The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

Poppy and the Poison Garden

Mischievous readers! It took much longer to bring this object to you than this Curator had hoped. Oh, the tales I could tell of plagues and an hourglass through which sand fell three times faster than time as we usually know it. Yes, I could tell those tales, but they might be too frightening even to belong in this Cabinet. I hope you will be appeased by the following instead.

— Curator Trevayne

Behind the gates at the end of the lane, the poison garden grew.

Even if there hadn’t been a sign hung on the iron, the children would have known exactly what was planted there, they would have known they were forbidden to enter, this being the source of their parents’ most frequent and hysterical warnings. “Don’t ever go in, are you listening?”

But there is a very particular kind of person who will take words such as these as a challenge, not a warning.

“You’re just scared,” Poppy’s brother teased.

“You are,” she retorted. The rest of the children laughed. It was easy to taunt each other in this way, since, no matter how hard they’d tried, none of them had managed to find out how to get in. The stone wall was twice as high as a person, topped with spikes sharp as needles, and went on as far as they could see. One long, lazy summer afternoon they had followed it, looking for a crack or a hole or some place where the heavy rocks had come loose. Many hours later, smeared with mud and scratched by brambles, they had ended up where they began, back under the sign on the gates, with its warning that the plants within could kill a full-grown man.

“I want to see,” said one of the other boys.

“You want to see a man die?” Poppy asked, with far more curiosity than horror.

“‘Course not, but I want to see what could do it. The plants in my garden are boring. All basil and whatnot.”

Everyone else, maybe a half-dozen children in total, nodded in agreement. Poppy took her little brother’s hand and began to march him back down the lane to their house in time for dinner. Beside the front steps, bright red poppies bloomed with the last flush of life, planted there by her mother every year on Poppy’s birthday. They were pretty enough, but surely the things growing in the poison garden were much more interesting.

Poppy was quite a fan of interesting.

“Poppy, David, wash your hands, what have you been getting up to?” their mother asked.

“We were up at the garden,” said David, because younger brothers are very stupid and don’t know when to keep their mouths shut.

Their mother dropped a ladle. “You must never go in there!”

“We know,” said Poppy, rolling her eyes. “We couldn’t anyway, it’s all locked up. We were just outside.”

“Well, all right,” said their mother, stirring a pot of soup. “But I wish you’d find something else to do. There’s something not right about that place.”

Poppy had heard all the stories. That men disappeared inside the gates, that the only person with a key was an old woman nobody ever saw, that strange footprints, neither human nor beast, were sometimes seen on the dusty path. Those things couldn’t all be true, and anyway, it was just the kind of place about which such stories were told.

Frankly, she had her doubts that it was dangerous at all. Interesting, yes, but it wasn’t as if anyone was going in there and picking leaves to eat as salad, and didn’t a person usually have to eat the wrong plants to get sick? That sort of thing happened all the time in books, some princess or other foolishly swallowing a cake or pudding someone had given her, without thinking whether it was truly a gift.

Funny, it was always an old woman in those stories, too.

Outside Poppy’s window, the moon was very full and bright. She blinked, still sleepy, unsure what had awoken her. No voices drifted up from downstairs, which meant it must be late enough that her parents had gone to bed, but still too early for the birds to have begun twittering in their trees.

The long path up to the garden glowed almost blue, moonlight against the gray dust of a summer without much rain.

And someone was limping up toward the gates, doubled over so that she looked most like a bundle of blankets propped up by a walking stick.

Poppy’s bare feet made no sound on the floor as she crept out onto the landing and down the stairs, pausing only for a moment to wonder whether she should wake David, who would want to see.

But he would make too much noise, and so she slipped through the front door alone. She dared not call to the woman, which might wake up everyone on the street. Stones cut at her toes and a chill wind bit through her nightshirt, but Poppy didn’t stop. Squinting through the moonlight, she could just see the old woman, almost at the gates.

