The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

Dark Valentine

People say love is life, is the great thing, makes the world go round, all that. It’s a powerful thing, that’s for sure. And it can lead you to some dark places. And I’m not talking about being sad when you break up, or whatever. I’m talking a lot darker than that. 

This thing happened just a couple of years ago. I still think about it all the time. This boy I knew—he lived in your neighborhood, actually, on one of those streets named after a tree—this happened to a boy I knew. His parents are friends of mine, or they were at the time. They moved away, after all this happened, and no one around here hears from them any more.

Jack was twelve years old, and he was in love with a girl named Mindy. Both of them were dark kids, him with a sweet smile that he only broke out once in a while, and her with a hilarious little frown and a determined walk. People who say you can’t really be in love when you’re twelve? They don’t know what they’re talking about. Those kids were crazy for each other, and tender of each other, and nothing came between them. She went to his cello recitals and he went to her soccer games; and every night, before they went to sleep, they would video-Skype each other from their computers to say good night.

But one day she got sick, and it was the bad kind of sickness, the kind annoying girls who are into tragedy do reports on in health class. The kind you don’t get better from. The second time Mindy went into the hospital, her parents got her a smart phone, so that she could Skype and text with her friends—which mostly meant Skype and text with Jack, of course. And he sold his best comics, did extra chores, and begged his parents and aunts for early birthday money until he could get a smartphone, too. Just a used one, but it worked. 

The last time Mindy was in the hospital, she and Jack Skyped and texted for hours every day. He fell way behind on his schoolwork, but his teachers knew, so they cut him some slack. She was in intensive care, and they wouldn’t let non-family-members visit. But at night Jack would sit on the edge of his bed, staring into the little screen, fingers texting away—or else staring at the grainy, moving Skype picture of her, sickly-pale against white sheets under the yellow hospital lights. Day and night he would talk to her softly, words no one could hear but her, and she would whisper back to him.

But of course, in the end, Mindy died. Most of the school came to her funeral. I went, too. They buried her with her soccer trophy, and her colored pencils—she was a really good artist, Mindy—and her bright purple phone, with the stickers on it from some band she liked, and the head of a unicorn she had drawn herself with black magic marker. 

I saw Jack at the funeral. He didn’t walk past the coffin when his parents did. He sat in the very back corner, staring at the ground, holding his phone in two hands in front of him, staring at the empty black screen.

What happened next I found out about in pieces. Jack’s parents had me over for dinner a couple of weeks after the funeral, after the kids were in bed. Jack had a little sister who was almost three, then—her name was Eleanor, but they called her Booshie for some reason I never quite got. Anyway, Booshie got out of bed that night, came wandering down in her pajamas with a smiley stuffed possum she liked. 

“Booshie!” said her mother. “Back to bed, young lady!”

“Mindy,” Booshie said. 

And the table got quiet.

“No, no Mindy,” said her father, “Get back to bed now, Boosh.”

“Mindy Jack’s phone,” said Booshie. Her parents looked at each other. “Mindy Jack talking,” she added helpfully.

Her mom got up and kneeled down by Booshie. “You’re having a dream, sweetheart,” she said. “Come on, I’ll take you to bed.”

“No,” said Boosh. “Mindy Jack! Where Mindy?” 

(“She loved Mindy,” her dad murmured to me.)

“Honey, you didn’t see Mindy,” said her mom. “Jack’s talking to someone else. Listen to me,“ and she held the kid gently by her little pajama’d arms: “Don’t make up stories about Mindy. Ever. You can’t ever make up stories about Mindy, Boosh. Do you understand?”

She didn’t yell it, her voice was calm, but Booshie must have picked up something in her tone, because she burst into tears and started shouting “I sorry! I sorry!” Her mother scooped her up and took her upstairs. 

Jack’s dad and I sat around in a weird silence for a while. 

“How’s Jack doing, after  . . . everything?” I said, finally.

“Ehhh, not good. Not so great, really. Not good.” We went back to staring at our plates.

And after that I started hearing stories about Jack, from other parents in the neighborhood who heard stories from their kids. About him skipping classes, about him dropping out of orchestra. Sitting alone at lunch, typing furiously into his phone. Some kids claimed they saw him sitting way out in the empty soccer field at lunch, leaning against the goal, holding the phone in front of his face and talking, all excited, like he was Skyping with someone.

“But he doesn’t have any friends, my kid says, so who was he texting and Skyping with?” they’d say. “He never had any friends, really, but Mindy.”

Maybe six months after Mindy died, I had dinner with Jack’s parents again. Their downstairs bathroom was broken, so I went upstairs. And at the top of the stairs, I heard the strangest thing: this voice, only it almost wasn’t a voice—it was like a voice made of static. Whispery, jagged static that had somehow made itself into a girl’s voice. “Love,” the voice was saying. SSshhhhh, hiss, zzt, szzshhhh: Love, love, love, love.

It was coming from Jack’s room, and his door was just cracked open. I walked up to the crack and peeked in. I know I shouldn’t have, but that strange, staticky voice unnerved me. 

