The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

April Takes Flight…

An unkindness of ravens, a deceit of lapwings, a lamentation of swans…

A storytelling of crows.

This month, we explore a room in the Cabinet filled with rustling feathers and secrets chattered and chirped from the shadows. We’ll turn over objects and, perhaps, crack their shells to see what hides within. Or we’ll watch as they unfold their wings and perch, just for an instant, on the windowsill, talons chipping the paint, before they soar off for lands unknown.

There may be birds that carry messages of sorrow and mischief, ones who refuse to leave their nests lest anyone discover what’s woven in with the twigs and leaves, and ones who’ve seen, with their sparkling-jewel eyes, far more than we ever will.

Fly away with us, dear and curious readers, as we learn more of these cunning and watchful creatures.

The Curators


Around the world, I am known by many names, and I show many faces.

Faces you never see. And really, it doesn’t matter what I’m called.

In winter, when I’m cold and brittle and snap at the skin of anyone foolish enough to step outside, people close their doors and seal their windows against me. I howl and scram, hammer against the glass, bide my time.

There is a particular smell when the first hint of spring comes in on the air. I smile—for I can smile, you know—and wait. Just a little longer. Soon, so soon, people will throw open their homes to invite me in, and this…this is a mistake.

“What a lovely breeze,” they say.


I can laugh, too. You hear it all the time.

When I’m warm again, I am as young and playful as all the other creatures of spring…at first. I dance through the trees, flicking each freshly-sprouted leaf, and ruffle hair on hatless heads. It’s delightful. It’s fun. And I do so enjoy having fun. I gust into parlors and kitchens, cackling as that vase just too close to the edge of the countertop tumbles to the floor with a smash, or stay outside to flip over all the chairs on the grass, one by one.

But spring crawls toward summer. The long, hot days of summer when boredom is as dull and brown and dead as the flowers burned to a crisp in their dry, dusty flowerbeds. I must wait again, then, but only until nightfall. The sky darkens and the air cools enough to let me dance again. Through open windows and into the dreams of sleeping children.

Children are easiest, you see.

And then, then I watch.


Emily Lewis awoke grumpy and hot. The wind had woken her in the middle of the night, whispering in her ear, blowing across her skin until she’d gotten cold and pulled the covers all the way over her head just before falling asleep again. Now, she was positively boiling, and she stomped downstairs to the breakfast table with a scowl on her face.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” said her mother.

Emily pushed over her glass of orange juice. “Oops,” she said, as it spread slowly, stickily, ruining the fine white tablecloth.

“Emily! Be more careful. Here, it’s all right, I’ll clean it up.”

On the other side of town, little Nate Winston waited until his father was busy washing the already spotless car outside. He fetched a chair that wouldn’t wobble and stood on the very tips of his toes at his bedroom window, pulling down the coverings that had rattled in the wind in the middle of the night. Strings broke and plastic cracked and they fell in a heap on the carpet, utterly ruined.

In the next city over, Bethany Bertram sat in the garden and plucked each petal from her mother’s prize-winning roses, one by one. They scattered on the lawn in droplets of blood red and sunshine yellow, and she hid in her room when her mother came home from work. Slowly, they dried out, turning black and papery in the heat as another long, hot week with no wind began.

The summer dragged on. The wind came and went, always in the night, and hid well away from the burning sun. Everywhere, little children woke in foul tempers, and their parents went to sleep that way.


I did tell you I like fun, but even these small amusements aren’t enough, in the end. How could they be, for one such as myself? For an hour or a day, perhaps, but soon I must begin to think of the memories that will have to get me through the long, cold winter, when people stay indoors and shut me outside.

I am generous. I give them ten whole days with not so much as a breath, not a single puff of air to rustle even a single leaf. I watch the people wilt as surely as the flowers do.

Every window for miles is open, just in case. Waiting to invite me in, should I decide to turn up.


