By Elana Gomel

the worst thing is boredom. Standing at the checkpoint, waiting for a blowup that never happens – until it does. Everything is dusty: the sky, the hills, and the air. Hamsin, hot wind from the desert. You don’t see the sun for days, just a white splotch in the grey sky. You breathe sand and sweat mud.

Too many birds today. Circling above my head like a squadron in disarray.

Here, somebody is coming. Walking…Oh, hell! A woman! Hey, lady, stop! Yes, just there! Don’t come closer! Show your passbook. OK, now lift your veil.

What is this? What is…?

Sophie

I was going to the hairdresser today.

I almost decided against it. Looking in the mirror, I was struck by the familiar sense of futility. Grey hair. Not silver, not fluffy white. Just grey – untidy and dispirited. It did not belong to me. I was still twenty-five inside, just as I had been for the last twenty years. Some people never grow old. And some people never grow up.

Jesse was out of the house before I got up, a dirty coffee cup on the table. As I was making coffee for myself, my phone pinged, and a jolt of adrenaline told me it was Emma, but it was not. Jesse, messaging me he would be home late. I deleted it and took my pill. It helped me to decide that I would definitely go to the hairdresser today and tomorrow would start sending out my resume. Again.

I stepped out into the cool misty air of the Peninsula. The clouds were rolling down the Santa Cruz mountains like an invading army: heavy billows sliding down the wooded slopes. I imagined mounted riders hidden inside, about to erupt into the expensive suburbia of Menlo Park. The vision gave me a pleasant thrill, so I lingered in the driveway before getting into the Tesla.

And that was when I saw the woman.

She walked slowly down the street which was unusual in itself – nobody walked here. Joggers ran and dog-owners dragged their pooches but there were so few pedestrians that some streets in our subdivisions had no sidewalks. But here she was, a slender woman in a long dress and a large droopy hat that obscured her face. She clearly did not belong here, and I envied her conspicuous strangeness. All too often, I, a homeowner, wife and mother, felt like an impostor, trying to fit in.

I almost stepped out and called to her – even though what would I say? – when it happened.

Two men appeared out of nowhere, running, and tackled her to the ground.

I believe I screamed. Whoever screamed, it was not her because she just crumbled like a rag doll, her hat sliding off, and the men…they bent over her but I could not watch, could not see, because I was fumbling with my phone that almost slipped out of my nerveless fingers, and dialing 911, and running back to the house, and locking the door, and answering the dispatcher’s questions in a voice that did not feel like my own, and trying to remember where Jesse kept his handgun…

I peered out the window onto the street. I expected to see her being raped, brutalized, robbed.

She was not.

The woman was up and walking away from the two men. One of them flopped on his back, spread out on the wet pavement like a gutted fish. The other man crouched on all fours as if offering a piggyback ride to an invisible child.

The scene was so odd that I just gaped at it, the urgent voice of the dispatcher droning from the phone, asking me what was going on. I could not describe what I was seeing. The misty morning, the black scratches of naked sycamore branches on the pale sky, the two men crawling blindly on the pavement, one of them rubbing ferociously at his face, and the woman, walking away unhurriedly as if she had all the time in the world, her long glistening hair slipping down her back from underneath her hat, thick soapy strands, pure white – like the white I would never grow into.

Jesse

I got a call at 5 am. Mr. Wei was pulling out.

Delivered in a staccato voice, with a lot of “actually” and “like” mixed in to cover up the dearth of actual argument, the ten-minute long monologue amounted to the fact that Mr. Wei no longer believed that the science underlying ForeCast was solid. Of course, at this point I tried to interject, regretting that I did not possess Tom’s talent for yelling. Mr. Wei just plowed on.