Jack had his back to the door, so I could see the phone he was staring into. What I saw—it’s hard to explain, how it hit me in the stomach, how it made me stumble back. 

It was a face, I knew that. It was the face of a girl, but it was the wrong color, purplish and gray, and it was only . . . I don’t know how to say it, but it was only pieces of a face. Or maybe the whole face was there, but some of  the pieces were in the wrong place. A brown eye had slid down too close to the mouth. And the mouth was too wide, as if the lips were peeled back, exposing too much of black and grinning gums. 

And that voice, that whispering, hissing voice, saying “love, love, love.” 

I stumbled back, I stumbled down the stairs. I told Jack’s parents I wasn’t feeling well, and I went home. And I tried to forget about it, tell myself I misheard, I mis-saw—though for the first few days, that gray, grinning, lopsided face made it hard to sleep.

So we’re almost at the end of this story, which is this. A few months later, I was out late, walking our dog. We’d been out to dinner and stayed later than we’d planned, so it was almost midnight. 

I don’t usually walk out beyond the Safeway, on these walks, but the dog hadn’t been out all day, and he wanted to keep going . . . and I forgot, to tell you the truth, I forgot what’s out there. No streetlights, for one thing. No streetlights, but the yellowy light of a low full moon rising just over that little hill . . . that hill that’s part of the cemetery. 

I’d forgotten I was walking past the cemetery. 

And just at that moment, when the sight of all those gravestones in the moonlight was making my skin go cold—just when I was telling myself not to be ridiculous, but still, still wishing I were home—just at that moment, behind me, I heard it again. I heard that voice, that whispering, hissing, staticky voice. 

I froze. My dog pulled forward and whined. I turned around.

He emerged out of the darkness like he was a piece of darkness himself. He trudged down the road, his shaggy head down, staring at a glowing screen. 

“Jack,” I said.

He looked up. He had changed since I saw him at Mindy’s funeral. It wasn’t just the moonlight. He was taller, and thinner, and his face was gray, and his eyes were huge and black in their dark circles. 

“Jack,” I said again.

“I was losing the signal,” he said. I wasn’t even sure he was talking to me. He seemed to be talking into the night, or over my shoulder, or to the moon. “I was losing the signal, I thought it was almost gone,” he repeated. “But then I figured it out. It’s way stronger out here.” He smiled, a wide and unnatural smile. “It’s way, way stronger out here.”

“Jack,” I said, as he passed me. He started to run. “Jack!” I shouted. “Come on, man, don’t—“ But he had already disappeared into the dark. 

I should have followed him. I know I should have, or at least called his parents. I’ll know that for the rest of my life. But I felt so cold all of a sudden, chilled right to the bone, and I turned around to walk home. 

I did look over my shoulder, once. I saw a small, shaggy-haired figure up on that cemetery hill, outlined against the moon, kneeling over a grave.

So anyway. That’s the story. They found him the next morning, lying on her grave, face down. The grave was half dug up, as if he’d dug down with his bare hands. His fingernails were torn and bloody. He couldn’t get through the wood of her coffin, but his hand was pressed flat against the lid. He was dead.

And the weird thing was that when they found him, his phone was still on, was still hissing gray static, like an old TV—like something was still trying to get through. 

They opened her coffin to make sure her body was all right, and found that her bony hand was pressed up flat against the lid, too. You can imagine how her parents felt about that.

So anyway: love. It’s not all pink hearts and flowers. It’s not all sweetness, the way you might think, the way they try to make you feel like it is, on Valentine’s Day. 

I guess that’s all I wanted to say. 

The Graveyard of Hearts

 Curator’s note: Happy February, curious readers. This month in the Cabinet, you shall find delights centered on the theme of “love,” though, of course, with our own special, wicked twists.

No matter how bright or warm the day, the graveyard was always a cold, foggy place. Fingers of shadow reached from headstone to headstone, brushing over dates long past, long forgotten.

Every week, Alice came with her mother, and wandered deep amongst the tombs and statues while her mother stayed at the edge to put flowers on those graves that bore their their family’s name.

“It’s how we remind them that we still love them,” said Alice’s mother, and that was fair enough, but she always felt a chill in the graveyard.

The ground was soggy, sloshy from the recent rains, sucking at the soles of Alice’s boots as she walked. By now, she had memorized almost all of the etchings on the stones, knew which residents had lived long lives, and which had only lived short ones, and it was at old Mr. Fernsby’s spot that she tripped.

Mud splattered everywhere, and this would surely mean a bath later, but there was no point in worrying about such injustices now, not when Alice saw what had made her fall. Even covered in muck, the necklace was a pretty, delicate thing, clearly old, a filigreed heart hung from it on a tiny clasp.

Perhaps it had washed up, she thought, washed up on the bones of the last to wear it. It was a delicious, shivery idea.