There’s no time. There never is. Emily Lewis’s mother hears the screen door leading to the porch start to rattle on its hinges. Nate’s new curtains begin to billow into the room. Bethany sees the new roses shake on their thorny stems.

A window breaks.

A branch, already cracked, snaps from its tree with a sound like thunder and just barely misses the head of a man walking underneath.

“Get inside!” come shouts from everywhere. “Close the windows! Going to be an awful storm!”

They try. Oh, they do try. I dance as fast as I can to the music of splintering wood and shattering glass. Blades of grass whip through the air, sharp as knives of steel. Through the towns and cities I race, gathering speed, gathering fury to warm me during the loneliness of winter. I do not look behind me at the wreckage in my wake, the things fallen, broken, beyond repair. They will fix their doors and windows in time, seal the cracks in their houses against me.

They always do.

When the first bite of autumn comes, I return, carrying the scent of smoke and the promise of a chill. I flicker through the trees, kicking at the last, stubborn, curly-edged few that cling to the wood. I swoop down, swirl through the red-gold piles on the ground, rustling and spinning.

If you listen on a clear autumn day to the crackle of the leaves, you will know what my laughter sounds like.


Birthday Wishes

Bright red candle wax had melted and hardened into pools on the white birthday cake.

It looked a bit like blood, honestly. And the icing, it looked a little like snow, but outside, there was no snow. It was gray and miserable, and if there had been any blood, the ceaseless rain would have washed it away.


And inside, well, there are different ways to bleed.

The birthday cake sat on a dining table laden with pretty china and heavy, ornate silverware. The china was littered with sandwich crumbs, the knives and forks smeared with butter and jam. Napkins crumpled like fallen roses beside each setting.

It had been such a lovely party.


“Where am I?” asked Agnes Agnew, who hated her name and her shoes and had hated her birthday party, which was why she’d made that wish. It had all been so boring, and her mother’s sandwiches had been dry and they’d still had the crusts on. Both her parents forced her to give pretty little scallop-edged invitations to all the silly girls at school, absolutely none of whom liked Agnes.

She had no idea why. And it didn’t matter. She didn’t like any of them, either. So there.

Here, all around her, was a sort of thick white mist. Somewhere in the depths of it, something went thump.

Agnes looked around, but she couldn’t see a thing. “Hello? I asked where I am, and it’s polite to answer.”

Something went thump again.

Two somethings.

Agnes’s first impression was of…stars. No, that couldn’t be right, but the woman’s dress glittered like a thousand of them, twinkling ice-blue, catching little pinpoints of light, though there were still no lights here that Agnes could see. The woman stomped out of the white mist, dark hair in tangled disarray, pale skin flushed at the cheekbones.

“My, my,” said the woman. “Impatient little thing, aren’t you? I’m coming. Four hundred and twenty-three birthdays I’ve done today, and it’s no lark, I can tell you. Where do you children even think up these things to wish for? Do you know how difficult it is to snap my fingers and create a perfectly crisp toffee apple after November the first? There are laws, I can’t just go running around bending all of them. And everyone expects me to do it all in these ridiculous heels, even though no one ever sees me. Because that makes complete sense, of course.”

“Who are you?” asked Agnes, momentarily distracted from the bigger question of where, in fact, she was.

“Your birthday wishes don’t grant themselves when you blow out those candles, you know.

“So you’re, like, a birthday fairy? And what kind of idiot wishes for a toffee apple when they blow out their candles? I hope it made them sick.”

The woman’s eyes narrowed. “A poor little boy who’s never had one, I expect. You must be Agnes.”

“Yes. And for the last time, I want to know where I am. What is this place?”

“It is…a place,” said the woman. “I suppose you could say it is my home.”

“Love what you’ve done with it.” Agnes sneered, glancing around again into the vast swathe of fog.

The woman-fairy’s hand twitched. The mist cleared.

And Agnes gasped.