I took the call in the kitchen because I did not want to wake Sophie. She had not been sleeping well. A couple of times I found her wandering downstairs in the middle of the night, staring at her phone or peeking into Emma’s bedroom as if she expected our daughter to materialize there suddenly, transported, Star-Trek-style, from her college dorm in Berkeley. I tried to talk to her, encouraging her to start volunteering or spend more time with her friends, but her eyes would glaze over. She started looking for a job, though I knew she was unemployable after taking fifteen years off. Science is a competitive business; once out of the race, you can’t go back. So what? She had her family. We had a good life.

When the conversation ended, I did not know what to do. I wanted to call Tom and tell her what was going on, but it was too early. I tried to think about other investors I could approach for a cash injection, but my brain felt hollow. Maybe I was too old for this game.

At the end, I just drove to the office park. A flock of birds, starlings or sparrows, wheeled above, coming together in a solid body and falling apart, swirling like tea leaves in the yellow sky.

There was light in the window and I almost called the police about a break-in – we did have expensive computers – when I realized it was Svetlana, our cleaner. She had asked to come in early. She had tried to explain her reasons but her harsh Russian accent gave me a headache and I just nodded. Or was she Ukrainian? Whatever. I would have to fire her in any case. We did not have the funds to rent this Menlo Park office for much longer.

I parked and went out. The air exploded with cawing and a raven strafed me, the shadow of his wings like a black lightning. I lifted my hand to protect my face, but the bird was gone, just as my phone vibrated in my pocket.

I pulled it out, half-expecting another shitstorm.

It was Emma. A video call.

When the picture flashed on the screen, I realized my daughter had dropped her phone or for some reason had the camera pointing away. It showed a patch of dirty pavement and a drainage grill. It was unbelievably filthy, as if garbage collectors had been on strike and had left behind piles of…trash?

It was not ordinary trash. Not torn newspapers, plastic bags and dog shit. There was some whitish stuff that looked like giant mushrooms, poisonous fool’s caps, pale and quivering. From the drain, reddish slime bubbled up. And heaps of something scrunched and wet: used wipes or…masks?

Wrinkled, dark-stained, a white stained rag twitched and humped up like a caterpillar.

“Emma!” I yelled. “Emma!”

The phone was turned around. I saw my daughter’s face.

Svetlana

I had my own construction company in Kyiv. Built sheds, storage units. Houses too. Better houses than these. And then Putin’s invasion, economy down the drain. No jobs. The company went belly-up. My husband got sick. No health insurance. At least in the Soviet times they’d bury you for free.

I was polishing the toilet seat when my phone went off. A stupid “gender-neutral” toilet. Those rich Americans – they pat themselves on the shoulder for being “progressive” and “inclusive” because they put up a plaque with “All genders, all races welcome” crap. And then they pay you starvation wages. But starvation wages in California buy Vassily his chemo in Kyiv.

I heard a car pull into the lot, the sound of its tires cutting through the annoying birdsong. Even birds sounded off here, as if singing in a foreign language, which I suppose they did. At first, I was scared but then I peeked out and saw Mr. Connor’s Lexus. It was strange that he would be here so early but why not? His office, his rules. I only hoped he would not realize that my beat-up Honda had been parked here overnight. I just could not face driving back to my shared rental in Tracy – a two-hour crawl each way.

I expected to hear the chink of the lock as he walked in, but all was silent. I went to the window and saw a man standing with his back to me like a black shadow against the yellow sky. If I were home, I would know he was getting his smoke before coming in, but this was not home, and Mr. Connor – Jesse, as he wanted me to call him, though I never would – did not smoke. Or maybe he was starting. I knew his company was going down. I am not stupid: I could see the signs. No skin off my nose, except I would have to start looking for another job.

A roar overhead rattled the windows, and a mug I had just washed slid off the countertop and shattered on the floor. A plane? SFO and San Jose Airport were both close, but this sounded like it took off from the parking lot.

Who was I kidding? I had lived through the Russian invasion and knew the sound of a military jetfighter.

And then the dry clatter of a chopper. It was beginning to feel like Nana’s tales of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War.

I opened the door and stepped into the chilly air. The birdsong had resumed as if military planes and helicopters were as ordinary as gulls and ravens.

Mr. Connor still stood by his car, not moving, head bowed. I wanted to call out to him but for some reason, my throat felt locked

My phone buzzed again. A text from Vassily.

But I could not take my eyes off that huddled black shape in the pale light. He looked like a chuchelo. A scarecrow. Except that the crows were not scared of him. One of them, a large black thing, landed on his shoulder and then took off again, wings whirring. And still he did not stir.

Another bass roar of a low-flying military plane. The noise got into my bones and rattled them as if I was already dead. I saw cross-shaped shadows on the white sky like smudged fingerprints in the dust.

A gust of wind and something flew at me. A newspaper? The parking had been clean when I went into the office.

It wrapped itself around my foot. It looked like a surgical mask. I was shaking my foot, trying to dislodge it, because I would not touch it. I scrubbed filthy toilets for a living, but I would not touch this thing.

It was clingy and moist and stippled with dark stains like smeared black-currant jam. It slithered up my sneaker as if it were alive and I cried out in disgust as I kicked it off.

And still, that huddled figure with its back to me would not move. No, not true. Something was moving around his head, something swollen and bleached: not his hair because his hair was dark, and he had precious little of it anyway…but something corkscrewing away from his skull, twitching and retracting like fat worms…

I rushed to my car and through my hands were shaking so badly I dropped my keys, I managed to get inside and pull out, swearing and praying to the Mother of God, begging her to take pity on my husband who would die in agony if I could not send him money.

The car fishtailed but then righted itself and I was almost out of the parking lot when a large bird flew across the windshield, making me brake abruptly. And the standing figure lifted its head, and looked at me, and though I did not want to look back, I did.

Sophie

The police never came.

I called Emma. And then I called again.

The screech of military planes overhead thrummed on my nerves. And when they fell silent, the birds started again. The Morse-code chirping of swallows, and the hoarse cries of gulls, and the cackling of ravens. They swirled in the grey air when I ventured outside, rising and falling in dense clouds of chaotic bodies.

My sister Veronica called. She and I had not spoken for ages.

“Don’t look,” she said. Her voice was calm with that icy brittle clam that I remembered from my childhood when it had always presaged another tantrum. “Don’t answer the door, don’t take videocalls, don’t turn on the TV. Don’t look at faces.”

And before I could erupt in fury at my wayward, hysterical sister, tell her that she had finally crossed the line, she hung up. My calls went to voicemail.

Not so my calls to Emma. The phone rung and rung in that hollow emptiness that tells you, better than any words, that your world has just stopped making sense.

As an afterthought, I called Jesse. He did not answer, and I did not try again.

I turned on NPR. Radio, the quaint leftover of the last century. It is impossible to avoid faces when surfing the Internet. They pop in online ads, wink from an embedded video, stare from the journalists’ bylines. I could not risk it. When a disaster loomed on the horizon, my sister sensed its approach as unerringly as a bloodhound. My sister was crazy. But she was always right.

There was some political talk-show on NPR. The participants’ voices sounded hollow and unreal, periodically blotted out by the shriek of the planes and the commotion of the birds outside.

I did not know who else to call. This was how attenuated my existence had become: a remote husband; an absent daughter; an estranged sister. I used to have friends. I used to have colleagues. I used to have a life.

My finger hovering over my list of contacts, I felt it descend before I could make a conscious decision.

Tom.

When Jesse had first talked about his hotshot new coder, I did not realize it was a girl. When I finally figured it out, I was bemused. I asked her about her name at some office do.

“It’s unisex,” she explained. “It means ‘innocent’ in Hebrew.”

She was not my idea of innocent. She occupied too much space, drew too much attention. Everything about her was big: her hair; her laughter; her eyes. The last time I had seen her, they were made even bigger by dark circles, so pronounced she looked like a racoon. She always talked about her parents and her two older brothers. I tried to tell myself I was not jealous, but I doubted Emma ever mentioned me to her friends.