“Time to go,” Alice’s mother called, and quickly she slipped the necklace into the pocket of her coat. After dinner, she made sure her parents were occupied with their books before she fetched it again, took it to the kitchen to rinse it clean under the tap. When it shone, all bronze and gold, she dried it carefully and slipped it around her neck.

Nothing happened. It was a disappointment, really, since something ought to happen when one slipped on old jewelry found in creepy graveyards, but Alice felt no different. She hid it beneath her pajamas while she slept, and under her sweater to school the next day.

The following week, it was warmer in the graveyard. Not much. Possibly Alice was imagining it.

“Spring is coming,” said her mother, hands full of daisies, though the shadows still slithered around the headstones.

“I’m going for a walk,” said Alice.

“Don’t go far. I love you.”

“I won’t.” And Alice went off with a smile, eyes adjusting to the gloom. Against her chest, the little heart began to beat.

And the shadows were not just shadows anymore.

Deep, etched wrinkles marred the ghostly face of Mr. Fernsby as he sat on his own headstone, lips pursed in a whistle. Alice stood very still. There was Mrs. Culpepper, young and beautiful and translucent, drifting over the grass in her wedding dress. And Joseph Brown, who was shorter than Alice herself, eyes bright with the fever that had taken him.

Alice wondered if she should be afraid, but she was not.


“You look pale.” Alice’s mother held her hand to Alice’s forehead. “Would you like to stay home today?”

The filigreed heart thumped in time with Alice’s pulse. “No,” she said, throwing off the covers. She wanted to go to school, so she could go to the graveyard after to see if the ghosts were there again. Muscles and bones aching, she tried to pay attention during math and science and art, trembling with cold.

Inside the graveyard gates, the air was warm again, blissfully warm. Alice let go of her mother’s hand. They were everywhere, so many more of the graveyard people than the week before. Gaunt and bloody, old and young, tattered, rotten clothes hanging from pearl-gray limbs.

“Don’t go far,” said her mother, carrying a bunch of lilies right through Mrs. Dankworth, who had a friendly smile.

So her mother couldn’t see them. But to Alice, the ghosts seemed so much more real, more solid than they had the week before.

The metal heart hammered. Old Mr. Fernsby adjusted his tie and touched Alice’s arm with cool, dry fingers. Mrs. Culpepper whirled, arms spread, in her wedding dress.

And the shadows ran away.

That night, Alice fell asleep before she could even eat supper, and the next day she sneaked from the house while her mother was cleaning. In bone-brittle whispers, the ghosts told her their stories. Her great-great grandfather held her on his knee until she was so ill and exhausted she dragged herself home to bed, pretending, when her mother asked, that she had been there the whole time.

Against her chest, the heart was hot, too hot. She tried to pull it off, but it wouldn’t come. The tiny clasp slipped through her hands. She tried to call for her mother, but her voice was silenced, stolen by the graveyard people for their own.

In the graveyard, the people danced, warm and alive for the first time in many years, in centuries for some, as Alice lay in her bed. The door creaked open and Alice’s mother immediately flew into a panic, calling for Alice’s father, for Alice was not in her bed, was nowhere to be seen.

But Alice was there. As her parents rushed downstairs to see if perhaps she was there, Alice dragged herself up and over to the mirror above the chest of drawers.

Lit by the moonlight streaming through the windows, the faintest, ghostliest reflection of Alice, too weak even to cast a shadow, shimmered in the mirror, a tiny, filigreed heart still hung round her neck.

The Other House

Two houses stand at No. 17, Farringdon High Street, behind the station tracks where the steam engines used to whistle and where the mushrooms grew tall as trees. One house you see, grey and cold, red drapes and only a single window lit. One house you don’t see. One house you’ll never see. I write this as a confession. I write this to speak of that other house – the one under the back stairs – and what happened to it, and what I did.

The stairs are still there. I hobbled down them just to be sure, while the nurse was sleeping. It is a dark, creaky little flight, squeezed between the scullery and the back hall. It has a door under it leading into what may have once been a broom-cupboard or a boiler room. You wouldn’t know it now. You would never guess. I had it papered over years ago in dull green stripes. Behind the door, that is where the other house stays. It is so silent, but when I was small, and we had servants and maids for every little thing, the other house used to come out at night and I could hear it wheezing and clattering from all the way upstairs. It had legs, you see. Long clicketty legs like a spider’s.

“Mother, there’s another house under the stairs,” I said to my mother once before bed, and she said, “Oh, how wonderful,” and looked worried and hurried away.

I thought it was wonderful, too. One night, when I was feeling very brave, I left a crust of bread for it in the back hall and watched from between the spindles in the banister. I waited a long time before the little door under the stairs creaked open and the house scuttled out. It was like a doll-house with eight sharp metal legs and a turret. It went right up to where the piece of bread lay and seemed to tip forward, its joints scraping. If it were a dog, I would have thought it had sniffed the crust. It wasn’t a dog, though, so I’m not sure what it did. Then it retreated back into the door, leaving the bread untouched on the tiles.

