The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

Number 87,145

Lizzie doesn’t know what it is about the new kid, but he freaks her out more than pretty much everything except for maybe—maybe—when her brother pretends to be an alien. That’s when he stands around the corner at night, in the dark, and jumps out at her as she walks, sleepy and fuzzy-eyed, back to her bedroom from the bathroom. Which is just not fair, jumping out at a girl as she’s coming back from the bathroom. Lizzie thinks a person should have a kind of safe pass at moments like those. And she’s not sure what makes her brother an “alien” when he does that, but she’s long given up trying to understand him.

The thing is, that’s a jumpy scare, something that comes and goes really fast, and then it’s gone.

The new kid at school is different. This kid—Malcolm Huxley is his name—he freaks out Lizzie in a slow way, a tingling, heavy way like when there’s a storm blowing in, and you just know it’s going to rip the skies open any minute now, but you don’t know when.

It’s something about his eyes. They’re very still. He doesn’t blink much. It’s also, Lizzie thinks, something about the way he smiles at people, how he watches them while they’re talking, how he never blinks his still, dark eyes. He just watches, and smiles his slow smile, and moves his hands from his lap to the table, where he folds them together like whoever’s speaking to him is the most important person in the world, and he’s not even going to mess with his phone while you’re talking to him. That’s how much he cares about your conversation. Isn’t that courteous? Such a rarity, in this technological age.

Lizzie is not even sure he has a phone. He’s old-fashioned like that. He wears neckties to school. And he talks too formally, using words that sound like they should be used only at funerals or in fancy, white-walled modern art museums. Stuffy, cold, lyrical words. The teachers just adore him. They think he’s “refreshingly polite.” They tell him so, too, right to his face, and he folds his hands in front of him and stands there and smiles his slow, perfect smile. “You flatter me,” he says to them. “How kind.”

Lizzie is not impressed by such instances. Gag me, she thinks, rolling her eyes.

But she’ll give him this: He’s interesting.

Lizzie has been waiting for something interesting to happen.

So last week, when Lizzie noticed Malcolm Huxley watching her at lunch from across the cafeteria, she didn’t react. She kept eating her sandwich. And then the lunch bell rang, and she went to math and Malcolm went to choir.

Not a big deal, Lizzie thought. Just Malcolm being Malcolm. Whatever that meant.

But every day since then, he’s been watching her at lunch—staring with his eyes that don’t blink, putting his sandwich down between each bite. Chewing. Swallowing. Watching her. And at first she thought she was imagining things, but today she realizes that every day he has been moving closer to her.

The first day, he was sitting with the cheerleaders. Well, not sitting with them, really, because he seemed so out of it that Lizzie wasn’t sure he even noticed them trying to talk to him.

He was too focused on Lizzie, she guessed.


But still, interesting. It’s been interesting for Lizzie, watching him move from the cheerleaders to the band nerds to the theater geeks to the track team and then, finally, to her. It’s interesting, watching him slide into the seat across from her. Her friends look at her, and then at him, and then back at her.

“Hi, Malcolm,” they say. Everybody knows Malcolm. You can’t wear neckties and speak like an old man and not have people know who you are.

He ignores them. “Hi, Lizzie,” he says to her. He isn’t blinking, and his smile spreads across his face like he knows a secret that Lizzie doesn’t know. And she wants to know.

But she sighs, because she doesn’t want him to know she wants to know.

“Hey.” She says it so it sounds very whatever-y.

“So.” Malcolm pauses, folds his hands on top of the table. “I was wondering if you wanted to come to my house tonight. I could use some help with the unit we’re currently studying in math, and I’ve heard you’re something of a mathematical whiz.”

Meredith, Lizzie’s best friend, elbows her, and Lizzie kicks her under the table.

“I guess.” Lizzie shrugs, but on the inside she is completely thrilled. A chance to figure out the mystery of Malcolm Huxley? Plus a chance to show off her inarguably impressive math skills? She is so in. “I mean, I’m definitely a mathematical whiz, but I guess I’ll help you.”

“Marvelous.” Malcolm stands up and holds out his hand. “Shall we say right after school? We can meet outside by the buses and walk there together.”

Shall we? Lizzie tries not to laugh as she shakes his hand. “Indeed, we shall,” she says, trying to imitate him without cracking up. Meredith is just dying next to her; Lizzie can hear her ready to burst. But Lizzie manages to maintain a serious expression.

“I’ll see you then, Lizzie,” Malcolm says, and he leaves, and once he’s gone, Lizzie’s entire table explodes into gasping and laughter.

“Oh my god. Malcolm Huxley. Oh my god.” Meredith grabs Lizzie’s arms. “He’s cute, in a weird way. Don’t you think he’s cute?”

Cute? Not so much. But interesting? Oh yeah. Lizzie shrugs, playing it cool. “He wears ties.”

Meredith ignores this. Who cares if he wears neckties? That only adds to his mystique. Her eyes go wide. “What will your parents think about you going to his house to study?”

Lizzie is only thirteen, but this whole thing is making her feel older, like a high schooler, like someone who gets away with things. She has never been that kind of person. She has always lived in a very square, very neat box.

She feels her friends’ eyes upon her, and she flips her hair back. “They don’t have to know,” she says in a way that feels dangerous to her, and everyone squeals. She sees Malcolm watching from across the cafeteria, where he’s just thrown away his lunch trash. She waves, trying to flirt, kind of. She’s not really sure how to flirt, but Malcolm’s smile oozes out of him anyway, and he bows.

He bows.

Lizzie thought people only did that in movies.


Despite all Lizzie’s hair flipping, she’s pretty nervous about going into Malcolm’s house. It looks normal from the outside—she can see it as they turn onto his street—but there is the whole not-knowing-how-to-talk-to-boys-who-bow-to-you-in-cafeterias thing.

Boys with hair way shinier than hers.

Boys who hold open the door for you and offer to take your coat.

“For real?” she asks him, handing him her coat. “This is your house?” Her voice echoes across marble floors. They’re inside the foyer of Malcolm’s house, and it’s beautiful—old-fashioned (surprise, surprise) with heavy rugs and dark wood and weird sculptures on tables—but beautiful. And big. It didn’t look this big from outside, and it didn’t look this old. It smells old, like an antique store. Like an attic. Like . . .

“A library.” The double doors on Lizzie’s right are open, so she goes in, kind of dazed, and sees shelves stretching from floor to ceiling, and they’re all full of books. There’s a fireplace she could stand in without having to duck, and two red chairs in front of the fire.

“Do you like it?” says Malcolm. He sits in one of the red chairs, folds his hands in his lap, and watches her. His hair is swept to the side in a neat blond wave.

“Are you kidding?” Lizzie isn’t really a book person; she prefers numbers and soccer. But this library is like something out of a fairy tale. It’s enormous—the size of her basement; no, the size of her house. This is crazy. A part of her thinks she should not be so excited about a library that is way too big for the house she saw outside, but she hurries to the nearest shelf anyway. Maybe if she sees what kind of books this boy has, she’ll understand about everything—the ties, the shall we, the slow smile.

But the books are blank. The spines, anyway. No titles, no authors. Just red books and blue books and green books, all of them dusty and worn around the edges.

“I hate to rush this,” Malcolm says from his chair, “but I’m running out of time. So, if you want to sit down, it might be easier.”

“All right, all right.” Lizzie frowns and drags her finger along the blank spines of these books. She wants to pull them out and open them, see what’s written inside.

She also doesn’t want to open them. Thinking about doing so gives her that growing storm feeling, the one she got about Malcolm when she saw him on his first day at school. That slow-building, stomach-twisting scared feeling.

“If you’re really that excited about algebra,” she says, turning around, “we’ll get started on tonight’s homework. But first can I meet your—”

Lizzie stops, staring at Malcolm. He has a book in his lap, and it isn’t his math book. And he’s writing in it.

“How come none of these books have titles?” Lizzie asks, uncertain. But that’s not the question she really wants to ask. Why are you writing in one of them? That’s what she really wants to ask. Because the book in Malcolm’s lap looks like one of the books on these shelves—except it’s not dusty. It’s new, and its edges are crisp, and its pages are clean. Except where Malcolm is writing.

“Oh,” Malcolm says, in that polite voice of his, “because I don’t need titles. I know what they all are.”

“Really? Every single one of them? But there must be thousands. How can you remember all of them?”

“Because I am much smarter than you will ever be,” Malcolm says smoothly. “And there are 87,144 books in this room, to be exact.” He looks up at Lizzie, and this time his smile is quick, like a dart. Like a knife. “Soon to be 87,145.”

He taps the book on his lap with his pen, like he’s inserting a period. The sound is final, like the closing of a lid.

And then Lizzie feels it: She feels herself bending inward, like her arms and legs are folding up into curlicues, like she’s way too deep underwater and her body can’t take the pressure, so it collapses instead.

She looks down at her hands.

They’re fading.

She begins to scream. She runs for the double doors, but they’re closed and locked. She bangs on them, claws at them, but she is shrinking. She is a girl made of screams instead of bones. She is a girl made of pen ink instead of blood.

She is flying across the room because something is pulling her. Her half-vanished fingernails are digging into the carpet. And then they’re not digging into the carpet because they’re gone. She is gone. She is . . . no longer solid. Something pulls her through a tiny hole, a hundred tiny holes—through letters, written in Malcolm’s handwriting.

Lizzie is in a white, clean prison. She tries to hold out her hands, and she sees nothing. She tries to turn around, and can’t. She can think, she can faintly speak, like something is stuck in her throat, but she can’t move, and all she can see is a forever-whiteness—and Malcolm’s face, in front of her.

She sees his face through dozens of tiny windows that are the letters he has written in this crisp, new book with crisp, new edges and a spine with no title.

But Lizzie, too late for her, realizes this book doesn’t need a title. None of these books do. Because these books are not just books.

They are people. This book is her.

She peers through the window of Malcolm’s letters: September 18, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Dale, thirteen years old, mathematics whiz, sarcastic, athletic, pretty.

Lizzie feels like she is looking out of her own tombstone. She tries to scream—a hoarse, whispery sound, because there isn’t a lot of room in her new home for things like voices. She tries to claw her way out through the windows of Malcolm’s letters. But she no longer has use of her arms.

She begins to cry—but there isn’t a lot of room there for tears, either, so she just feels like she’s choking and gasping inside her skin.

“There, there,” says Malcolm, and then he is no longer a boy, but a great, ghastly, scaly thing, a thing with shadows for claws and cold black eyes. His Malcolm-face peels away in curls of skin, and then he is just this terrible thing staring at Lizzie and speaking to her with a high, sweet voice. It is the same voice: Malcolm’s polite, shall we voice.

He bows to her, mockingly.

“Welcome, Lizzie,” he says, his voice hissing on the z’s in her name. “Welcome to your new home. I think we shall be excellent friends.”

Then he slams the book shut, and Lizzie is squished into darkness, which is far worse than the white prison and makes her feel claustrophobic. She feels pinned down and strapped in, and then she feels Malcolm kiss the cover of her book like a parent would kiss its child good night, except his lips are fat and wet with slime.

She feels her book being slid across a surface—onto a shelf?

She feels the snugness of something on either side of this cramped, dark space—other books, beside her?

And she hears whispers—above her, below her, on either side of her, stretching out in all directions as though she is floating in a sea made of terrible words:

Welcome, Lizzie.

Welcome, Lizzie.

Help us.

Help us.

After a time, Lizzie takes up the call too: Help us. Help us. It is a choir of souls.

A choir that no one will ever hear, except for the slithering thing reclining in the red chair by the fireplace. The coiled, hulking, shadow-clawed thing.

It hears, its claws folded in its lap, and it does nothing but laugh.

The Sandman Cometh

A note from your Curators: Dear readers, we apologize that we neglected to post our usual introductory post at the beginning of this week, announcing the theme for this month’s stories. But you see, we have recently had great reason to celebrate, as all four of us met a particularly important deadline for a particularly precious project (that may or may not have something to do with this website you are now reading). And after we met said important deadline, we were in such a state of jubilation that apparently our brains melted and dripped out our ears, leaving us with nothing to govern our common sense but the copious amounts of celebratory cake we consumed.

So, we hope you’ll forgive our forgetfulness — and the tardiness of today’s story — and that you’ll enjoy August’s month of stories, all of which are re-tellings of fairy tales.

Curator Legrand’s story, which you’ll see below, is a re-telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “Ole Lukøje,” which Curator Legrand thought was a very odd story indeed, and which she might have made even more odd in her re-telling (but neither version is as odd as the adventure during which she was first told the tale).


When Harvey goes to bed on Saturday night, his heart is black and hot. In general, he’s a good kid, but he’s suffered one too many indignities today, and thirteen-year-old boys have very little patience to begin with.

First of all, there’s the matter of the dolls. His eight-year-old sister Jessie left her dolls all over the floor after a morning of manic play with her friends from next door. Harvey stepped on them and tripped over them one too many times, and finally lost his temper and kicked one of them into the wall. Out of all the other soft, unbreakable dolls well within reach of his foot, he happened to kick the one with the porcelain face. It shattered, and Jessie’s been an inconsolable mess all day.

Secondly, there’s the matter of his parents. Did they reprimand Jessie for leaving her toys strewn about so irresponsibly? No, they didn’t. All they did was punish Harvey for committing the understandable and relatively minor crime of kicking a doll into a wall. The unfairness of it makes Harvey’s insides seethe.

And that leads to the third thing, which was Harvey not being able to go to the movies tonight with Dennis and Jordan and Enrique and Enrique’s dad, who is far cooler than Harvey’s dad will ever be. Harvey can’t go because he’s grounded. He’s grounded because he reacted like any sane person would after stepping on dolls that his little sister refuses to clean up.

There is no justice in the world tonight. That’s one of the primary thoughts on Harvey’s mind as he falls into a tempestuous sleep.