If she locked them behind her, all Poppy was going to have to show for sneaking from her bed in the middle of the night would be sore feet and a cough from catching cold. Poppy hurried, cursing very quietly whenever she stepped on something sharp.

The gates, when she got there, were open.

“Hello?” Poppy called, one hand on the iron. There was no reply. “Can I come in?”

A warm breeze gusted from inside the garden, scented with something sweetly gentle. Poppy stepped through the gates, into warmth better suited to noon than midnight, lovely after the chilly walk. Neat paths wove between flowerbeds, tall trees spread thick branches overhead. Moss, soft and green, curled over rocks, laying a hush over everything.

“Hello?” Poppy called, one more time, and even to her own ears her voice came out as a whisper. There was no sign of the old woman, nor even of the tapping of her cane over the paths, but it wasn’t completely silent.

Nearby, something skittered, as did a shiver up Poppy’s back. “Some kind of animal,” she told herself, venturing further into the garden. It was light enough to read the little signs on wooden plaques in front of every plant and so she did, tasting the words, too beautiful to be bitter or poisonous. Oleander. Narcissus. Hyacinth. Why, her mother planted those last ones, they couldn’t be so very dangerous, no matter what else the sign said.

“Foxglove,” she read at the next one, looking first at the plant, then the sign, and then…

The bones in the flowerbed beside it, scraps of cloth still clinging to shins and arms. One elbow bent, the hand clutching at where the heart would once have been.

Poppy stumbled back, her own heart racing as if she’d eaten the flowers herself. The skull grinned at her and she ran, not paying attention to the paths or direction until she had to stop, gasping for breath.

The gates were nowhere in sight. The garden walls were too far to make out. And there, there were more bones, slumped against the trunk of a yew tree.

Also known as the Graveyard Tree, read the sign beside a foot, bleached white by moonlight.

She wanted to scream, to yell, but no sound would come out and in any case, she knew it wouldn’t do any good. She would just have to find her own way back, out through the gates and down the path and into her own warm bed, for she was suddenly very tired.

Every step felt as if her aching feet were made of stones big as the ones that made up the walls. On and on she went, until she suddenly stopped.

The air was sickly sweet. All around her, poppies bloomed red as blood. Truly, she hadn’t meant to step on them, but the moment she did, the soreness in her scraped and bruised feet seemed to disappear completely.

“You’re mine,” she said to the flowers, though it didn’t make any sense. “We have the same name.”

The poppies danced in the warm breeze.

Poppy knelt to touch the petals and look at their deep black hearts. Oh, they were so soft against her fingers and her legs and her cheek as she lay down among them, their perfume covering her like a blanket.

Blankets. A bundle of them stood on the path, right where Poppy had just been.

“Goodnight,” said Poppy. The walking stick rapped twice on the ground and the bundle turned away.

And Poppy closed her eyes.

A Note From Your Curators

Dearest Curious Ones,

We, your Curators, hope this note finds you well — and hopefully not too confused about why we did not post a new story today. Rest assured, we have not been eaten alive by the brood of monsters kept at the bottom of the third floor closet, nor have we been transfixed by the whispering jewels in the kitchen cupboard. (And we would remind you, if you ever happen to visit our kitchen, do remember to plug your ears before opening the fifth cupboard on the right, and whatever you do, don’t eat anything you might see lying out on the countertops, for we are surprisingly fastidious, and it probably got there on its own.)

In fact, we are simply a bit delayed in returning home from an expedition celebrating the launch of Curator Trevayne’s first book, Coda. Said expedition took us down rivers and into caves, across precariously constructed bridges and through vast cities where the primary form of communication is music (as you can imagine, Curator Trevayne felt right at home here). There we lingered, shooting off fireworks that would put Gandalf’s to shame and trying on outrageously colored hair extensions while being fed cake by the natives.

But then, dear Curators. Oh, then . . .

