The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

Harvest Day

“Peter? Are you awake?”

“What do you think?”

“Sorry, jeez. Just . . . I can’t sleep.”

“No kidding?”

“I just wanted to talk. Okay? I’m about to go crazy over here.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t feel like talking.”

“Why are you being such a jerk? Peter? Pete, answer me. Are you still there? They haven’t—”

“No. I’m still here. And don’t cry, Adam. Just . . . don’t cry, okay? I can’t take it.”


“So I’m just freaked out, all right? And I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Do you think They’ll take me?”

“You’ve asked me this a million times.”


“My answer’s the same: I don’t know. No one ever knows who They’re going to take.”

“. . . Peter?”


“Are you scared?”

“You’ve asked me this before.”

“I know. I’m running out of thoughts. They’re all turning panicky.”

“Yeah. I don’t know. I’m scared, yeah. But at the same time, I’m so used to being scared about this night that I’m kind of past being scared. I mean, it happens every year, and there’s nothing I can do about it, so why waste time being scared about it? Does that make sense?”

“No. Kind of, I guess.”

“Yeah. Well, that’s how I feel. Until I figure out a way to get out of here, I’m stuck with this night, and I’m stuck with being scared.”



“Do you think our parents knew about what goes on in this place when they moved here?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

“. . . Do you think they’d still have moved here if they did know?”

“What kind of question is that? God!”

“Well, it’s just that . . . it’s so beautiful here. You know? And my dad’s always wanted to live someplace beautiful. Maybe he thought it was worth the risk? I just wonder.”

“Let me tell you something: It isn’t worth it to wonder. You’ll drive yourself crazy. Have you heard the story about that kid Rory?”


“Rory lived over on 10th Street. He was so paranoid when it came to his mom. Like, he thought she was in on the whole thing. That she’d made a deal with Them. Because he and his mom didn’t get along so well. You know? So he started to think she’d moved them out here so she could get rid of him, nice and clean, without anyone knowing, without her ever getting caught.”

“But, I mean . . . he was wrong, right?”

“Who knows? He tried to kill his mom one day. Tried to push her down the stairs. He just knew, you know? He knew she was in on it. He knew she was just waiting on the day They would come and take him.”


“I know.”

“Well, so what happened to him?”

“He vanished after that. His mom was fine, though. She’s that old lady now, who lives on 10th.”

“Ms. Rowengartner?”


“But she’s so . . . sweet.”

“Yeah. They all are, aren’t they? Until they’re not.”


“Peter! Pete, wake up.”

“Huh? What? Adam?”


“I can’t believe I fell asleep.”

“Shut up! Just shut up and listen.”

“To what?”


“Is that . . . ?”

“I think it’s next door.”

“Moira. Oh no. Don’t listen to it.”

“I can hear . . . what is that? Oh God, it’s Them.”

“I said, don’t listen! Plug your ears. Listening to Them is one of the ways They find you.”

“But Moira—”

“What are you gonna do? Save her? It’s too late.”

“Peter, I’m freaking out—”

“I’m right here.”

“They sound like—like animals . . .”

“It’s okay. Plug your ears. Just breathe. Breathe, and don’t listen, and They won’t be able to find you.”

“How do you know?”

“I’ve lived here all my life, and They haven’t taken me yet. So there’s that.”




“Do you think it hurts? When They take you?”

“I don’t know. Probably.”

“I’ve heard people say that when they get inside you, it feels like your skin’s going to split open. I’ve heard stories about people taken by Them who go nuts before they’ve even been dragged out of their house. They go nuts and tear their own skin off because it hurts that bad.”

“I wouldn’t listen to stories, Adam. People will say anything.”

“You mean stories like the one you told me about Rory?”

“Yeah, well, some stories are true. You just have to know who to trust.”

“Who am I supposed to trust, Peter? Who am I supposed to trust when I can’t even trust my own parents?”

“You can trust me. I’m your friend.”

“For now.”

“What the heck, man? What do you mean by that?”

“I mean, what if it came down to a choice between saving me from Them and saving yourself? What would you do?”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

“Yeah. That’s what I thought.”

“I hope it was quick, for Moira.”

“You’re changing the subject.”

“Yeah, well, you’re being an idiot. I hate hypothetical questions.”

“. . . Do you think that was it, then? Are we safe now? Do you think what we heard was Them taking Moira?”

“Or was it a trick? Is that what you’re getting at?”

“A trick, or maybe Them just having fun. Not taking her, but just . . . messing with her.”

“I don’t know. You never know until the next day, at dawn, when you wake up and realize you’re still safe and in bed. That’s the only way you know for sure that you made it. That They didn’t take you this time.”



“Is that the sun coming up, over there, do you think?”

“Could be.”

“Or maybe it could be Them burning someone’s house down, like last year. Flushing them outside.”

“Maybe. You never know.”

“Yeah. You’re right. You never know until dawn.”


“Peter? Crap! I fell asleep again.”

“Peter? Why is it so cold in here?”

“Peter. Peter, why did you open the window?”

“Peter. Come on, stop trying to scare me. Say something.”

“Peter, you know I’m not going to get out of my bed. My feet aren’t going to touch the freaking floor, not until sunrise.”

“Peter, I’m going to throw this shoe at you. I’m sorry if it hurts, okay? Don’t yell at me for it. I just . . . I have to know. And I’m not getting out of this bed.”

“Peter. God . . . Peter.”

“You’re not there. Are you? Pete?”

“You’re not there. Oh my God, Peter. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I fell asleep!”

“They . . . I don’t believe it. I mean, I know I was asleep, but . . . They must have come in so quietly. I would’ve woken up.”

“Unless you went out on your own. Did you?”

“You wouldn’t be that stupid, would you, Peter? You wouldn’t try something stupid and heroic?”

“I would’ve woken up, if you’d yelled for me. I would’ve woken up. I would’ve helped you.”

“Peter. I’m so sorry.”

“I’m so, so sorry.”

The Cold Witch

The day the cold witch came began with a gray, gaspingly cold dawn.

That morning, the entire world seemed made of frosted iron–black buildings and black roads, black trees and people bundled up in black coats and scarves and hats, and through it all, fat white flakes that managed to find their way into even the most cleverly fastened boots. There was not a warm, dry foot in the city that day, and everyone Timothy encountered seemed lost in a storm of their own grumpiness.