The other thought is this: “I hate them. I hate all three of them. I want to wake up in the morning and have the house to myself so they can’t annoy me ever again.”

(Oh, dear.)


Harvey wakes up in the morning to a blissfully quiet house. In fact, at first he thinks he might have woken up in the wrong house somehow, even though that makes no sense. He doesn’t hear his sister running around singing songs, he doesn’t hear his father banging dishes and pans around the kitchen, and he doesn’t hear his mother’s shows blaring on the television.

He falls back asleep, fantasizing that they’ve all decided to have mercy on him and spare him the chore of Sunday errands. He decides that when he wakes up in a couple of hours, he’ll clean the kitchen so that maybe his parents will lessen his punishment. He figures they’ll return well into the afternoon.

They don’t.


It’s been a long day for Harvey. He doesn’t understand where his family has gone. At first it’s wonderful, having the house to himself. He is able to clean the kitchen like a good son would do, and even has time after that to play some video games without Jessie running through the living room asking if she can play too.

He also has time to do his homework. And microwave himself a frozen dinner. And shoot hoops on the driveway after dark on a school night. It is at this point he remembers to look in the garage and realizes that his parents and Jessie haven’t gone to run errands—unless they’ve gone on foot, that is, which is unlikely.

Both cars are still parked in the garage.


Harvey is not sleeping well.

Before going to bed, he tried calling some friends of his parents, and also some of Jessie’s friends, to see if anyone knew where they had gone—but the phone didn’t work. That was odd; Harvey checked to make sure it was plugged in, and it was. But it wouldn’t dial a single number. Harvey searched for his parents’ cell phones and tried them, but they didn’t work either.

The television played nothing but static. Videos game worked, but not the television. The computer wouldn’t connect to the Internet. And, as Henry lay there before bed trying to quiet his mind, he realized with a creeping sense of dread that when he had been outside shooting hoops earlier, he hadn’t seen a single other living thing on his street—not a person, not a bird, not the DeRosarios’ fat cat.

But now Harvey is asleep, tossing and turning as the remnants of these worries stew in his mind. He doesn’t see the man enter his room, quiet as shadow. The man is tall and thin and dark, with a crisp black suit and a spotless black umbrella. He leans on the umbrella and watches Harvey for a long time. He is smiling and waiting for Harvey to wake up.


When Harvey does wake up, it is in the middle of the night, and the first thing he sees is the man at his door, still and slender.

Harvey screams, and the man lets him. The man looks bored.

When Harvey is done screaming, the man says, “Have you finished?”

The question takes Harvey quite aback. He replies, “I guess.”

“Good.” The man approaches, his coattails trailing behind him like long black tongues. “I’ll make this simple. I have your family, and I’ll only bring them back if you do exactly as I say.”

Harvey is at first dumbstruck and then outraged. Remorse floods through him like a sick, cold tidal wave, and the man watching him seems to shudder, like he can feel Harvey’s emotion and finds it delicious.

“What do you mean you have them?” Harvey demands. “Where are they? And who are you?”

“I can’t tell you where they are. As for your second question, I have many names. I am Morpheus, I am Ole Lukøje, I am the Bringer of Dreams. You may call me the Sandman.”

With that, the Sandman bows. He cuts the air like a black scythe.

Harvey is fairly practical for a thirteen-year-old boy. He knows that such things as Sandmen don’t exist. And yet here is the Sandman, bowing before him. And here is his empty house, and here is the phone and the computer and the television that don’t work. And here is his empty street.

He balls his fists into his bedsheets. “You have my parents, and my sister.”

The Sandman inclines his head. “As I said.”


“Because I need your help.” A small smile curls across his face. “And now, so do they.”

Harvey draws a deep breath. He is terrified; he has never been especially brave. He is the boy who stands on the bank of the creek and watches the other boys swing on the rope into the water.

“What do I have to do?”

The Sandman takes a vial from his pocket and dips a gloved finger into it. “You must complete for me six tasks. If you succeed . . . ” He smears a grainy, rank-smelling tar over Harvey’s eyelids, sealing them shut. “ . . . you may be able to save your family.”

Harvey falls back onto the bed, as heavy and cold as a stone. A shiny substance plugs up his ears and mouth and nose and eyes. Still, though, his eyelids flutter. He is dreaming.

The Sandman settles onto the foot of Harvey’s bed, soft and sleek as a cat. He waits.


Harvey awakes in a jungle.

The air is ripe with the smells of rot and sweaty animal fur and tropical flowers. The air is so steamy that Harvey finds it difficult to breathe. He holds in his hand a sealed envelope, addressed in an immaculate hand to The One Who Waits.

A breath wafts across Harvey’s neck. He whirls, but no one is there. He feels cold, ghostly fingers on his shoulders. He slaps them away, but ends up only slapping himself.

Stop slapping yourself and listen to me, says the Sandman’s voice, deep inside Harvey’s head. With every word, that same cold breath caresses Harvey’s neck. This is your first task: Deliver this letter to The One Who Waits, who lives at the other end of the jungle. Do not stop for anything. Do not eat the fruit.

Then, just like that, the Sandman’s presence disappears. Harvey is alone.

None of this makes sense, but the letter in Harvey’s hand feels real enough, so he figures he should go along with this, just in case. Anyway, delivering a letter doesn’t sound so hard, and he’s not hungry, so avoiding fruit won’t be a problem.

But then Harvey begins to walk. The way is overgrown and dripping with moisture, and he notices that the branches hang heavy with fruit—at first just normal fruit like bananas and oranges, and although they are brightly colored, they don’t particularly tempt Henry. But then he sees mangoes and passion fruit, and kiwi and pineapples, and soon Henry is pushing aside piles of grapes and bushes laden with strawberries, and countless other unfamiliar fruits in yellows and blues and purples that brush against his face and arms. Their soft, fuzzy skins tickle his cheeks.

Their scents twist up his nose and make him feel faint. They smell increasingly delicious—tart and sweet, juicy and tender, and some of them smell like fruit but some of them smell like choice meat, and others like glazed pastries.

Soon, Harvey cannot help himself. He truly wasn’t hungry, but now his stomach twists painfully. He is frantic with craving. He plucks a bright red fruit from its branch and pops it into his mouth. He chews, and the fruit bursts; he swallows, and juice and seeds drip down his mouth. He feels, for a moment, the most satisfied he has ever felt.

Then the jungle begins to quake around him. Starting nearest him, and then spreading out in waves, the plants shrivel and blacken, and turn to dust. Harvey hurries through them, the taste of the stolen fruit turning sour on his tongue. It seems to him that the dying branches grab for his feet as he runs. He tramples piles of rotting fruit that squelch between his toes. The ground is coming apart, a sliver of earthquake trailing his steps.

He emerges on the other side of the jungle just in time. The whole thing collapses behind him, and Harvey pants to catch his breath. That’s when he sees it: The envelope, fallen open in his hand. The letter inside it is sopping wet, black with ash, and the words written on the ruined paper drip off the paper and onto the ground, where they collect in steaming black puddles. The words left on the page are gibberish. The letter is unreadable.

Harvey feels a shadow fall over his face. He looks up and sees a tall, hooded figure standing at a black crossroads in a green field. The figure holds out its hand, which looks surprisingly human.

“Are you The One Who Waits?” asks Henry.

The figure nods, and Henry shoves the letter into its hand and closes his eyes.


Harvey wakes back in his bedroom and promptly gets sick on the floor. Apparently, the fruit did not agree with him.

The Sandman watches him, irritated. “You ate the fruit.”

“I couldn’t help it.”

“You ruined the letter.”

Harvey turns, afraid. “You didn’t say anything about delivering the letter intact. You just said deliver the letter, and I did.”

The Sandman’s mouth grows thin. “I suppose I shall have to be more specific in the future.”

“Where was that place?”

“There are many places you can’t access but I can. That was one of them.”

“And what exactly is all this that you’re making me do?”

“Does it matter? If you want your family back, you’ll perform my tasks regardless.”


“If I wanted to give you any more information,” says the Sandman smoothly, “I would do so. Don’t ask me pointless questions.”

He smears a fresh coat of tar across Harvey’s eyes, and Harvey falls back into his pillows for the second time.


Harvey is on a boat painted red and white, with silver sails that spread out like wings.

The air here is quiet and still, and the prow of the boat pushes through a thick black swamp littered with dead trees and alligator carcasses.

Harvey takes a step forward, and something crunches beneath his foot. He looks down and almost gags.

The deck of the boat is covered with the bodies of dead swans.

Find the princesses, the Sandman whispers from far away, his breath carrying the stench of the tar from his vial. One is the true princess; six are impostors. Find them and pick the right one.

Something terrible has happened here; that much is obvious to Harvey. He sees that the sky is shifting, full of malevolent clouds. He sees lightning on the horizon but hears no answering thunder. He sees thin houses built on stilts, rising up out of the water, and he calls out, hoping whoever lives there will help him find his way, but no one answers. The windows remain dark.

Harvey stands at the wheel and steers the boat for countless hours, until blisters form on his palms. It’s impossible to track the time; the light in the sky never changes. Finally, Harvey sees a black shape in the distance that looks castle-like, and princesses live in castles, so he decides to head that way.

He arrives at the gates of a castle made of stone and iron. At the gate stand seven identical figures—all in fearsome, spiked armor and voluminous cloaks. They wear helmets that resemble crowns and battle axes hang from their belts. In their hands they hold powdered cakes in the shape of pigs, offering them to Harvey for a taste.

Harvey climbs down from the boat and trudges across the barren beach to reach the princesses, for of course that’s who they are. As he walks, panic grows inside him. These princesses look exactly alike. He cannot see their faces. How is he to tell the real one from the impostors?

Harvey inspects them, licking his dry lips. He is nearly ready to give up when he notices that one of the cakes is different from the others: It is missing a bite-sized piece. It’s a risky guess, but Harvey decides that if he were surrounded by six impostors, he would want to do something to show he was the real Harvey. Perhaps, he thinks, the real princess managed to sneak a bite, and this was a sign.

There is nothing else to do. Harvey kneels in front of this princess and bows his head. “Your Highness,” he says, “you are the one true princess.”

From above and around him comes the sounds of sliding steel. He looks up in time to see the other six princesses unsheathe their axes. They let out inhuman shrieks. The true princess, the one Harvey has chosen, rips off her helmet, revealing a face so hard and beautiful that Harvey feels tears come to his eyes. She raises her axe to defend him, and Harvey turns away, shielding his face in her cloak.


Harvey gasps awake in his bed. His sheets are soaked with sweat and cling to him like clammy fingers.

“Well?” The Sandman sounds bored, but his eyes are alight with interest. “What happened?”

“I found her.” Harvey is still catching his breath. “At least I think so. Her cake had a bite missing from it. That’s how I knew.”

“I’m not sure what cake you’re talking about,” says the Sandman, “but I’d know if you had failed. Don’t expect me to congratulate you, though.”

Harvey frowns. His ears are still ringing with the clash of swords, and he’s more than a little annoyed. “I don’t. I expect you to release my family after I win at your stupid games.”

The Sandman looks grave, and full of secrets. “They are not games. Don’t make the mistake of treating them as such, Harvey.”

Harvey shivers without knowing why. “Fine. Can we get on with it? I’ve got four tasks to go.”

A grin spreads across the Sandman’s face, a moonbeam cutting through clouds. He seals Harvey’s eyes shut for a third time, and Harvey slips back into darkness.


Harvey is being thrown against walls of rock.

At least, that’s what it feels like. He breathes salt and is shaking with cold. He struggles up to breathe and is pushed back under. Something throws him into somersaults through a thick, overwhelming heaviness.

He remembers, somewhere in the back of his mind, that he is asleep, that the Sandman is waiting patiently at the foot of his bed, but that doesn’t stop Harvey from feeling like he is about to die. He needs to breathe, he needs air, he needs ground under his feet—

He wakes up on a beach awash with sunlight. A white beach littered with shells and seaweed and the corpses of sea creatures washed ashore. He is sopping wet, and struggles to lift himself up and look around. Behind him stretches a great blue sea, sparkling and calm after a night of storms. Harvey coughs up ocean water. His stomach is burning.

Find the girl disguised as a bird, whispers the Sandman, his cold, faraway fingers wiping Harvey’s wet hair back from his eyes. Set her free. Avoid the Good Doctor.

This task makes the least amount of sense yet, but Harvey forces himself across the beach and into a meadow. At first there is nothing but grass, but then ruins appear—cottages and temples, bridges and towers. They are gray and crumbling, but still beautiful. There are roads and there is a market, and people milling about. Harvey hears them chattering and feels relieved. The chattering has a friendly sound to it. Perhaps he will actually have help this time.

But when Harvey gets closer, he notices something startling about the people in this ruined village: They have beaks.

They have feathers and clawed feet. They have wings and black beady eyes. Their faces are part human; there is human flesh there, and human teeth. But the human flesh transitions into black bird feathers, and the human teeth line yellow bird beaks instead of lips. The bird-people speak in disjointed words and rattling squawks. They neither fly nor walk but instead hop around, like they don’t know what to do with themselves. They seem unnatural, cobbled together.

At the center of the town is an enormous temple with a red tiled roof. Harvey sees a figure in white standing there, surveying the domain from a terrace. Harvey ducks his head and hurries into the shadows. Could that white figure be the Good Doctor? Whoever that is.

What has happened here? Harvey can’t know for sure, but he is a smart boy and constructs a hypothesis. Perhaps the Good Doctor isn’t so good at all. Perhaps he conducts experiments, crafting birds and people into bird-people.

The air smells like medicine and burnt feathers. Harvey doesn’t like it.

He hears a ruckus and peeks around the corner of a building. A crowd of bird-people gather in a circle. There are hen-people and duck-people and a giant gobbling turkey with the face of a man and clawed fingers.

They are making fun of someone—a small bird-person whose feathers don’t look quite right.

