The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

Sunday Night Strange

I know, I know. I’ve been gone for a long while now, and you’re grumpy about it, and feeling maybe a bit self-righteous about it, and thinking to yourself, “It’s past time, isn’t it, you lazy, good-for-nothing Curator?”

Well. Allow me to toss a withering glare in your general direction and ask you to take your cheek elsewhere, thank you very much.

It’s not like I’ve been lounging about the Cabinet, re-reading favorite spellbooks and sorting through my collection of dancing shoes, reminiscing fondly about each pair’s doomed former owner.

(Don’t look at me like that. I wouldn’t harm someone just to get my hands on their dancing shoes. I may be a Curator and therefore in possession of both dubious judgment and an irregular personal hygiene routine, but my morals are intact, I assure you.)

(Now, if the owner of a fabulous pair of dancing shoes happened also to have broken into the Cabinet stores, and attempted to sneak away with Curator Bachmann’s collection of haunted musical instruments in order to enspell and then dispose of a prima ballerina and take her spot at the upcoming premiere . . . why, then, it is perfectly acceptable to, shall we say, cautiously incapacitate this person and take said fabulous dancing shoes for oneself. It’s all in the name of justice, you see.)

Now, where was I? You made me so indignant that I was forced to use parentheticals.

Ah, yes. The reason for my absence.

How to tell such a story? I’m not sure you will believe me when you hear it. And it’s rather embarrassing, in fact, so maybe I shan’t tell you at all.

What’s that? Are you actually begging to hear my story, like a spoiled child?

Well. If you insist. But don’t think I’ll give in to your pitiful whingeing again.

(Oh, who am I kidding? We Curators can’t resist telling our stories. You know this by now.)

So. Imagine this:

It is a Sunday, the most horrid day of the week because with it comes an unshakeable sense of impending disaster, otherwise known as Monday morning.

You decide to take a stroll and enjoy the noiselessness of your neighborhood at half past nine. Children are asleep. Adults are grumbling about their laundry, the twins’ lunches, the dog’s piddle on the rug.

But the streets are quiet.

And it is here, on these streets, at the corner of somewhere and thereabouts, that you hear a rustling.

You peek out from beneath your scarves and your layered felt hats, the necklaces you wear around your neck clacking against each other. The necklaces are made of carved sections of bone, each piece strung to the next with hair from a tribe of flesh-eating pixies. You wear them to protect yourself from evil and also from smelly people on the train.

A familiar face appears before you, and the delicious fear tickling your skin subsides. Why, it’s nothing exciting. It’s only your friend Percival

(What, don’t you have a friend named Percival? I thought everyone did.)

“Hello, there,” says Percival, bobbing his head about in the strangest of fashions. Perhaps he hears music you cannot? “I thought it was you.”

“Hello, Percival,” you say. “I was just out for my Sunday evening walk.”

“Oh, yes. Of course.” Percival blinks at you, his eyes watery and a bit gummy around the edges.

You say: “Percival, are you quite all right? You have a sick look about you.”

Percival says: “I’m afraid I’m quite ill.” His head is starting to fall this way and that like a child swinging about a bag of potatoes.

A thin line of laughter arises from the shadows. You turn, but nothing is there.

“Well, I must go,” says Percival, “for I have a sick look about me.”

Then Percival leaves you standing there curiously as he continues on his way. You blink, and his body buckles. Did he stumble on a crack in the walk? You blink again, and Percival is gone. You think you see small shapes scattering into the hedges like tumbleweeds, but you can’t be sure.

What an odd fellow, that Percival.

You continue on your walk, and for a time all is well. But then you turn a corner, and there he is again—Percival. Only this time, his skin is wriggling like many squirming things are itching to break out of their fleshy Percival-prison.

“Percival, my friend, you look rather smashing just now,” you say, for, as everyone knows, it is rude to comment on someone’s wriggling skin to his face.

“Percival, my friend, Percival, my friend,” whispers Percival, and then comes that laughter again. It is high and shrill. Really, it could be best described as shrieky, and it appears to be emanating from the rubbery crack forming diagonally across Percival’s face.

“Ah. Percival?” you point out helpfully. “Your face appears to be breaking in two. Or rather more like melting in two.” You peer closely. “I’m not sure what to call it, actually.”

“Your face! Your face! Your face!” Percival shrieks, and then runs away, his crooked limbs flailing everywhere like those of a marionette with cut strings.

He truly is an odd fellow. You ought to send him some fairy cakes to get his color up a bit.

Later, you reach your neighborhood’s little pond. It is flat and black and is actually the gateway to an imprisoned army of demons, but none of these people in their bright, cheery houses need to know that. Besides, you and your friends have long had these demons under control.

Truly. You have. No matter what anyone says.

And wouldn’t you know it? There is Percival, sitting by the water with his legs splayed like a child’s. Fish fresh from the water flap about him in the dirt. He has plucked off several of their fins; his mouth is slimy with guts.

“Face,” Percival whispers. “Face, face, face.” Then he holds up a mutilated fish for you to see.

“Percival, I’m not sure you should be eating fish fresh from the water like that,” you advise. “The water may not be . . . entirely safe. You know. Pollution and such.”

(Pollution there may be, but nothing humans can create is as foul as demon breath, and to the trained nose, this pond reeks of it.)

But you don’t tell Percival that. Even if you had wanted to, his ears appear to be sliding off of his skull.

In fact, his entire face is now peeling apart into five sections—eyes and nose and mouth and ear and ear. Gummy strings stretch between each separating piece of Percival-face. The pieces elongate and squash and flatten and squash again until they take the shapes of fat little men with swollen faces.

It is only then that you realize your error, and everything becomes clear.

These are the flesh-eating pixies from which you harvested hair to bind together your protective necklaces those many months ago—and you realize now, many months too late, that on that fateful day, you forgot to offer them your own hair in return for what you harvested.

You committed, in fact, an unthinkable pixie faux pas.

And of course they let you. They didn’t clear their throats or raise their eyebrows or give you any sort of body language cue that you were doing something wrong. No, the little flatulent devils just sat there and smiled, probably already plotting the details of this very night, right down to the last mangled fish fin.

“Oh, of all the rotten luck,” you mutter, as the pixies tumble out of their Percival-shaped tower and become themselves. What they lack in size they make for in numbers and a fierce adherence to the rules of trade etiquette. They drag you through the neighborhood by your scarves, through the forest, up the mountain, down the mountain, and up the next mountain, until coming to a stop in a wooded glen encircled by rocks—and it is here that you see an empty cage, waiting for you.

“What is the sentence for a botched exchange of hair?” you ask, as you are unceremoniously shoved into the cage. “Do remind me. I’ve forgotten.”

For answer, a pixie with a particularly gleeful expression floats up to meet your eyes. In his tiny hands are a pair of polished scissors.

He flies at your hair with a gleam in his eye, and you quickly calculate how long you will have to remain indoors after this. Three months?Four? Pixies love hair—especially that of humans—but they have a notoriously terrible eye for style, and whatever they have used to coat the scissors’ blades reeks of poison. No doubt it will take some time for everything to grow back.

When the first lock of your hair hits the floor, and the pixies let out a cheer, you sigh and clasp your hands. It could be worse, you suppose—and very well might be, if they get hungry while they work.

(But obviously they didn’t, for I am still here.)

(Well, mostly.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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