I did not expect her to pick up. But she did.

“Sophie?” she said and in the pause that followed, I knew Jesse was not coming back.

“Do you know what’s going on?”

“No…yes. Sort of. Listen, I’m not sure. But it’s bad.”

“Should I…” I hesitated. “Should I drive to the office, get Jesse?”

“No! Stay in. And don’t…don’t talk to strangers.”

I snickered.

“That’s what I am supposed to tell you!”

We could not quite have been mother and daughter according to our ages, but we were close enough.

She laughed – a pale shadow of her usual booming laughter.

“Right! But seriously. Not online either. Just…don’t look.”

“Tom,” I said. “I want to know what it is.”

And I did. I realized it suddenly with piercing clarity. More than anything else, more even that Emma picking up the phone, I wanted to know.

I had been a scientist once.

Tom exhaled.

“Yes,” she said. “I need to…talk to my brothers. One of them is in the army. A pilot. But I’ll come by, Sophie. Later. We will talk.”

I went into the bedroom, retrieved Jesse’s handgun from the bottom of the closet and sat in the living room, watching the door.

Tom

I needed to call Menachem.

But instead I just sat at the table, my head in my hands, refusing to think. Refusing to act. Most of all, refusing to look.

After a while, my arms were cramping, and nothing was happening. Nothing would happen unless I did something.

I went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face. And I dared myself to look, studying my reflection in the toothpaste-speckled mirror that I had promised myself I would clean soon. Maybe it would be more prudent now never to clean it until it became an opaque expanse of smears and stains. Safe.

No, nonsense. Your own face could not be…or maybe it could? How would I know?

I picked up my phone and then it trilled in my hand. Was Menachem awake? Time difference meant it was the middle of the night. But he was a soldier, used to ungodly hours. Had there been an emergency mobilization already?

But the name flashing on the screen was in Chinese symbols that I had input as a lark. Mr. Wei.

Donald Wei

I did not believe in this technology. Nobody can know the future in the present. “Study the past if you would know the future,” says Kongzi – Confucius as they mispronounce it in English. But if you invest in startups, you invest in what other people believe in – or may be persuaded to.

Seemed like a simple idea. Collect information on the sidelines: all those odd little things that major trend-studies disregard because they seem irrelevant. But irrelevant is what counts. Black swans, they call it; events that swoop out of nowhere and change the course of history. I had been skeptical when Jesse Connor approached me. There are trends and there are accidents. History can be diverted from its course but not for long. Still, I went for it. There is a big market in predictions.

Connor was very persuasive. Until the algorithm started giving us those weird scenarios, like a bird epidemic in Sichuan. Not bird flu, bird. Whatever that meant. Connor and his team worked around the clock fixing the software but the more they tinkered, the stranger the results. Fungi forests in California. Worm-eating cornfields in Iowa. Mold explosion in London. And population numbers – dwindling to zero and then exploding off the charts.

And then a conference call. Tom, the hotshot programmer who wrote the software. Funny I did not realize Tom was a woman until I saw her on the screen. Big hair and dark circles under her eyes.

“It’s not the algorithm,” she said with no preamble. “It’s time itself.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“We think time is uniform. But it’s not. It branches out at crucial points. And it may even run backwards. Well, not exactly. Causality may work backwards – from the future to the past.”

And then she launched into a tirade punctuated with “quantum uncertainty” and “Many-Worlds solution”. When she ran out of breath, Connor took over until I interrupted him.

“What you are saying is that these predictions are true even if they impossible?” I said.

“Yes,” Tom said.

“And this is because the future is trying to eat the present?”

Tom blinked but I thought she understood. Connor did not.

“Something like this,” she said.

“Does it mean that your prediction algorithm is going to help it? Help this new future?’

Tom tossed her hair over her shoulder.

“I don’t know. I never thought of it.”

Count on gweilos not to think of the most important part!

I called Connor later and told him I was pulling out.