Harvey’s skin tingles. It is the girl disguised as a bird. He must free her. Though the Good Doctor watches from on high—surely that’s him, up on that terrace—Harvey must free this girl. The bullying bird-people are kicking the girl’s legs, pecking her skin. They are jeering at her, calling her stupid, calling her beautiful in a mocking fashion.

Harvey is filled with horror and rage. This place is not right. He rushes at the girl and grabs her arm, dislodging pasted-on feathers. He runs with her toward the ocean, a mob of bird-people at their heels. The bird-people are vicious. They peck with their beaks and tear with their human teeth. They curse Harvey and the girl. They call for the Good Doctor.

Looking back over his shoulder, Harvey sees that the terrace is empty.

“Where are you taking me?” gasps the girl. Her tied-on beak has fallen. Her feathers are flying off.

Harvey doesn’t have an answer for her. His legs carry them into the ocean, and they dive. Everything in him recoils at the idea of returning to the sea that nearly drowned him, but drowning is better than becoming these things that are chasing him.

Water fills his ears. He hears a man calling out on the shore. He feels rubber gloved hands reaching for him. He loses his hold on the girl’s hand and opens his mouth to call for her, but he is lost in blackness and foam.


Harvey wakes shivering. He is curled into a knot on his bed, but he still feels the churning of the water and the pinch of the Good Doctor’s seeking hands.

The Sandman sits quietly beside him, inspecting him. “Well? Is she freed?”

“I don’t know.” Harvey is distraught. “I took her into the ocean. There was nowhere else to go. Those bird-people were chasing us. I panicked.”

The Sandman nods. “I think that should be fine. She is a good swimmer. And the sea holds many secrets, some of which are escape routes.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Harvey is reaching the end of his rope, but he is only halfway finished.

The Sandman cocks his head and regards Henry. The motion is too birdlike for Harvey to feel comfortable. He turns away.

“Whatever,” he says. “Never mind. Let’s just keep going.”

“You didn’t like seeing her there, did you? Seeing her trapped and bullied?”

“Of course I didn’t! It was wrong.” Harvey’s hands clench into fists. “She didn’t deserve that. No one does.”

The Sandman nods. “I see.” He is quiet for a long time. “Well, then.” He takes out his vial, and Harvey closes his eyes. He feels the cool brush of the Sandman’s fingers, and hears him whisper, “You are halfway there, Harvey.”


Harvey wakes up on a bed of moss in a church graveyard.

Bells are ringing, and the church windows are full of light. Harvey sits in the damp autumn wind and waits for the Sandman’s instructions. The air smells of rain.

Marry her.

That’s all the Sandman says, and Harvey is concerned: That instruction seems particularly ominous. But he doesn’t have a choice.

Ah, but you do.

Harvey is startled to hear the Sandman speak again, and he realizes the Sandman is right. Harvey does have a choice. He doesn’t have to go through these tasks. He can return home, and leave his family to their fate.

But he can’t do that. He’s a good kid, in general. He will do the right thing.

Even with that decided, what he finds inside the church nearly sends him running. It is a congregation of people, and a priest and a bride, and an organist playing Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Typical, except for the fact that the people in this church all wear masks. The masks are shaped like mouse faces, and are plain and plastic. It might have been a funny combination, in another situation: A group of dressed-up people wearing mouse masks. But the people stand up from their pews and turn to watch Harvey as he walks down the aisle.

A great terror seizes Harvey. Now that he is closer, he can see that the masks aren’t tied on; they are sewn on. They are sewn with ugly black stitches, plastic to skin, and the skin is raw and red.

Harvey steps up beside the bride. She takes his hand, and they are wed by the priest whose voice is muffled by his mask. The final step, the priest explains, is up to Harvey. A mask sits on the altar. It is for Harvey to wear.

Harvey is sweating. He cries out for the Sandman but doesn’t hear an answer. For several long seconds, he considers running.

Then, ashamed, he takes hold of the mask and holds it before his eyes. The mask jerks into place, and a sharp pain works its way around Harvey’s face, affixing the mask to his skull. It pierces and burns. He screams and drops to his knees. His bride pats him on the shoulder, soothing him. The priest leads a hymn.


Harvey wakes on the floor of his bedroom, scratching at his face. The Sandman kneels beside him and catches his wild arms before he can do any more damage.

“There, there.”

Harvey pushes him away. “You didn’t say I would have to do that. You said marry her, not sew a mask to my face!”

“The masking ritual is part of marriage ceremonies there.”

“There? There where?”

The Sandman sighs. “We’ve been over this, Harvey.”

“So, I’m married to some woman who wears a mouse mask in some place I can’t access unless you send me there. What does that even mean? What will happen to her now that she’s married me?”

“Well,” the Sandman says, smiling, “that will be interesting for you to find out someday, won’t it?”

“I hate you.” Harvey climbs back into bed. He is tired and weak. “I hate you for doing this to me.”

“Everyone hates me. But sometimes these things must be done.”

Harvey lies back in bed, rigid as a board, full of anger. He refuses to acknowledge that the Sandman sounded sad, just then. He refuses to acknowledge anything but his own rage. It gives him strength.

“Twice more, Harvey,” says the Sandman, and soon Harvey’s eyes are cool with sleep.


Harvey is in an attic, sitting beside a dollhouse.

The attic window is dirty but ajar; a thin beam of sunlight shines on the dollhouse, illuminating its rooms, which look as though a storm has ripped through them. The doll furniture is upturned; the doll portraits have fallen from the walls.

The dolls themselves are scattered about, lying on their faces, straddling the roof, buried under sofas.

Put the dollhouse to rights, comes the Sandman’s voice, and the dolls back into their proper places.

Harvey breathes a sigh of relief. That does not sound so hard, compared to everything else, so he gets to work at once.

He takes out every doll and piece of furniture and sets them on the floor. The rooms empty, he takes a moment to inspect the dollhouse: five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dining room, a kitchen, a parlor, a living room, a game room, an attic, a basement, a garage. Four floors altogether, counting the attic and basement.

A strange feeling comes over him as he begins putting the furniture back into place. He can’t know where the furniture is supposed to go, and yet he does. He feels it as a rightness that tugs his hands here and there—the sofa goes against the red wall in the living room; the desk goes in the green bedroom beside the fireplace.

The more furniture he replaces, the more familiar this dollhouse becomes. He feels that he has played with this dollhouse before, even though he knows that to be impossible. He feels that he has lived in this dollhouse before, which is even more impossible.

Harvey retrieves the first doll—the mother, he assumes. She has blond hair and is wearing a blue dress. He puts her in the living room, watching television. He puts the father in the kitchen, getting something to eat. He puts the brother at the top of the basement stairs.

Somehow, Harvey knows exactly where each doll should go. He matches them with their spots like magnets to magnets. He knows their names—the father, George; the mother, Pamela; the son, Herman. He knows their hopes and fears, which strikes him as odd; dolls don’t have hopes and fears.

The last doll is a small girl. Her name is Bertha, and Harvey knows she needs to go into the basement. He knows it like he knows two added to another two makes four. But when Harvey turns the tiny basement doorknob, he hears a scream.

It is the doll, Bertha. He knows it is Bertha’s scream, even though the sound is not coming from the doll; it’s coming from everywhere.

“Don’t make me go down there!” Bertha screams. She is terrified, and that makes Harvey terrified, because he can feel her fear like it’s his own. “Please, he’ll lock me in!”

He? Harvey turns to the brother doll, Herman. The markings of his face have rubbed off over time, but Harvey gets the feeling that Herman is a brute. Harvey pauses, uncertain. He knows Bertha’s place is in the basement, but he doesn’t want to put her there. But if he doesn’t put her there, he will fail in his task, and the Sandman will keep his family.

“Please, don’t do it,” sobs Bertha. She is a ghostly apparition before him, a small girl with braids and braces. “Please, don’t put me down there. He’ll lock me in, he’ll trap me. I hate being down there. It scares me!”

Harvey sees another apparition at the far end of the attic—Herman, the brother, full-sized and approaching fast.

“But you’re a doll!” Harvey protests. If they’re just dolls, it doesn’t matter where he puts them. Does it?

“Maybe to you, I’m a doll,” says Bertha, “but to me, I’m real! I wasn’t always like this! I didn’t always live here! Oh, please, please don’t do it!” Her hands are clasped, like she is praying to Harvey. He sees ghostly tears run down her cheeks.

Harvey considers it for a few more seconds. He could throw the Bertha doll into the basement and shut the tiny basement door. He could.

But he doesn’t. Bertha is too afraid, and Harvey is a good kid, in general. He grabs the Herman doll instead, and the Herman apparition, on the other side of the dollhouse, freezes.

“Put me down,” he says quietly.

Harvey stands. “No,” he says, though he is afraid, and throws the Herman doll out the attic window, into the sun.


Harvey awakes in his bedroom, crying. He finds the Sandman and falls to his knees.

“Please,” he chokes out, “please, don’t hurt my family. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t put the dolls back in their proper places. The girl doll, Bertha. She was scared. I couldn’t trap her in that basement. Herman was scaring her. The basement scares her. Please, please.”

The Sandman kneels and tilts up Harvey’s chin. “Ah,” he says, “but you did put the dolls in their proper places.” He wipes Harvey’s cheeks. “Some souls deserve to be thrown out, and you did that beautifully.”

Harvey sniffles, backing away. The Sandman is looking kindly at him, and somehow that’s the most disturbing thing of all. “You mean, you won’t hurt my family?”

“Not for that, no. In fact, if you had put Bertha in the basement, we would be having a very different conversation right now. You did right. But you do have one more task to complete.”

Harvey climbs back into bed. He is exhausted, but a little less so now that he has heard the Sandman’s approval. The kind words wrap around his heart, cushioning it.

“Sleep, Harvey,” whispers the Sandman. Lovingly, he seals Harvey’s eyes shut for the last time.


Harvey awakes in a village where it is almost midnight. In a few minutes, it will be Sunday.

The village lies nestled in a small valley between black mountains with jagged peaks, and the fields surrounding this village are on fire.

It is a cold, silver fire, so cold that it feels hot. Harvey shields his eyes from the brightness, stumbling through the door of the nearest building—a small cottage with a metal roof. He peeks out through his fingers, watching the chaos outside. Villagers run to and fro along the streets, shouting, grabbing items from their homes, abandoning their village for the hills. Harvey sees why: The silver fire is approaching the village’s outer road. Soon, it will devour every building.

“Harvey,” says a familiar voice, and Harvey turns, startled, for there, in a portrait hung on the wall, sits the Sandman in a high-backed red chair, twirling his black umbrella.

“What are you doing here? Why aren’t you talking to me in my head?”

The Sandman shrugs. “I like variation.”

“What do I have to do this time?”

The Sandman smiles, as if he appreciates how Harvey has come to accept his own mysterious ways. “The fire you see is no ordinary fire. It is star-fire. Find the fallen star and put it back in its proper place before it burns down this village.”

Harvey is aghast. “You mean, back into space?”

“Where else would a star go?”

“But that doesn’t make sense! How can I possibly do that?”

“That’s entirely up to you, Harvey.” The Sandman rises from his chair and walks out of the portrait frame without another word.

Harvey can’t waste any time. Though his mind refuses to accept what he is about to do, he rushes outside and into the wall of silver fire encroaching upon the village. It burns him; it feels like plunging into arctic waters. He can hardly open his eyes. He crawls like a blind baby on the ground, searching for the fallen star.

His hand lands upon a hard, cold stone, smooth as water. Harvey cracks open his eyes and sees a pulsing light, brighter even than the fire. It scalds his retinas, and he loses his sight. Where the star touches his palm, it brands his skin. But he holds tight to it anyway and stumbles through the village, trailing sparks behind him.

“Point me to the highest mountain,” he tells everyone he encounters, and with the villagers’ help, he finds his way to the base of a black mountain so tall that its peak seems to brush the moon.

Harvey begins to climb. He is burned and aching, and in so much pain that constant tears stream down his face. The salt inflames his wounds, but he soldiers on, because more painful than anything is the thought that if he fails, he will have failed his family.

He climbs, and he climbs. The air grows thinner, and Harvey’s breath turns to wheezing. He is cold, and he is hunted by mountain cats, but something seems to deflect them every time they pounce—maybe it’s a black umbrella being swung like an axe, or maybe it’s some kind of protective forcefield emanating from the star in Harvey’s hand. Who knows? Harvey doesn’t.

He reaches the icy slopes of the mountain peak, and can climb no farther. He looks up to the sky with eyes that can no longer see. He feels moonlight on his ruined skin. He reaches back, his brittle bones snapping, and throws the star into the sky as far as he can.

He collapses face-first into the snow.


Harvey is on trial.

He blinks, confused, trying to figure out why and how and where. But it’s true: He is in a courtroom, and he doesn’t recognize everyone on the jury, but he does see The One Who Waits and the one true princess, the girl disguised as a bird and his mouse-masked bride. He sees Bertha the doll, held in the lap of her girl-shaped soul.

“Sandman?” Harvey whispers, turning around and around. At least he can see now, and at least his skin is no longer burned. But he is full of fear. He has completed six tasks, but did he complete them well enough? He realizes that this is the end, that now he will learn the fate of his family.

Everyone rises when the judge enters. The judge is handsome and strong, a god among men. He wears an unfamiliar silver uniform and a black velvet cloak. The judge’s aide, a bespectacled man, rips down a curtain at the far end of the room, behind which sit Harvey’s parents and his sister, Jessie. They are sitting, but they do not see him. They do not see anything at all.

Harvey lunges for them, but he has been bound to his chair. From the bench, the judge watches coldly.

“In the case of Harvey Black,” the girl disguised as a bird reads, “the jury has reached its verdict.”

