The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

Quicksilver and the Stranger

Nobody in the town of Willow-on-the-River knew Quicksilver’s real name, or where she came from, or who her family was.

All they knew was that she was eleven years old (she proclaimed this, loudly and often, after outfoxing someone who should have known better), that she had an unbecoming piggish nose, and that she had hair as gray as a crone’s. So she was known as Quicksilver, for her hair, and for her cunning, for there had never been a girl with so slippery a nature. Many called her Quix for short. They hissed it like snakes when she managed to trick them, and laughed it wryly when she managed to trick others.

Quicksilver. Quixxx.

They knew to keep especial watch on sour apples and religious artifacts, for canny Quix had a weakness for the former and a fascination with the latter. They knew she lived on the rooftops when the weather was nice and in the ditches when it wasn’t, for then she could cover herself with mud and sticks and pretend to be a poor hapless urchin, and someone would take pity on her, and then before they knew it, she had picked their pockets and slipped away, hooting. (You might think the Riverlings would have learned, eventually, not to trust even the most pitiful-looking urchin, but the Riverlings are kind folk, and Quicksilver was a master of disguise.)

They knew she was all alone in the world, and that she was perfectly happy with that.

But then came a particular autumn day, when Quicksilver awoke to a shadow on her face and a whisper on the wind.

The shadow was far away—on the edge of town, while Quicksilver was high in the church belfry, sleeping barefoot and easy as a bird in a tree. But still she felt the shadow on her cheek like the touch of winter, and shivered in her sleep.

The whisper on the wind, though, was worse. It said her name, her real name, the name that nobody but she herself knew.

Anastazia, said the wind.

Quicksilver awoke, and nearly tumbled onto the roof.


She blinked, rubbed her eyes, and searched the town below for the shadow she had felt. Or had it, and the voice, been only a dream?

Ah, no, they had not. For there, at the crooked bridge that marked the way into town, stood a hunched dark figure with bright red hair, and though it was far away, Quicksilver knew it was staring right at her.


Quicksilver watched this dark stranger for a long time, as it hobbled into town and patted children on their heads and gave them treats. She watched as the stranger bartered for a space in the town marketplace and sat on a tall stool. And sat, and sat.

Riverlings began approaching the stranger, slowly. Quicksilver squinted at them from her perch on the belfry but couldn’t see anything worth seeing. She was too high up. She paced, tossing coins between her hands. She wanted to go and see what this figure was all about.

But she was afraid.

For ever since the stranger arrived, the voice on the wind, saying her name, had continued:

Anastazia. Anastazia.

No one but Quicksilver knew that was her true name, and yet she felt, somehow, that this voice on the wind belonged to the stranger down below, and that the stranger was here for her. She didn’t know what that meant, but it gave her a peculiar feeling in her stomach.

quicksilverFinally, she was too curious to resist. She pounded her fist against the belfry’s stone, angry that this stranger had already gotten the best of her, making her do something she would rather not do. She clambered across the rooftops until she was right above the stranger, in the shadow of a teetering chimney.

A small crowd had begun to gather around the stranger, for the stranger was doing magic—street magic, of course, not true magic. True magic, Quicksilver knew, as did everyone, had long ago bled from the world. But this magic of card tricks and disappearing coins was useful enough—sleight of hand, was the term. Illusions, and misdirection. Quicksilver knew of such things, instinctively; she used them everyday. They were as much a part of her as her blood and her bones. But she had always wondered if she could do more than simple street tricks, something grander. Perhaps she could learn it here, from this magic-doing stranger. Perhaps, perhaps . . .

With a great, clumsy crash, not-so-canny Quix pitched off the roof and into the stranger’s lap. She had been leaning out too far from her chimney, and lost her footing.

The crowd roared with laughter. Never had they seen their own surefooted Quix have such a fall! So too did the dark stranger with the bright red hair—although the crowd’s laughter was loud, and the stranger’s laughter was silent, and wormed its way into Quicksilver’s throat like a bad smell. The stranger’s long bony fingers curled around Quicksilver’s dirty legs, quivering.

“Little girl,” said the stranger, “have you hurt yourself?”

Quicksilver leapt out of the stranger’s lap and dusted herself off.

“I never get hurt!” she said, and she sounded ferocious and angry, but inside she was more afraid than ever. She could not tell whether this stranger was man or woman. Its red hair was unnaturally bright, a color not found in Willow-on-the-River; its face was so old and lined that flaky white skin fell from the corners of its mouth and eyelids as it spoke.

“Fair enough.” The stranger shrugged and went back to its business of pulling jackrabbits out of old shoes, and whistling tunes that called birds to its arms like a scarecrow, covering the stranger head to finger.

The marketplace of Riverlings applauded and cheered, and tossed copper coins.

Jealous Quix paced and scowled and muttered insulting things under her breath that made a young mother nearby cover her children’s ears. But while Quicksilver muttered and scowled and paced, she also watched. She watched the stranger’s fingers, so frail and yet so sure, spinning tricks out of old cloths and rickety buckets and seemingly ordinary well water. She watched those crumbling white hands pull fresh, fully-grown flowers out of cracks in the marketplace cobblestones.

Once, the stranger snapped, and the crowd gasped, for the movement cut open the stranger’s right thumb in a tiny spray of blood. A shower of sparks rained down from the chimney overhead, and transformed in mid-air to cover everyone in white feathers.

Quicksilver plucked a feather from her shoulder and sniffed it. It smelled of burned things, and she was the only one to notice that the stranger’s blood dried almost as quickly as it appeared, and turned to ash that fell to the street.

The show lasted well into the night, and when the last sleepy child had been herded to bed, Quicksilver was alone with the stranger. For a long time, they stared at each other. The stranger fiddled with a necklace it wore, a dirty, knobby thing that might have once been gold.

Then, the stranger said quietly, “I’m better than you, little swindler. I am a magician. You are just a thief.”

Was that a cracking, splintering smile on the stranger’s puckered face? Was that a challenging gleam in the bleary, watery old eyes?

Proud Quix thought so. Just a thief, indeed. She put up her chin. “You are no magician. There is no magic left in the world. You’re just playing tricks.”

“Ah, but perhaps,” said the stranger, “I have not shown you all of my tricks, Anastazia.”

