Liar's Harvest (The Emergent Earth)

Liar’s Harvest

Michael Langlois

Contents

Title Page

Dedication

Epigraph

CHAPTERS

1
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2
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3
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4
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5
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6
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7
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8
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9

10
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11
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12
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13
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14
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15
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16
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17
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18
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19

20
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21
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22
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23
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24
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25
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26
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27
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28
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29

30
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31
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32
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33
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34
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35
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36
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37
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38
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39

40
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41
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42
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43
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44
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45
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46
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47
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48
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49

50
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51
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52
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53
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54
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55
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56
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57
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58
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59

60
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61
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62
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63

Acknowledgments

Also by Mike Langlois

About the Author

Copyright

For my friends, past and present.
I never did have to walk alone.

 

Actions are the seed of fate, deeds grow into destiny.

—Harry S. Truman

“Why so much grief for me? No man will hurl me down to Death, against my fate. And fate? No one alive has ever escaped it, neither brave man nor coward, I tell you - it’s born with us the day that we are born.”

—Homer, The Iliad

It’s a tall order, but we’re taller.

—The Streets

1

T
he last time I ate cold beans out of a can I was twenty-five years old, sitting under a tarp in the mud in Poland and pissed off about it. I wasn’t much happier now. The frigid pre-dawn air made the congealed lump on the end of my plastic spoon extra stiff, turning the sauce into a kind of bean-filled pudding. I ate it quickly, mechanically scooping and chewing as fast as I could until the can was empty.

I dropped it next to the empty one between my feet. Two were all I allowed myself. It would hold me until breakfast, and any more per night would deplete my meager stockpile before my next trip to town.

I hid the empties in the big plastic can on the side of the house because I didn’t want anyone finding them in the kitchen trash. The can was next to Henry’s bedroom window, so I had to close the lid slowly and softly before sneaking back inside.

The couch in the living room was mine for the duration, which suited me fine. It had easy access to the front door and the kitchen, and besides, it would hardly have been fair for me to take one of the bedrooms. Since Belmont, I no longer slept.

Instead, I settled back on the couch, closed my eyes, and practiced meditating. It was something that Henry was trying to teach me. He thought that if I learned to meditate, it would keep me from going crazy from a lack of REM sleep.

Personally, I thought it was a waste of time, but if he was going to let me stay in his house then humoring him about the meditation was the least I could do.

I waited like that while the pale winter sunlight coming through the living room windows crept across the floor. When it finally fell across me, I made a big show of waking up to the smells coming out of the kitchen.

Only Henry knew that I no longer slept, and I wasn’t keen to share the information with anyone else just yet. No reason to get people all worked up about the possibility that I might not be the same Abe I’ve always been, just because my new body might be a little different.

Once I had things under control, it would be a lot easier to prove that no matter what, I was still as human as they were. On the inside, anyway.

I brushed my teeth and got dressed in the hall bathroom, then went into the kitchen and poured myself a cup of Leon’s coffee. The paper was already on the table, so I sat down next to it.

Before I could pick it up, Leon slapped a plate of eggs down in front of me. “I found another corpse on the porch this morning.”

I wolfed down half the plate before replying. “Nice. What kind?”

Leon was Henry’s nephew. He was living with Henry because he had recently been paralyzed from the waist down. I was living with Henry because otherwise I’d be homeless.

“Squirrel. A whole one this time.”

“That’s a first. I guess we’re moving up in the world. Now you can stop gluing all those heads and asses together.”

Anne came in, fresh from her morning shower. She was living here as well, despite having an apartment to go back to. Every day she said she was going to head back home, and every day she failed to do so. And every day I was happy about it.

She sat down in the seat next to me and made a face. “Just one time, can we eat breakfast without the gross out comedy routine? It’s like you’re both ten. If that.”

“Hey,” I said. “At least we’re not chasing you around the kitchen with it.”

She rolled her eyes. “I give you five minutes, tops.”