What began as a celebration of Curator Trevayne’s success became something much more dangerous, an expedition of the direst magnitude, in fact. After much peril and evading of booby traps that would put a certain hatted archaeology professor to shame, we returned home to the Cabinet — safely, yes, just barely, but certainly not in time to prepare a story for you today.

For now, we are content to dust ourselves off and recover by the hearth, our pockets full of relics we can’t name for fear of activating them, and our minds bursting with darkly fantastical new stories. And we hope you’ll join us soon for a new story — a few days late but just as dark and delightful as you’ve come to expect.

Until then, readers,

The Curators

May Flowers . . . Don’t Give Them To Your Mother, Child

Hello, dear readers. I write this from my tower room, safely surrounded by shelves of crumbling books, drawers packed with carved wooden boxes holding a variety of interesting powders, and tables lined with jar upon jar of  . . . well. Things.

My tower room is a pleasant haven, where I tend to forget little details like the changing seasons. But earlier this morning, when I peered down through the small, dirty window, I saw, marring the pensive gray and white slush of winter, a few unpleasant dots of color.

Flowers. Ah yes. It is May, and May means flowers: violets, pansies, and petunias, the colors of old bruises and spoiled butter, turning their little faces up to the beaming sun. I presume that soon some toddler will wander by, yank a few from the ground—oh, is that a silent scream, now, from the dumb little open-mouthed flower-faces?—and carry them off in a filthy fist. Mommy! For you!

If you loved your mommy, you icky child—and if you knew what I know about that wilting bouquet—flowers are the last thing you’d offer.

I won’t mince words: I don’t like flowers. I don’t trust their pretty surfaces, their persuasive perfumes. When it comes to flowers, believe me: things can go dreadfully wrong.

This month, the Cabinet Curators will share with you just a few of our many (oh yes: many) stories about the darker side of flowers. I hope you’ll take it to heart, and plow up your gardens, and salt the earth, and this year give your mother a handful of stones or thorny sticks for her birthday. Much safer than flowers, I assure you.

Plum Boy and the Dead Man

A black tree leans over the rocky road from Harrypatch to Winthropa monstrous tree, thick and warped like a rotting blood vessel. Its branches whirl into the sky, strands of ink in frozen water. The countryside all about is bare, and the fields stretch for miles, and this tree is the only one in sight, as if it has frightened all the other trees away. A length of rope is knotted through its crown, back and forth and crisscrossing, and one bit of the rope hangs down, and from it hangs a mana thief, they say, and a murdererand now look! a little boy is coming up the road. He is rich as a too-ripe plum, and round like one, too, and he has little toothpick legs and a jaunty green cap.

He stalks along, the pompous goose, swinging a half-sized walking stick made just for him. He does not see the dead man in the tree. He walks, walks, staring at the darkening sky with large watery eyes. He sees the tree. He wrinkles his nose and peers at it. He does not understand what is hanging in it. He realizes it is not a branch or a particularly large and hideous bird. And then, when he is directly below it, he sees that it is a man, and the man is dead.

Plum Boy startles. His knees knock together and he clutches at his hat.

Slowly, very slowly, he begins to edge around the ugly tree, pressing himself to the far side of the road, his eyes round as saucers. And now he is past it and hurrying on.

And this is when the dead man calls out:

“You,” he cries, very softly from his dead, dry throat. “You? Come here a moment?”

The boy lets out a shriek and breaks into a proper run. But he is clumsy and he trips, and wriggling onto his back, he stares at the tree and the hanged man in terror.

“Don’t run,” the dead man says, very gently. He is hanging with his back toward Plum Boy, but there is no one else in the fields and no one on the road, and Plum Boy is sure it is the dead man who had spoken.

“Who are you?” Plum Boy squeaks. And then, because he does not want to sound afraid, he says, “Why are you hanging in a tree? You know, you might startle someone. Come down at once.” Because you see, Plum Boy thinks the dead man is playing a game. And perhaps the dead man is. . .