It doesn’t much fancy bread, I remember thinking. I wonder what it does fancy. I wonder it wants.

For several nights I did the same thing only with different foods. I tried a teaspoon of quince in a saucer. The house didn’t eat it. I tried a single ripe gooseberry and a bit of pear. A great angry puff of smoke went up from the house’s chimney when it investigated those and it immediately retreated under the stairs, slamming the little door behind it. It did not fancy gooseberries either.

I tried biscuits and snapped beans, a slice of plum pudding and a bowl of curds. It investigated all of them, but it did not take any.

“Father, there’s another house under the stairs,” I said one day, when he came back from the city, and he said, “What utter nonsense!” and had a talk with my mother, as if it were her fault.

Nonsense. . . When I saw the house again it seemed a bit darker and the windows were full of soot.


That evening, at dinner, I hid a disk of sausage inside my napkin. Mother saw me, but she said nothing. Father saw, too. He said something.

“What is that for?” he demanded. “Why did you take that sausage?”

I said something about the other house, and how I wanted to catch it and open its roof and look at its insides, and how-

“There is no other house!” Father snapped. “There is no such thing!”

But there was! I knew there was!

That night, I slipped from my bed and padded down the back stairs. When I had settled myself behind the banister, I tossed the sausage into the hall. It struck the tiles with a sound like a slap. For a second  nothing stirred. Then I felt a shudder under the stairs. The door opened a crack. Two long black legs uncurled, testing the tiles, testing the air. With a whir and clatter, the house shot out the door and fell upon the sausage in a frenzy of smoke and metal. I saw something, something so small I cannot be certain what it was, flicker out and snatch the sausage. That was when I knew I wanted to catch that house more than ever.


A few nights later I stole a small roast from the larder. The roast had a mottled white bone at one end, and to this I attached a length of twine. The twine I tied about my wrist. I laid the roast in the back hall. I sat up on the stairs. I leaned my head against the spindles, and thought about the house and all its secrets.

The other house came out after not very long. It was on the roast in a blink. The twine snapped tight around my wrist. The house began to drag at the ham, pulling and scrabbling, frantically trying to get it back under the stairs. I gasped, struggling to undo the twine. It was so strong. My head slammed flat against the banister. The house pulled and pulled. The twine went tighter, tighter, and then I was thrown off balance and went tumbling down the stairs.

“Help!” I shrieked. “Father, mother, help me!”

The spider-house was pulling me toward the door, right along with the roast. I squeaked over the tiles. Somewhere I heard doors open. Footsteps and worried voices. Faces peering down at me, pale moons of befuddlement and indignation.

I wasn’t moving. I was lying on the cold tiles. The roast was next to me, and the twine, and there were bruises on my arms and back.

“Mrs. Barrowstamp!” the housekeeper shouted. “Mr. Barrowstamp, your son!”


I got the most horrible lecture that night. It went on and on until I felt the words in my bones, and my head was full of them, full enough to burst.

Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense.

I went to bed, and woke the next morning with it still ringing in my ears. Mother had cried, Father had shouted, the maids had whispered, and the housekeeper had sneered.

Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense. Someday you’ll have to grow up.

And I did. I stole a great big ham next. I think it was for New Year’s Eve; I think a servant was probably sacked because of it. But I didn’t think of it then. From Father’s glass cabinet I stole a syringe and a bottle of carbolic acid. I had heard what carbolic acid does. I wasn’t innocent. The cold precision with which I went about all this would shock me now. I filled the acid into the syringe and injected the entire load into the ham.

As soon as everyone had gone to bed, I took the ham and laid it out on the tiles. Then I went up to my perch behind the banister and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense.

I was almost ready to assume the problem had taken care of itself and I could go back to bed, when the door under the stairs opened. The other house stood in it, swaying slightly on its long, long legs, staring at the ham. It clicked over to it. It leaned down. The ham was already shriveling, drying into a thin twist of sinew. The house turned slowly. Its gable tilted up, and I might have sworn it was looking at me. Then it turned back to the ham and began to eat it, quietly. A spring popped from the tiled roof with the sound of a snapped wire. It spasmed and jerked. It staggered around the newel-post toward the foot of the stair. It began climbing the stairs, right up toward me, legs scrabbling for hold on the wood.

But when it was only two or three steps below me, it stopped. Through its little windows I could see people, tiny shadowy figures moving frantically this way and that. They had fingers and eyes and clothes on their backs. A woman ran to one of the windows and mashed her face against the pane. Her mouth was open, gaping in a silent shriek. She had been pretty once, like porcelain painted doll. Now she was hideous, her face cracked and wicked-eyed. I watched as the fumes engulfed her and ate her away.


I vaguely remember the house retreating, dragging itself back under the stairs. I have not seen it since then. I think it must be there still, silent in the dark, spider-legs curled around itself, but I have not seen it. I have not seen anything particularly interesting since, and I no longer believe there were ever mushrooms growing as tall as trees on Farringdon High Street.