Timothy, however, was not. In fact, Timothy spent the day quietly, jubilantly happy. Winter had always been his favorite season.

It was not a popular choice, as far as favorite seasons go. There is the matter of slushy streets and shoveling snow, and having your breath slammed out of you when you first step out of the house on bitter cold mornings. Most people find winter unpleasant, and even emotionally exhausting.

But Timothy was not one of those people. There was something about this time of year that resounded within him like bells. Everything about the season seemed wrapped in secrets: pedestrians encased in bulky coats, doors and windows closed tightly against the elements, the earth itself hidden away by a blanket of frozen white.

There was also the idea that everything died, or went to sleep, or changed somehow, during a certain time of year, only to come back again. There was that whole idea of things coming back to themselves, of life being created out of brown grass and naked branches and gray skies. The concept of this appealed to Timothy in a kind of primal fashion he was not yet able, at eleven years old, to describe. Maybe it was that all the dead things surrounding him made him think about death, which made him feel small and tremendous at the same time. Maybe he was just an especially imaginative boy.

But whatever the reason, when Timothy felt his boots grind fresh snow against the pavement and heard the accompanying muffled crunch, he felt that anything was possible. He felt that the door between the real and the unreal, the familiar and the hidden, was cracked open a bit at this time of year. He felt closer to the secret parts of the world when his breath puffed in the air before him and he woke to a neighborhood quiet with snow.

Quiet, as if waiting for something to happen.

And, one evening, it did.

One evening, Timothy was sitting around the table for dinner, with his mother and father and sisters. Bored by their conversation, he glanced out the window at the snow sweeping furiously along their lamplit street. He felt the wild urge to go out into the thick of it, and explore snowdrifts, and venture into dark forests where naked branches clacked against one another in the wind.

He did not understand these urges he so often felt when the nights were long and the sunlight was scarce.

But he would soon. He would that very night.

For there she stood, out on the street, huddled beneath a lamp and gazing longingly at his house. His house. Timothy’s house, out of all the houses she could have chosen.

She wore hardly anything–a dark dress, torn and thin. She wore no shoes.

Timothy stared out at her, and she stared back. She was only a girl, not much older than he. Her eyes were dark, and reflected no light. They held something of danger within them.

She was, as he would soon find out, the cold witch.


Timothy went outside to her. He had no choice! Something about her slight, strange figure in the snow compelled him. He put on his coat and boots and hat, and snuck out while his father washed dishes, while his mother and sisters chatted in the living room.

They wouldn’t miss him; they never did.

He didn’t blame them; they weren’t mean-hearted people. It’s just that his sisters were far more interesting, far more talkative, far more normal than he was. He wasn’t bitter about it.

And, now, he was glad for it.

Now, he stood outside in the snow with his breath coming high and thin because it was too cold to breathe too deeply. Snow stuck to his lashes and his lips, and snow stuck to the girl before him, too–to her lashes and lips, to the ends of her long dark hair. It outlined her in white. She did not seem cold; she shivered not at all.

“Who are you?” Timothy asked. “Aren’t you cold?”

She didn’t say anything for so long a time that Timothy worried he had offended her somehow. Then she said, “I am always cold,” and her voice was as thin and fragile as a sheet of ice over warming water.

But there was a strength to her eyes–those dark, tar-thick eyes. They did not reflect the lamplight. They did not reflect Timothy, or the snow, or the light of the windows of his house.

They dared him to do . . . something. They watched him, waiting, testing.

He took off his coat, and winter flew into him–arrow-sharp, arrow-deep–but he gritted his teeth and swallowed his gasps and handed it to her.

And as he stood there, teeth beginning to chatter–after only a moment, when this barefooted girl stood calm and completely without frostbite, for who knows how long!–her expression changed.

It changed to one of great sadness.

“No,” she said, and gently pushed the coat back at him. “I cannot.”

Bewildered, Timothy stood there gaping, stubbornly holding out the coat even so. “But you’ll freeze to death!”

The girl smiled, again with that sadness that looked strange on the face of one so young. Or was she young? Timothy couldn’t tell. She seemed, somehow, to have many years etched into her smile.

“I won’t. I never will die from the cold, but I will always feel it.”

“Who are you?” asked Timothy, putting his coat back on with clumsy, half-frozen fingers.

“I am the cold witch,” said the girl after a moment, and when she said the words, she held herself a bit taller, and lifted her chin into the air. Her dark hair whipped about her like brambles.

The way she said the words made it sound to Timothy as if “cold witch” was not a way to describe herself, but was rather a kind of title.

“What’s that?” Timothy asked, feeling stupid.

“It’s all right,” the cold witch said, sighing and turning her strange black eyes back to Timothy’s house. “You’re not supposed to know what the cold witch is. I’m not even supposed to be talking to you right now, but I’ve found that I would like to stop caring about such things.”

And Timothy found that the cold witch’s voice held within it a tone rather like the howl of a lonely winter wind. “About what things?”

“About the rules.”

“The rules of what?” Timothy was beginning to feel frustrated. This girl was answering his questions, but not really, not enough to understand the answers.

The cold witch turned to look at him. Her expression was careful. “If I tell you a story, will you get bored? Will you laugh at me? Will you sit with me on your porch while I tell it? It’s not as cold up there, out of the wind, but it’s cold enough that things won’t . . . happen.”

“I will do neither of the first two things,” said Timothy indignantly. “I love stories, and I’m not so rude as to laugh at someone out of nowhere. And of course we can sit on the porch, but . . .” Cold enough that things won’t . . . happen. “Couldn’t we go inside instead?”

“We could. We could, but it wouldn’t be a very good idea.” And yet the cold witch licked her lips as she turned once again to gaze at the house, at the glowing windows and their frost-framed panes. A sharp look crossed her face–one of hunger, Timothy thought, one that made her young face look older, and not quite so girlish anymore.

He thought, for an instant, he had seen a flash of sharp teeth. He thought he had felt a surge of energy come from this girl, not unlike how he imagined it would feel to receive a mild electrical shock.

“But we could go inside,” the cold witch mused, and then her black eyes locked with Timothy’s beneath his hat, and before Timothy knew it, he had taken the cold witch by her small, pale hand. He was leading her up the stairs and into his house, and into the living room, where his mother and sisters lounged before the fire.

“Who is this? Timothy?” His mother sat up, her cheeks pink from warmth. His sisters, piled up against each other like rag dolls, also sat up, rubbing their eyes, stretching their socked legs.