“Wait!” Harvey struggles against his bindings. “I haven’t gotten to speak! I don’t have a lawyer! Can’t I ask some of the jurors to speak for me as witnesses? I helped them, I saved them! Ask the Sandman, he’ll tell you! Where is he?”

“There will be no more interruptions,” says the judge, his voice a terrible blend of thousands. “What is the verdict?”

“According to the testimony of the Sandman,” says the girl disguised as a bird, “Harvey Black has completed his tasks in a manner satisfying their accord.”

Harvey slumps back in his chair. “So my family is safe?”

“Perhaps,” intones the judge. “You have a choice now, Harvey. You can go home and wake up, and all this will have been a mere dream—but your family may or may not return with you.”

Harvey is outraged. “What do you mean? I did exactly what I was supposed to!”

“Or,” the judge continues, talking over Harvey’s cries, “you can stay here and work for the Sandman, and your family will be returned home safely, guaranteed.”

“Where is he? Bring him here! He promised, he promised!”

Everyone watches Harvey as he cries tears of betrayal and fear, alone on his chair. He cries for a long time, but when he raises his head next, his expression is one of determination.

“Fine,” he says, his voice clogged with sadness, “I’ll stay here. Let them go. Just let them go.”

In an instant, Harvey’s parents and sister vanish, and the judge’s face melts into a warm smile. His outer skin sheds, revealing a familiar figure: the sallow, dark-eyed Sandman, leaning on his umbrella.

“You’ve done well, Harvey,” says the Sandman, as the jury applauds. The Sandman’s voice is rough, and his eyes bright. “I am proud of you. You may go.”

Flabbergasted, Harvey says, “What? What do you mean? What just happened? You said—”

“I gave you a terrible choice—save yourself or save your family, and you chose the latter. Not many would have done that, Harvey. Not many would have kept Bertha out of the basement, or sewn a mask to his own face.” The Sandman approaches, and puts a hand on each of Harvey’s shoulders. Harvey’s chains crumble, releasing him. “You are special, Harvey. I chose well, and I thank you for proving me right.”

Harvey feels a strange warmth at having made the Sandman so proud, even though this man lies at the root of his recent troubles. “You said I could go. Are you telling the truth?”

“I always tell the truth, Harvey, even when it makes people uncomfortable to hear it.”

“Who are you?”

The Sandman holds out his hands. “I am Morpheus. I am the Bringer of Dreams. I am Ole Lukøje. I am the Old Storyteller, the Dreamwalker, the Sandman. I enter worlds only accessible through dreams, where I right wrongs and put chaos into order. I guide those who die in their sleep to the Lord of the Dead. I wrangle nightmares and coax peace into troubled hearts and coax trouble into hearts of the content. I am the balance of the universe.”

The Sandman crouches. His face is kindly, and Harvey cannot look away from those deep, dark eyes. “Someday, you will replace me, Harvey. You chose it, just now. I can’t change that. But I can do this much for you: I can give you what was not given me. I can give you your life first.”

He stands, and helps Harvey to his feet. “We’ll meet again, Harvey Black, when you’re old and wrinkled, and your heart slows in your sleep. We’ll meet again, and I will teach you everything I know. Until then—” The Sandman takes out the familiar vial.

“But wait!” Harvey says, throwing out his arm. He is suddenly sad to leave. He sees entire worlds in the Sandman’s endless eyes. He sees gods and monsters, dreams and death. He sees a lonely man.

But he cannot keep his eyes open, and soon he sees nothing at all.


Harvey wakes up to the smell of breakfast cooking downstairs, of his family chatting about their day. It is Sunday morning, and he remembers nothing of the previous night except falling asleep. He feels well-rested, and stretches in the sunlight.

Rhapsody in Doom

The city of Rhapsody is a city of tangles and knots.

Shops and apartment buildings stand in teetering stacks, and its streets are all twisty. Some people swear the streets change, moving to different locations from week to week, just to be confusing. The river that runs through the center of Rhapsody is criss-crossed by a dazzling assortment of bridges built in every architectural style imaginable, because a long time ago, when Rhapsody was first built, the city council held an architectural contest with a grand prize of $100,000, and engineers from far and wide came to out-bridge each other. The result was an alarming and impractical line-up of bridges that the city council had been thoroughly unprepared to handle and that now creates horrific traffic jams during rush hour. For the children of Rhapsody, who don’t yet have to contend with rush hour, the bridges provide long sweaty summer afternoons of climbing through the chaos like gangs of monkeys.

The most miraculous thing about Rhapsody, however, is not its array of bridges, nor its twistiness. The most miraculous thing is something you can’t see at all. It’s something you hear.

Rhapsody has more amphitheaters and concert halls and hole-in-the-wall live music venues than it does groceries, or tailors, or even bridges. For although the citizens of Rhapsody use ordinary money for some trade, there is another, much more valuable currency in use throughout this city.

Listen closely, and you’ll hear it, even out here on the outskirt roads. Close your eyes. Do you hear that cacophony of fiddles and pipes, of drums and tambourines and glockenspiels and horns? That ever-present trill of song?

I’m sure you do hear it. And I’m sure you feel the accompanying thrill along your arms, raising the hairs on your skin and eliciting cascades of goose bumps.

That cacophony is Rhapsody’s other, miraculous currency: music. And the thrill you feel, the magnetic pull, the prickling energy—that is magic.

In Rhapsody, even a simple fiddled jig can conjure enough magic to provide a brief reading of one aspect of your future, or an hour-long love spell, or the clearing of a few unsightly blemishes. A piano concerto can get you enough magic to imbue a handful of unremarkable stones with the power of runes. A quality string quartet is enough for a night of invisibility; a symphony performed by a full orchestra, a temporary glamour that can disguise your true features. Both are perfect for covert operations, if that’s your thing.

But a song—the simple sound of a melody spun through the air by a single human voice—produces a more powerful magic than any other type of music. I’m not sure why, so don’t ask me. It’s the truth, though.

Such was the case the day Dmitri Hatchett was born.


Dmitri’s mother was talentless and pleasantly ordinary. Since her parents died when she was twelve, she’d scratched out a humdrum living doing odd jobs for rich people—mending their clothes and massaging their bunions and watching over their personal items when out for a day of hunting in the hill country. Despite her ordinariness—or perhaps because of it—she managed to charm the son of a Mr. Roquefort. His name was Ferdie or Llewellyn or something equally ridiculous, I can’t remember. Anyway, they fell in love, I guess, although opinions are mixed on that. But Ferdie-Llewellyn-Whatever soon decided he didn’t love her after all, and divorced her, and turned her back out onto the streets.

As you can imagine, by the time Dmitri’s mother gave birth to Dmitri, she was in a sorry state. She was alone and heartbroken, and she couldn’t afford a hot breakfast, much less a proper nurse. So just after Dmitri drew his first breaths, his mother drew her last.

But not before she sang to him.

That’s how the legend  goes: That as Dmitri Hatchett’s mother lay dying, she sang her son a song. It was full of enough love and sadness and regret and pain to make up for the fact that her voice was kind of repulsive. All that emotion turned her voice, for a few brief moments, into something lovely.

Then she died, and Dmitri was alone. He was found on the street sometime later by Gipsy Blue, the mistress of a pickpocketing gang, who pretended to be a brute but was actually a huge softie. She took him in, and the root of his mother’s song was already turning over quietly deep inside him. Gipsy fed him and gave him his name. She dressed him in patched-up diapers and was at least halfway obsessed with tickling his feet. If her gang ever suspected that she actually liked Dmitri, they wisely decided not to say anything about it.

As Dmitri grew up, so did his mother’s song. It grew in the most secret part of his heart, which is coincidentally the same spot from which both magic and music originate. It grew and it grew. Dmitri became tall and lanky and freckled, and eventually he realized what was growing inside him—a beautiful song, perhaps one of the most beautiful that had ever existed. And with it, of course, grew the potential for either a great or terrible magic, depending on what kind of person Dmitri turned out to be.

Dmitri, thankfully, wasn’t an idiot. He kept his secret safe so he wouldn’t end up dead in a twisty alleyway somewhere with his throat or diaphragm cut out by someone on the Rhapsody black market, desperate for magic and willing to undergo or at least facilitate an illegal transplant. As if a transfer of vocal cords or internal organs could give you musical talent. The people of Rhapsody could be so depraved. Not to mention medically ignorant.

So Dmitri kept quiet—he was practically a mute, in fact—until a fateful Saturday afternoon when he was the solid age of twelve. There was a storm brewing, a great roiling storm that cast an ugly light over Rhapsody’s rooftops and sent the children scampering inside from their bridges. It was a storm of destiny. That’s how the legend goes. Take it with a grain of salt or whatever. You know how legends can be.


That very afternoon, The Amazing Lockhart was traveling near Rhapsody in a rickety wagon covered with painted stars. If you were an astute enough observer, you’d be able to tell that it was a manufactured ricketiness. The paint had been peeled by a tool, and not naturally over time.

The Amazing Lockhart wanted you to think he was impoverished and unfortunate, so that you would take pity on him and donate generously to his patched felt hat at the end of one of his magic shows.

But Lockhart was neither impoverished nor unfortunate. He had enough money to be comfortable, and he hadn’t died yet, so I think we can agree he was fortunate in that regard at least.

He was, however, a fool, though he wouldn’t realize it in time. Most fools don’t.

You see, Lockhart was not amazing in the truest sense of the word. He was one of those street magicians who can’t perform real magic, but instead has to resort to illusions and sleight of hand. That’s all fine, in my opinion. It still looks impressive, even if it isn’t strictly authentic.

But Lockhart yearned to be a real magician. He dreamt about it every night. He had done all sorts of nasty things in all sorts of nasty corners of the world in an attempt to force magic inside him. But it’s not the kind of thing you can force, and Lockhart had become a bitter, angry loser.

You might think that’s cruel of me, to call him that. Haven’t we all felt like a loser at various times in our lives?

But just wait. He deserves it.


On this same afternoon, a young musician from Rhapsody was traveling the same country road down which Lockhart was traveling.

This young musician was singing to himself as he walked. Most Rhapsodisians would never dream of doing such a thing while all alone in a strange place, where anyone could happen by, sense their magic, hear their song, and put two and two together. But this traveling musician had just turned fifteen years old and thought he was the greatest and most indestructible creature to have ever walked the planet.


Lockhart heard the musician’s lilting song, and he felt the magic accompanying it. It was unmistakable. Maybe because he’d spent all his life obsessing about it, and had read so many books about it, and had spent years sucking up to actual talented magicians—but whatever the reason, Lockhart tasted that magic like someone had just dashed a handful of spice onto his tongue. He tasted its bold, brash, kind of stupid fifteen-year-old-boy flavor.

“Ah.” He sat up straighter, and his poor abused team of mules winced at how hard he pulled their reins. “Ah, that is something, isn’t it? That is something indeed.”

Lockhart was tired of traveling around with all the bumpkins and the hicks. He was tired of living off of radishes and rats, and he was tired of sucking up to talented magicians. He wanted to be a talented magician. He wanted to be rich, famous, and terrifying. He wanted to receive love letters sprayed with perfume.

So he crept up on the traveling musician. He wasn’t sure how he was going to go about this, exactly. He’d killed people before as part of horrible rituals—which, by the way, had proven completely useless as well as gruesome, in that they hadn’t granted him the power of real magic after all—but he’d never killed someone with the aim of capturing their voice first.

But then he remembered: In the back of his wagon, in that deep purple box he’d stolen from that dark church in the north, where the monks wore masks and the priests had no tongues. That deep purple box that the monks had said would provide Lockhart with whatever he needed at the moment he needed it most.


At the time, Lockhart had thought the monks were making fun of him. He had carelessly thrown the empty box into the back of his wagon. He had listened to them laughing, and their laughter had burned his ears. He had lost two fingers in that church, during a ritual the monks swore would get him some magic at last.

Dirty rotten masked liars.

But now, he felt deep in his brittle black heart that this was it. This was the key to his long-awaited success. The monks had known he would encounter this young musician on this very day. His two lost fingers were simply the price he had had to pay to earn this gift. It had all been fated.

Lockhart dug for the purple box with shaking hands. Where before it had been empty, there now lay nestled inside it, within folds of velvet fabric, an unkind-looking brass tool. It was made of wire, in a shape similar to those monks’ masks. In addition, it sported two levers that cranked open when you wound the knob between them, and the knob itself clicked open to reveal a tiny dark space. It was both a knob and a small container, too small to hold anything but a few pennies.

Or a few of something even more precious than that.

This was it. A diabolical plan came to life in Lockhart’s mind. This, he knew, was his destiny.


The young traveling musician didn’t see it coming. He was thinking about this cute girl from town who had the best smile he’d ever laid eyes on. Maybe when he got back, he would ask her to go to the meadow with him. He would bring along a picnic lunch. He would tell her jokes and make her laugh.

He would . . . he would . . .

What was that?

A shape in the shadowy road. A hulking darkness in the brambles.

It leapt at him. It pinned him down. It was a man with dirty fingernails and even dirtier teeth. The man thrust an unfamiliar brass tool right in the musician’s face.

The tool latched onto the musician, pushing his skin back from his skull and clamping down on his cheeks like a hockey goalie’s mask gone wrong.

The musician screamed and tried to claw the device off of himself. Even the dirty-fingernailed man looked a bit shocked.


Of course, this didn’t stop Lockhart from turning the knob, which opened the levers, which forced open the musician’s mouth. When this happened, some kind of force threw Lockhart back onto the ground, and cracked open the musician’s jaw with a terrible snapping sound.

The little knob’s lid flew open, and the musician’s body flopped around on the ground like a dying fish.

Finally, he fell still. Except he was making this horrible gagging noise like he wanted to throw up and couldn’t.

A thin spiral of light, like golden smoke, floated up from the boy’s throat, right into the waiting brass box.