The Cake Made Out of Teeth

Henry Higginbotham was generally considered to be the worst child in the world, but even then, it’s hard to say if he deserved what happened to him.

Do note the use of the word “generally” rather than “universally,” for Henry’s parents, as is often the case with horrible children, believed their son to be remarkable, precocious, and even darling.

For example, when Henry would not eat his supper of chicken and green beans, instead choosing to sit at the table hurling insults at his parents for a solid quarter of an hour, and then proceeding to throw the green beans at their heads like darts, Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham praised his stubborn spirit and fixed him a heaping platter of cookies instead.

When Henry was called to the principal’s office for bullying the third-graders—pinning them to the blacktop during recess and pummeling them until he was satisfied; calling them nasty names that would have made even hardened criminals cover their ears—Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham gave the school board a heap of money in exchange for “putting this punishment business behind us.” They then congratulated Henry all the way home, for inspiring the younger students with his physical prowess.

And when Henry threw an absolute raging fit the day of his 11th birthday, declaring the birthday cake his mother had worked so hard to make “an ugly heap of eyeball pus,” Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham sent home the partygoers at once (who were only too glad to leave, having been bullied by Henry into attending) and took Henry into town for a new cake.

Of course—and this should not be surprising—not just any bakery would do. Not the bakery in the supermarket, and not the fancy bakery with all the cupcakes in the windows—but the little bakery far on the outskirts of town, in a neighborhood the Higginbothams did not normally frequent . . . ah. Henry pressed his face against the car window and smiled at the sight of the tiny rundown building with the faded lettering: MR. HONEY’S HAPPY DELITES.

Henry began thinking of all the ways he could make fun of the unimpressive shop’s proprietor, and his shriveled black heart leapt with glee.

“What a dump,” said Henry. “We’ll go here.”

“But Henry,” protested Mrs. Higginbotham, “don’t you think it looks a bit shabby?”

Henry whirled on his mother, smiling when she shrank back from him. “What, do you think I’m blind, you idiot? I said we’ll go here and we’ll go here. I know what I want.”

“Of course you do, son,” said Mr. Higginbotham, glaring pointedly at his wife. “You know what’s best.”

Henry marched up to MR. HONEY’S HAPPY DELITES and let himself in, his parents hurrying to catch up. Inside the bakery, Henry stopped short, for the inside of the bakery and the outside of the bakery were, in a word, incongruous. Bright white tile covered the floor, warm lights blinked overhead, and displays of cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and pies sat behind pristine glass windows. Bright posters of laughing children at birthday parties and picnics and bowling alleys covered the walls. Some sort of cheery old-fashioned music came from a radio in the corner.

Henry scoffed, to cover his surprise. “Wow. This place is so . . . cheesy. What is this, 1950?”

At that moment, a man came out from the kitchen through a set of swinging doors, and said, “Hello there. I’m Mr. Honey. How can I help you today?”

Now, Mr. Honey was a man so exceptionally handsome that even Henry felt a bit discombobulated. He had fair skin and fair hair and fair eyes, and a wonderful smile that made Mrs. Higginbotham say to herself, “Well, my heavens,” and blush a bright pink.

Henry saw the blush, and felt furious. His mother was not supposed to think anyone handsome but Henry himself. So he marched up to Mr. Honey and slammed his fist against the cake displays with every screamed word:

“Give us a cake. Now.”

Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham rushed forward to gush about how delightfully outspokentheir son was—and, perhaps, to more closely inspect Mr. Honey’s handsome smile—but Mr. Honey ignored them. He had eyes only for Henry. You could say, in fact, that they were staring each other down, Henry with a fearsome scowl on his face (his most typical expression) and Mr. Honey with a broad smile.

“It’s for his birthday,” Mrs. Higginbotham explained. “The cake we gave him wasn’t good enough.”

“The cake you gave him,” Mr. Higginbotham added sourly, eager to get back into Henry’s good graces. “I told you we should have gone with a store-bought cake. Didn’t I, Henry?”

“Oh, shut up, both of you.” Henry was in top form. “Do you see what I have to put up with?”

Mr. Honey nodded, his smile a bit smaller now, and his eyes a bit less kind. “Oh, yes. I see quite a lot. If you’ll excuse me for one moment, I think I have just the thing.”

When Mr. Honey returned from the kitchen, he held in his arms an astonishing cake. Not only was it enormous, but it looked just like Henry. Yes, a boy-shaped cake, from head to toe—from Henry’s brown hair to his red hi-top sneakers. His exact sneakers! In fact, the only thing about the cake Henry that was different from the real Henry was that cake Henry was . . . smiling.

Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham found it unsettling to look at, and stepped away.

Henry, however, was enamored. A cake, an entire cake, that looked just like him! It was, he decided, the perfect tribute. He wouldn’t have to sit and look at stupid balloons or animals or other meaningless icing decorations while he ate. No, he would be able to look at himself, and was there anything in the world he liked to look at more than his own reflection? (There wasn’t.)

“We’ll take it,” he said, looking up at Mr. Honey.