“Well,” Timothy began, but then stopped. For he couldn’t just introduce her as “the cold witch,” could he? His reputation for being the strange one of the family was solid enough already. His father stood now in the doorway of the living room, and Timothy could feel his disappointment from here.

But there was no need for Timothy to speak; the cold witch spoke for him.

“I am the cold witch,” she said, and there was nothing funny about it. Her voice deepened, and there again was that flash of something ravenous across her face, and when she raised her arms, all the lights went out.

The fire extinguished. The light bulbs burst in their lamps.

And the cold . . . the cold from outside.

It was outside no longer.

The cold rushed in as though the cold witch had, with the movement of her arms, opened a great door to admit a beast made of sharp wind and stabbing ice. It had an immense presence to it, like that of drowning. This was not Timothy’s winter of quiet white woods and frosted glass.

This was a winter of anger.

Timothy collapsed, his legs knocked out from under him by the sheer force of the wind slicing at him. There was so much snow in the air that he felt suffocated. He tried to grab for his coat and draw it more tightly around him, but his fingers were stiff and cracking with ice. He could not breathe; he could not move, or open his eyes more than a sliver. His eyelashes were weaving together with cold.

Was he about to die?

He searched for his parents, his sisters, but he could see nothing but storming white and black. He had failed them. He had led this girl into the house–why?–and now there was a feeling of death in the house, as this storm of wind and snow raged, and it was his fault. He let his limbs collapse and pressed his face into the carpet; ice coated the fibers like glass. The cold was wrapping him into darkness.

But then . . .

A warm glow, as from amber light.

He turned toward it, forcing his eyelids open. He was sobbing, somewhere inside himself, but he did not have the energy for tears. Was there light still, in this house of winter?

There was.

It surrounded the cold witch. It was the cold witch. And even in his misery, Timothy felt his heart stir at the sight of her. She had fallen to her knees, and her arms were outstretched. Tears streamed down her face, and she was smiling, and shaking, and her cheeks were no longer pale but pink, and when she opened her eyes to look at Timothy, they were blue. Not black, but blue.

She glowed with an inner light. She glowed with the light of fire, and with lamplight, and with the light of the afternoon sun.

“What are you?” Timothy tried to say.

The cold witch turned toward him, her face full of sorrow. She hurried toward him, her limbs like willow branches, her face like summer. “I am the cold witch,” she said, and gathered him into her arms. And then Timothy did cry, for with the cold witch’s warm skin pressed to his, some of the feeling returned to his frozen arms, legs, toes, fingers. The pain of thawing out was almost as awful as the pain of freezing straight through.

“I am the cold witch,” she said again and again, her cheek pressed against the top of Timothy’s head, her hands rubbing warmth back into his arms, “and I have a story to tell you.”


Once there were two worlds.

One was full of people so fragile they should not have existed, but for some reason they did. They called themselves humans.

The other world was full of sorcerers so powerful they were a danger to themselves and to everyone around them.

The sorcerers experimented with their power often, performing greater and wilder tricks to impress each other. For it is easy to become bored, when you are that mighty and existing is such an easy thing to do.

But they forgot themselves, once. They forgot that theirs is not the only world there is, and that not everyone is as powerful as they. That day, their magic erupted into the human world.

Mountains toppled, and seas flooded the shores. Storms raged, and the sky was made of fire, and winter–true winter–spread across the human lands like a plague.

The humans–dear, delicate things–stood no chance of surviving this. They died in swarms, begging for mercy from the heavens, begging for help from . . . where?

From us, though they did not know it.

Twelve of us were chosen for the task. We could not undo the damage caused by our careless actions, but we could keep it from worsening. We could control it.

Twelve of us: the fire lord and the sea queen; the mountain king and the lady of the skies; the keeper of beasts, and six others, knights, who guard the gates between worlds.

And the cold witch, who holds true winter at bay.

True winter is the greatest villain of all, cunning and hungry. In the world of sorcerers, it is mild, tame as a mischievous cub. But in the human world, it is vicious, a titan with no regard for life. It is impossible to control entirely; tendrils of it snake out now and again, leaving destruction behind.

The cold witch cannot stop true winter from existing, but she can keep the humans from feeling it. She can prevent their suffering.

She can take their cold from them and endure it herself.

So she does, and she will.


“Even when it hurts her,” the cold witch murmured into Timothy’s hair. Her voice was full of tears, and it was a child’s voice, somehow, even though she spoke of centuries-long ages, of sorcerers and titans. “Even when it hurts her, even when it hurts her, she endures it herself.”

“Except,” Timothy began, his warming breath coming up in coughs, “for tonight.”

“She accepts the pain, because it is her fault. It is our fault. We did this to you. We did this to you, my dear.” The cold witch cupped Timothy’s face and raised it gently so that they could look into each other’s eyes.

“I am sorry,” whispered the cold witch, and when she blinked, fresh tears spilled down her cheeks. “I didn’t mean to do it, to unleash the cold upon you tonight. That is, I did mean to, but now, now that I see you before me, with your tears and your pain . . . And you were so kind to me, boy. You were so kind to me tonight, and this is how I repay you?”

She is beautiful, Timothy thought, and she was–but that did not excuse her.

“It hurts you sometimes,” Timothy said, “doesn’t it? It hurt you tonight. It was hurting you, so you let yourself give in.”

“It always hurts,” said the cold witch. “But isn’t that what I deserve, for what we did?” She put the back of her hand against his forehead. Her smile was wistful. “Such fragile creatures, and yet so strong. I don’t understand how you endure each day.”

Something about her words triggered awareness in Timothy. He shook the fog from his mind–the fog of the cold witch’s beauty, of her lonesome voice telling the story of two worlds.

“My family,” he croaked, looking wildly about as best he could, weak in the cold witch’s arms. The house was a confusion of white; the furniture had been transformed into jagged towers of ice. He could not breathe without immense pain. True winter. “You have to save them! They’ll freeze!”

“Don’t worry,” said the cold witch, and she pressed a kiss to Timothy’s forehead–a kiss he would never forget. Nor would he forget the sorrow in the cold witch’s eyes as they darkened from blue to black. Her cheeks fading from pink to white, her face sharpening with the look of someone in constant pain–he would forget none of these things.

“But there has to be a way,” he said, even now, after what she had done, after what she had almost done. Even now, he would have given her his coat. “As powerful as you are, there has to be a way you can help us and not have to hurt yourself. I mean, you’re a sorcerer, right? I bet you can think of something.”