“I wish I could,” the dead man says, turning slowly on the end of his rope. “But I’m afraid I am quite put out.”

Plum Boy stands quickly and brushes the dust from his velvet breeches. He eyes the corpse suspiciously. Live men should not have such oddly turned necks, he thinks. Live men should not gave such badly blackened feet.

“It is a magic trick,” says Plum Boy stoutly, but his voice shakes. “Come- come down!” He stamps his foot.

The dead man has turned a full circle. He is facing Plum Boy now. His head is cricked over the noose, his eyes empty. He is smiling, like a puppet on a string, because there is nothing else he can do; he has no lips anymore.

“Alas, I cannot,” the dead man says. He sounds unbearably sad. “But come and sit down a while at the bottom of my tree. . . Come and speak with me.”

Plum Boy gapes at him. The dead man sounded kind, but there were maggots on his cheeks.

“No,” says Plum Boy. “You are a thief and a murderer. I’ll be on my way now.”

“Oh, don’t! Don’t leave! It is so lonely here.”

It is lonely, Plum Boy sees. The fields are nothing but bare, wretched humps all the way to the horizon. Night is coming. Perhaps, Plum Boy thinks, if he makes the dead man very desperate. . . Plum Boy stuffs his fingers in his pockets and hunches his shoulders.

“No,” he says. “You are a recalcitrant criminal. If you were hanged you deserve to be lonely, that’s my opinion.”

The dead man continues to smile. His teeth are very white. In life they must have never grown yellow with cane sugar and tobacco and ale like those of Plum Boy’s parents and indeed of Plum Boy himself.  He begins to turn away from Plum Boy again, the rope doing another slow, creaking turn.

“You seem to think a very great deal of your opinion,” the dead man says.

“And why shouldn’t I? My father says everyone ought to have opinions or they’ll be wobbly as marrow pudding.”

“But what if your opinion is not true?”

Plum Boy thinks that is a very odd idea.

The dead man ventures on. “And even if I am nothing but a thief and a murderer, must you hate me? Must you be cruel?”



“Because you are very wicked.”

“And you are not? You are perfect?”

“Quite,” says Plum Boy. “And now I’m going.”

Plum Boy spins and begins to walk again, for good this time. At least, he pretends as if it is for good, but he simply wants the dead man to beg. It pleases Plum Boy when people are desperate for him to speak with them, because they aren’t very often. Plum Boy cannot imagine why.

“No, please!” the dead man cries after him. “Just tell me a few little things. What is your name? What is happening in the world these days? Is the tree still blooming in the square in Harrypatch? Tell me anything, so that I can think on it while I hang here.”

The dead man cannot move, but it is as if he is struggling to twist back toward Plum Boy. He is like a very slow top, Plum Boy decides, a very dull, broken top that has gotten stuck in a tree.

Plum Boy sighs. He shakes his head slowly, as if he is pondering some great sacrifice he must make. Then he returns to the tree and pulls out a very large, very flowery handkerchief that been soaked in lavender water and covers his entire face with it.

“All right,” he says. “I will be charitable today. But I don’t want to look at you, because you are far to ugly. I live in Winthrope, in a big house that is nicer than all the other houses, and I have a mother and father and four sisters and three brothers and we own the bakery and the pie shop and the coffee house, too.”

“How grand,” the dead man says. “And what month is it? And what is the weather like? And what is your name? And what are in your pockets?”

Plum Boy realizes the dead man must be very nearly blind.

“It is April. Spring,” says Plum Boy. He begins digging in his pockets, almost eagerly. A jackknife comes out, a bit of string and some sticky, nasty, yellow toffees. He lists them to the dead man. “I have a wind-up horse, too,” says Plum Boy, “but I forgot to bring it.”

And then Plum Boy straightens suddenly. The handkerchief slips from his face, but he does not catch it. “You asked me my name twice.”

The dead man hangs from his rope, unmoving.

“I’m sick of your questions,” Plum Boy says. “Why did they hang you? What did you do?”