Hearing her name—not on the wind, but in a real, true voice—took Quicksilver’s breath away. She could not speak for a long time. Then she said, “Teach me.”

The stranger coughed up crusty yellow bits that spotted its collar. “Teach you what?”

Quicksilver frowned. She would have to say it, then; the stranger would make her. “How to do . . . magic . . . like you do.” Quicksilver blushed, to say such a silly thing.

The stranger was quiet for so long that Quicksilver thought perhaps the old rotting lump of a thing had died.

Then the stranger said, “I will do it, if you will answer my greatest riddle. I will even,” the stranger said, leaning closer, “give you three tries to do it. Three chances, one riddle, endless tricks.”

“Magic,” Quicksilver teased, proud of her own cleverness, “not tricks. Remember? You just said.”

The stranger seemed to smile. It looked painful, but pleased. “As you say.”

They slapped hands in agreement, and Quicksilver yawned. Even eleven-year-old master thieves are still eleven years old, and grow tired after such a long day. And Quicksilver had much to think about.

“Well,” she said, tossing her coins about impressively, “good night, then.”

The stranger grabbed her wrist, stopping her. It hurt. The necklace swung heavily from the stranger’s neck. On that neck, Quicksilver saw angry red marks where the necklace’s chain rested.

“But you must answer my riddle,” the stranger rumbled, its throat full of sickness. “Tonight is your first try.”

Quicksilver stamped her foot. “But I’m tired tonight! I will try tomorrow.”

“Tonight. I am impatient, and you should have known better than to agree to a bargain without first setting your own rules.”

The stranger had a point, and sly Quix had been the one outfoxed, for once. It was not a pleasant feeling.

“Fine.” She hopped on a small fence opposite the stranger and made an ugly face. “What is the riddle?”

The stranger spoke swiftly. “How do I know your true name, Anastazia?”

That was it? That was the riddle? Part of Quicksilver felt glad; that was not the mind-twisting riddle she had expected.

But another part of Quicksilver shivered and shook at the stranger’s voice, so hungry and old and dark.

A possible answer came to her mind—too easy an answer, but she was tired, and didn’t realize it. “You used your magic,” she said, “to find it in my mind.”

“Bah!” The stranger spat, shovering Quicksilver off her fence and to the ground. When the stranger moved, a stink followed it, a stink of unwashed skin and creaking houses. “Magic, to do such things? That was a stupid answer. You didn’t take any time to think about it.” The stranger glared runny yellow eyes at Quicksilver, rubbing its necklace with finger and thumb. “How disappointing.”

Quicksilver leapt to her feet, gray hair flying everywhere like a lion’s mane. If anyone else had insulted her like that, she would have done something truly nasty to them—but the stranger was truly nasty, so Quicksilver said, “Fine. Fine. I’ll try again tomorrow.”

“Two more chances,” the stranger growled as Quicksilver scrambled up the roof and away. “Two more chances, stupid thief. Tiny, stupid, precious thief.”

Quicksilver barely heard those last few words, but she did hear them, and thought them odd, and sat awake for a long time beside the cold, silent church bells, thinking.


The next day was cold and pale. Quicksilver stole an old coat trimmed in fur from a traveler at the inn. She wrapped herself in it and sat on the roof above the stranger, watching another day of the stranger’s art—puppets moving on their lonesome, with no hands to guide them, and snow falling on the stranger out of a sunny sky. She watched the stranger pick pockets without ever moving from its stool, and saw a man so bewitched he thought the stranger was a beautiful woman, and said so, and planted a kiss on the stranger’s chalky white lips.

That made the crowd of Riverlings roar with laughter. They slapped knees and wiped away laughing tears, and led the poor confused man to the tavern for supper.

Quicksilver watched it all, focusing on the stranger’s bright red head, listening to the croaking voice that was neither man’s nor woman’s. She paid such close attention that her head hurt, and her eyes watered, and her body ached with stiffness.

Finally, Quicksilver jumped down, silent as a cat, and hurried to the stranger’s side.

The stranger counted copper coins, chuckling. They gleamed red in the light of the setting sun. The necklace the stranger wore also gleamed, despite its coat of filth.

“Well?” said the stranger, without looking up. “Do you have an answer for me, stupid thief?”

Stupid thief. Ah, but the stranger had said precious thief the night before, and the words had stirred something lonely and forgotten in Quicksilver’s hard little heart. At first she hadn’t realized what it was, and then, sometime during the night, she had started to wonder, and this whole day she had wondered, and now she knew. She knew. It had to be the answer, this wondrous, terrible thought.

“I do,” she said, and she smiled, and it was not the smile of outfoxing someone, but a real, honest smile. “You are one of my parents, my mother or my father, and you’ve come to find me at last.”

After the first answer, the stranger had been angry and disappointed. Now, the stranger seemed simply tired. Its shoulders slumped with sadness. The necklace it wore seemed to drag the stranger’s head close to the ground.

“No, child,” the stranger said at last, and when it breathed, the sound was like dead leaves blowing through a storm. “I am not either of your parents. Your parents left you at the doorstep of St. Agatha’s, and never looked back.”

Quicksilver remembered that place, the tiny convent with the dark roof and the darker rooms. She had run away from the silent, stern Sisters as soon as she was strong enough, but one thing the Sisters had taught her was the beauty of prayer and faith, and she had never forgotten it. The statue of St. Agatha, which Quicksilver kept in her pocket, was the only thing she had ever felt guilty about stealing.

She held it now, her fist tight around it in her coat.

She would not cry in front of this stranger, who looked so suddenly sad.

“You ugly thing,” Quicksilver said. “You ugly, horrible thing. You made me think you were . . . ”

The stranger blinked slowly at her. “Did I?”

Of course, the stranger had not made lonely Quix think anything. She had done it for herself, letting herself hope, letting herself wish for a family, for the first time in ages.

“One more chance,” the stranger said, after a moment. “One more chance, and then either we are done, or we are just beginning. So go. Sleep.”

To keep from crying, Quicksilver grabbed a fistful of dirt and flung it at the stranger’s face, and then raced up the rooftops, alone.


Quicksilver did not sleep, though she needed it, and it was a good thing, for her exhaustion allowed her to see things more clearly.

All the next day, she paced on the roof, and when the crowds came and went, and it was evening, and the stranger sat alone on its stool, scratching its bright red head, Quicksilver climbed down and stood tall, though she was more afraid than ever.