A thought occurred to him then–a wild, desperate thought. A longing thrummed through him that he had never felt before.

“Maybe,” he suggested, as winter faded from the house, and his parents and his sisters, huddled together on the floor, began to stir awake, “maybe if you had someone to help you? Someone who could take some of the pain so you wouldn’t have to feel all of it.”

Timothy reached for the cold witch’s hand.

She shied away, a strange smile on her face.

Winter had always been his favorite season.

He felt that the door between the real and the unreal, the familiar and the hidden, was cracked open a bit at this time of year.

His house, out of all the houses she could have chosen.

Timothy’s hand, so near the cold witch’s hand, tingled with a strange energy.


Or maybe simply warmth coming back to cold fingers?

Timothy’s father mumbled his name in a perplexed question, and the fire sprang back to life in the hearth, but Timothy ignored these things.

“What’s your name?” he asked the cold witch, but before the words could leave his lips, she had gone, the front door cracked open in her wake. Footprints of frost marked her path on the tiled floor.

“What’s your name?” Timothy called out, running down the street after her. The crunch-crunch of his boots against the snow, the clouds of his breath in the air.

The last look the cold witch had thrown him–her black eyes, her sad gaze, the flash of teeth too sharp for a girl.

He stood there, in the light of the street lamp, searching the snow for her. He would always search the snow for her.

And maybe, he told himself every year, when the first frost iced the ground and the world turned from gold to gray, this would be the year he would find her again. Maybe this would be the year she took his hand instead of moving away from it. Maybe she would give him the gift of her name.


The Fire Tree: A Play in One Act



 KATJA, a thirteen-year-old girl, quiet and serious

 LORE, her hard-working older sister, an apothecary

 MAMA, their mother, deceased

 PAPA, their father, deceased

 BENNO, the village shaman, appointed last year

 THE NIGHT PEOPLE, those hungry ones who come out in the long dark of winter

 THE FIRE TREE, a tree of mysterious light



 An isolated, troubled village in a land that is not our own, surrounded by woods and rivers.


 Evening. Late autumn. The taste of winter is in the air.


Scene I

(Inside a humble cottage, patched with uneven repairs. Katja sits on the floor by a dim fire, sorting through bottles of poultices and tinctures. Lore enters, bundled up in winter clothes. Snow sits on her shoulders.)


 Hurry, sister. The first snow has come. It is time to find the Fire Tree.


 (Katja looks up from her work, confused.)

What is a fire tree?



No. It is the Fire Tree. And it is time to find it.



But we have so much work to do. Winter is our busiest season, and it is so cold out!


Yes, and it will only get colder. We only have so much time to find it.


To find the Fire Tree?


What is it, sister? Tell me, what is the Fire Tree?


(Lore is quiet for a long time. She looks at the bed where their parents once slept. This is the first winter the girls have spent without them. Katja changes the linens every week so that the bed continues to look fresh and happy in the far corner.)

If we had found the Fire Tree last year, sister, our parents might still be with us.


(Katja grows very still, thinking of the horrible night last winter when the lights went out. She is afraid of winter, though she does not tell Lore this. She wants Lore to think she is brave. Lore is the bravest girl Katja knows. Lore works so hard to keep them fed and warm.)

The Fire Tree would have kept Mama and Papa safe?


The Fire Tree would have given us light all winter.


The lights would have never gone out?

(whispering, suddenly tearful but trying to hide it)

 The darkness would not have come?


(Her face and voice are hard. She does not let her sister see how she is always afraid.)

 The Night People would not have come. The Fire Tree would have kept them away.


The Night People?


Do you mean the pieces of darkness that came? The shadows that whispered our names and laughed at us?


Sister. Dear sister.

(Lore kneels in front of Katja and takes her hands. Katja’s hands are bare and cold. Lore warms them in her fraying mittens.)

I know this will be frightening to you. That is why you have never heard of such things until now—things like the Fire Tree and the Night People. But now you are thirteen, and now Mama and Papa are gone. Now I feel that you deserve to know, and Benno agrees.


(Katja thinks of Benno, the village shaman with striking blue eyes who was appointed last year before winter set in.)

You talk to Benno too much. He keeps you from working. He keeps you from—


—from you? Sister.

(Lore kisses Katja’s forehead.)

You know that I will never love anyone more than I love you. Not even Benno.



Tell me about the Night People.



They come the night after the first snow of winter. Every night they find a fire and put it out. They whisper and they laugh. They tear your secrets from you. They beg you to tell them your dreams, and then they laugh at you for what you dared to dream. They inhabit mirrors and turn your  reflection into something ugly, so that you dread looking at yourself. Every night they find a fire and put it out, and after they put out a fire, that fire can never be lit again. And when all the fires are put out . . .


(shivering, remembering)

When there are no more lights and the village goes dark . . .


(Lore pulls Katja beneath her coat to warm her and hold her close.)

When that happens, and the cold bites at your skin, that is when the Night People feed. They feed upon those who have the most light inside them.



I remember Papa screaming. I remember Mama. They dragged her out across the river. Dark hands. Hands like pieces of night torn loose from the sky.


(closing her eyes)

You understand now why we must find the Fire Tree, sister. We could not find it last year. We did not try hard enough. We were foolish. But if we find it this year, we can provide light for the entire village, all through the winter.


I will not lose you, Lore. Not you too.


And you will not. And I will not lose you. We will find the Fire Tree. I have a hopeful feeling inside me, Katja.




I cannot remember what a hopeful feeling is like.


I feel hopeful because now you are with me.

 (Rising, she leads Katja toward the door.)

 Come. They are waiting for us.

(Katja slips into her winter coat, trimmed with fur, and slips on her matching gloves. She puts a scarf around her neck. She takes her sister’s hand, and together they step out into a light snow. Beyond their cottage, a group of villagers with lanterns and torches are waiting. Benno is among them. The  other villagers are gathered around him. They are hoping that since he is the shaman, he will save them.


I see we have a new hunter in our group this year.

(He places a hand on Katja’s head. He is smiling.)

Hello, Katja.


You do not hunt the Fire Tree, Benno. It is not a thing for you to use as you will with no thought to what you are doing.