“Oh,” says the dead man, softly. “That is a very long, sad story.”

“Well, you can leave out all the boring bits and the sad bits and only tell me the horrible crimes.”

“But those are the most important parts,” the dead man says. “The boring bits and the sad bits. . .”

“I don’t want to know them. Who died? Was it very gruesome?”

“Yes,” the dead man says. “It was very gruesome. Seven people from the farms, seven people on the forest floor, and they had no eyes and no teeth, but I did not do it. I was an herb-brewer then, and the potion-witcher, but the magistrate said I was the murderer, and everyone was certain they agreed with him. They made their opinions so quick, in an instant, and yet their opinions were strong as stone. And so they hung me here. Who is the magistrate these days? Is it still the same one? Still old Master Penniman? And, boy, what is your name?”

Plum Boy stares up at the tree. The sun is going down. It is an odd picture, a round boy and an ugly tree and a strange dead person, all stamped in black against the bloody red sun.

“Who is the magistrate?” the dead man asks again. His voice sounds precisely the same as it had the first time he had asked the question, kind and a tiny bit wheedling, as if he does not realize he is asking it again. As if he does not care. “Who is the magistrate?”

Plum Boy peers up curiously. The handkerchief is blowing away up the road. He does not notice.

“It is still Master Penniman,” Plum Boy says. “And he’s my father.”

“And what is your name?”

“William Penniman, if you- if you really want to know.”

“Ah.” The dead man stares down at Plum Boy, still grinning, and the red glint of the setting sun is in his cold, blank eyes. For the first time Plum Boy notices that the dead man has iron at his wrists and at his ankles and making an X across his ribs. He is caged in it. But it cannot stop him anymore.

“William Penniman,” the dead man whispers.

There is an odd brush of wind that flies around Plum Boy’s ankles and pulls at his cap. And then Plum Boy feels very strange, very light. . . and very unconscious.

* * *

Plum Boy’s eyes are dim as old wicks. He feels dull and heavy, like a sack in the rain. He is watching a little figure walking away up the road, as if through haze.

At first Plum Boy thinks he has been robbed. His jacket! The fat little imbecile in the road is wearing my jacket and holding my half-sized walking stick and my lovely green cap!

And then the figure turns to face him. . .

With a slither of fear, Plum Boy realizes that he is high up, staring down, and below him is his own smug face and watery blue eyes.

He tries to shout, but all he can do is smile.

The boy in the road smiles back. There is a jackknife in his pocket, and he lifts it out and swings it between thumb and forefinger, back and forth, back and forth.

Then, with a little laugh, the new Plum Boy wheels and skips away down the road, and the night wind flies around the old Plum Boy and his old, black tree, and turns him on the gibbet, and he must look to the North, though he doesn’t want to look that way.

He decides in an instant: he does not like the sight at all.

Generously Donated By…

It is one seventeen in the afternoon, and you are bored. Who cares about mummies and old statues and broken bowls someone found in the dirt, anyway? Not even a whole bowl. Your feet drag, and once again Mrs. Webster’s voice calls, “Keep up, everyone, remember to stay with your buddy!”

Her voice echoes around the drafty museum, and Sabrina Linklater is most definitely not your buddy. She smells like cotton candy and she doesn’t like you. You know this because she’s told you every day since you were both five, so it’s just your luck to be stuck with her now.

“We’re going to see a very special exhibit,” says Mrs. Webster, which means nothing; she’s said this about all of them, all day, and your feet hurt. Nobody listened this morning when you insisted these shoes pinch your toes, too busy trying to make you eat horrible slimy oatmeal and remember your bag for the field trip.

This room is dim, and cool, like the others have been. Spotlights bounce off glass cases and the walls seem to swallow every noise, turning voices down to whispers. A few other visitors are wandering around, stopping in front of each piece before slipping through the swathes of shadow to pop up at the next thing to see.