For she had found the answer to the stranger’s riddle.

The stranger raised tangled eyebrows. “Well? This is your last chance, thiefling. What is your answer?”

Quicksilver remembered all the times she had thought herself brave and clever before, and realized how silly that had been. She breathed in and out. She stared at the stranger’s necklace, instead of at the stranger’s eyes.

“You are me,” she said. “That is how you know my name.”

Though Quicksilver had spoken softly, the words seemed to ring in Willow-on-the-River’s tiny brown marketplace. She held her breath. She counted the seconds, trying to be patient.

At last, the stranger’s mouth grew into a smile that stretched its skin tight like worn leather, across yellowed teeth and black gums. Quicksilver looked for her own face in that folded-over skin and couldn’t find it, and that was the scariest thing of all.

“Aye, child,” said the stranger, “it is I. I am you.”

And as the stranger spoke, telling Quicksilver stories that only Quicksilver could know—stories of St. Agatha’s, of the other orphans poking fun at her head of thick gray hair, of her escape and her traveling on the road afterward—crafty Quix felt a bit like she was floating above her own body. She had thought it was the right answer, but still, to hear this proof out loud was another thing.

“But how?” she whispered.

At that, the stranger’s eyes turned sharp and narrow, lit up in a new way. “You wanted me to show you my magic.”

“Yes. I did.”

“And I said I would, if you answered my greatest riddle.”

Quicksilver drew her stolen coat tighter about her body. “We slapped hands on it.”

“Aye. Then so be it done, at last.” The stranger took a long, slow breath, and then, before Quicksilver knew what was happening, the stranger was on her feet, pressing her necklace into Quicksilver’s sweaty hands, breathing sour breath on Quicksilver’s wide-eyed face.

“Then have it,” this strange, red-headed Quicksilver said. She seemed sorry for something, but also joyous, and determined. “Have it, and go.”

“Go where?” Quicksilver started to say, but the necklace was growing hot in her hands, so hot that it burned her. She tried to drop it, but her hands would not come away. The necklace was melting into her skin; golden light swirled brightly around her.

Through it, Quicksilver saw the stranger melting away, sighing, her eyes closed. The stranger shed first her dark cloak, then her bright red hair, and then her skin itself, like a tired bird shedding old feathers. She was a shriveled husk of a thing. A skeleton. A mirage.

The gold in Quicksilver’s eyes became too thick to see anything else.

Quick-tongued Quix thought, “Funny, for a girl named Quicksilver to die in a sea of gold.”

But Quicksilver was not dead. Not that night.

Not ever, really.

But she did not know that yet.


When Quicksilver next opened her eyes, she sensed without even looking around that she was no longer in Willow-on-the-River, but somewhere entirely new.

She knew this because when she breathed, she nearly choked on the air. It stung her lungs and burned her insides. It was too thick, too full of energy, too different.

She did not know, in that moment, that she was breathing in air laced with magic.

She did not realize that the land she had found herself in was old, much older than the land of the kindly Riverfolk.

She did not understand why the people here sported hair in all manner of outlandish colors—blue as electric as storms, and green as bright as springtime, and red. Red as bright as a stranger’s hair.

Red as was Quicksilver’s hair, now.

She saw it in the reflection of a still pond. Somehow, this was the most unsettling thing of all, that her hair had lost its grey and was now this fiery red. For what is a person, without a name, and what kind of name is Quicksilver, for a girl with red hair?

“Why has my hair changed color?” she wondered. “And where has the necklace gone? That stranger’s necklace?” She paused, afraid, looking around at this world glowing with so many colors that her eyes hurt to look at it. “My necklace.”

She did not understand any of this.

But she would understand it soon.

Soon, she would understand that she had traveled to a time before her own, when magic still lived in the world and the people prayed to different gods.

Soon, she would begin traveling, as she had done before, and she would learn real magic, and the poor street tricks she had always performed to survive would seem like dusty memories in the corners of her mind.

Soon, she would take up her true name and become Anastazia once again, and everyone from the poorest thiefling to the richest king would come to her, seeking the cleverness of her magic.

And later, many lifetimes later, when much of the world had changed and grown dimmer, and much of its magic bled away, she would stumble upon a dirty, knobby necklace in the far north of the world. She would hold it and laugh, and be glad, for this meant that her story was both almost over and close to beginning again. Old Anastazia, cleverest witch, would put the necklace over her head, and she would not take it off, not for many years, not even when it rubbed sores on her chalky white skin.

And she would keep an eye out, in those frail days, for a small girl with limbs like a fox, nose like a pig, and hair grey as a crone’s in winter.

For, like the necklace she wore, Anastazia Quicksilver was a circle, and so was the world, and so was everything, though few ever realized it. It was a grand game, the thorniest of tricks, and no one played it better than she.


The Tin Man’s Price

Mama always says we should never hurt each other but Mama don’t know nothin.

She don’t know about all the marks on my chest.

She don’t know what Edie and I get up to in the attic these days.

She knows things are goin real swell for us all of a sudden but she don’t know why.

I think Pa knows, but he won’t tell.

I think it happened to Pa too.


Edie’s always wakin me up in the middle of the night. We’ve always been opposite of the other. Like Edie don’t sleep much and I can sleep through the end of the world, that’s what Mama says. And Edie eats enough for ten people and I eat like a bird. We’re opposites, Edie and me. Miss Vickers at school says sometimes that happens with twins. One of you’s this way and the other’s that-a-way, and together you make up one person.

I like Edie but I don’t like us being twins. It’s like we were supposed to be one person but we got split up inside Mama and now we’re two people. It’s almost like one of us shouldn’t be alive. Like one of us is a mistake.

So Edie wakes me up in the middle of the night and instead of goin out on the roof to play cards like usual, she says, Someone’s here, Tom. I know someone’s here.

Someone’s where? I say.

In the attic, she says.

How do you know?

I just got this feelin.

Edie’s always getting feelins. Sometimes I think her feelins are real and sometimes I think she’s lyin just cause she gets bored and thinks our town’s dull as mud.tin_man_attic

How do you know someone’s there, Edie?

I just know, why you gotta be such an idiot?

Well I wish I wasn’t an idiot but everyone says I am so I shut up.