(Katja does not know what she is saying. She only just learned about the Fire Tree. But the words come out of a deep place inside her, the same deep place that tells her she loves Lore, the same deep place that urges her to keep her parents’ bed clean and tidy even though it makes no sense to do so.)

This is not a game. You should not be smiling. How can you be smiling when you failed to find the Fire Tree last year? You are the reason our parents are dead. You are a shaman. You are supposed to save us. But you did not. Maybe you should not be shaman at all.





It is all right, Lore. Katja has been hurting. I understand.

(Benno turns away. The eyes of dozens of frightened villagers meet his. The youngest of them are thirteen years old, like Katja. The eldest are white-haired and frail. The ones who have seen the most winters have the darkest eyes, as if the Night People have left shadows behind, year after year, and the shadows have sunk into the blood of these people, and linger there.)

(As everyone makes for the forest, Benno turns quietly to Katja.)

Sometimes, Katja, I am frightened. The Night People frighten me. It frightens me that I may never be able to find the Fire Tree as my predecessors did, that people in my village will die every winter because I am not wise enough to know the right places to look.


Sometimes, Katja, I talk about hunting and games because those are things that I know. And things that I know help me pretend I am not frightened. I do not feel so cold when I think of things that I know.

(They pass beneath black trees rimmed white with snow. Katja is between Lore and Benno. She thinks of Benno’s words. They run under her skin like bugs, stirring her to think too many thoughts. The forest whispers and rustles, hiding things.)


Scene II

(It is true night. The villagers have been searching for the Fire Tree for hours. They have separated  into smaller group, and they comb the forest. Their torches are sputtering; their lanterns dim. The wind picks up, scraping dead leaves along the forest floor. Night sounds do not emerge—no animals, no running river water. Only the wind, and the scraping leaves, and the crackling torches, and the footsteps of the villagers.)

(Katja is in a group with Lore and Benno. She is shivering. Every sound makes her jump. She does not recognize her own forest, not this night. Snow is falling.)


Explain to me again what the Fire Tree looks like?



I have told you many times.


Tell me again. The world is less frightening when I hear you speak.


It is a white tree, gnarled and thick. Its branches are bare, yet it sparks with leaves made of fire—red and yellow and gold.


(takes Lore’s hand)

It is beautiful, isn’t it? I remember. I remember the first time I saw it, when I was thirteen.


I also remember. It was like seeing something out of a dream. Something that should not be, and yet there it was. I was frightened, and I was glad. I put my hand in the flames, to grab a branch, and yet I did not burn.


(sniffling—angry, impatient, afraid)

How can that be? Where does the fire come from? Who starts it? What happens to the tree after it burns? How can a fire not burn your skin if you touch it?


Some things, Katja, you cannot explain with sense.


 Some things you cannot explain at all.


 (quietly, turning away from them)

I do not trust things I cannot explain. Like the way Benno looks at  Lore, and the way she looks at him. Like Mama and Papa no longer being here. Like pieces of night that come to life and feed on mothers and fathers.

(An outcry arises from somewhere in the thick tangle of trees. Lanterns fall to root and stone, and clang and shatter.)

(Someone screams. Two, three people scream.)

(A high, whistling sound. A high, screeching sound. Unkind laughter.)

(The wind is suddenly still.)


(gasping, tugging at her scarf)

It is too dark! I cannot breathe in this darkness! Lore?

(A rushing of darkness, all around Katja, that is blacker than the night sky.)

Lore? Lore! Sister!

(Katja runs wildly, searching, but in the chaos of darkness and the screams of her neighbors, she stumbles and becomes lost.)

(Hands snatch at her. She cannot see the hands, but she knows they are hands. She feels the lengths of fingers, and the sharpness of fingernails. Both are longer than they should be.)

I must find the Fire Tree. I must! Lore? Lore, please answer me!

(But Lore does not answer.)

Benno? Are you there?

(Katja is desperate. She claws through the darkness, pushing past trees, falling and coughing up dirt, plugging her ears against the sounds of the Night People feeding. For surely that is what is happening.)

(Katja screams into the forest, at the Night People she can and cannot see—slivers of darkness, human-shaped, long and lean.)

Why did you not wait? You did not even give us a chance to find the Fire Tree! You are supposed to put out one fire a night, and only then are you supposed to feed! Why are you doing this? What are you?

(She is sobbing. She hears screams that have Lore’s voice inside them.)

(Then, she sees it, ahead of her: a swarm of darkness, and a ghostly flicker of white.)

(It is a horde of Night People, and they are wrapped around a tree. They are crawling over it, clawing at it. They are tearing it to pieces. It is little more than a sapling, having been shredded to bits.)

Stop! No! Stop it! Leave it be!

(The Night People turn in one movement, their heads snapping like the heads of birds. Their faces are darker than the rest of their bodies. They are holes into which Katja feels close to falling.)


Pretty girl, pretty girl!

(Katja clamps her hands over her ears. The Night People’s voices are a din of anger and thunder.)

 Tasty girl, scrumptious girl!

(The Night People are approaching. Some remain affixed to the tree. Others crawl quickly through the dirt toward Katja, like spiders.)


Get away from me!

(She kicks them. She hits them. She runs, and they  grab her ankles and pull her down.)

Lore! Benno! Lore!

(Then Katja hears it, as night cloaks her vision and plugs up her ears and stings her lips with cold.)

(Voices, familiar and whispering.)


Darling Katja, darling one, don’t be afraid.


Little Katja, brave Katja, be still and listen.


We are here, very close.


We are all here, not so far away.

(Katja raises her head from the dirt. It is a huge effort. The Night People are pressing down on her. They are feeding on her. They are biting and gnawing and dousing out her light.)


My light. My light. Don’t take it from me!

(She raises herself up onto her hands. She scrapes the darkness from her face. Night peels away from her like layers of tar. It hurts. It is so cold.)

They want my light. They wanted your light, Mama, Papa. And they took it.

(She is sobbing. She feels sick.)

 Is this some kind of nasty trick? Where are you?



Where are you? Where are you? Mama! Papa! Where, where?


Think, clever one, dear one.


(beginning to understand)

But it isn’t possible! It doesn’t make sense!


Believe, clever one, precious one. Believe what your heart tells you.


Believe what your light tells you.


(slobbering, chomping, gnawing)

Believe, stupid girl. Believe the darkness.

(Katja scrapes night from her eyes. It is cold. She is made of cold. She tries to find what is left of the sad silver tree. She can still hear the screams of Lore, of Benno.)