Mr. Honey smiled, but it did not reach his eyes. “Yes. I thought you might.”


At first, everything seemed marvelous. As soon as the Higginbothams arrived back at home, Henry commanded his parents to set up a fresh table setting. They were, he told them, to sit there and watch while he ate a piece of cake, surrounded by his piles of presents.

“Maybe,” Henry said, “if you’re good, if I feel like it, I’ll let you have some cake too.”

Mr. Higginbotham smiled gratefully. “Oh, isn’t that generous of you, Henry?”

“So generous,” Mrs. Higginbotham agreed, though she wasn’t sure she actually wanted any of that cake. It was, she thought, too disturbingly lifelike to be trusted.

She wasn’t wrong.

“Where shall I start?” Henry lovingly inspected his cake, admiring the shape of his own arms and legs. “I suppose I’ll start at the bottom and work my way up. Father, cut off the left foot. And hurry. I’m hungry.”

Mr. Higginbotham sliced off cake Henry’s left foot and slid it onto real Henry’s plate, and the latter began to eat, and . . . oh. Oh. It was, without doubt, the best cake Henry had ever eaten. The icing melted on his tongue; the cake was moist and rich. But as Henry put the last bite of foot into his mouth, he noticed something strange; he paused mid-bite. His eyes went wide, and his face went green. He swallowed, and began to scream.

“Something’s eating me! Help me! Help, make it stop!”

For a moment, Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham watched in stunned silence as their son fell to the floor, writhing and sobbing and clutchingteeth his left foot. What they did not yet know was that, though, technically, nothing was eating their son, he certainly felt like it was. All over his left foot, he felt the nibbling of teeth; they tore at his flesh, chomping, swallowing, grinding his foot bones into little bone granules. And Henry knew, instinctively, that the teeth he felt were his own.

“Make it stop!” Henry clawed at his own flesh, drawing bloody red marks across his skin, which, as you can imagine, did nothing to help the pain. “MAKE IT STOP MAKE THEM STOP MOMMY DADDY MAKE IT STOP!”

Now, Henry Higginbotham had not called his parents anything but their first names, scornfully, since the moment he was able to speak. So hearing him scream Mommy and Daddy like that shocked Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham into action. They did everything they could to help Henry; they bandaged his foot, they forced medicine down his throat between his screams, they took him to the hospital to have him examined. But the bandages, of course, did nothing; and Henry just threw the medicine right back up, in this sour, evil-smelling puddle; and the doctors could find nothing wrong with him.

“He’s having a tantrum,” they said. “Just let him cry it out.” (The doctors were not, as most people in Berryton were not, the biggest fans of Henry Higginbotham.)

Helplessly, Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham returned home, and watched Henry scream and sob and bang his fists against his foot until he passed out, in a drooling puddle on the floor. His left foot was a quite abused shade of red. Mr. Higginbotham picked Henry up and put him to bed; Mrs. Higginbotham cleaned up in the kitchen. Together, as Henry slept upstairs, they sat at the kitchen table in silence, and stared at the one-footed cake.


The next day, Henry limped downstairs in a terrible temper.

“I’m hungry,” he announced, with his usual haughtiness (but he did eye the cake, wrapped up innocently on the countertop, with no small amount of suspicion).

Mrs. Higginbotham offered him a plate of eggs, and though Henry complained about their consistency, he gobbled them up. Perhaps he was eager to get the sugary aftertaste out of his mouth? But no sooner had he swallowed the last bite did it all come back up, in a most unsettling and foul-smelling puddle of steaming black goop.

The Higginbothams looked at the black goop in dismay. Henry blinked. “But I’m hungry,” he said, and Mrs. Higginbotham quickly toasted some bread, while Henry banged on the kitchen table with his knife and fork. But the toast was no good either; and neither was the waffle, the bowl of strawberries, the bowl of cereal. Every bit of food came back up stinking like rotten eggs, and each time, Henry became hungrier, and, worst of all, he began to crave a piece of cake. Yes, his foot still stung with the memory of all those invisible teeth eating him, and yes, he had had nightmares too unspeakable to write about, but he was hungry. And he knew only the cake would satisfy him.

So, Henry made a dive for it, dragging it off the countertop and into his lap. Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham tried to stop him, but he flung them away with a hiss, and a terrible look in his eyes, and began scooping the right foot of cake Henry into his mouth.

Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham watched, horrified, as Henry finished eating his right foot and once again began to flail and thrash across the ground, shouting terrible things: “IT’S EATING MY FOOT, I’M EATING MY FOOT, I CAN FEEL THE TEETH, IT HURTS, IT HURTS!” He begged them to make it stop, but, of course, they could do nothing.

Nothing, but take him back to the place where the cake was made.


Mr. Honey was waiting for them, standing politely behind the counter of his shop in a fresh white apron.

“Now see here,” Mr. Higginbotham said, slamming the cake down on the countertop. “You’d better explain yourself, sir.”

“This cake is hurting our son,” Mrs. Higginbotham said tearfully. “I don’t understand it, but it is.”