We go up to the attic. Pa keeps his old books up here, about geography and outer space and Egypt pyramids and irrigation. Sometimes Edie and me like to sit in the window and look through all these books. They’re hard but we read em anyway. We like to do somethin that Pa likes to do. We like to impress Pa. Pa don’t say much, and Mama says thank god almighty for that, why’d you want a chatterbox around anyway?

There ain’t no one up here Edie, I say, cause there ain’t. Just dust and boxes and old clothes and Pa’s books. Why you always playin tricks?

It ain’t no trick, says Edie. Her face looks stubborn, like Mama when she’s on a tear.

I know I heard something, she says. I felt it.

Cause I know Edie won’t shut up about this till we do it, I say, Okay let’s look around then, and we do. Through the dust and boxes and old clothes. Out the window and on the roof. Under the loose floorboard where we hide our best stuff. Nothin. Nobody.

I’m goin back to bed you scaredy-cat, I say.

Wait, says Edie.

She’s by the chest full of our old toys, the ones we’re too big for now. She pulls out a tall round tin covered with pictures and letters I can’t read cause they’re old and scratchy. It looks like the kinda thing you might could keep candy in.

I ain’t never seen this tin before. It ain’t one of our toys.

It must be heavy, cause Edie drops it and it hits her toe.

Ow, she says.

Then we heard it:

What’re you children doing up here.

What’re you children doing up here.

Why’d you wake me up.

Why’d you touch me.

Don’t touch me.


We should run I guess but we’re too scared, so we just stand there starin at the tin. It’s shakin on the floor. It’s spinnin faster and faster. Then the lid pops off.

It stinks at first.

Then it smells good.

I don’t know what’s comin out of that tin, but it’s dark and it’s slimy like tar and it’s silky and slow like molasses. It looks kinda like a person but kinda not.

I don’t like it.

Hello, it says, and I guess it’s smilin but it’s hard to tell cause its face is made up of globs and cracks.

I apologize for yelling, it says, but you startled me you see.

Who are you? Edie says. I wanna slap her for bein so stupid. We should be runnin, Miss Smarty Pants, not talkin to it. And they say I’m the dumb one.

I have many names, it says. But you can call me Luck. Because that’s what I’m going to give you.

Good luck or bad luck? I say.

It looks at me. It blinks real slow. When it smiles, I feel sick to my stomach.

Good luck of course, it says.

Edie crosses her arms. Oh she thinks she’s so smart. She’s tryin to be like Pa.

How much? she says. We don’t got a lot of money here if that’s what you want.

I have no need for money, Luck says. All you have to do is follow my instructions. It’s quite simple.

What do you want us to do?

Luck blinks at Edie. It smacks its lips.

I want you to hurt your brother, it says.

Edie looks at me, at Luck, and back again.

What? I say. That’s nuts. Edie let’s get out of here.

How much do I have to hurt him? Edie says. And what’ll you give me for it?

We’ll start out small, says Luck. A little hurt for a little luck.

Edie’s thinkin fast. I see that look on her face. I got a math test tomorrow, she says. And I ain’t studied.

Luck smiles real big. A slap will do for that I think, he says.

Edie’s eyes light up.

Hang on, I say. But Edie’s fast. She runs over and slaps me across my face. It hurts. I get mad and smack her right back, and it knocks her to the floor.

Oh, Luck says. Oh oh oh.

Then Luck shakes, and then it’s not so slimy anymore. Like it figured out how to stand up straight. Now it looks more like a hole, just a hole in the attic where there should be wood and dust and boxes and now there’s nothing there instead, just a dark spot that almost looks like a person if you squint real hard.

That’s good, Luck says. Thank you, darling ones. Now go to bed and when you wake up tomorrow you’ll feel so much better than you did today.

I’ll pass my math test? says Edie. You promised I would.

You’ll make a perfect score, says Luck.

Then Edie says, And what about Tom? He hurt me, so he should get something too.

How clever of you, sweet girl, says Luck. Then it looks at me. What do you want, Tommy Tom Tom?

I don’t feel right. This don’t feel right. Edie’s got a red spot on her cheek. My cheek smarts where her hand hit it.

But I got a math test too. And I need even more help than Edie does.

Idiot Tom. Edie the smart one.

Same here, I say. Math test. I want a perfect score.

Luck smiles. Its mouth drips. Then you shall have it.


Our teachers don’t believe us both gettin perfect scores. Especially not me. They think we cheated so they’re makin me do my work on the board in front of everyone. And it’s like my hand isn’t my hand and my brain isn’t my brain, and soon there’s perfect algebra problems written all over that board. I didn’t have to erase once.

At home Edie and I show our tests to Mama and she says she’s so glad we finally started studyin like we should now if only we could peel potatoes faster, that’d be nice.

We show em to Pa too once he gets in from the fields.

He looks at us real strange.

How wonderful, he says.

We run upstairs before he says anything more. It’s like he knows, and I don’t want him to know. I got this feelin he’d make Luck leave if he found out.

I don’t want Luck to leave.

I like having Luck around.

I like it even though that night after Mama and Pa go to bed me and Edie go to the attic and pound on each other while Luck watches. Even though it leaves bruises all over Edie’s arms and all over my chest. Even though it hurts so much I almost pass out and Edie starts to cry.

We don’t stop. We’d do anything for Luck. We go for hours. We pound and bruise and slam and cut. It hurts it hurts but we don’t stop.

Very good, Luck says. It’s not as scary-lookin tonight. It looks more like a shadow than a blob or a hole. And shadows ain’t scary, they’re just places where the light don’t reach.

Luck runs its hands through our hair. It makes me feel even sicker but I don’t complain. I got a baseball game on Friday and I wanna win. Make a double play. Hit a grand slam. Not sit on the bench the whole time for once. And Edie, she’s got a softball game, and she wants a grand slam too. Stupid Edie, always wantin to be the same as me. Just cause we’re twins don’t mean we gotta be the same all the time.

I wanna hurt her again.

Hurt and ye shall receive, says Luck. It’s laughin so I guess somethin’s funny but I don’t know what it is.


One day Luck gets tired of watching us.

I want more, he says. I’m bored of you.

We could go into town, Edie says.