Kongzi says that a superior man must pursue the truth regardless of the circumstances. But what happens when the truth pursues you?

Erica my wife went to the mall this morning. She took MTR, the Hong Kong subway. It is always crowded. Some people still wore masks after the pandemic, but most didnnot. It was safe now. Time flowing smoothly once again, no eddies or rapids, no alternative streams.

She had not come back.

I called Tom. I put it on speaker, not video. I had heard the rumors.

At least she did not beat around the bush.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s starting”.

I sent her a link to the South China Morning Post.

Yesterday in Kowloon a forty-story apartment bloc, was found empty. Lamma Island was covered by a blanket of crippled butterflies. A witness saw a clutch of birds splashing in the water of the Victoria Bay, their wings sown into a patchwork by a raw bleeding cord.

“Anything we can do?”

“No.”

I hung up.

My grandmother had died in the Great Leap Forward. My great-uncle had been in the Red Guards. We escaped to the Fragrant Harbor, my parents carrying me in their arms.

The future that could have been was coming for me, sniffing me out, following the road not taken. I guess you could only run away for so long.

I heard the door of the apartment open and close. Erica was back.

Menachem

Tom called at 4 am. Crazy Californian time. But I was not asleep anyway. There was talk of Code Red and I was getting ready to go to the base.

Rina woke up but I waved her back into the bedroom. She was used to it.

My little sister, a computer genius. I heard her breathing as I was putting on my uniform.

“Don’t go,” she finally said.

I laughed.

Code Red. Syria, or Lebanon, or Hezbollah, or space invaders. They call, you go.

Rina was asleep again, her head under the pillow: she always did it, no matter how often I teased her about being accused of her murder if she suffocated herself. I kissed her hair; she twitched but did not turn over.

The Twin-Tail Knights Squadron, the best in the IDF. Boys were already out on the field, but I was told to wait. The scuttlebutt made no sense. Unidentified objects? Were we supposed to go after UFOs?

An F-16 was taking off…and then there was a screech like millions of nails on millions of windowpanes…and I was on the floor as slivers of glass were flying over me and there was a stench of burning and fear. Familiar. The smell of war.

No, the plane had not exploded but it had gone off the runway and was now sagging like it was melting or something. The clear bubble of the cockpit was not clear anymore.

My face was washed in sweat as I was running out, and in the gray hamsin sky something was swirling, sullen and broody, like the twisters I had seen in Oklahoma. There are no twisters in the Middle East. We have wars instead. I flew combat: Lebanon, Gaza, Lebanon again. My father fought in the Six-Days War. My uncle Avi was a POW.

But this…this was…what was this? It looked like birds, pigeons or ravens. No. Birds do not fly tethered together like beads on an infinitely long necklace that is swinging above our heads. A necklace or maybe a whip; a spiraling cord that descended from the cloud. And yet these were birds, strung on this tough tendon, flapping their wings, croaking and whistling and screaming…Yes, screaming. Like POWs. It was so weird that my brain refused to process what I was seeing. Where was the end of this thing? What was it connected to?

The cord suddenly fell from the sky, piling up into a heap of squawking meat. And emerging from the dusty-glass sky, an enormous shadow. An F-16? Some new stealth bomber?

A bird.

It was as big as an Airbus-330, too big to be real. But real it was. The stench of raw meat and rot made my eyes water and I saw a soldier on the tarmac puking his guts out. Another idiot was shooting, discharging his machine gun into this thing – did as much damage as throwing pebbles. But the shooting drew its attention and I saw its eyeless head dip down, the beak gaping. The head was swarming with busy ant-like motion. The entire thing was pixelating like a bad TV screen. It was composed of flocking bodies, merging into each other. It rained feathers and blood.

The grey light curdled to darkness as the bird-thing was descending. More shooting, screams. And then I saw a line of people coming out of the HQ. They marched in lockstep, strung along a sagging umbilical.

