The Sockdolager

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from the Summer 2015 collection

Hadley Full of Hate

by Michael Hernshaw

Lo, the humans heard the sharp shriek of a Harrower from the cold wood and cowered in their cots, all but one.

Gardeners of greens and milkers of cows, clinging close within the camp where the Harrowers had once confined them, they called upon Hadley, Hadley Full of Hate, to hunt the Harrower in the wood. Horses were readied and three retainers too, and the true tip of Hadley’s steel spear shone hard and hungry. Brown hair curled from beneath her black knit cap and draped down over her old barista apron branded KOFFEE KLOSET, worn for warmth against the autumn air.

The camp gates swung wide, and the internees watched from within the wire fence as hate-hardened Hadley and her retainers rode away across the cleared land, the wide swath cut around the camp by the Harrowers that had held the humans. They crossed the clearing to the tree-woven edge of the wood, the forest of fir and spruce. Hadley’s retainers reared back to behold the wood before them, the lightless lair of strays and stragglers from the Harrower hordes. They told among themselves the tale of bitter battles, cities slaughtered, the rounding up of refugee humans by the Harrowers these three years past.

“Holy fuck,” said Hadley to hearten them. “The Harrowers are beaten, the battles are no more. The armies of man have won the world entire, all nations, and now the alien Harrowers all abandon Earth, retreating back beyond the boundary of the blue sky and out past the planets.”

“You say and yet,” one retainer replied, cowardly churl, “Harrowers are here still, thousands of them in the wood, deserters from their own forces desperate with fear.”

Hearing his words she shook her spear at him and he flinched at the fierceness of her. “Not thousands, not nearly,” she said. Unwilling to whine and whimper with him and his kind she broke the bourne of the wood, the Harrower haven.

Hadley, Hunter of Harrowers, rode the wood hard, breasted the high bracken. The firs snagged and snared at her spear-tip and the ridges in the wood rose around her, spruce-studded. The hooves of her horse struck the stagnant autumn earth and told the wood the tale of her boldness.

Came the clearing where men and women, newcomers to the wood, worked their wickedness upon a Harrower. Hadley upon her horse sprang into the open space, spear held high, hooves etching the upturned earth. The Harrower hung bound to the trunk of a tree, green and gray smeared with red, cords cutting into its carapace, its clade scars burnt black by a brand from the fire. “Holy Christ,” cried Hadley. “Holy Hell in a fucking farmer’s market.” The hardness of her heart held hate of Harrowers but beneath that, buried in her, she harbored a hate of hurt.

The newcomers knew nothing of Hadley Full of Hate and saw only her spear. “What, would you kill it quickly?” one asked, the leader of them. “Let life leave it so soon, so lightly? When we have suffered at the hands of the Harrowers for so long?”

“We have all eaten of the same bitter bread,” Hadley Hard with Hate told him. “I come from a camp where we waited years, yearning for freedom, held hostage by the Harrowers, an evil internment. But when the Harrowers were conquered we came to see that the camp held hope too, a haven and a harvest. So could we save you from your wanderings in the wood if only you would make a clean kill of this thing, this Harrower astray.”

“Not until it feels the full wrath of all Earth’s anguish,” replied the man, and as he spoke he saw the apron she wore, the words KOFFEE KLOSET with a cartoon cup above them. “Lo, I know you,” he said, eyes alight with laughter. “Back before these alien armies arrived, I ordered espresso often at the espresso stand in Everett, off the expressway. Better would you be back there as a barista than a spear-bearing stalker of the wood.”

Mocked the man in such a manner as Hadley held her eyes upon him, his frail face beneath the beard and haggard hair. And even after everything she found that she remembered him, him with his fucking fancy red Audi and his daily double-tall latte. She hearkened back to herself as she had been then, Hapless Hadley, Humiliated Hadley, Hadley Who Made No Headway in the World. Yet held she now the name Hadley Harvester of Harrowers, a title that told of her prowess. As long as Harrowers haunted the world she would have them to hunt.

Never would she cease to hunt Harrowers. Never would she again be a barista, brewer of beverages, mere steamer of milk.

Casting her spear she cleaved the mocking man beneath the collar, burst the blood from his breast. “Coffee’s cold, cocksucker,” she crowed as he fell lifeless in the leaf-litter of the wood.

Horror heaved the others upon its wave and they wailed their fear, a forlorn thing that trailed them as they fled. Wanderers and retainers, wicked and righteous—all ran away into the wood. Only the Harrower stayed, strung up to the trunk of the tree, torn and burnt, all but broken in the quiet clearing. Hadley, herself Harrower of Harrowers, moved her mount closer, retrieved her spear. She held the tip under the hanging head of the Harrower.

“A mercy it must be,” she told the broken beast as she thrust her blade through its throat. “You would be dead by day’s end anyway.” Cut loose of life, the Harrower collapsed against its cords as Hadley turned her horse and carved her way through the cold wood toward home and hearth.

At the camp she saw the retainers already barricaded behind the wire-woven fence. All the gardeners and milkers of cows gave no ground, held hard against her at the gate. “You’ve killed a kinsman,” they told her. “For humans of all kinds are kinsmen now that the Harrowers have fled. You forsook a friend, a fellow man. Never again will a welcome hail you here, Hadley Full of Hate.”

Without a word, a lingering look only at the line of watching faces framed by wood and wire, she shifted in her saddle, stirred her horse to head south. Might many a cold morning come when she would wish that she had hardly shook her spear nor launched its long shaft nor helped a Harrower. Might many a morning find her friendless save the spear and her savor of the hunt. But before brave Hadley would break she would harrow the whole wide world.

Michael Hernshaw lives with his wife and son in Seattle, where he works for a dystopian corporation.