She’s cryin because I think I just broke her toe, but she won’t say nothin and neither will I. We won both our games this weekend. We’re gettin good grades for once. Amelia Simmons bought me a milkshake at lunch. Everybody’s lookin at us different, like we mean somethin. Like we ain’t just Tom and Edie those twins who live out on Hillside Farm, no sir. We’re Tom who gets hundreds on tests and Edie who hits grand slams.

 Town, Luck says.

He looks happy to hear that. He moves his head funny like a bird. And I’ve started callin him a he because he looks more like a man now. He’s still dark and fuzzy around the edges and sometimes when he blinks that tar drips out his eyelid but he’s mostly a man. He has a tall hat on and he’s skinnier even than me.

I should very much like to go to Town, Luck says.

So we take him.

And the first person we see, Luck points and says, That one. Hurt that one.

We look. It’s a girl from the junior high school walkin her dog. I’ve seen her before but I don’t know her name.

Edie frowns.

But it’s the middle of the day, she says. We can’t just go up and start punchin her. Someone’ll see.

Luck says, Not if we wait until she’s somewhere hidden.

I don’t like this, I say.

Oh. Oh no.

I didn’t mean to.

It just came out.

Luck, don’t be angry. Don’t be angry, Luck.

I didn’t mean it.

Luck looks at me long and hard. Edie looks at me even longer and harder.

Don’t ruin this for me you idiot, Edie says. Don’t make him mad. We need him.

I’m sorry, Luck, I say. I’ll do it. We’ll do it.

You had better, says Luck. Or I’ll go somewhere else where my gifts are appreciated and then where you will be?

You’ll be back in the rotten no-good place you came from, Edie says to me. You’ll go back to stupid bad-grades on-the-bench idiot Tom. Livin on a farm. Goin nowhere. Is that what you want? Is that you want for us Tom?

Tom, Luck says real soft. Tommy Tom Tom.

No, I say. That’s not what I want.

So we follow the junior high girl through town and all the way to Thistledown Road, where it’s quiet and the grass is high on either side.

We chase her down. She starts screamin and we run even faster. She sets her dog on us and we dodge and the dog runs right into Luck’s open arms and I don’t see what happens to the dog after that.

I don’t want to either.

We’re runnin faster than we’ve ever run before.

Isn’t this great Tom? Edie says. She’s laughin her head off. We’re almost flyin, she says. We’re like superheroes.

Ain’t nothin hero about it. Luck is right on our heels. I think Luck’s helpin us run this fast, tell the truth.

It ain’t a good fast.

It’s like runnin from somethin in a bad dream.

I guess it’s like what the junior high girl feels with us gettin closer and closer. We reach for her arms. We grab em. We pull hard.

It ain’t her fault she can’t outrun us. She don’t have Luck on her side.


We get home and eat dinner and go upstairs without sayin a word to nobody. Mama don’t notice cause she ran into Mrs. Jackson at the supermarket and there’s a whole scandal about Mrs. Jackson’s son runnin off to the city or somesuch and Mama’s happy as a clam about it. Finally somethin’s happenin, she says, in this dull as mud town.

Pa watches me and Edie from across the table.

I don’t like him lookin at me.

It’s like he knows.

It’s like he saw us hit that girl. Just the one time is all it took for Luck to shiver and shake and roll around on the ground like he got an electric shock. When he stood back up I could see his eyes real clear for the first time. They were dark and didn’t have no white around em.

I don’t like Luck’s eyes.

Edie stood there twistin her hands.

Oh golly Luck, she said, we shouldn’t’a done that. We shouldn’t’a hurt that girl. She’ll tell on us.

She didn’t see you, said Luck. He smoothed down his coat. He dusted off his tall hat. He kicked dirt off his boots. All she saw, he said, was her fear.

Then he took our hands and led us home.

And now we’re sittin here across from Pa tryin to choke down cornbread and I swear he knows what we’ve done.

I almost say somethin. I can’t help it. This ain’t right.

It ain’t right it ain’t right.


Edie kicks me under the table.

Stupid Tom. Stupid idiot Tom.

I shut up. I don’t say nothin.

I ain’t stupid idiot Tom with the smart sister no more. Not with Luck around.

So I don’t act like it.


At first when I wake up that night I think it’s Edie comin to get me cause Luck said when he brought us home before dinner, he said, Darling children I want you to come up and see me tonight.

But we just hurt that girl for you, I said. Ain’t that enough for today?

Luck touched my arm. He squeezed tight till I couldn’t breathe.

It’s never enough, he said.

But it ain’t Edie wakin me up. It’s Pa.

Hurry, he says. Follow me.

Where’re we goin?

To the attic.

I stop cold. Why?

Cause I know what’s goin on and it’s gonna stop tonight.

Pa, ain’t nothin—

I ain’t an idiot Tom and you ain’t either.

But I am an idiot, I say. Ain’t no use lyin. I ain’t a good liar. Edie’s the one who’s good at lyin.

I need Luck, I say. We’re at the attic door. Pa’s holdin the cross from above the supper table like a gun.

I ain’t no good without him, I say.

I’m cryin.

No you got that wrong, Pa says.

He leans down so I can see him. His face got criss-crossed lines all over it. He looks tired but his eyes don’t.

You’re a good boy, Pa says. He holds me tight.

Where’s Edie?

She ain’t comin with us.


Cause she ain’t strong enough. Ain’t her fault. You could’a been the weak one just as easy.

I’m the mistake twin, I say. I’m still cryin cause that’s what idiots do. I shouldn’t be alive.

That’s right, says a voice.

It’s Luck.

You shouldn’t be alive, he says.

The attic door flies open.

Pa holds out his cross in front of us. He’s got it in one hand and me in the other. He rushes into the attic.

Somethin’s screamin:

You again.

You you you.

Not again.

Get that away from me.



No, Pa says. I ain’t puttin it down.

He grabs that heavy tin Edie dropped, the one Luck lived inside. It’s so heavy Pa can barely lift it. Maybe with two hands he could lift it but he can’t let go of that cross. I know that without even askin.

Tom, he says, help me get it outside.

So much screamin and so much wind. Books and clothes and boxes flyin all over the attic. There’s a kind of dark in here so thick it’s like drinkin cement.

But we lift it together, me and Pa, and we get it outside.

Luck follows us, and there’s dirt flyin in our eyes and the ground’s shakin under our feet but if I look out into the fields it’s calm like springtime. It’s a good thing we didn’t stay in the attic. We might’ve brought the whole house down.