I ran to the hangar where a small Cessna 182RG was tucked into a corner. Behind me a strange white noise rose and fell like an irregular heartbeat, composed of shuffling, flapping and croaking. But no more screams. No more shouts. The last machine-gun salvo disintegrated into silence.

My hands found the controls faster than my brain.

An explosion rattled the runway. The Cessna was cruising out, listing and shuddering as I was fighting with the controls. The day had turned black. The bird-thing – the flock stitched together by tortured sinews –was above me and I could see more and more birds flying toward it and adding to its rapidly growing body. The sky was alive with pigeons, geese, starlings and cranes.

The runway was blocked by a line of hunched-up figures. I plowed through them. The glass was splattered with red, but I didn’t need to see anymore. I am a pilot. My hands know what to do.

The screech of torn metal. I was airborne. I was flying.

My uncle’s body was returned for burial. There wouldn’t be anything left of mine to return. Better this way. Easier to cope. My parents have two more kids. Too bad I would not leave any behind. Rina would forget. My sister would remember.

Flying straight into the tornado of flesh as birds are being sucked into the engine. Imagining myself as a ball of flame tearing through the crawling sky and bringing back the sun.

Sophie

Tom came at midnight. I had been crouching in the sitting room, Jesse’s gun by my side, curtains down, radio and TV off, only the blue light of the computer monitor dribbling into the gloom. No matter what, I had to know.

Neither Jesse nor Emma answered their phones. And as I surfed the Internet, closing each window when a video clip popped up, as they seemed to do with insistence of a buzzing fly, I was burying my family. But they kept coming back. Emma as a toddler. Jesse on our wedding day. Twenty years of my life gone. I tried to pretend they had never existed; that I had taken a different route and I was now settling back into the life of that alternative Sophie who had persevered with her studies, had taken a research job, had never married, never had a baby. That they had never existed.

My husband. My daughter.

I opened the door with no apprehension. Tom’s face looked like a bruise; as if those dark circles had spread all over her pale skin, turning it the color of dusk.

“Not very careful, are you?” she said with a wry smile.

“Does it matter?”

“Not really.”

I asked her if she wanted to eat and she said yes but when I brought her a cheese sandwich, she took a minuscule bite and put it back on the plate.

“My brother is dead,” she said.

“The pilot?”

“Yes.”

I did not say anything because there was nothing to say. But for a moment, we were together in the shared bubble of bereavement, and I hoped it eased her pain as much as it eased mine.

“You know what ForeCast is,” she finally said, and I nodded. The truth was, I did not, not really. Jesse had stopped talking to me about his work long time ago.

“A killer forecasting algorithm. Universal too – works for finance, climate, politics, you name it. We were running last trials when it started throwing off these weird results. Like really weird. Apocalypse, kind of, but not the end of the world. More like the end of a world.”

“What does it mean?”

“Well, I am not a physicist but the idea at certain key points, the future may influence the past, so that a less-likely outcome will happen. Like some events – the emergence of life or the extinction of dinosaurs – are so unlikely that the only way they could happen is if something in the future forced them. Like…there is another kind of time. I’m not really explaining it well.”

“Not just another kind of time,” I said. “Evolutionary time. Moving by leaps and bounds. Punctuated equilibrium.”

Tom stared at me as if seeing me for the first time.

“I was an evolutionary biologist once,” I said.

“I did not know.”

“Doesn’t matter. Go on.”

“Well, that kind of explains it. Because what’s happening – people losing their faces, birds melting together into a flying hive, stuff coming out of the drains – it’s a new ecosystem being born.”

“Invasion from the future?”

“Invasion of the future.”

“A new ecosystem? But what kind of ecosystem?”

She shrugged. But I knew the answer and it came back to me with a rush of forgotten pleasure: the pleasure of understanding; the sparkle of insight.

“I think it’s an evolution that went for colonial, rather than multicellular, organisms,” I said.

“Like bees?”

“No, like jellyfish or polyps. Colonies.”

“And faces…”

“Identities.”