It’s the statue that makes you pause. There’s nothing special about it, in fact it is another boring thing, just a figure of a small man, cast in white stone.

It looks exactly the same as it did in the last room.

And the room before that.

Which is cheating, really, isn’t it. The museum should try to put different things in all the exhibits, or there’s no point to traipsing through the entire building, and maybe then your shoes wouldn’t squash your feet so much. You’re certain you have a blister, just there, on the outside of your left pinky toe.

But you move toward the statue. The air in the room smells funny, like the second before a lightning strike in the dead heat of summer.

Slotted neatly between two of the statue’s fingers is a small card:

Puck, or Robin Goodfellow
England, c. 1805
Mythical trickster and nature sprite
Artist: Unknown
Kindly donated by Mr. Alistair Harbuckle

Boring. You turn, and a tiny sound breaks the hush that smothers everything else, including Sabrina Linklater’s whiny voice and Adam Beech’s constant questions.

Scrape. Scrape. You’ve made that sound before, striking two rocks together to start a fire—which, you can say with authority, absolutely never works.

Scrape. Scrape.


You whirl back. The statue is perfectly still, and looks no different, except it must be like that famous painting, because its eyes seem to follow you, and the hairs prickle on the back of your neck.

“This way, kids,” says Mrs. Webster. You can barely hear her.

“That statue is weird,” you say when Sabrina reluctantly falls into step beside you.

“You’re an idiot,” she answers.

The next room is filled with bones and the ghosts of the dinosaurs who wore them, grinning skulls with hollow eyes peering down from overhead. This is more interesting than half an old dinner plate or an ancient chess set, and you move up close to read the names on the little cards, inspect the hinged, talon-pointed feet fixed to the stands.

Scrape, scraaaape.

The statue is in the corner, stone-frozen and smiling, its finger crooked, beckoning you, glowing white in the shadows. Nobody is watching. Your buddy—ha, ha—is way over there, exclaiming over something that would once have had huge, leathery wings. Mrs. Webster is leaning against a pillar, her hair loose from its pins.

Closer, the outline of a door scratches itself onto the wall beside Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, mythical trickster.

And this is not boring. Your heart beats faster and you check again that no one is watching. Just for a minute, that’s all, and then you’ll go back to looking at the bones, but the statue chose you, not stinking Sabrina or annoying Adam Beech, and this is very, very interesting.

“In here?” you ask, and it doesn’t even feel silly to be speaking to a piece of stone, however humanlike it suddenly seems to be.

Scrape. Nod. Scrape.

You push on the wall. It’s cool, but not cold, smooth, but not perfectly, and it gives way without a creak, a doorway just large enough to slip through.

Into a forest. A square, room-shaped forest, but a forest. The sunlight from the ceiling is warm on your face, the earth soft underfoot. It smells like it just rained, fresh and clean. A fat bumblebee buzzes lazily in a cluster of snowdrops, the air is tinged with green so rich and sweet you can taste it. Birds twitter, something clawed scuttles away, unseen. The nearest tree is thick, branches gnarled like an old man’s hands grasping for the sky, and carved into its trunk are the words:

Elsewhere, c. The Year of the Mocking Mirrors
Generously donated by Lord and Lady Hummingbird-Glass

It is real, the bark rough as bark should be, catching your fingertips when you trace each one of the letters. Fallen twigs snap with each step deeper into the trees. This is a different kind of quiet, here, a silence that is such even though it sparkles with birdcalls and rustling.

At the far side of the forest, between two trees growing right from the walls, another door stands an inch ajar, enough to welcome. The one you came in is too far behind to see, but one more room won’t hurt. This is a clever trick of the museum’s, and maybe the next exhibit will give a clue as to how it works.

This is what you tell yourself.

Mostly, this is decidedly interesting.

The next room is empty. A dull, gray box, bare of the merest smudge or speck of dust.

You begin to laugh. Laugh so hard your eyes water and your belly hurts and you fall to your knees, holding your sides as if the air itself is tickling you.