(The Night People are howling, tearing at her scalp.)


My light is going out, Mama. Papa, they are taking it from me. I am so cold.


But our light does not go out, not ever, not truly.


It may change, it may be hidden, but—


It may change.


It may change!

(Katja now understands.)

The Fire Tree. The Fire Tree is us. The Fire Tree is the light of everyone we have ever loved.

(Katja struggles to her feet, shaking the Night People off of her, dislodging their frigid claws.)

That is why the Fire Tree does not burn when we touch it.

(Katja fights her way toward the sad silver tree half-hidden in its swarming cloak of night. She scrapes night from her ears and hears a whispering of many, growing louder.)

The Fire Tree’s light is our light. Our light never goes away, even when we die. It simply changes. Mama! Papa!

(Katja throws herself at the sad silver tree, and when her skin touches it—her skin, torn and bloody, marked by Night People teeth—the tree comes to life.)

(It blooms like a fresh fire.)

(Its light is a universe of tiny flaming leaves.)

(Katja’s blood—Katja’s light—feeds it, and it is hungry.)

(And Katja does not feel pain. She feels only warmth, and a feeling of comfort. She feels her mother, and her father, and many other villagers who have died over too many years for little Katja to comprehend.)

(Their light brings the Fire Tree to brilliant life.)


Wicked girl, wicked girl!

Nasty, foul, vile girl!

(The Night People are blinded. In the light of the Fire Tree, Katja sees how the Night People are not soft and dark, but brittle and graying.)


Mama? Papa?


 Yes, sweet one?


What is it, my child?


(She does not want to watch the fire catch on to the Night People and burn them. She does not want to listen to the Night People’s awful cries as they writhe and crumble. But she makes herself, because she feels that this is important.)

The world feels full of people right now. I don’t understand it. They’re coming from the Fire Tree, and I don’t understand it. Some of them I feel like I know, even though I can’t see them. Like you, Mama. Like you, Papa. But some of them, I don’t know. I feel them, but I don’t know who they are.


I know, Katja.


I didn’t understand at first, either.



I feel you around me, as if you’re alive again. But you’re not, are you?


 You’re just helping us. You are the Fire Tree, and the Fire Tree is you, but you’re no longer Mama and Papa. Are you?


(Katja whispers, crying)

I don’t understand this.


It’s all right. You don’t need to yet.


(Katja plucks a branch from the Fire Tree. The touch of its light against her skin feels like her mother’s kiss.)

Is this all right? Can I do this?


You know what you must do.


I must go help the others. Lore, and Benno. Even though I am afraid.

(Katja holds the branch up higher, flooding the forest with light. It pulses with her heartbeat.)

I must light the fires, and keep winter away. I must bring your light to the others.




I must not sit here forever, in the Fire Tree, and talk to you, even though I want to.



No, my daughter.



It is not fair. I don’t understand any of this. Why now? Why did the Night People do this? They were trying to hide you forever. They were trying to tear down the Fire Tree so we might never find it. They are supposed to put out one fire a night, all winter, and only then are they supposed to feed. That’s what Lore told me.

(silence, except for the Night People’s withering screams)


Because this winter was different.


Because this year, you came to the forest.


Because, Katja, you are so full of light.


Because, Katja, you are so very bright.


They wanted to lure you.


They wanted you most of all, because you have so much to give.


(Katja takes another branch from the Fire Tree. She is a blazing creature of light, and the Night People shrink before her.)

I must go help the others. I must tell them what I have seen.

The people of our village have been so afraid for so long.


Be kind to Benno. He is so new and eager. He has many secrets to learn.


Take care of Lore. She works too hard.


Will the Night People leave after this? Is this the end?






(whispering, in many voices—young and old, old and new, familiar and not)

There will always be evil to fight.

And there will always be light as long as there are those brave enough to find it.


Good-bye, daughter. For now.


Shine on, daughter. Shine, shine.

(Katja leaves the Fire Tree burning behind her with the light of a hundred thousand souls. With a blazing branch in each hand, she proceeds through the tangle of screaming Night People. Their claws are dull. Their teeth fall out. They are trails of darkness behind Katja’s feet, and they melt into the snow.)

(Katja finds Lore, bleeding but alive, half submerged in the frozen river. Katja puts the flame of the Fire Tree to the ice, and the ice melts. She helps her sister out and warms her, and others emerge from the night, drawn by the light in Katja’s hands.)



Katja? What is that? What is in your hands? What happened to us, sister? You have been crying. The Night People—are they gone?


I will tell you all of those things. But first I must tell you the secret of the Fire Tree.


You found it? Dear sister. You look different. What happened to you?



I think, sister, that I have remembered what a hopeful feeling is like.

(Katja and Lore rise, and find Benno, and find others—but not all—and walk home to prepare their waiting hearths for winter.)



Bernie Blythe

Bernie Blythe, oh Bernie Blythe
has blistered hands and sewed-up eyes
lives in the swamp where you don’t dare tread
’cause the ones that do, they end up dead

Bernie Blythe, oh Bernie Blythe
was once a kid like you or I
’til one black night he fell and drowned,
his teeth the only things they found

Bernie Blythe, oh Bernie Blythe
a lonely boy with a half-dead mind
If he finds you, he’ll never let go
He’ll drag you screaming down below




“I can’t help it. This is so incredibly stupid.”

“Stop it!”

“Oh my god, seriously. Stop laughing.”

“Why am I even friends with you guys? You’re a bunch of infants.”

“Lucas, shut up right now.”

“He’ll hear you.”

But Lucas didn’t want to shut up. He wanted everyone to understand how brave he was for coming to the Grasshook Swamp—on Halloween, no less. After sundown, too—and not being scared, not even a little bit.

He especially wanted Rhonda to understand. Her Queen of the Undead costume was nothing short of mind-blowing, what with that crown and that ratty ballgown and the zombie make-up and the fake blood. She even had the lurching zombie walk down, and just the right amount of slobbering, groaning noises to be authentic but not obnoxious.

Rhonda was cool, is what it came down to. So cool that Lucas wasn’t sure how he and his friends had ended up trick-or-treating with her and her friends, but he wasn’t going to complain about it or anything.

No, he was going to march right into Grasshook Swamp with his head held high, and not be afraid even a little bit.

Well. Maybe a little bit. But he wasn’t going to show it.

“So how’d he drown again?” said one of Rhonda’s friends, Amy, who was dressed up like a cat. How original.