She was smart; she understood immediately. A face is who you are: unique and irreplaceable; an individual. As part of a colonial organism, you don’t need a face.

“Do you think it can be cured?” she asked, our roles suddenly reversed, and I felt as if I was talking to one of those students I could have taught and never did.

“How can it be? There is no cure for time. The future is not coming because of an infection; the future is an infection.”

She nodded, her black curls obscuring her face as she looked down at her tightly clenched hands.

“Our investor, Donald Wei, suggested it,” she said in a small voice “and I think he was right. It is likely that the reason this insane future is happening is because we have forecast it.”

There was a knock on the door.

I ran to the entrance and stared at the Ring security screen.

They stood outside, so close together that their bodies blended into one on the pixelated display. Their heads bowed; their hands intertwined. But I did not need to see their faces to know who they were. I had invested my entire life in these bodies: feeding and loving; touching and worrying. The warm biological tie. Male and female; mother and offspring. I could not break it now; could I? Time only flows in one direction for each of us.

“Don’t open!” Tom was behind me. I looked back. She had picked up the gun.

I hesitated. That was my other life calling; the life that might have been; the life in which my face was my own.

I opened the door.

Tom

They stood on the threshold. They? It? One or many?

A man and a woman, their bodies squeezed together tight that they melded into each other, the clothes ripped and distorted by the protrusions of shapeless quivering flesh. I recognized Jesse’s familiar jacket and his daughter’s Berkeley t-shirt, but they were as irrelevant as yesterday’s newspapers: remnants of the world that was not simply gone but had never existed. Above them were two identical moist white ovals, as featureless and raw as a jellyfish’s tentacle. It looked so weird, that for a moment I felt like laughing. And then there was that slithering sensation under the roots of my hair, as if something were separating there, coming undone…

I lifted the gun and fired but my sight was dimming, and the shot went astray, and in the last seconds of having eyes I saw Sophie thrown against the wall, a dark patch blooming on her chest. I wanted to cry out in horror, but I had no mouth. And it did not matter anyway.

Sophie

I felt no pain.

But the shot turned me away from what stood in the doorway and I faced Tom as my top was turning dark and heavy and warm, rivulets of blood slithering down my thighs.

Her face was lying on the floor by her feet. Dark eyes open wide, tumbledown curls spread around like a corona. The pale quivering thing stepped over it and went to join the colony.

Something was loosening up inside me and I pressed my hands to the wound as if trying to keep it all together, knit the unraveling seconds but it was too late as if always had been.

Redhawk-4 to base, Redhawk-4 to base, do you copy? Yes, I am on target. Flying over the city center. All clear. No pedestrians. No traffic. Stationary cars but not many. No fires. No signs of damage to infrastructure. Lowering altitude. Still nothing. No…wait! Something is blowing along the street. Yes, blowing! Like…snow? I know that there is no snow in summer but it sure as hell looks like…I am not coming down. I am over a circular plaza and it is covered…I don’t know how to describe it. Are you getting my feed? Looks like…like cuts of meat in a butcher’ shop, like somebody filled the fucking plaza with raw meat…No, I can’t go any lower without landing.

More of the white stuff carried on the wind. It is light and the wind is getting stronger. It can foul my blades.

Something above me, something big. Do you copy? I have to land. Forcing me to…

I am aborting the mission! Aborting the mission! Anybody is listening?

This is Redhawk-4 to base.

The streets are paved with faces.


About the Author

Elana Gomel is an academic and writer. She has published six non-fiction books and numerous articles on posthumanism, science fiction, Victorian literature, and serial killers. Her stories appeared in Apex Magazine, New Horizons, Mythic, and many other magazines, and were also featured in several award-winning anthologies, including Apex Book of World Science Fiction. She is the author of three novels: A Tale of Three Cities (2013), The Hungry Ones (2018) and The Cryptids (2019). She has lived in four countries, speaks three languages, and has two children.

She can be found at https://www.citiesoflightanddarkness.com/ and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter