Issue #87

Summer 2023

Notes on the Disappearance of the Headless Child

by Matthew F. Amati

The Headless Child has vanished. In the empty nursery, a shattered pane, a bed vacant and damp. Mother howls. Father puts his entire fist in his mouth. The gardener is forbidden to leave.

Someone calls a detective. The detective found a lost pin. He found the footprints of Adam, and the first flower of Creation. The missing child eludes him still.

In a yellow notebook Inspector Nil writes:

"The child is nowhere on the grounds, but something has changed.

"Worms slither in the crawlspace. Strange flowers sprout in the hedge. In some there are hardnesses of fingernail, in others the sheen of a human eye. A weathervane points southwest and refuses to change with the wind.

"Interview with parents: The Mother has a spot on her sleeve she cannot rub out. The spot is green. The Father was seen sowing salt in the dry earth, painting runes on the shed.

"A blind dog hobbles across the field, from the haymow to the well and back again.

"There is a single drawer in the Father's desk. Contents of drawer: one agate marble. One bone, identified by laboratory as the coccyx of an owl. One tiny origami ship. One dried leaf, identified by laboratory as hucklewort. Three coins (two pesos,Trinidadian, one nickel, US). One tack. One mousetrap, broken. Three playing cards (the five of every suit but spades). One pencil. A small sharp tooth, unidentifiable by laboratory, but possibly the molar of a civet. Grains of glitter, hair, dust. Your heart that you thought you had lost. Post-its. A priest's desiccated thumb.

"There is a folded note under the child's moist pillow. The note reads: 'We do not have your child. Fill a jar with your tears. Place it in a puddle of moonlight. When the thrush cries, you will not see your moppet again, neverwise nor evermore.'

"Case closed. Conclusion of Inspector Nil: there is nothing in this world."

Now the search is over and we have only thoughts. The roof falls in. Newts invade the pantry. Nail a cover on the well, seal the barn, send the dogs off down the highway to beg their bones.

Let the dry grass burn.

Turn Mother over with your foot, her face is gone. Father rusts in the garage.

Low voices wonder where the Headless Child has gone. The voices have theories, worthless as any waking dream:

He is being mischievous, so say the voices, he is hiding in the swamps, or under the ancient soil.

He will emerge laughing at the world's end.

He has been misplaced in the sewers and crowned King of the Rats.

He has been stolen by the elves and fays. Perhaps he has been swapped for your child. Check your princeling right away, and make sure there is something attached to his neck.

He has turned to smoke. To wine dregs. To the stuff screams are made on.

He has blown away on a bad wind. Seek him in lost cities where dwell the abandoned and the dead.

Author Bio


Matthew F. Amati's is the author of 50 or so stories that have appeared in Flash Fiction Online, Daily Science Fiction, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, The Fabulist and elsewhere. His novel Loompaland is available from Amazon. He has appeared six times previously in The Cafe Irreal, most recently in Issue 83. You can find a lot of his stories linked here: