Image: Lukas Kr.

One track, shape of a ring. No beginning, no end. I make the stops. Five hundred boxes on the train. No more, no less. Five hundred boxes at each of five hundred stops. Every stop, remove and add. Remove one, add one. Remove two, add two. Remove a hundred, add a hundred. Twenty-four miles from stop to stop. One mile, one hour. One day, one stop. The train has seen every stop before, will see every stop again. It has been moving as long as I have been alive, and I have never not been alive. The shipment is always the same. The shipment is never the same.

The richest neighborhood is also the poorest part of town. They rent out the basements, lease the catacombs. You can live underground, below the buzz of the endless cocktail party. The talk, the laughter, the drifting notes of lounge piano. They’ll invite you upstairs, though we wouldn’t recommend going. Nobody who went up has ever come back down. We’d like to think they’re just having a great time. We don’t really believe that. The party is endless. The party must sustain itself. We know they buy liquor with the rent we pay. The canapés? They have to come from somewhere too.

They fell during the day, silently and invisibly, and so when night came, and they did not appear, we were taken by surprise, and we were afraid. We looked for them in the hills and forests, the meadows and lakes, the rivers and valleys. We never found them. Not a cinder, not a trace. The keeper of wisdom told us they had fallen through the earth, because the earth to them is as the air is to us. So we began to dig, and continued to dig, and we are digging still.

The one time she mentioned to her father that a ghost whispered a word into her ear every night, the big man laughed. “What a coincidence,” he said. “Me too.”

When she was a few years older, she realized he’d been joking. Nobody, except for her, ever heard the ghost. This seemed significant. Perhaps the ghost’s whispers were a message, and perhaps it was her duty to record it. She started keeping a log.

Every night she waited for the whisper. Always a single word, often one that was unfamiliar to her. “Viscid.” “Gangrenous.” “Fissured.” “Mutagen.” “Excoriation.”

There was a…

Image: flattop341

There’s a law that says whenever we have a drainage problem, we’re supposed to call the pipe shaman. His number’s in the yellow pages. I looked it up last week, after our toilet stopped flushing. I had already started dialing when Toddle put a hand on my shoulder.

“Kat,” he said. “Are you sure we need to do this?”

I said, “We have a drainage problem, don’t we?”

Toddle said, “Do we know that yet? What about the plunger?”

“I tried the plunger.”

“Well, what about if we just wait it out? …

The rain surgeons have no faces. They come when they’re called, on black wings. They do what they must, and then they are gone. They are inhumanly fast, because they are inhuman. They are inhuman because they must be. The job demands it. The rain surgeons don’t, can’t, think about implications. They only act. They match patterns. They follow rules.

When the surgeons fly in, life on the ground changes. Fingers are pointed at the sky. Tears are shed. Appeals are made. The surgeons are, as always, unmoved.

Every surgery’s an algorithmic procedure, carried out with ruthless precision and without anesthesia. Yes, the clouds scream. No, the surgeons do not hear. They work in swarms, each with its set of tools — blades, nozzles, seeders.

When they leave, the clouds have been transformed, and so has their freight.

Image: Hitchster

Like her mother before her, like her grandmother, too, she watched the sky every day, waiting for what would come and save them all. One morning, at last, she saw it: a distant point of light, arcing toward the horizon. She hurried after it.

The landing site was not what she’d expected. No burning trees, no dust in the air, no gaping crater. The only sign that anything had come down was the nautiloid itself, twitching silently on a patch of grass.

The twitches came faster, harder, until the nautiloid flipped over. …

The phantom beast lives in that long twilight where history fades into myth. Only a few can say with any authority what it may have looked like or how it may have sounded. Today I can count myself among those few, yet just two summers ago, despite years of cryptozoological research, I could not. In fact, the ability to even form a hypothesis about the beast’s provenance had eluded me so consistently that I half-believed a conspiracy was at work. Inevitably it seemed that those encyclopedias of the arcane that I obtained at great expense were missing certain…

He lived on a shelf of rock above a frozen sea. It was not home to him, and never had been. It was a space he occupied without inhabiting. He ate there, slept there, scooped up handfuls of liquid time and let it trickle through his fingers. He mourned his siblings and sharpened his crystal awl and watched, always watched, for the sign from the stars that he hoped would come.

But the stars were just pinholes in a distant curtain, and though the white fire of his birthplace shone through, the light was faint. Over the aeons it…

She reached the hill’s summit after hours of climbing. She had a cursory look at the village below her, its thatched rooftops cast in wan light. The daystar was sinking — already it had reached the horizon’s edge. Night followed her as she made her descent into the valley.

In the village she found a notice board. The community’s information hub. She found herself there, pinned to the wood, amid claims of hats lost and kittens recovered. Not the most accurate — or flattering — likeness. The woman in the drawing had claws that dripped blood. A leering mouth…

Amandeep Jutla

Short stories, mainly.

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