I guess Pa knows that.

How’d you know Pa? I say. How’d you know what we done?

It happened to me too. He has to shout it cause Luck is screamin nasty words so loud I cain’t hardly think.

When? I say.

When I was a boy. Luck found me too.

You should’a gotten rid of it, I say. So me and Edie couldn’t find it. This tin, we found it with our toys.

That’s the thing, Pa says.

He looks at me.

I did get rid of it, Tom.



Don’t listen, Pa says, real calm.

We’re by the creek now. He’s got the tin in one hand and the cross in the other and he’s tryin to bring em together like magnets that just won’t go. There’s sweat on his forehead and his muscles are big like mine’ll never be, I just know it.

YOU’RE RIGHT TOM, says Luck.

He don’t look like a man no more. He’s all kinds of slime and glob. He’s crawlin on the ground. His hat ain’t a hat no more. It’s just a tall tall head.




Don’t listen to it, says Pa. He’s sweatin hard. He cain’t hardly breathe. It ain’t nothin but tricks and lies, he says. Luck ain’t real. Luck don’t last.

DON’T LISTEN TO IT, Luck says. He drips black on my feet. He’s real close now. DON’T LISTEN TO IT.



Then Pa says, Okay Tom. Okay now.

And I say to Luck, You got that backwards. And I’m cryin but I just don’t care.

And Pa slams his hands together, cross to tin.

And Luck shrinks into a smokin black piece of somethin burnt.

And flies into the tin.

And the lid slams closed.


With Luck gone everything’s quiet again. There’s crickets in the grass and a coyote out somewhere by the foothills. And there’s me and Pa starin at the tin on the ground like it’s this thing you don’t want to touch cause if you do it’ll blow you to bits.

What’ll we do with it? I say.

What’ll we do without it? What’ll we do without Luck? That’s the question I really feel like askin but I know I probably shouldn’t. I think of all the things I done. I wonder if Pa done those things too when he was a boy. I wonder if anybody ever called him idiot or thought he was the dumb one.

After a while Pa says, We’ll bury it. Far from here. Farther’n’ I did the first time. Deeper too.

We’re walkin back to the house now, me and Pa. We grab two shovels from the barn.

Me and Pa.

Not Edie. Not Mama. And Pa’s lookin at me like I ain’t a boy no more. Real proud, he looks like.

I bet you didn’t count on that did you Luck? I bet you didn’t see that comin.

You thought I was nothin without you.

You was wrong.

I sling the shovel on my shoulder just like Pa does.

I liked having Luck around, I say. It was nice.

I know, he says. I did too.

What’ll we do without it? What if we never get it again?

 There. I said it. I know it’s shameful but I said it.

Well, he says. Well. Then he says, We’ll go to sleep.

We’ll wake up in the mornin, he says. And then we’ll get back to work.


Red Shoes and Doll Parts

The story of Jackie and Mr. Jimmy is similar to that of the chicken and the egg.

Which came first?

Did Jackie start talking to Mr. Jimmy so much because the kids at school made fun of her and called her Wacky Jackie? Or did the kids at school start making fun of Jackie because all she ever did was talk to Mr. Jimmy?

No one really knows; not even Jackie knew.

But she thought she did.


She would get home from school and take Mr. Jimmy out of her backpack and sniffle over his cold, wooden head.

“Oh Mr. Jimmy,” she would say, crying into the mirror, which made things all the more awful, because she hated her uncontrollable hair and her pimples and how she looked like a string bean boy in her clothes, “why do they have to be so mean to me?”

And Mr. Jimmy would say something soothing like, “You shouldn’t care so much about what they think, Jackie. Jackie, they’re scum. Jackie, they’re little creeps. I hate them so much. Don’t you hate them?”

But Jackie would shake her head. “No. Hating’s bad. Mom and Dad say so. You shouldn’t hate people, Mr. Jimmy. Please don’t.” And then she’d put Mr. Jimmy away. He frightened her when he said things like that.

One day, though, it was the first warm day of spring, and Jackie had worn the prettiest sundress to school. It had polka dots and ruffled cap sleeves and a bright red belt. She had felt like an absolute princess, like a flower full of petals. But instead of everyone at school being impressed by Jackie’s style, they had poked fun at her—for dressing up too much, for dressing too old-fashioned, for being able to see through her skirt, for trying to be so pretty when she obviously was so not.

Jackie ran all the way home from school, and tore up her matching red shoes.

Her parents weren’t home yet, and she was glad. No one should have to see her like this. No one but Mr. Jimmy. She hugged him tight and cried over his crisp little blue suit.

“Oh Mr. Jimmy,” she said at last, when she stopped crying enough to speak. Her voice was full of hiccups. “I do hate them. I do hate them.”

Mr. Jimmy was quiet for a very long time. Then he said, “Oh? Is that really true?”

Jackie nodded fiercely. “I hate every single one of them.”

“Then we should do something about it. Don’t you think?”

Jackie wiped her eyes and stared. “What do you mean? What could we do?”

“Oh.” And Mr. Jimmy, even though it shouldn’t have been possible, seemed to smile. Not his painted-on smile, but one from deep inside himself. “I have lots of ideas. I’ve had lots of ideas for a very long time.”

“What kind of ideas?”

“We could get back at them.”

“But how?”

doll_parts“Trust me, Jackie. Trust me. I have your best interests at heart. I love you, Jackie.”

And poor Jackie, her face all red, smiled. “I love you too, Mr. Jimmy. You’re the best friend I have in the whole world.”

“And I have been for a very long time.”

“Why, yes.”

“And I always will be. Your very best friend.”

Jackie laughed. “Of course! Don’t be silly.”

“This isn’t silly to me, Jackie.”

There was that tone of voice that sometimes scared Jackie, the tone of voice Mr. Jimmy had when he talked about hating people. But Jackie was too tired from crying to care very much. So she put Mr. Jimmy on his stool and crawled into bed for a nap. It was exhausting to cry so much. She didn’t even stop to take off her ruined red shoes. She nestled into her pillows and stared across the room at Mr. Jimmy’s face until she fell asleep.

And Mr. Jimmy sat on his stool and stared back, which is the only thing ventriloquist dummies are supposed to be able to do.