“Who?” said Lucas, breezily, like he didn’t know who she was talking about. Like he hadn’t been surreptitiously scanning the swamp this whole time for signs of him.
“Bernie,” Amy said. “Bernie Blythe. Don’t be dumb, Lucas.”

Bernie Blythe, oh Bernie Blythe, has blistered hands and sewed-up eyes,” Rhonda sang cheerfully.

“Oh. That.” Lucas waved his hand. “That’s just a story.”

“No way, man,” said Sam, who had been compulsively eating candy since they stepped over the bridge onto the swamp path. “I’ve heard him.”

Amy and Rhonda’s other friend, Carrie, squealed.

Rhonda just laughed. Lucas laughed, too, even though he didn’t think anything was funny.

“You’ve heard him?” said Dean. He was shuffling along the path, kicking pebbles into the murky water. At each impact, the water gurgled and shifted, like it was this huge beast disguised as water, and the pebbles were in danger of waking it up.

Lucas wished Dean would stop doing that, but he wasn’t going to say so.

He also wished Dean would take off his scarecrow mask. It was this burlap sack contraption with the grinning face scribbled on in black marker, and it was unnerving. Dean’s hands were gloved in ratty gloves, and he was wearing crusty farmer’s clothes and had his neck wrapped in cloth strips stained red.

It was a great costume, really. Lucas wished he’d thought of something like that, because Rhonda had been gushing over how creepy Dean’s costume was all night. Lucas’s debonair vampire costume seemed beyond lame in comparison. As Carrie had scornfully pointed out earlier that night, vampires were so over.

“Yeah, I’ve heard him,” Sam was saying. “I live right on Cedar Crest, you know?

And out my window I can see the swamp, and some nights . . . some nights, I hear him.”

Rhonda was wide-eyed, breathless. “What does he sound like?”

Sam swallowed a particularly large mouthful of chocolate. “He cries.”

“He cries?”

“He cries, and sometimes he howls like he’s hurting.”

Lucas rolled his eyes. “How do you even know it’s him? That could be anyone.”

“Oh,” said Amy, “because people hang out in the swamp all the time.”

“To trick people into thinking they’re Bernie Blythe, they might.”

“I know it’s him,” Sam continued, “because he yells, too. He screams. He says, ‘Not my teeth, don’t take my teeth, stop, stop!’” Then Sam jumped at the girls and shouted, wiggling his fingers.

Carrie and Amy screamed and giggled, and Sam looked pretty pleased with himself, but Rhonda just crossed her arms and stared out at the swamp.

“Poor kid,” she said quietly. “I wonder what happened to him.”

That was when Lucas noticed they’d reached the bridge. The bridge.

He stepped closer to Rhonda. Together they stood at the bridge’s railing.

“This is where they say it happened,” Lucas whispered. “Where he drowned.”

Rhonda nodded.

“Poor kid,” Lucas added, a little too eagerly. He glanced at Rhonda to gauge her reaction. “It’s terrible. Just terrible. Tragic.”

“That’s what I don’t get, though,” said Rhonda, frowning at the water. “The railing here is pretty high. He couldn’t have just tripped and fallen in. The railing would have stopped him.”

Dean walked over to stand beside them. Instead of looking out at the water, he looked right at them. Right at Lucas, it felt like, but of course it was impossible to tell, what with that mask on. That smiling, uneven, sack-and-marker mask; those blood-stained strips of cloth around Dean’s neck.

Lucas looked away, irritated. What gave Dean the idea for such a costume, anyway? Didn’t Dean know Lucas liked Rhonda? Didn’t Dean know that Rhonda liked scary things? Why would he have tried to out-scary Lucas’s costume? Dean didn’t even like Halloween. He scared too easy.

“They say,” Dean said, “that he was pushed. Or dragged under, maybe.”

“Ooo.” Carrie grabbed Amy’s hand. “Who pushed him? Who dragged him? And why?

“Don’t know why. Some people say his friends did it, that it was some trick they were playing that went wrong. Some people say it was this hermit living in the swamp who collected human bones, except for teeth. He didn’t like teeth.”

Amy shivered. Sam ran his tongue along his teeth as if to make sure they were still intact.

“And some people say that there are just places in the world where bad things happen. Places darkness is drawn to. Darkness lives there and snatches people away, and makes them into terrible things.”

“Whatever.” Lucas tapped his fingers on the railing. “I’m so sick of these made-up stories.” He was getting tired of this whole situation. The air in this swamp was heavy and quiet, and had gotten more so since they’d entered it. At the edge of the swamp, they’d heard crickets and airplanes overhead and other people out trick-or-treating—kids laughing and parents talking and the high schoolers on Pine Drive rolling the Johnson house with toilet paper.

Now, he couldn’t hear anything. Nothing except Dean talking, and a sense of something in the air that felt like a great presence holding its breath, waiting.

It made Lucas nervous.

“Bernie Blythe.” Lucas wiped his palms on his vampire cape, trying not to freak out. “What kind of a loser name is that, anyway?”

“You shouldn’t say things like that,” Rhonda admonished him. “It’s disrespectful.”

“Dispectful toward . . .?”

“The dead.” Dean was watching Lucas, his head tilted to the side. “Or the mostly dead. Or the kind of dead.” Then Dean laughed—quickly, quietly. Then he stopped and was silent again.

Sam shook his head and popped another chocolate into his mouth. “Dude, Dean, you’re taking the creepy scarecrow thing a little too seriously.”

“The half-dead,” whispered Rhonda. “That’s what the song says. A lonely boy with a half-dead mind. Can you imagine being stuck in this swamp, half-alive, with no one to talk to?”

“Ew, Rhonda, stop being so weird,” said Carrie. “No one wants to imagine that.”

“I can,” said Dean. He stepped toward Rhonda and took her hand in his. “I can imagine it.”

Something overcame Lucas then, as everyone stared at Dean and Rhonda, and Carrie and Amy laughed nervously, and Sam looked at Lucas and then away, because he knew Lucas wanted to ask Rhonda to the seventh grade social next month, and now Dean was holding Rhonda’s hand in this weird way, and the air on the bridge suddenly reeked of awkward.

“Hey,” Lucas bit out, and marched toward Dean. “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know—”

And that’s when it happened. Because Lucas grabbed Dean’s hand and pulled it away from Rhonda’s, and the glove got caught on Lucas’s long pointy vampire fingernails, and the glove came away—to reveal a hand bloated with swamp water and covered in puckered old blisters.