Henry, chomping and slobbering to himself at his father’s side, made a wild-eyed leap for the cake, even though he was still crying.

“MORE CAKE,” he said, clambering up onto the countertop. “No no no no. YES. MORE CAKE. Make it stop, oh it hurts me!”

It was as though Henry was having a conversation with himself. Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham backed away from him, huddling in the corner by the refrigerated ice cream cakes.

Mr. Honey stood and watched. “It’s eating you alive,” he said, “isn’t it?”

Red-eyed, red-footed Henry looked up at Mr. Honey. “Yes. YES.”

“Good.” Mr. Honey’s eyes flashed. “Horrible children deserve horrible cakes.”

Then Mr. Honey smiled and turned to Henry’s parents, and despite the fact that her son was rolling around on the floor screaming like a demon, Mrs. Higginbotham patted her hair smooth and Mr. Higginbotham puffed up his chest impressively.

“You should take him home,” Mr. Honey said. “There isn’t anything to do now but finish it.”

“Now see here,” Mr. Higginbotham said once more, “I’ll call the police on you, I will. You can’t just—you can’t just poison someone and get away with it.”

Mr. Honey smiled; it was not a nice smile; it could, in fact, be described as bestial. “The only poison in Henry is his own.”

The Higginbothams left quickly after that, Mrs. Higginbotham wondering what she had ever seen in the handsome baker man, and Mr. Higginbotham sustaining a good number of bite marks from the wailing Henry.

Cake Henry stared at everyone, smiling, from the back seat.


To this day, the Higginbothams’ neighbors trade gossip about what happened to the Higginbotham family that terrible week in August, when all they could hear from the Higginbotham house was Henry’s unearthly screams.

“Maybe they’re finally teaching him a lesson,” said Mr. Bradhurst, on Monday. “Brat’s needed a good beating for years.”

“Maybe he’s decided he’s not getting enough attention,” suggested Mrs. White, on Tuesday, “so he’s moved on to constant screaming. You can’t ignore screaming.”

“Should someone call the police?” asked Mr. Rockwell, on Wednesday.

No one called the police.

Quite a few of them, they shamefully (but not too shamefully) confessed some time afterward, had hoped something awful was happening to Henry Higginbotham—though none of them could have guessed how awful that something was.


At the end of that week, when all that was left of cake Henry was its smiling, red-cheeked head, the Higginbotham family gathered around it on the floor of the kitchen, for Henry could no longer sit up properly.

His entire body was red with teeth marks and brown with bruises where he had punched himself to try to stop the pain. He had spent the week either miserable with hunger and craving cake, or devouring said cake and then feeling it, as it coursed through his body, devouring him. He had, like a wicked game of reverse Hangman, eaten his way through all of cake Henry . . . except for the head.

“This is it,” Mr. Higginbotham said, exhausted. “Just one last helping, Henry, and this will all go away.”

Mrs. Higginbotham was so tired, her head so filled with Henry’s screams, that she felt a bit mad. “Just . . . eat it, Henry. And hurry.”

Henry, on the floor, dragged himself closer to the cake and looked at his parents with bleary, wild eyes. “Help me,” he said, in a voice not entirely his own, and not entirely Mr. Honey’s, but an unnatural blend of the two. It was deep and horrible and eager. “Help me eat it.”

Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham shared an uncertain look.


They did, fumbling for forks—as if forks mattered at such a time!—and when Henry—just Henry’s voice, this time—screamed, “No! Wait! DON’T!” it was too late, for Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham had already taken their first bites.

And Henry collapsed, mouth full of cake, screaming the loudest he had yet screamed. For now it was not only his teeth chomping through his skull and across his face, but also his parents’ teeth, and there was something infinitely worse about that.

When it was finished, however, when the last bites had been swallowed and the cake platter licked ravenously clean by Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham (who had, in the eating of cake Henry’s head, discovered how good this cake was, how irresistibly sweet), Henry lay stone still and cold on the floor, white as a sheet, his eyes open in shock.

And for a few minutes, Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham thought he was dead.

(But of course, he wasn’t dead. What a wasted effort that would have been.)

Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham realized, as they stared at their possibly-dead son, that they weren’t as beat up about it as they ought to have been, and this thought so completely disturbed them, that when Henry blinked awake at last, his parents vowed to make things different from that moment on. How they would make things different, they weren’t sure. (But life, they would soon find out, would be much easier for them now that Henry had apparently lost all will to speak and instead devoted himself to peaceful, solitary tasks like bird-watching and organizing the spice cabinet.)

Mr. Higginbotham, however, did know one thing he would do, now that the frightening week had passed and he could think clearly once more. He picked up the phone and called the police, describing the odd bakery on the outskirts of town, and how he suspected the proprietor, a “Mr. Honey,” had sold his family a poisoned cake.

“See that he’s put out of business, will you?” said Mr. Higginbotham authoritatively. “No man should be able to get away with something like that.”

