soft and sad as King
remembered them, and, when her mother’s mouth began to
open, small black legs scrambled against her lips.
By morning, King’s sleeping bag had moved so that it
overlapped with Clarke’s. Clarke woke but did not open his
eyes. The fish-mouth of his mummy bag haloed his eyes and
nose. A circle of cold against his face. Clarke was fifteen years
old but already the size of a fully grown man. Because he hadn’t
opened his eyes, he listened. A few dead leaves fluttered against
branches. His sister lay beside him, asleep, breathing in a faint
rasp like a faraway mosquito. Heavy footsteps approached.
Plodding. His father’s gait. When Clarke’s eyelids cracked, the
sky above him was slate blue. Top branches reached like thin
fingers. His breath was a cloud rising from his mouth. The
moon looked like a hangnail.
He unzipped the mummy bag and the cold knifed inward.
He stood and rubbed his eyes and he felt the collision of his fa
ther’s boots against the ground. He said, “Dad?” His father put
his hand on Clarke’s shoulder and squeezed. “I don’t want to be
out here,” Clarke said. “I’m cold.” He shivered and his father
stepped from behind him.
“Somebody broke in,” his father said. His hair hung in his
eyes. He wore tan canvas pants and an insulated shirt and a vest.
“Broke in where?” Clarke said.
“Our house,” his father said.
“Why didn’t you wake me?”
“They’re after me, I think.”
“Who?” Clarke said. “What for? What did you do?”
“I’m not sure,” his father said.
Clarke said, “That doesn’t make any sense.” He spat on the
ground and the spit steamed. He said, “Somebody’s after you?
That’s why we slept outside last night?”
His father said, “You didn’t like it?”
“It was fun,” Clarke said. Birds chattered and warbled from
the trees. King rolled over in her sleeping bag.