A hand that was not Dean’s hand.

A hand attached to a Dean that wasn’t Dean.

Amy and Carrie shrieked. Sam dropped his bag of candy, and it rolled down the sloping bridge into the mud.

Rhonda stared.

And Lucas . . . Lucas wanted to know. So he ignored the screaming instinct to run—and fast—and ripped the mask off of whatever not-Dean face lay beneath.

What Lucas saw shouldn’t have surprised him. Not after how strange Dean had been acting, not after considering the new meaning of the weird, sweet-sour stench that had been coming from Dean’s mask all evening, and certainly not after seeing the hand—Bernie Blythe, oh Bernie Blythe has blistered hands and sewed-up eyes—but it surprised him anyway. No amount of strangeness could have prepared Lucas for this sight:

A scalp, dotted with chunks of matted hair and skin sloughing off in slimy chunks.

A toothless mouth, leaking sludge and blood and swamp water.

Two eyes, sewn shut.

Lucas tried to scream—his friends, all around him, were screaming—but he couldn’t. Maybe what he was looking at was a mask. Maybe it was legitimate, high-quality movie make-up.

The others tried to run—Carrie, Amy, Sam—but the swamp took them. There was no other way to describe it. Lucas watched, frozen, as something—something, how was this possible?—reached up to grab their ankles and drag them under. Something in the shape of hands. Something in the shape of claws. Something dark.

Darkness lives there and snatches people away, and makes them into terrible things.

If he finds you, he’ll never let go
He’ll drag you screaming down below

Lucas stood crying, listening to his friends scream, watching them dragged under by a greedy, gurgling force that made his skin crawl and grated against his bones like a knife would have—scrape and scratch, bone dust flaking away with the wind.

“Lucas,” Rhonda cried, from behind him.

He turned, even though he didn’t want to. And he saw Bernie Blythe, his arms around Rhonda, dragging her down into the swamp.

Bernie Blythe, oh Bernie Blythe,” sang Bernie, his voice now distinctly not Dean’s, and rattling in his chest like teeth in a bowl, “has blistered hands and sewed-up eyes. Lives in the swamp where you don’t dare tread, ’cause the ones that do, they end up dead.

“Rhonda!” Lucas threw himself down on the bridge and reached for her. She clutched the railing with all her might, her fingernails scraping, her palms bloody and splintered. He grabbed her arms.

“I’m not letting go,” he cried, but she was sinking down anyway, into the water. Darkness crawled up her legs like vines, and where it touched her skin, it sent up thin curls of smoke. Lucas heard something sizzling, and Rhonda’s choked screams, and even though Bernie’s head was underwater now, Lucas could still hear his song.

He would always hear Bernie’s song. He would never be able to block it out.

Rhonda was almost gone, she was nearly submerged. “Go,” she gasped, crying. Her crown fell back into the water. In an instant, it burned down to thin lines of ash. Queen of the Undead. It was terribly, awfully funny. Lucas wanted to laugh. He was becoming hysterical.

“Go, Lucas,” Rhonda gasped, “while he’s distracted. And tell them it’s true. Tell everyone. Make them stay away.”

“It’s not made up,” Lucas whispered. He was crying. How had everything gone so wrong? There was a social next month in the cafeteria. He was going to ask Rhonda. They would go out for ice cream afterward. Maybe he could even convince his parents to sit at the other end of the restaurant.

“Run, Lucas,” Rhonda screamed, and then her body jerked because Bernie was pulling, pulling, and her arms were slipping, slipping from Lucas’s hands, and then she was up to her chin in the black, black swamp.

And Lucas did. He ran. He hated himself, and he hated Rhonda for getting caught instead of him, and he hated Bernie for doing this. Why? Why?

And some people say that there are just places in the world where bad things happen. Places where darkness is drawn to. Darkness lives there and snatches people away, and makes them into terrible things.

And the trees were laughing at Lucas, he was sure of it—as were the creatures of the swamp, and the water of the swamp, and whatever lay within it. Bernie was laughing too, and his fingers wrapped around Rhonda’s mouth, silencing her voice, and the last thing Lucas saw was Rhonda’s head slipping into darkness.

He ran, and Bernie’s song rang in his head. It would always ring.

And he would tell them. He would tell everyone, even if they didn’t listen. Especially when they wouldn’t listen. He would tell them and they would laugh, and eventually they’d stop laughing and start whispering:

Have you heard about the weird kid who went into Grasshook Swamp with five friends and came out with none?

Yeah, that crazy old man who thinks Bernie Blythe is real. He has for years. They say he lost his mind.

Seriously—Bernie Blythe! You know, that stupid Halloween campfire tale?


Bernie Blythe, oh Bernie Blythe
has blistered hands and sewed-up eyes
lives in the swamp where you don’t dare tread
’cause the ones that do, they end up dead

Bernie Blythe, oh Bernie Blythe
was once a kid like you or I
’til one black night he fell and drowned,
his teeth the only things they found

Bernie Blythe, oh Bernie Blythe
a lonely boy with a half-dead mind
If he finds you, he’ll never let go
He’ll drag you screaming down below

October is the Month of . . . Well, What Do You Think?

Dearest readers,

We wish you a happy October — full of goblins and ghouls, tricks and treats, dead leaves and wandering souls, slinking shadows and bumps in the night.

This season of the undead and the unexpected is our favorite time of year. Even the Cabinet itself has a special fondness for October. The books on our shelves shiver with glee, the caskets in the fifth-floor lounge simply will not stay shut, and the creeping vines in our gardens keep dragging over bones and brains and rotty bits from the nearby cemetery. For fun, they insist, in preparation for our grand party on the 31st. We’re not quite sure what the gardens have in mind for the party, but we have stocked up on spirit wrangling supplies, just in case.

It might not surprise you, then — indeed, it probably shouldn’t — that our theme for this month is Halloween, but rest assured that our stories this month will be as surprising and horrifying as ever. And do avoid cemeteries in the coming weeks, just in case. We’re not entirely certain how far our gardens can reach, and you wouldn’t want to find yourself suddenly snatched by a sentient vine, dragged through soil and rock, and then thrust into a rosebush next to a maggoty skeleton, would you? Or maybe you would, you delightfully twisted readers, you.

Lovingly, mischievously,

Your Curators