Saturday Storytime: The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family

Often in horror, it is the fantastic element we’re supposed to be fascinated by and fear. This is not so true in the stories of Usman T. Malik. This story was also nominated for a Nebula.

“I know you,” she whispered to the Beast resident in her soul. “I know you,” and all the time she scribbled on her flesh with a glass shard she found buried in a patrolman’s eye. Her wrist glowed with her heat and that of her ancestors. She watched her blood bubble and surge skyward. To join the plasma of the world and drift its soft, vaporous way across the darkened City, and she wondered again if she was still capable of loving them both.

The administrator promised her that he would take care of her children. He gave her food and a bundle of longshirts and shalwars. He asked her where she was going and why, and she knew he was afraid for her.

“I will be all right,” she told him. “I know someone who lives up there.”

“I don’t understand why you must go. It’s dangerous,” he said, his flesh red under the hollows of his eyes. He wiped his cheeks. “I wish you didn’t have to. But I suppose you will. I see that in your face. I saw that when you first came here.”

She laughed. The sound of her own laughter saddened her. “The world will change,” she said. “It always does. We are all empty, but this changing is what saves us. That is why I must go.”

He nodded. She smiled. They touched hands briefly; she stepped forward and hugged him, her headscarf tickling his nostrils, making him sneeze. She giggled and told him how much she loved him and the others. He looked pleased and she saw how much kindness and gentleness lived inside his skin, how his blood would never boil with undesired heat.

She lifted his finger, kissed it, wondering at how solid his vacant flesh felt against her lips.

Then she turned and left him, leaving the water and fire and the crackling, hissing earth of the City behind.

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Saturday Storytime: The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family
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