The box snapped shut. The device unfolded itself from the musician’s face, creeping off of him like a liquid spider, and then became still, like it was just an ordinary tool and not . . . whatever it truly was, which even I’m not sure of, to be frank. I don’t like this sort of business, myself.

For a long time, the musician lay there, gray-faced and blank-eyed, while Lockhart stared and wiped his brow and looked around to make sure no one had seen this happen.

Then he picked up the brass tool and began to laugh. He laughed loud and long, and he did a little jig right there on the forest road while his team of mules gazed at him judgmentally.

“I did it!” Lockhart crowed. “I stole his voice!” He could feel the magic thrumming there in that box, between his hands.

He dropped to his knees and said a prayer to the skies, which was pretty rich, all things considered.

“I will finally be able to do magic,” he said, tears rushing down his cheeks. “I will finally, finally, be what I’m meant to be.”

Little did Lockhart know that he hadn’t just stole that musician’s voice. Magic and music are about so much more than what kind of vocal cords you have and the capacity of your lungs.

He had stolen the musician’s soul, and in that soul resided all the magic of his music, and all the power of his magic. There are consequences for stealing such a thing. They may not happen at first, but they always happen eventually.

Lockhart led the musician into the wagon and tied him into a chair and let him sit there like a zombie, drooling on himself. Lockhart knew nothing of souls. But those masked monks in the north did. They were probably watching this whole terrible business through some secret magical mirror or something, right at that very moment, eating popcorn or whatever the northern equivalent is. They hadn’t ever liked The Amazing Lockhart. They considered him a dangerous egomaniac. They’d been waiting for this day.


For reasons utterly mysterious to most people in Rhapsody who only knew Gipsy Blue as a pimpled criminal suffering from chronic halitosis, Dmitri Hatchett had become fond of Gipsy over the years. After all, she hadn’t let him die or anything. And you got used to her stench after a while.

So when she got caught outside in that same fateful storm, and was struck by a freak bolt of lightning, and fell down into the river through the one spot where there wasn’t a bridge to break her fall, Dmitri’s heart shattered.

Dmitri gathered her body from the river and brought her home with the rest of Gipsy’s gang. He dried her off and set her out on her bed and held her cold, lifeless hand. He felt utterly alone.

He began to cry. His tears fell down his cheeks and onto their joined hands.

Then, for the first time in his life, Dmitri began to sing.

It was a song for the dead. It was supposed to help a dead soul move on to the next life without any trouble, and it rocked the very foundations of Rhapsody with its power.


It rocked and rippled out past Rhapsody, into the hill country, into the brambled woods.


It rocked the wheels of The Amazing Lockhart’s wagon. It made his team of mules stumble and snort.


It made the poor gray-faced soulless musician in Lockhart’s wagon open his mouth in a horrible, hoarse grunt.


It pulled The Amazing Lockhart’s gaze out of the woods and onto the horizon, where he could see the faint outlines of a city.

“Could there be more of such creatures?” he whispered to himself. And it seemed to him that the purple box nestled in his lap whispered, Yessss.

“Then I must go there,” he said, and to experiment, he used a spell he had learned in the western deserts. A simple thing, a petty thing. It was a spell to make a wagon drive itself. He had never been able to do it.

Until now.

He felt a thin cord of power snaking out from the purple box, up through his chest, and out of the wagon. It was angry that it had been stolen, but it obeyed Lockhart anyway. It wrapped around the mules’ reins and tapped them lightly on their haunches.

It whispered, Drive, beasts. Drive.

And as that thin cord of magic wrapped tighter and tighter around Lockhart’s soul, he began to smile. It was an unnaturally thin and wide smile that made him look stretched-out.

“I must have more,” he said. He sat back, lazy, and let the spell do its thing. “I will have more.”


“Have you heard?”

Dmitri turned over and put his pillow over his head.

“Hey!” Something smacked his skull. “Wake up. You’re so lazy, man.”

Dmitri glared up at Wrench, who was probably his best friend in Gipsy’s gang, on days he could stand Wrench’s company, at least.

“Here. Look at this.” Wrench threw a newspaper at Dmitri’s face.

Dmitri sat up and read the front page article, and he felt his stomach tie up in terrible cold knots as he did so.

Another child had been taken.

“That’s eleven so far,” Dmitri said quietly. Ever since his song for Gipsy, he’d been talking more and more. Not much, but enough to freak people out.

Case in point: Wrench shuddered. “I don’t know if I’m okay hearing you talk. You’re not supposed to talk.”

Dmitri shoved him off the bed. “I don’t know if I’m okay with seeing your ugly face.”

They shoved and punched and wrestled each other. Then Wrench went off to do his Monday rounds on Eldridge Street, and Dmitri wandered off to Jasper Street.

He didn’t much feel like pickpocketing, though. Not with those eleven kids missing.

People gone missing and murdered for their magic wasn’t news. Remember what I said about the citizens of Rhapsody and their magical black market and their thing for diaphragms.

But until now, there had always been this unspoken rule: No hurting children.

Add to this the fact that these weren’t the usual disappearances, where a body would show up with some of their parts missing.

These were complete disappearances. It was like these kids had never existed. No one could find them—not the police, not private investigators, not the search-and-rescue dogs.

Dmitri didn’t earn much money that day. His heart wasn’t in it. And besides, everyone in Rhapsody was guarding their pockets and staying indoors. No kids played on the bridges. Worst of all, the streets were quiet. No music graced the streets of Rhapsody in those days, not a hint of song.

People were afraid.


When Dmitri arrived at home late that night, his heart heavy with worry, he saw his gang huddled around the kitchen table. They were hovering over the evening edition of the newspaper.

They turned when they saw him, and he knew what had happened by the looks on their faces.

“Wrench is gone,” he whispered. “Isn’t he?”

The littlest of their gang, a weaselly-looking boy named Hardy, burst into tears. Hardy’s older sister tried to sing a piece of comfort magic for him, but she was sniffling too hard to make it work.

The portrait of Gipsy Blue, which hung over their fireplace and had been, since her death, decorated with flowers, seemed to waver in the candlelight like it was crying. The flowers surrounding her pockmarked face were brown and dry.

Twelve children.

What was the link between them? Or, Dmitri thought, were their disappearances random?

He paced in front of the fire, until the last of the gang had either gone upstairs to bed or slumped right there on the dirt floor, snoring.


Twelve children.

Deep below the river and its bridges, in a dank passage of sewer, The Amazing Lockhart put on a gramophone record and twirled about happily in front of his wagon.

“Twelve, twelve! A dozen for me!” He took a swig of drink and spat it at the face of the nearest child—a sweet-faced girl whose name, he had deduced from the flavor of her soul, was Penny. Her soul thrummed in the tiny box of that evil brass tool, which Lockhart kept in his pocket. Sometimes, like right now, he took it out and cracked open the box and held it to his ear.

Image by Nate Robert

Image by Nate Robert

“Shhh!” He pointed at the collection of gray-skinned, slack-jawed children surrounding him. He had tied them to the great concrete pillars holding up the sewer tunnels. The chains cut into the skin of their arms. They hung around him like the numbers on some demented clock. They were soulless and drooping. One of them was a buck-toothed boy named Wrench.

“Listen!” Lockhart told them. He sneered at them. They all disgusted him. “Listen to yourselves.”

Their twelve voices could be heard from outside the box, which had become their prison. Twelve voices, twelve souls, twelve distinct flavors of magic—savory, saccharine, sour. Like fine wines, Lockhart let the flavors of the children’s magic float along his tongue. He breathed them in and let their souls filter down into his own, horrible one.

He had deduced that the voices of children created the most pliable magic. It was easy to take it from them and make it his own. Listening to their voices filled him with both joy—that he had managed to trap their magic and use it for himself—and also with a terrible hatred.

Why was it that he had not been gifted with this magic from birth? None of these children had lost their fingers trying to get a taste of power.

Maybe he would change that. He eyed Penny Granger’s bare, muddy toes. Yes, maybe he would.

He ducked inside his wagon for a knife, but then the clock over the door chimed the hour.

“Ah!” Lockhart whirled around, forgetting all about the knife. “You know what that means, dearest ones. Play time.”

He drew upon the stolen magic wrapped around his soul—twelve different magics, all helpless to obey him. Twelve voices, trapped in a northern box, merging into his.

Never in his life had he been able to sing like this.

“Twelve little children, turned to rot
Twelve bratty trash heaps, all forgot!”

It was an appalling spell he had made up himself. He had made up his own spell. Lockhart giggled, half-delirious at the thought. He was becoming ridiculously talented. He could hardly stand it. He was desperate to show himself off.

One more child. He needed just one more. Thirteen was a good number. Thirteen was a hefty, tricky number. It was his hope that with thirteen children, he would be able to create something monstrous, something like the brass device, but made entirely of magic instead of metal. He would suck out all the power from this greedy, puffed-up town. He would leave its citizens lifeless husks and be on his way, with a box full of magic, an endless supply of power.

He grinned to think about it. He only needed one more to make it happen. He knew it instinctively. Thirteen children. You could do all sorts of things with thirteen. Those masked monks in their cold black church had told him that. He would have to pay them a visit one of these days, to thank them for what they had given him, and maybe to take off some of their fingers in revenge. It was only fair.

Lockhart’s spell ricocheted off his palms and raced around the circle of children. The spell slapped them each across their faces, over and over, while Lockhart hooted and hollered and danced, kicking their dangling legs. His spell left angry red marks on their faces. They let out muted sounds of pain, but nothing more. They couldn’t, without their souls.

The poor traveling musician let out the most pained sound of all. He was stuck there, across from Penny Granger, forced to stare at her deadened eyes. He knew what he was seeing, and yet he didn’t. He was a confused shell of skin and bones.

After a while, Lockhart exhausted himself. He sat back in his wagon and tapped his toes together.

“One more. I only need one more.”


At three in the morning, Dmitri stopped pacing.

It had been a month since that fateful stormy day, since the first child disappeared, and in all his pacing, Dmitri had hit upon a ghastly thought.

“What if,” he said slowly, “whoever is taking these children is after their magic?”

Weasel-faced Hardy, who had fallen asleep on the hearth, blinked sleepily awake. “Wha?”

An internal fire lit up Dmitri’s heart. “People have tried to take others’ magic before, but it’s never worked. They’ve never had the proper tools. They’ve done stupid things like carve out body parts.”

Hardy nodded sagely. The hearth was cold and ashy, so he started humming to conjure up a tiny warming spell, but Dmitri slapped a hand over Hardy’s mouth and silenced him.

“What if,” he said, “someone did have the proper tools?”

Hardy was dumbstruck. “Like what?”

dead_flowerDmitri shivered. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know. But Gipsy Blue’s portrait was staring down at him, and his mother’s song was surging up inside of him. He had barely scratched its surface when he sang that tune for Gipsy’s death, and the rest of it was ready now, after all these years. He was ready.

He took off his cap and plopped it onto Hardy’s head. “Tell everyone I’ll be back by lunch.”

Then he hurried out into the night. He was frightened, but he had a feeling that his mother, wherever she was and whoever she had been, would be proud of him.


The Amazing Lockhart slithered out of the sewers. His body was long and scaled, thick and agile. His thin black tongue flicked out to taste the cobblestones.

It was a spell he had found in one of those books he’d picked up at that questionable flea market in Cliff Town. He’d thought the books were useless, but it seemed when you had magic, anything was possible.

A great bitterness rose up inside him at the thought of these people who had lived here in this city, hoarding their magic. So many years he had wasted, living an ordinary life! Never again would he allow that to happen.

He coiled on the riverbank beneath a bridge, waiting. Children couldn’t resist the bridges.

Then he heard it: A song. It was so beautiful he almost wept.


He climbed up the river wall and hurried down Broad Street, his fangs glistening with stolen power.


Dmitri was so afraid that his knees were shaking. Sweat coated his palms and plastered his hair to his forehead.

He could feel something approaching in the night—something tremendous and frightening. It was gaining on him, and it wanted him. It thirsted for his voice, it hungered for his magic. He could feel it like a storm in the air—heavy and unstoppable, a rolling mass of force. It would peel off his skin; it would tear out his bones. An air of frightened children hung around it.

But Dmitri stood on the highest bridge in Rhapsody, under the stars, his feet planted on the cold marble stone like twin anchors. He did not run or try to hide. He sang, and he sang.

He sang the song his mother had given him—except for the ending. The ending, he saved for later.

Or so the legend goes.


Lockhart reared up from the side of the bridge. He saw himself in the terror on this boy’s face. He saw his towering snake-shadow, and felt the vibrations of his own might in the air.

He dove, fangs flashing. He wrapped his coils around the boy and squeezed, making sure not to stop his heart or crush his bones—but almost. He wanted the boy in pain, but not dead. If he was dead, his soul would leave, and the whole thing would be pointless.

Lockhart opened his mouth over the boy’s face. His snake jaws could have swallowed the boy’s entire skull. But instead he drank in the sound of the boy’s voice. He inhaled the particular magical flavor of the boy’s soul.

For this boy, this Dmitri Hatchett—Lockhart knew this by listening to the twists and turns of Dmitri’s burglarized soul—would not stop singing, no matter how much it hurt.


Dmitri was losing consciousness. His vision was darkening, full of red pulsing spots. Some kind of cold metal device was clamped around his face, shoving his jaws apart. He was ninety-nine percent sure a snake was wrapped around his body, crushing the life out of him.

That was insane. Maybe he was hallucinating the shape of his attacker.

But whoever or whatever it was, Dmitri could feel it gulping down his soul. He knew it was his soul even though he’d never really thought about such things before. He could feel something important being threaded out of his throat, uncoiling. He felt himself drifting out of his body into the tight dark confines of a tiny brass box.

It was a crowded box. It held twelve other childlike driftings, and they were cramped and argumentative:

You’re stepping on my foot!

Well, maybe if someone didn’t smell so bad, I wouldn’t be trying so hard to get away from her!

Well, maybe I’ll step on both your feet if you don’t shut your stupid faces!

I want to go home. Please, someone help me get out of here!

Cut it out, said Dmitri. It was so weird that he could talk while being outside his body. It was also weird to realize that his body was being dragged into the sewers by a man with dirty teeth and fingernails who kept sticking his tongue in and out like he hadn’t quite finished being a snake. But living on the streets as a pickpocketer taught you to be quick on your feet. Even if your feet were temporarily noncorporeal. So Dmitri rallied.

We have to work together, he shouted over the rest of them. Please listen to me.

The other twelve laughed and cried and jeered. You? Why should we listen to you? You’re new. You don’t get it, do you?

Dmitri? That was Wrench’s soul, frightened and confused. Is that you?

It is. He wanted to hug Wrench, but of course he couldn’t. For a moment, he imagined being like this forever—without a body, trapped in a box, his magic being used by another—and a heavy despair pressed down on him.

But the ending of his mother’s song was still inside him, safe and waiting, so he didn’t let the despair beat him. Souls are plucky like that.

Just everyone be quiet, Dmitri commanded. Trust me. Please. I’m going to try something.

And maybe they heard the authority of the song in his voice, or maybe by that point they were desperate enough to try anything, but whatever it was, something miraculous happened:

Twelve bickering souls fell silent, and Dmitri sang his mother’s last words.

“Clouds in the sky, sun in the west
Tiny hot heart beats in tiny hot chest
Winds from the east, stars shining bright
Tiny little boy won’t go without a fight

Big mean world, long hot road
But your strong arms can carry this load
Life ain’t short, life ain’t long
All I can give you is this one last song”

He sang it over and over, his voice shaking like a newborn bird. Twelve bickering, savory, sweet, tangy souls listened, and understood. Their voices wove together like the knotted streets of Rhapsody. They gathered into a battering ram of magic for Dmitri to carry.


Lockhart was hanging up Dmitri’s body in the center of the circle of children. He figured there was something special about this boy, so he should keep him in an important position. There couldn’t be any harm in trying to flatter the boy’s magic.

He slapped Dmitri across the face, hard. He didn’t like the look on the boy’s face. He slapped him again; the boy looked way too smug.

That’s when he felt it: A hot fist tapping his shoulder, a metallic finger running down his back.

I would imagine, at this point, Lockhart thought something like: That can’t be good. Maybe he didn’t think that, I don’t know. Maybe he wasn’t afraid whatsoever. But I like to think he was afraid when he turned and saw the tiny brass box with its levers and its wire cage floating in midair, buoyed there by the magic of thirteen children’s angry souls.

Their songs echoed throughout the sewers, sending the mules into a panic. Lockhart tried to run, but he couldn’t. The monks’ device seized him by the face, yanking him to the ground. The levers pried open his stinking, black-lined mouth.

The thirteen souls burst out of their cage, led by Dmitri and his mother’s song. The voice of Dmitri’s soul was a clear, high sound, and he wasn’t alone. They sang with him, and their magic was like a chorus, an army. Like Gipsy Blue’s gang of street thieves, minus the body odor.

They gathered, thirteen glowing spools of filmy gold, as the device threw The Amazing Lockhart about the sewer, bashing his head, cracking his bones. He groaned and screamed, but there was no mercy here in this circle of children. When he fell silent, the little brass box opened once more, and Lockhart’s soul—a disgusting, stinking thing—crawled out of his throat. It could hardly move. It was flaking away. It was full of his own poison.

The box snapped shut, with Lockhart’s soul inside it—silent and alone. The movement was enough to send Lockhart’s wide-eyed, gray-faced body rolling down into the flowing sewer water. If you wanted to call it water, that is. I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate.

Let’s call it sludge and hope he choked on it.


I could tell you many things at this point: How the children’s souls returned to their bodies, and if they all stayed friends after that shared traumatic experience. If Dmitri kept singing after that, or if he had no more songs to sing, or if he grew up to be a famous tenor at the opera. If the mules ever found a kind owner, if the traveling musician ever took Penny Granger on that picnic, and if the children told the truth about their disappearances or made up something more believable. Or if they did tell the truth, if anyone believed them.

Maybe this legend is just that—a legend Dmitri and his friends started telling because the real reason behind their disappearances was something much more normal. Like, maybe they had all just gone on a camping trip in the woods and forgot to tell anyone. Or they decided to pull a Tom Sawyer and see how the town would react if everyone thought they were dead. I wouldn’t put it past them.

Anyway, what I’m saying is, I guess you can never know for sure. I’m just telling you how it was told to me. Take it with a grain of salt or whatever. You know how legends can be.

Summer Springs

If Julian had to stay in this car for one more second, he was going to start screaming. And that would probably make Mom and Dad and Summer sing even more loudly than they already were. Such a thing shouldn’t have been possible—they were practically wailing—but Julian knew from experience that it was.

Julian paused his music and tugged out his earbuds and squashed the hot gummy bubble of anger in his chest.

“Hello?” Julian said. “Are we gonna stop soon?”

road tripBut Mom and Dad and Summer were singing one of those round songs, which meant Julian had to hear the same song sung three different times by three different voices overlapping. It was chaotic, and nobody but Mom could sing worth anything, so it was also kind of painful.

Hello.” Julian kicked the back of his dad’s seat but not hard enough to get in trouble.

Dad stopped singing and looked at Julian in the rearview mirror. “Almost, Julian. Don’t snap at me.”

Dad went right back to singing, but his voice sounded irritated now. Of course Dad was irritated. Mom and Dad and Summer loved the whole road trip thing: the junk food and the singing and stopping at random “special attractions” like oversized spools of thread and the birthplace of General Whoever who fought in Some War Who Cares.

But Julian always got sick in the car. Long trips made him nervous. Books were one thing, but Julian didn’t like going to real new places. Danger in real new places was totally possible. The people in real new places were weird and looked at you funny, and in real new places, you can’t close the book when things get too scary. Not that anything scary had ever happened to Julian, but if it ever did it would definitely be on one of these stupid road trips. Also, Julian was no good at singing so instead he listened to books or music on his headphones the whole time because that helped him relax.

Road trips made him feel both angry and left out. Why couldn’t he just have a good time and not be nervous or sick and just smile and sing lame car songs instead, like normal people did? Like Summer.

Julian looked at his sister and felt his chest bubble up again. He tended to get so angry at Summer. She was about to turn ten years old, and she was all cheerful and golden-haired like a fairy tale princess, and everyone loved her. Summer could make friends with a fencepost, Mom always said.

So what if Julian wasn’t like that? So what if Julian was quieter and wasn’t good at making friends and didn’t like real new places? Julian knew he shouldn’t care. He was smart enough to know that everyone is different and it would be weird if the world was filled with all Summers and no Julians.

But he did care. It made him angry, and that made him feel bad. Summer was a good kid, and Summer understood Julian. She liked that he was quiet, and she was nice to him even when he was mean to her.

Summer put her hand on Julian’s hand and smiled, laughing at some joke Mom said. “Sing with us, Julian. Sing the next song with us?”

“No thanks,” snapped Julian, and snatched his hand away.

Summer darkened, like she was sunlight and Julian was a stormcloud. She curled into a little ball and looked out the window. She wasn’t singing anymore.

In the front seat, Mom sighed.

Dad looked even madder now, in the rearview mirror. “Apologize to your sister.”

“For what? For not wanting to sing?”

“For your tone.”

The bubble burst in Julian’s chest. He wanted to punch the back of Dad’s seat. But Dad had said they would have lemonade and fudge at this place, and Julian was starved, and punching probably wouldn’t get him anything. So he mumbled, “Sorry.”

Summer peeked over at him and smiled and patted him on the shoulder. Her fingernails were dirty. Her front teeth were crooked and goofy. Julian kept his face stony. Summer crossed her eyes and pulled her mouth into a weird shape.

“Dork,” Julian said, and Summer giggled, and Julian turned away, smiling.

Mom pointed, the map flying out of her hands. “There’s the exit!”

Dad swerved hard, and they made it. They passed a sign for Summer Springs, and Summer clapped, squealing. “That’s my name!”

Julian couldn’t even be mad at her. It was pretty cool to share a name with a nature park. It was why they’d chosen this place. Dad smiled and Mom smiled, and Summer traced the letters on the window with her pinkie.


Mom bought four cups of lemonade and four sticks of fudge, so when they started on the trail through Summer Springs, Julian’s stomach was full and his fingers were sticky.

Summer Springs was a park in the mountains, with a whole set of trails built into the rocks. There were stone bridges and rocky passages so small Dad had to suck in his belly to get through, and cliffs that looked out over the countryside. From Lover’s Leap, Julian could see five different states. If he squinted through Dad’s binoculars, he could see white houses buried in trees next to the highway.

But the place did have one weird thing about it: gnomes.

Little stone gnomes with colorful clothes and hats, placed throughout the trails. They dug ditches and planted flowers and stood frozen, waving their shovels at the people walking past.

“This is so . . . random,” said Julian, looking at a gnome in a purple shirt with a rake in one hand and his hat in the other.

Dad laughed. He was really getting a kick out of the gnomes. “People who build these attractions tend to be a bit eccentric, I guess.”

Mom giggled and took pictures of them. “I think they’re adorable! Such ugly little faces.”

“How can something be adorable and ugly?” said Julian.

“Oh, they can. You know, like those pug dogs.”

“Julian,” whispered Summer, tugging at Julian’s shirt. Whenever they passed a gnome, Summer went quiet. She shrank, like she was a flower and the gnomes were icy cold winter. “I don’t like them.” gnome

“Why not?”

“They’re watching us. They have sharp teeth. They don’t like us, either. They’re watching us.”

“They’re not real, Summer. They’re just stupid statues.”

“They smell like . . . skin.”

“Oh, like you can smell the gnomes from all the way over here? The not-real, statue gnomes with their not-real, statue skin?”

Summer tugged on Julian’s arm, pulling him down the path. “I don’t like them,” she kept muttering, and she wiped her face with the back of her hand. “They’re watching us, they’re watching.”

Julian let Summer mutter and freak out or whatever it was she was doing. Sometimes Summer did stuff like this. She liked to daydream, and she didn’t read books because the stories affected her too much. They scared her so much she couldn’t sleep, or made her cry so hard she got sick, or made her so happy she’d get hyper like she did after eating candy on Halloween, except like a hundred times worse.

Summer was just being Summer.

Gnomes that smell like skin. What a dork.


Except for the whole gnome thing and Summer acting bizarre, Julian actually liked it at Summer Springs. The mountain breezes were cool, and that helped Julian’s car sickness. There were lots of trees, and at this one spot a bunch of white deer slept next to a creek.

The moment she saw them, Summer fell in love with the deer. “Julian, look at them!” Then she lay on her stomach to peer over the cliff and started talking to the deer like they were her babies. She even gave them names: Sweetheart, Sammy, Sammy Junior . . .

A twelve-year-old boy can take only so much of that, so after a minute or two Julian let Summer do her thing and looked around through the binoculars. He saw a rabbit, and a family on a wooden bridge with five kids, and an old man leading his three-legged dog up some steps. At the top, he let his dog drink from a bottle of water.

“If I were an animal, I’d want to be one of these,” Summer said, kicking her brown legs. “A white deer with long legs and big doofy ears.”

Julian rolled his eyes. “You already have big doofy ears.”


“You’re too close to the edge.” Julian put his hand on her collar.

Summer dusted off her knees and shirt and smiled up at him. “Nice meanie.”


Dad was calling them, waving them over. Mom was taking pictures of a woodpecker.

“What animal would you want to be?” Summer said, squinting. It was really bright on the mountain, sunlight reflecting off the rocks like white glass. “If you were an animal.”

Julian walked toward his parents, Summer hot on his heels. “A monster.”

Summer scrunched up her face. “A monster isn’t an animal. It’s a monster.”

“Well, okay. A monstrous animal, then.”

Summer scratched her left leg with her right foot. “So you could scare people?”

“So people would leave me alone if I wanted them to.”

Summer was quiet. Mom was pointing at the mouth of a cave. “The Enchanted Caverns!” she said. “There are fairy tale dioramas inside. Scenes from famous fairy tales. That’s what the map says.”

“Seriously, so random,” said Julian, shaking his head.

Dad and Mom laughed and held hands.

Julian and Summer followed their parents past a white cottage built into the mountainside. On the cottage’s roof sat a gnome with wide white eyes and a toothy grin, and a purple checkered banner said THE ENCHANTED CAVERNS in faded letters. Julian could hear people laughing and talking inside.

“I wouldn’t, though,” said Summer decidedly. She stopped to pick up smooth dark pebbles and put them in her pocket. She glared up at the wide-eyed gnome. “I wouldn’t leave you alone, Julian, not ever. Even if you were a monster. Not even then.”

Julian took Summer’s hand. It was warm and small, and it made the last of Julian’s car sickness go away. Together, they stepped inside the cave.


At first, Summer was quiet and calm.

She held Julian’s hand as they walked through the Enchanted Caverns behind their parents. They saw other families, and other children, and Julian saw the old man carrying his panting three-legged dog. Twinkly music played from speakers in the ceilings, a dance-like song that made Julian think of one of his books, when the hero’s sneaking through a dark corridor, danger around every corner.

The music turned Julian’s skin into a field of goosebumps.

Creepy blue lights lit up the fairy tale dioramas and bled into the corridor. Julian peeked through each window to see them—the iridescent trees, the glowing figurines, their gnarled, sculpted hands. Red Riding Hood approaching the cottage where the wolf was waiting. Snow White in her glass coffin. Goldilocks, her face in shadows, running from three snarling black bears.

And occasionally, a little meadow of gnomes—gnomes picking flowers, gnomes planting vegetables. A group of gnomes sitting on a shelf in the ceiling, their black boots dangling over Julian’s head.