“Of course, Mr. Higginbotham, we’ll start our investigation right away,” said Sergeant Moseley, who had been taking notes at the police station.

Both men hung up, Mr. Higginbotham feeling quite good about how effectively he could get things done. Sergeant Moseley, who didn’t care for the Higginbothams and their horrid son, begrudgingly started an investigation anyway, because the Higginbothams had recently helped financed the construction of the new city hall.

So, as Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham carried their pale, speechless son to bed and tucked him in as they had always longed to do (and which he had never permitted them to do), Sergeant Moseley and his deputy drove to the outskirts of town and found the bakery, just as Mr. Higginbotham had described it . . . at least, on the outside.

Inside, however, the counter displays were crawling with moldy cakes, the kitchen was buzzing with flies, and the refrigerators held congealed, rotten pools of melted ice cream.

“There’s no one here!” said the deputy, pushing back his cap. “And it stinks to high heaven.”

“That Higginbotham’s an idiot,” muttered Sergeant Moseley, who had just found something odd on the floor behind the counter.“What is this, some kind of sick joke?

He picked it up and frowned at it—an old stained apron, obviously not worn for years. On the apron’s nametag, swirling blue letters read MR. HONEY. The fabric smelled rotten, like cake gone bad, and no matter how many times Sergeant Moseley washed his hands after that, he could never quite get out the stench.


Anyone Home?

“Anyone home? It’s me.”

No answer. The boy’s new key felt warm from his pocket in his chilly fingers. He turned the cold knob. The door creaked open.

“Hey, anyone home?” he called again.

His footsteps on the old wooden floor made hollow clock-clock-clocks; nothing like the soundless carpets of their old house. Through the row of wide windows on his left, he saw the nearby woods turn black under the dimming sky. It was only early October, but already swirls of dry yellow and brown rattled past the window in every gust of wind.

A lamp sat on the bare, dusty floor, and he switched it on. His family had only moved in the day before. The boy moved among piles of cardboard boxes, clock-clocking across the room. He didn’t know this new house—this very old house, but new to them, and much bigger than their last house. He didn’t know whether his parents could hear him calling from the front room, if they were upstairs, or if they were down.

In the kitchen, last night’s empty pizza box sat on a yellow-tiled counter.

“Anyone here? Anyone home?”

And for a moment the house seemed to call back, but he couldn’t quite hear what it said. He was quiet, listening. Was it only the emptiness, echoing back?

The boy slid his cold fingers up his wrists, under his sweater, for warmth. He didn’t know how to turn the heat on in this house.

An icy draft slipped down the neck of his sweater, like fingers.

Oh: the basement door was open—just a crack. Just a crack leading into the blackness of the stairwell. That must be where the draft was coming from. His dad must be down there, setting up his workroom.

The boy slipped through that cracked-open door into the darkness. He felt the air for the string to pull the light on, but it was too high, just too high for him to reach, though he could feel it with the tips of his fingers.

So he walked down the narrow wooden steps in the dark, feeling his way. At the bottom of the stair, he took a few steps in.

A silky hand brushed across his face. He stumbled backwards, thinking: a cobweb, it was obviously a cobweb, a cobweb for sure. 

But for some reason, at the touch of the cold silk, he remembered the woman from next door, the woman who had brought them a welcome cake the night before. She had stood in the doorway, smiling, but she wouldn’t come in, and wouldn’t look them in the eye. “It’s your first night in the house. You should have some of this ginger cake,” she had said. “You should all have some, tonight, for luck. It’s a special cake, for luck.”

Then she smiled, as if she were joking. But her eyes hadn’t smiled at all.

His parents had called the cake delicious, licking crumbs from their fingers, laughing at the idea of lucky cake.

But the boy didn’t like ginger, so he had had no cake at all.

“Dad?” he called into the echoing dark. “Anyone here?”

And now he heard, he definitely heard, a whisper—unless it was only water running in the pipes.

But why would pipes say Yes, yes; here, here.

And it was still so dark. If his father was here, why was it still so dark?

“Anyone home?” he calls, and now his voice is high and thin, his throat is dry, and the cold of the basement runs through his veins, up and down his arms and legs. Shouldn’t his eyes be adjusting by now; shouldn’t he see something? But he sees only darkness.

He hears something, though. Yes: now he hears it, he hears the voices, and now they are certainly voices, rustling and whispering around him. And although hasn’t moved, although he has stood quite still, the cobwebs—are they cobwebs?—are all around him now, caressing his face, tangling like silk around his fingers and wrists, stroking the back of his neck.

“Anyone home?” he whispers.

We are, we are, they say, folding themselves around him. We’re home, they say, gathering him up, caressing him, muffling his screams. Yes, we’re home. We’re home. We’re home.

A few minutes later, another key in the front door, his parents’ laughing voices, the rustle of boxes and packages.

“Anyone home?” they call.

But the only noise is the October wind singing through the door, then the creaking of the door as it swings shut. That is the only noise in the old house.

And that is the only noise there will ever be.