But Mr. Jimmy was special. Jackie would have been the first to tell you that.


The next day, Jackie’s parents heard a slight wooden clatter at the kitchen table, and looked up from their cereal to see Jackie settling Mr. Jimmy onto her old booster seat, from when she was too little to reach the table on her own.

“Jackie,” said Jackie’s mom, “why is your doll at the kitchen table?”

Jackie’s dad frowned and fiddled with his glasses. “Aren’t you a little old for such things?”

“Don’t listen to them, Jackie,” Mr. Jimmy said through his bright white wooden teeth. “Things will be different from now on. People might not understand us, Jackie. They might not understand how much we love each other. But you and I understand, and that’s enough. That’s enough.”

Jackie worked very hard to pretend like Mr. Jimmy hadn’t said anything at all. She had figured out a long time ago that no one else could hear Mr. Jimmy but her. It made her feel special. It made her feel beautiful, like a thing that people wanted instead of a thing people teased, a thing people tripped in the hallways so she would drop all her books, a thing people pinched like she was some kind of ugly toy to be tortured.

“His name, Mother,” Jackie burst out, her cheeks bright red, “is Mr. Jimmy. He’s not a doll. He’s my friend.”

Her mother gasped at the meanness in Jackie’s voice. Jackie’s father stood up and tugged his shirt straight. “Now see here, Jackie-kins . . . ”

But Jackie didn’t listen. She pushed her chair back so hard it crashed into the refrigerator. She grabbed Mr. Jimmy and cradled him against her chest as she ran out the door. She kicked the cat when it got in her way, and as the poor creature yowled and scrambled away, Mr. Jimmy laughed against her ear.

“Such a pretty girl, Jackie-kins,” he said, and his breath was foul, but his lips were smooth. “We’ll show them. We’ll show them.”


On the school bus that day, Jackie held Mr. Jimmy in the bookbag on her lap and fussed over him, petting his smooth, painted-on black hair, running her fingers down his smooth, painted-on suit jacket.

“You’re so handsome, Mr. Jimmy,” Jackie said dreamily, although she didn’t say it as quietly as she thought she had, and a couple of boys nearby—Greg and Michael, were their names—turned around to look and point and laugh.

“Me?” said Mr. Jimmy. “You think I’m handsome?”

In answer, Jackie kissed Mr. Jimmy’s bright red lips.

“What are you saying to Mr. Jimmy today, Jackie?” said Greg. He had switched places with Mary, in the seat in front of Jackie’s, so he could bend over the back of the seat and get right in Jackie’s face. He was a handsome boy, and he had secretly always liked Jackie, and was the one who pinched her the most when no one else was looking.

He didn’t understand why Jackie preferred a doll to him.

“None of your business,” Jackie said, turning toward the window.

Mr. Jimmy’s bright blue eyes stared out of the open bookbag, right at Greg.

It made the deep, secret part of Greg—the same part that told him when he was in danger, or when someone was watching him—feel uneasy. But Greg wasn’t good at reading the deep, secret part of himself, so he just got angry instead.

He grabbed Jackie’s arm and twisted her around so she would look at him. Some of the other kids—Michael, and Mary, and Timothy and his sister Elizabeth—gathered around. The bus driver didn’t care; the bus driver never cared.

“Let go of me,” Jackie said, miserably. She was not good at standing up to these people. When they treated her like this, she felt ten times smaller than she actually was. She felt squishable, and dirty.

“No,” said Greg. “Not until you tell me what you’re saying to Mr. Jimmy.”

“Mr. Jimmy!” Michael said, in this high, fake-girl voice, and he batted his eyelashes and made kissy faces. “I love you, Mr. Jimmy!”

Mary laughed nervously. Timothy and Elizabeth watched with their mouths hanging open.

This went on for a while, and soon the whole bus was singing a song Greg had invented: “Jackie and Jimmy, sitting in a tree! One is a doll, and the other’s a fre-eak!”

Mr. Jimmy was very calm in Jackie’s lap. “I’ll bite them. I will, darling Jackie. If you want me to.”

“No,” said Jackie, and her whole body was shaking. “We can’t hurt them. It isn’t right.”

“But yesterday, Jackie, yesterday you said we could hurt them.”

Jackie squeezed her eyes shut and put her hands over her ears, but that seemed to make Mr. Jimmy’s voice even louder.

“Yesterday, Jackie, yesterday you said you loved me.”

Jackie opened her eyes. Mr. Jimmy was very close to her; his eyes seemed alive; his mouth seemed wet. He smelled like something burning.

“I do love you, Mr. Jimmy,” she said, wiping her tears.

Mr. Jimmy did not seem very sorry for her. His voice was cold and rattling. “Then prove it.”

So Jackie stood up in the middle of the aisle, one fist clenched, the other holding her bookbag with Mr. Jimmy’s head poking out.

“I’ll tell you what Mr. Jimmy said,” she announced, and the whole bus quieted because they thought this was going to be good.

“Shut up,” Greg said, punching Michael, who couldn’t stop laughing at his own mean jokes. “Wacky’s got something to say.”

“He told me,” Jackie said, “that he wishes he was alive, so he could hurt you—every one of you—for being mean to me. He said he wishes he could make you cry. He said—he said—”

Jackie’s bravery left her as quickly as it had come, and she sank back onto her seat, hugging Mr. Jimmy.

The other kids sat back down too. They weren’t laughing anymore. The deep, secret parts of themselves were screaming out warnings. It made their bellies feel funny and their skin feel cold.


That night, sirens filled the air of Jackie’s neighborhood. She lay in bed, breathing hard under her covers. Her bedroom flashed red and blue. When she got up to peek out the window, she saw the ambulance and the police cars the next street over: Greg’s street. And that house was Greg’s house. And that broken window was Greg’s window.

Was that body, on the stretcher, Greg’s body?

“Mr. Jimmy,” she whispered, “what did you do?”

He was there, at her feet, lying on the ground with his limbs askew. His cold wooden fingers touched her ankle.

“Just what you wanted me to do,” he said kindly. “I did it so you didn’t have to.” And when Jackie went back to bed, she held Mr. Jimmy close under the covers. He whispered how much he loved her against her ear until she fell asleep.


“So horrible, what happened to that poor boy,” said Jackie’s mom, at breakfast the next morning.