Through all of this, Summer remained quiet and calm, though her hand gripped Julian’s so hard that finally he ripped it away from her.

“Ow! What are you doing?” Julian hissed. “You’re hurting me.”

Summer grabbed his shirt. “I don’t like it in here.”

Julian was about to yell at Summer for being stupid, but something about the look on her face stopped him. “Well, we’ll just walk a bit faster. We’ll hurry through, and then we’ll be out in the sun again.”

“No, I don’t think so. Oh, no, I don’t think so.” Summer started pulling on her hair. When Julian tried to stop her, she grabbed his hands. “Julian. Julian!”

Julian turned away. He had never seen Summer like this, not even in her strangest moments. Surely someone would come. Surely Dad and Mom would hear Summer screaming and find them, take them by the hands and lead them out.

But Julian saw no one. He heard no one. All he heard was the twinkly music from the speakers overhead, and the soft drip-drip of water against stone. Everyone else passing through the caverns had disappeared. Everything was eerie and blue and dark.

“Dad?” He tried to yell, but no sound came out. His fear had come so quickly that it was like being hit in the stomach, or plunging into icy water. Julian couldn’t speak, or breathe, or move. “Mom?”

Summer threw her arms around Julian’s neck and screamed. “I won’t leave you, I won’t, I won’t. Even with monsters. Even with monsters.”

Julian tried to pry loose Summer’s arms, but she wouldn’t let go. “Summer. What are you talking about?” Julian felt like he wanted to cry. He didn’t understand why his sister was acting like this. He didn’t understand where everyone had gone. This was all happening so fast. “Summer, talk to me!”

“You shouldn’t be here,” came a voice. A whispery voice. A very-old voice. A too-old voice.

Julian whirled, and Summer stopped screaming, and there, at the bottom of the stone steps, crouched a tiny boy. His clothes were torn scraps. He was pale like he hadn’t seen the sun in years, and though his body was small, his face was tired and wrinkled.

Summer took the rocks from her pocket and threw them at the boy. “Get away from us. Get away, leave us alone!”

The boy dodged the rocks like they were nothing. “Shouldn’t be here,” he whispered. “Shouldn’t, shouldn’t. But too late now.”

Julian came out of his shock and grabbed Summer’s hand. He was shaking, but she was on fire. She was blazing hot, and steady. Her eyes snapped hatred.

“Actually,” Julian told the boy, “we were just leaving.”

The boy found a popsicle stick someone in the crowd had dropped. He chewed it until his lips bled and picked his teeth with the splinters.

“You aren’t leaving,” he said. “Neither of you. One to pay, and one to stay.”

One to pay, and one to stay. Dozens of voices said it, from somewhere Julian couldn’t see—from everywhere. They whispered it over and over, and Julian saw shapes moving in the shadows. Pale shapes, dark shapes, deformed shapes. They came into the blue light, little by little. They were all children—some boys, some girls, all bent and broken and backward, with faces too old for their bodies.

Julian backed up until he hit the wall. He kept Summer behind him. “Pay what? We don’t have any money.”

The broken child-things laughed. The first child-thing, the pale boy-thing, smiled a toothless smile. He had a pointed black tongue. His mouth opened too widely.

From behind Julian, Summer took off her shoe and threw it at the boy. He ducked, and it bounced away.

“It’s been a long time,” the boy said, “a very long time, since there has been anyone worth keeping.” The boy smiled, his jaw snapping open. “You’ll make them very happy. And it’ll be nice to have a new friend.”

“Keeping?” Julian felt sick. He could hardly stay standing. He felt the ridiculous urge to shove in his earbuds and turn on his music and close his eyes. That would make this go away. “You can’t keep us. We’re not staying.”

The child-things went quiet. They straightened, and their smiles faded. Now they were the ones looking afraid.

The pale boy pointed into the darkness. “Oh,” he said. “Oh, but you are. One will stay, and one will pay.”

Julian held tight to Summer’s hand, and turned around.

They came in a small, dark, slithering crowd. They crawled and crept, they dragged themselves along by broken yellow claws.

The gnomes, it seemed, were not gnomes at all anymore.

The gnomes, it seemed, had been hiding something . . . else.

Bits of torn bright clothing clung to their brown, bony frames. They had long pointed ears and long pointed snouts. Some had tails and some had rotting, stumpy wings. Some still wore their ruined gnome hats. They carried knives; their teeth were lined with blood.

“I don’t like them!” Summer said shrilly. She took off her other shoe and threw it at them, but it melted when it touched them, and turned into a thick black liquid like tar. The creatures swarmed over it, scooping it up with their hands. They fought over it, smearing it on their faces. They breathed deeply. They were smelling it.

“Smells like,” they growled, licking their lips. “Smells like child.”

“Fresh, frightened child.”

“Young, innocent child.”

Sweating, shaking Julian imagined that he was in a book. Yes. Yes, that had to be it. He was in a book, and the only way to get out of this was for the person reading the book to close the book and put it aside for the day.

“Close the book!” Julian yelled, waving his arms at the ceiling and jumping around like crazy. “Close it! Please, hurry!”

The creatures hooted and hollered. The pale child-things whispered to each other, hiding in the corner.

“You,” wheezed the nearest creature, a great spindly brown thing with limbs like a spider. It moved like a spider too—skittering here and there, crawling close to the ground. “You.” It pointed at Julian. The other creatures and the child-things fell silent. “You will pay.” It pointed next at Summer. It grinned widely, rotten teeth spilling out over cracked lips. “And she will stay.”hand

The creatures began to cheer. They beat on their chests, raked their claws against the stone, gnawed on their torn clothes.

The child-things rushed toward Summer. They were rushing toward Summer. Julian tried to stop them. He kicked them and punched them. He tore at their filthy clothes, and the fabric came apart in his hands like muddy leaves.

It was not enough.

“No!” Julian cried. He reached for Summer and caught her fingers, but the creatures were pulling him away, and he lost her. Their scabby brown fingers wrapped around his legs and arms, dragging him across the floor. Their hooked wings were fluttering over him, scraping his cheeks. They pushed at each other to get closer.

They were smiling down at him. Pay, pay, pay, they chanted.

They were raising their knives. He will pay, pay, pay

“Fine,” said a small voice. “Fine. I’ll stay. I’ll stay here, if that’s what you want.”

The creatures stopped. They lowered their knives and looked away. Julian looked too, scrambling to his feet.

Summer stood there, hands in fists at her sides. She had that weird, faraway look like she used to get when she was allowed to read. She looked small, and angry.

The child-things had swarmed around Summer, their bony pale hands digging into her arms. But now they backed away from her, huddled in the corner and wide-eyed.

“I won’t leave my brother,” Summer said. “I told him I wouldn’t. So of course I’ll stay.” She turned to glare at the child-things, her nose wrinkling. “You don’t need to be so mean about it.”

The creatures stepped back, and back, and back, grumbling, groaning, their too-long arms dragging along the stone.

The child-things stared. The pale boy crept closer to Summer, on all fours like a scared dog.

Julian rushed over and kicked the pale boy in the chest. The boy crumpled, gasping, and put up his hand.

“It’s been so long,” he said, “since anyone was brave enough. Since someone stayed instead of trying to run.”

“So long,” the other child-things whispered. “Years upon years.”

Summer found Julian’s hand. Julian grabbed it tight. “Well,” said Summer, “even if he were a monster, I wouldn’t leave without him.” She shivered and sneezed in the cold. “I said I wouldn’t.”

She looked like a normal Summer again, instead of strange, brave Summer. Or maybe both were the same. Julian wondered: Would he have stayed for Summer? Was he as brave? Maybe instead he would have tried to escape. It was impossible to know, and Julian felt cold and sick again, like in the car with the air conditioning blasting on him and too much junk food in his belly.

“Go,” said the pale boy. He touched Summer’s bare feet and then shrank back like she had burned him. “Go, now.”

The creatures, slinking and shuddering over each other down the corridor, were staring at Julian and Summer with cold dark eyes that glinted in the blue light. They were confused. Julian could see that. But for how long?

“Now,” whined the pale boy. He pushed Julian, and his hands left behind a stinging feeling on Julian’s skin. “Now.”

The child-things howled and ran deeper into the caves, and the pale boy went with them.

And the creatures—the horrible skittering creatures—reared up into a single great shape in the dark cavern. They shrieked and surged forward, spilling over the ground toward Julian and Summer like a wave of black water. Their nails clacked against the floor.

But Summer was fast, and Julian was faster. He led the way, pulling Summer hard, and hands grabbed at their legs and seized their clothes, but they didn’t stop.

When they hit the sunlight, it was like bursting out from underwater. Summer was coughing, and Julian was holding her up. Julian felt a hand grabbing at his leg and kicked back, but when he looked behind him, nothing was there but the mouth of the cave and a cheerful sign that said COME BACK SOON.

Dad found them and clapped them on the backs. Behind him, Mom was taking pictures of blue jays. The three-legged dog was on a bench getting his belly scratched.

“There you are!” Dad said. He was red-cheeked and happy. His shirt was sweaty, and his hat was crooked. “You two were right behind us, and then all of a sudden you weren’t. Thought I was gonna have to come get you.” He knelt in front of them and ruffled Summer’s hair. “Pretty cool in there, huh? Lots of things to see. And kind of spooky, huh?

“Dad.” Julian tried to say it a few times before he found his voice again. “Dad, promise me something.”

“Sure thing. Hey. Wait.” Dad leaned back and squinted at Summer’s face. “You all right, sweetie? Something scare you?”

Summer tried to smile but she didn’t let go of Julian. She held onto his arm and her fingers were white. Her cheek was warm against his arm, and this time, when Julian felt the hot bubble in his chest, it wasn’t gummy or bad. It was full of light, and it held Summer’s name inside it.

“Just promise me,” said Julian.

Dad scratched his head, pushing back his hat. “Well, sure. Anything. What is it?”

“If Summer ever asks me to sing with her again,” Julian said, squeezing his sister’s hand until he felt her squeeze it back, “make sure I do it.”


A Garden Full of Bad Things

The dog lives in the backyard of a yellow house. Beside his yellow house is a gray house, and behind the gray house is a garden. The garden is overgrown, and sends the perfume of flowers all up and down the street, and sometimes also the smell of sweet rot.

The dog is a little dog, white and twitchy, and he has been trained well. He sits on a stool in his backyard and watches the garden day and night. It isn’t his job. No one told him to do it, but he is a dog and has a sense of duty he can’t shake.

His humans bring him inside on occasion, but the dog will sit at the door and whine and howl and scratch and destroy the carpets until they let him back outside. He feels so guilty about this that it has given him chronic indigestion, for his humans are perfectly good humans and don’t deserve such disloyalty. See? Even now, they demonstrate their kindness. They are bringing him a bowl of the special kibble, prescribed by the veterinarian. It is supposed to be good for dogs with stomach problems. They set the bowl down beside the dog’s stool. They pat him on the head.

“I suppose he must really like it out here,” says one of the humans.

“Maybe it reminds him of his wild ancestors,” suggests the other.

Neither of them says what they’re thinking because they don’t want to hurt the dog’s feelings. What they are thinking is that ever since they moved into this house, the dog has been acting strangely. They wonder for a moment if the house is haunted, or if the soil is contaminated, or some other such thing that a dog might sense and a human cannot. Then they laugh to themselves and go back inside.

The dog’s heart breaks. He wants to go inside with them and lay his head on their feet and sleep on the foot of their bed. But he is a dog, and he has a duty. The gray house’s garden is not right. The gray house’s garden is full of bad things.

The gray house’s garden is full of flowers that whisper and growl and entice. They are angry flowers. They are greedy flowers. But most of all, they are hungry. It has been several days since their last meal, and the dog knows they will try again soon. As always, he will try and stop them. He never stops to think that he will fail, even though he always does. For he is a dog, and he is full of hope.

So the dog settles on his stool and waits.

The dog’s name is Rabbit.


Rabbit wakes up in the middle of the night because he hears footsteps on the sidewalk. The footsteps are quick and uneven, like the owner of the feet is in a hurry but also unwell.

Rabbit knows that sound. He has heard it many times. He jumps off his stool and races toward the fence of his yard. There are many layers of sound in a dog’s world, and sometimes they can be hard to pick apart. For example, right now the dog is hearing the spider crawl through the grass and the owl waking up in the woods behind his house. He can hear his humans breathing as they sleep and he can hear a raincloud turning over in the sky.

He can hear many things, but none of them are as loud as the sounds from the gray house’s garden. They are the sounds of immediate danger, so they are like thunder in Rabbit’s ears.

They are the sounds of the garden waking up. They are the sounds of the flowers whispering to each other, and calling to the footsteps on the sidewalk.

Rabbit slips under the fence, through a hole he dug long ago and has cleverly disguised with an empty flower pot. He sees the owner of the footsteps, and he whimpers.

It is a child. It is a boy in his pajamas and slippers, and he smells like old baseball gloves and dirty socks, which is paradise to Rabbit’s nose. But Rabbit is not distracted. Rabbit is a very good dog.

He rushes toward the boy, his nails clicking on the sidewalk. He puts himself directly in the boy’s path and barks.

The boy skids to a halt. His eyes are wild and white. His smile is uneven and loopy. “What do you want?” he asks Rabbit. “You’re in my way.”

Rabbit does everything he knows how to do. He runs back and forth between the boy and the gate that leads to the gray house’s garden. He growls at the gate. He runs at the boy growling, trying to push him away.

The boy gets angry. “Go away,” he says, and he jumps over Rabbit, and Rabbit despairs. If only he weren’t such a little dog. If only he were a Rottweiler or a German Shepherd or even a Labrador. But he is only a tiny white mutt of a dog with big pointy ears that gave him his name.

He chases after the boy. The boy’s hands are on the gate! Rabbit bites his pant leg and tugs, and tugs. The boy turns, growling, and his face has transformed. It is sick with the garden’s power.