“Help!” you gasp. “Stop!”

No one comes. It’s up to you to crawl, cackling, to the next door, and the instant you’re through the laughter stops, smothered by the weight of thousands of eyes, watching, all turned to stare.

Paired up in jars, in rows and rows on shelves. Green and blue and brown, floating in water or something like it.

Everywhere, c. The Beginning of Time – Who Knows?
Generously donated by: please see labels


You jump.

“Would you care to make a donation?” the statue asks. He’s still holding the sign with his name on it in one hand. In the other is an empty jar with your name on it. And a spoon. “Yours are lovely.”

“You mean, these are—?” and there is nowhere in the room that’s far enough away from any of the staring eyes. That jar, right there…one is brown and one is blue. Everything goes dark.

Scrape, scrape.

You uncover your eyes. “Do I have to?”

“Oh, no. It’s not required. Please, enjoy your stay. There is always one who is bored.”

The watch on your wrist has stopped. Perhaps it’s time to go back. You look up from the unmoving hands and the statue is gone.

So is the door from the laughing room.

A tingle crawls slowly down your spine. That thud is your heartbeat. Thud. Thud-thud. Thudthudthud.

Inside their jars, the eyes follow as you walk, then run the length of the room. Through a room of music boxes, each playing a different tune. Another full of spiders, all spindly feather-light legs that crawl over you through the next four rooms, rooms you don’t see because you hate spiders most of all. In the one after that, it’s snowing, the snow of a hundred Christmases. And a room of ghosts, cold and dark, generously donated by…everyone. The next room makes you scream as you tumble inside.

For it has no floor. It is only sky. Generously donated by… and a gust of wind blows the rest of the cloud letters to nothing, tossing you this way and that, soaring, flying, blowing you through a hole in the blue to land on a hard, bruising floor.

This has become, perhaps, a little too interesting.

“Hello?” you call. “I need to go! They’ll be missing me!”

No one answers.


There is no scrape of stone.

Only laughter. Distant laughter.

“This isn’t funny now! It’s all very interesting, but I need to get back!”

Laughter, laughter, laughter.

You grit your teeth and look around this room. This room that might be the strangest, most wonderful and terrible of all, for it is yours.

Everything as you left it this morning, in the shoes that pinch, belly full of slimy oatmeal.

The sweater you hate is at the back of the closet. The secret thing you don’t tell anyone about is under the bed.

It can’t be.

Outside the window, the sky is pink and orange, the first stars glinting in a tinge of darkness at the edge of sunset.

It can’t have been that long. They’re all going to be so furious. Maybe they’ve even called the police, desperate to find you.

You sit on your bed. Feel the lump in the mattress that’s exactly where it always is. Read the plaque on the bedside table that is the only unusual thing, and stop when you get to your parents’ names.

Not generously donated, no, no.

“Is this all because I was bored?”


“Mostly it’s because I am,” says the statue. More scrapes. He snaps his fingers, two doors appear. “One of these will lead you back out, one will keep you here. If you go through either, you cannot return to this particular room. Your only taste of home.”

Flutter, flutter, your heart beats. “Is this a trick?”

“Yes. No. Possibly.”

And he disappears again.

The doors are identical, down to the knots in the wood, the polished brass handles. No way to tell them apart, so which do you choose?

How can you choose?

You close your eyes.


Feel the round doorknob, chill against your hand, perfectly smooth.

The draft as you pull it open.

And you smell…cotton candy.

“There you are,” says Sabrina Linklater. “You’re a terrible buddy. I don’t like you.”

Mrs. Webster is still leaning against the wall, her hair loose from its pins. The rest of the class is clearly tired of the dinosaur bones. The statue stands in the corner, and you wonder if maybe the donation from Mr. Alistair Harbuckle wasn’t the biggest trick of all.

The watch on your wrist ticks away, working just fine.

It is one forty-three in the afternoon. And you are not bored.