“I heard he’s going to be all right, though,” said Jackie’s dad. “That’s what I heard from the neighbors.”

“What happened, exactly?”

“A nasty fall. Apparently, he fell right through his window.”

Jackie was shoveling cereal into her mouth like a robot. Mr. Jimmy sat beside her.

Jackie’s mom tried to ignore that smiling, frozen face. She had never liked that doll. She wished they had never visited that antique store that one, hot summer.

“Jackie,” Jackie’s mom said, “are you all right? You look terrible.”

Jackie paused, a spoon of cereal halfway to her mouth, and glared at her mom. “Gee. Thanks.”

“I mean it, sweetie.” Her mother pressed a hand to her forehead. “You look like you didn’t sleep at all. You have dark circles under your eyes. You’re burning up.”

“Maybe you should stay home from school,” said Jackie’s dad.

“No!” Jackie bolted up out of her chair. “I have to go to school.”

“Poor thing,” Jackie’s mom said, concerned. “We’ve been talking about little Greg too much, haven’t we? Don’t worry, Jackie-kins. Your friend will be all right.”

“He’s not my friend,” Jackie said, as she walked out of the kitchen with Mr. Jimmy dangling from her left hand.

“Did her voice sound funny to you, just then?” Jackie’s dad said, after a moment.

Jackie’s mom shrugged. Like most grown-ups, she had not listened to the deep, secret place inside herself for years. “I hope she’s not getting a sore throat.”


“He deserved what he got. He deserved what he got.”

Jackie sat in the girl’s restroom at lunchtime, Mr. Jimmy in her lap. The tile was cold against her skin.

“You shouldn’t sit on the floor like this,” Mr. Jimmy said. “It’s probably covered with germs. You will get germs on your pretty legs.”

“Are my legs pretty?” Jackie asked, feeling pleased.

“Of course. You know I think you’re pretty, Jackie-kins.”

Anger exploded inside Jackie. She threw Mr. Jimmy across the room. “Don’t call me that!”

Mr. Jimmy did not break, but the sound of his wooden body careening across the floor was awful anyway. Jackie was horrified with herself. She ran to him and swept him up in her arms.

“Oh, Mr. Jimmy, I’m so sorry,” she said, crying. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“It’s all right, Jackie,” said Mr. Jimmy, very quiet.

“I just got so angry! Thinking about Greg. Thinking about the others.”

“What about the others? That there are so many of them left? They are all the same, you know. They will just keep doing it, again and again, unless we get them first. They are making you angry, and sad. They made you hurt me, just now.”

“Did I hurt you?” Jackie’s face ran wet with tears.

“You did. But I don’t care, because I love you.”

“You still love me.” Jackie clutched him close. “You do, you do.”

“Of course I do. But I feel a bit betrayed now, you understand.”

Jackie nodded vigorously. “I understand, of course. You’re right to feel that way. I was so terrible to you, throwing you like that.”

“I know how you can make it up me.”

“Anything for you.”

Mr. Jimmy’s fingers were cold on Jackie’s neck, on Jackie’s cheek. It made Jackie feel nice. “Anything?”



It was Michael’s house this time, which was close to Greg’s—just across the street, in fact. All the children lived close together. All the children rode the same yellow bus.

It was two nights after Greg fell. Two nights later, and the neighborhood once again filled with sirens and flashing lights. There was another broken window. Michael had fallen, too, and this time they were not sure if he would be all right. Michael’s family was richer; Michael’s house was taller.

The police officers did not know what to make of the marks across the paint in Michael’s bedroom. It was like something had dragged him, like he had dug his fingernails into the walls. The marks disturbed the police officers, but what disturbed them even more were the footprints.

Muddy footprints, in Michael’s bedroom. Girl-shaped footprints, with ten girl-shaped toes—down the stairs, through the kitchen, and out the kitchen door. Into the backyard, down the sidewalk.

The footprints were easy to track. It had rained, earlier that very night. The world was wet and sloppy and quiet.

“They go through there,” said one of the police officers to the others. She pointed down a garden path that led between two lovely paneled houses—one white, one yellow. Flat gray stones marked with muddy brown footprints led into bushes and shadows. Sounds met the police officers’ ears—sounds of wood crashing against a hard surface, someone crying, someone in pain. A deep voice, and a high voice.

The police officers hurried into the space between the houses, flashlights first.

“I couldn’t stop him!” It was Jackie, crouching there in the mud, barefoot and still wearing her pajamas. They were painted brown and red—an awful, sticky red. Surrounding her were the parts of a doll—there, a wooden leg; there, a chubby little hand

“Holy smokes,” said one of the police officers.

“Here now, little girl,” said one of the other officers, crouching low, “just calm down.”

“No! You don’t understand!” Jackie backed away, trying to pick up all the shattered parts of Mr. Jimmy, but there were too many of them, and they tumbled out of her arms. She had destroyed him. She had beaten him to smithereens. “He said he needed my help, but I didn’t know, I didn’t think he would—I didn’t think I would—”

Jackie looked up at them, these men and women with their shining white lights. Behind them, Jackie’s mom and dad came out of the house in their robes and slippers. Jackie’s mom put her hands over her mouth.

“Grab her,” muttered one of the police officers. “She looks nuts.”

“But she’s just a little girl!” Jackie’s mom cried.

The police officers took hold of Jackie’s skinny arms and wrenched her out of the mud. She kicked and screamed, she bit at them. She hit them, and her hands scraped their cheeks, because her palms had bits of glass in them, and splinters of wood.

“But I love him!” Jackie screamed. One of the police officers threw her over his shoulder, and Jackie reached behind him, struggling toward the pieces of Mr. Jimmy. “It was only because I love him! He told me to do it. He told me to!”

One blue eye stared back at her from the muddy ground. One blue eye above a shattered red smile.


The story of Jackie and Mr. Jimmy is similar to that of the chicken and the egg.

Which came first?

Did Mr. Jimmy come to life because Jackie loved him? Or did Jackie love him because he was alive?

Or maybe it was like the real answer to the chicken and the egg question:

What does it matter? The end result is the same: One loses its head, the other gets cracked open.


The Cake Made Out of Teeth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Give us a cake. Now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

She wasn’t wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

No one called the police.

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


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

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

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

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

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

Mr. and Mrs. Higginbotham shared an uncertain look.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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