“I have to go to them!” says the boy, and he kicks Rabbit away, hard.

Rabbit yelps. The wind is knocked out of him. He watches from the sidewalk as the boy opens the gate and slips inside. He hears the boy’s sigh of relief once his slippers hit the soft wet dirt. Rabbit knows the boy’s nose is not sensitive enough to detect the scent of bones that wafts up from the dirt when the boy steps on it. The boy’s ears are not sensitive enough to distinguish the squelch of dirt wet with water from the squelch of dirt wet with blood.

Rabbit howls and howls, but the flowers only laugh at him. The daffodils bobbing in clumps on either side of the gate, the morning glories winding around the gate’s iron spikes—they are all laughing at him.

You’re too late, they say. Their voices are ugly. Their petals form wicked mouths, and their tongues are dark. When they breathe, the air fills with the scents of hair and fingernails and screams. For to a dog, even a scream has a flavor. You’re too late, Rabbit.

Rabbit shakes. He hates it when they say that. For he is always too late, isn’t he? And too small, and not smart enough, apparently. It is enough to give a poor, simple mutt a vast inferiority complex.

So he sits and watches as the vines wrap around the boy’s legs, and pull him down. He watches as the boy sighs and smiles and laughs, because this is just what he wanted. He wanted to come to the flowers. He heard the flowers calling him, and their voices were so beautiful. Rabbit hears the boy whispering it to himself: “So beautiful. So beautiful. Hello. Hello.” The boy is talking to the flowers as if they are old friends.

Their leaves burrow into his skin, and still he smiles. Their bulbs bend over him like heads, and their black tongues unfurl, and still he laughs.

It isn’t until the orchids latch onto his face, smothering him, that he begins to scream.

Rabbit makes himself watch, though he does grant himself the small mercy of putting his paws over his ears.


The next day, Rabbit doesn’t eat. He noses at his kibble and sits under his stool. He does not deserve to sit on his favorite stool today. He can smell the boy’s body as the flowers bleed it and chew it and pull it slowly into the ground. He can hear the flowers celebrating, hissing and laughing and complimenting each other.

They are very loud this morning. Children are their favorite, after all. Children, Rabbit often hears them saying, are the sweetest meat.

Rabbit’s humans leave for work. Rabbit can no longer listen to the flowers gloat and belch and clean the blood from their petals. He is beside himself with shame. He wanders through his backyard, whimpering. The poor boy, he thinks. The poor boy with his baseball gloves and his smelly socks. What will his parents think?

At the edge of the backyard is a fence, and beyond that fence is a field of tall grasses and some woods. Rabbit digs under the fence and comes out into the field on the other side and howls quietly to himself. He will continue to wander forever, he thinks. He will wander away until he finds somewhere he can actually be useful, or perhaps until he dies. Perhaps, he thinks forlornly, dying would be best. A dog who cannot help humans is no dog at all.

But then he hears footsteps crashing through the grasses. The footsteps are coming from the direction of the woods. Rabbit thinks this is curious, for he has never heard anything in these woods except for foxes and birds and snails.

Then he sees the girl. She is as young as the dead boy was. She is wearing a dress that is torn and dirty. She has a wild face and wild eyes, and her hair is full of mud and twigs. She does not move like a human. She moves like an animal, darting this way and that.

She runs toward the gray house’s garden. She is confused. She does not know where she is going.

Rabbit follows her, barking. He does not stop to think how strange this girl looks, or that he has decided to wander off and die. For he is a dog, and when it comes right down to it, he will forget his own problems and do the right thing. He runs and barks and thinks that he will bite the girl’s leg if he has to. A bite from a small dog named Rabbit will be better than getting eaten by flowers.

But the girl stops. She stares at him. She kneels down in the dirt and begins to talk to him, but she does not talk like other humans do. She talks in growls and clicks like an animal, and Rabbit understands her perfectly. He sits back on his haunches and cannot help but wag his tail. This girl is a strange one. He likes this girl.

“You’re saying,” says the girl, clicking and growling, her eyes wide, “that the flowers in that garden eat people?”

“Yes,” says Rabbit, barking. It is a serious moment but he nevertheless has trouble stopping himself from licking her face. He has never talked with a human before, and it brings him a joy not unlike the joy that comes from getting his belly scratched. “Yes, that is what I’m saying. The flowers talk to people. They trick them inside, and then they eat them. They like children best of all.”

“How do you know this?”

“I hear them talking to each other.”

“Ah.” The girl nods. “I didn’t know dogs could understand flowers. But it makes sense.”

“Does it?”

“Of course. Dogs hear and smell and understand things much better than humans do, don’t they?”

“Much better indeed,” Rabbit says gravely.

The girl looks at Rabbit, and then looks around, and then pulls a thorn from her skirt. “Where are we? Could you please tell me?”

Rabbit does not understand. “What do you mean? This is the world. We are in it.”

“But it’s our world, isn’t it? Not theirs?”

“Who are you talking about?”

“This is the world where the sky is blue and the stars come out at night and things are all facing right-side up?”

Rabbit tilts his head. “Apparently the sky is blue. That’s what the humans say. And roses are red. They say that too.”

“Yes.” The girl’s face is strange now. “Roses are always red.”

Rabbit has been so distracted that he doesn’t notice it until now: “You smell funny. You smell not quite right.”

“I’ve been . . . away,” the girl says. She looks at the ground. She smells afraid. “I have been far away, in a place where the sky is black and the stars are falling and everything is upside-down.”

“Well, you are here now. My name is Rabbit.”

“A dog named Rabbit.” The girl frowns. “What nonsense. My name is Alice.”

When Alice says her name, Rabbit hears the flowers in the gray house’s garden stop gloating and boasting. He hears them turn their heads. He feels their silence and their fear.

That, he thinks, is odd. The flowers have never been afraid before.

“You should go home,” says Rabbit. He growls, because he thinks that will frighten her away. “It is not safe here. The garden, the flowers, they will hurt you. You are a child, and they will want to eat you. Go. Run away. Go now.”

Alice looks at the garden through her muddy hair. She looks angry. “They like children best of all, do they?”

Rabbit hears the flowers bending closer to listen. He hears them licking their lips. He hears the clack of their throats full of teeth. “Yes!” Rabbit is becoming afraid for Alice. He yaps and yips and runs around her feet in circles. “You must leave! Oh hurry, before it is too late!”

“Rabbit.” Alice picks him up. He stares into her dirty face. “I swore I would never go there again, once I got out this time. I swore it. But I think that I must. Because I think I know of a way to destroy this garden, these flowers that eat children, and if I know of a way, I must do it even if it scares me, mustn’t I?”

“What do you mean, go back there?” This time Rabbit does lick Alice’s face because that is the best way he knows to help a frightened human. “You mean to the upside-down world?”

“Yes. If I go back there, and I return with a great weapon, a weapon that can destroy that garden and those flowers, will you help me do it?”

Rabbit stops wagging his tail because he understands this to be a solemn moment. “I will.”

“It will be frightening,” Alice whispers. She is not looking at him. She is looking away, back at the woods. Rabbit is not sure if she is talking about fighting the flowers, or returning to the upside-down world. And he is not sure if she is actually all that frightened. Her emotions are confusing.

“All important things are frightening,” says Rabbit.

Alice nods. “Yes. Yes, you are of course quite right. Will you come with me and wait outside while I’m inside?”

That does not make sense to Rabbit, but he will of course follow her anywhere, this wild girl who talks like an animal, who smells like one and has been to an upside-down world. She seems more like a dog than a human, this Alice. Rabbit likes that. He trots beside her into the woods. They reach an ugly tree with a giant hole in its trunk. The air here smells strange, like Alice does. Rabbit puts his head on her bare feet and waits patiently while Alice cries beside the tree. She is scared, but she is also brave. It is a feeling Rabbit can understand.

Alice dries her tears on her muddy skirt. “This is the last time I will ever go back, ever,” she says, but Rabbit knows it is a lie. He can hear it in her voice. He can feel it in her heartbeat.

Alice climbs into the hole in the tree. She screams, and disappears. Rabbit sits in front of the tree, and whines, and waits.


When Alice comes back, she is even dirtier than before. She smells like salt water and metal and old stone. There are feathers in her hair, and her skirt has a belt now, and in the belt is a knife.

Rabbit jumps up and Alice holds him in her arms and shakes. She holds him too tightly, but Rabbit is happy to be useful again, and he is quiet until Alice stops shaking.

“Well?” says Rabbit. “Do you have it? Do you have the way to destroy the garden?”

“I have a way,” Alice says. Her voice is scratchy and tired and frightening. “It is probably not the way, and it might not be someone else’s way, but it is my way.”

“I understand. My way was to try and scare off the humans before they got inside the garden. But I don’t think that was the best way. But it was the Rabbit way.”

Alice looks at him with a funny expression on her face. “You are a strange dog.”

“And you are a strange child, but I like you.”

Alice smiles. It is the first time she has smiled in months, but not even Rabbit can know that.

“What is the great weapon?” Rabbit asks.

Alice sets him down and holds out her hand. In her hand is a seed. It is a large seed, and angry looking. It is black and red and spiky. It has left tiny bites on Alice’s palm.

“In some places,” Alice whispers, “there are flowers that are even worse than child-eating flowers.”

Rabbit whimpers. He senses that he is close to things that are too big and important for one small white dog to handle. “You mean, in the upside-down world?”

Alice nods. “And this is a seed of one of them. And we are to plant it in that garden, and let it grow and destroy the others.”

Rabbit is ecstatic. He jumps out of Alice’s arms and rolls around in the dirt. As usual, his joy is quick and gets the best of him. But then he thinks of something. “But if these flowers are even worse than child-eating flowers, and we plant this even worse flower, won’t the garden become even more dangerous?”

Alice looks back at the tree. She is still a child, but she seems much older than she was when Rabbit first met her. “No,” she says. “It will not. It will be a beautiful, tame garden for as long as this world is a world, and everyone will come to admire it, but it will never hurt anyone. We made a deal.”

Rabbit does not know who Alice is talking about. He does not want to know. He has no interest in this upside-down world that sounds so dangerous. He hopes there are no dogs there, but he somewhat vindictively hopes there are cats.


At the gate of the gray house’s garden, Rabbit is ready. He is growling to make himself feel fierce. Alice is beside him. They have a plan. Alice is beside him and her hand is on the gate’s latch, and in her other hand is the angry black-and-red seed.

The flowers are watching them. Their petal faces are watching the gate. They are hissing and spitting.  They are beckoning and laughing. Alice. Alice. Alice and Rabbit. Try it. Just try it. We are not afraid of a girl and a Rabbit.

But they are afraid. Rabbit can sense that.

Alice looks down at him. “Are you ready?”

Rabbit wags his tail, and Alice smiles but also looks sad.

“You are a good dog,” she says, and Rabbit’s happiness overwhelms him. He almost turns over to show Alice his belly and request a nice scratch. But then Alice is opening the gate, and they are running.

It is Alice’s job to plant the seed. It is Rabbit’s job to protect her while she plants it.

He runs as fast as his tiny white legs can carry him. Lilies snap at him. Vines wrap themselves around his legs. Tiger lilies throw themselves at him, petals crashing into the ground. The petals smell like blood, and they attach to his coat like suckers. They hurt, but Rabbit does not stop. They do not stop him for long, these shrieking flowers that smell like dead children. He is a small dog, and he is too fast. Too fast for them to touch and too small for them to catch.

Alice is digging. Petunias are swarming over her feet and up her legs, and their voices are small and high like children’s voices. Such a sweet girl, Alice is, they sing. Alice is crying, but she is brave. Alice slashes at vines with her knife. And Rabbit is tearing at the flowers with his teeth and his claws, ripping them to pieces. There is blood on his white coat, but he doesn’t mind. Helping is what a dog does best, and he is happy.

“There!” Alice cries, and slams her fist onto the dirt. She has planted the seed. Her hands are covered in blood and mud and thorns. She finds Rabbit. He is choking in a bed of violets. They fill his mouth and his nose and his ears, and he is afraid, but then he sees Alice. She is crying and ripping the flowers from him, and then he is in her arms. She is saying, “Good dog, such a very, very good dog,” and Rabbit is wagging his tail even though he is hurting. Alice is running out of the garden, and he is in her arms.

The flowers are screaming.

Rabbit opens his eyes and sees it happening. The garden is thrashing and crashing. The garden is drowning under the weight of something new.

They are roses.

They are red roses, bushes of them, towers of them, and they do not speak but they do have teeth. They smother the other flowers so they cannot breathe. They rip the other flowers from the ground and tear their roots to shreds. Even though it is dark, and even though Rabbit sees the world in gray and only knows what color his humans say things are, he knows that these roses are red. They are redder than blood. They are dripping red.

When it is finished, the roses poke their heads over the fence and whisper, Alice, dearest girl, dearest Alice. We did what you said. Now you do what you said. Dearest darling Alice.

“Alice.” Rabbit is whimpering. He wants to say thank you, but Alice is hugging him too tightly. She is setting him on the porch of his house. She is ringing the doorbell and knocking on the door. She is crying and plucking the thorns from Rabbit’s coat. He feels that she is afraid and sad, but also that she is happy.

He hears his humans inside. They are waking, they are hurrying down the stairs.

“Alice,” Rabbit tries to say again, “what did you say you would do? What deal did you make?”

But then the door is opening and his humans are exclaiming things. They are afraid for him. Rabbit knows he will be all right, and he tries to tell them this by licking their hands. They are calling the veterinarian, and they are carrying him to the car. Rabbit feels their love so deeply that he almost doesn’t see her:

Alice, climbing over the fence and running through the field toward the woods. He hears her crying and he hears her laughing. He feels it when she climbs inside the tree. He smells her fear when she screams, and he smells it when she jumps, and he understands now what Alice said she would do. He understands that this time, the jump is forever.