Leon scooped eggs onto a plate for Anne, and then deftly served it to her with one hand, while the other spun his wheelchair in place.

When he was first released from the hospital, he’d been in a pretty bad way. He didn’t speak, didn’t come out of his room, and barely ate.

It lasted a couple of weeks, and then one day he just rolled out of his bedroom at the crack of dawn, dressed and shaved like nothing had ever happened. He was trying to prove that losing his legs didn’t matter to him, and I worried about what was going to happen when he couldn’t keep pretending any more.

Each morning he got up before everyone else and made breakfast, something he never did before he was paralyzed. Today it was scrambled eggs mixed with crispy bits of bacon, toast and spicy sausage on the side, and his trademark military grade coffee. This from a man whose idea of breakfast used to be microwave burritos and a Coke.

Henry shuffled into the kitchen and received his plate from Leon as well. “It’s getting close to three weeks now,” he said in his gravely morning voice, “and we still don’t know where they’re coming from.”

We waited while Henry got situated at the table. At 86 years old, he moved slowly in the mornings because his hips hurt after being in one position all night. The only part of him that didn’t look old and faded were his hands. Those were as smooth and supple as ever, an unexpected gift from fate.

“Cats,” said Leon, pulling up to the side of the table without a chair, plate balanced in his lap as he maneuvered with both hands. “You know, just sharing the wealth.”

I shook my head. “Not a chance. All these little corpses are long dead and dried up. Cats only share fresh kills. And then only with people they like.”

“Man, you don’t know what cats think. I’m telling you, those are little dead presents. That’s all.”

“Whatever you say, Leon. I’ll throw it out by the woodpile after we eat.”

“I already got it. You think I’m just going roll on by and leave it for someone else to pick up? I tossed it on my way to the end of the driveway this morning to get the paper.”

That made Henry’s jaw set. He jabbed his fork at Leon. “What did the doctor tell you? Did he tell you to get up at sunrise, trek a quarter-mile down a gravel driveway to get the paper, and then make breakfast for four people? Every morning? Is that what you heard?”

“This chair don’t mean I can’t pull my weight around here.”

“There’s a difference between pulling your weight and what you’re doing.”

“I’m fine, Uncle Henry. Let it go.”

“Why? So you can hurt yourself even worse? You want to go back to the hospital?”

“What difference does it make? It ain’t like I’m about to get any more crippled. Doesn’t really matter if I’m here or in a hospital bed, that’s not gonna change.”

Anne met my eyes, but didn’t say anything. This was a family argument that we heard in some variation at least once a day, and we tried to stay out of it. We ate the rest of our breakfast in awkward silence.

As soon as I was done, I got up and started washing the dishes. Living in Henry’s house made me feel uncomfortable, like I was a burden. Henry wouldn’t take any money from me, so it turned into a race between me and Leon to see who could do the most chores.

I had also started buying the groceries and picking up Henry and Leon’s prescriptions in town every chance I got. It wasn’t much, but it made me feel better. Besides, it was the only way I could buy the extra food for my stash without anyone knowing.

I was putting away the last of the dishes when I heard a car crunching across the gravel drive. Looking out the window, I saw a familiar beat up green sedan pull up in front of the house. “He’s here.”

Anne cracked a smile. “God help me, but I think I’m actually glad to see him.”

I watched Chuck get out of his car and sling a bag over his shoulder. He looked pretty much like I remembered him. Tall, and in good shape as you would expect, being in his late twenties and having worked the last ten in a granite quarry. Maybe his blonde beard was a little less obsessively trimmed, but otherwise he looked the same.

He slammed the car door with a hollow clunk and stomped his way to the front porch. Then he stopped and stared.

Anne pressed against me at the sink as she leaned over to look out the same window. “What’s he doing?”

He pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed. Anne’s phone rang. She answered it and put it on speaker. Chuck’s voice came out of the phone a second after I watched his lips move.

“Hey.”

She answered. “Hey. What’s up?”

“Did you know there’s a human foot out here on your porch?”

2

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