The high, stone walls of a magnificent castle rose around them. It had turrets and everything. Below Agnes’s party shoes and all over the courtyard, green grass grew. A huge tree grew in one corner. In another, a table not unlike the one in Agnes’s home was set for a party.

Including a large, white cake with red candles.

“You have a very interesting mind, you know.” The sparkles on the dress shone a hundred times brighter in the sunlight that now poured down. “It’s really very rare that someone can do what you did—wish for two things at precisely the same moment. You wanted everyone to go away and you wanted to be somewhere else. Unusual. And most children do enjoy their birthday parties. Just a friendly tip, there, for next year.”

“It was horrible. And Jessica tried to pin the tail on me instead of the donkey.”


Agnes sensed she was being insulted, but for perhaps the first time in her life, she chose not to say anything. There were too many other important questions, and she wanted to run off, to explore the castle, if she could just slip away…

“Don’t even consider it,” said the woman. Fairy. Whatever she was. “When someone like you comes along, thankfully rarely, I bring them here for a wee little talking-to. A chat, you might say. Come, sit down.”

Agnes felt her feet being pulled along, as if by an invisible hand, toward the pretty table. The woman waved her hand again and two chairs slid out. Agnes tried to take the one at the head, but it shifted at the very last minute, and only by grabbing the table did she manage to stop herself from falling right over.

The woman pointed at the other one. Agnes sat. A teapot raised itself into the air and poured its contents into two mugs.

“Milk? Sugar?”

Agnes shook her head.

“Right then. I work very hard,” said the woman, dabbing at her eyes with a napkin and then crumpling it like a fallen rose beside her plate. “So did the one before me, and the one before her. It’s not easy, running around and granting wishes all the time.”

“That’s really what you do?” asked Agnes.

“Oh, yes. Parents are lovely, you see. And grandparents, friends, aunts and uncles. Throw the child a wonderful party, most of the time. But some wishes…some wishes are just for us.”

Agnes thought of that morning, when she had pulled on her dress and tights and shiny, buckled shoes, never telling her mother and father that she didn’t want the party to begin with. She would have been happy with just the presents.

“And of the wishes that are just for us,” the woman continued, “some are easy, and some are…not. But we grant them all, no matter what.”


The woman’s eyes narrowed again. “So, young lady, I brought you here to tell you there are a great many worse off than you, and some, like me, who work harder. Stop being such an ungrateful little brat. I spent an hour on you alone today, not just bringing you here, but sending all the others home, where they’ll have memories of a lovely afternoon, nothing out of the ordinary. Your parents are having a nice nap.”

“You can do that?”

“Not the point!” snapped the woman. “The point… The point is that I’m a generous sort, because I have to be. So you get another chance. I’m going to light the candles on that cake, there, and you’re going to make a nice wish. A good, proper wish, befitting a good little girl. I don’t even care if you don’t mean it. You’ll do it, and then we’ll all get on with our day, shall we?”

Agnes considered this. Deep down, in the darkest corners of her heart, she knew she’d been just a little bit awful to her parents, and Jessica had only tried to pin the tail on her because Agnes had pinched her first. And at school…she didn’t exactly speak to any of them, ever.

She put on a big, bright smile. “All right,” she said.

The candles flared to life. Agnes took a deep breath.


Agnes’s second first impression was of stars. They flared all around her as she twirled in the dress. The high heeled shoes did thump when she stepped.

Her wish echoed in her head. I wish to be you.

She thought of the little boy who had wanted a toffee apple.

Oh, this was going to be marvelous fun.

The Winter Machine

From the back of the workshop came an array of intriguing sounds. Pieces of metal clanged together, steam hissed, a fire crackled. It was a fine spring day, but anyone following the corridor toward the noises wouldn’t know it except as a memory, for there were no windows here to let the sunlight in, and the air was stale and dank as a coffin.

“I want to build something,” said a voice, a voice no higher than the countertops that were littered with gadgetry and tools.

A deeper voice chuckled. “All right then, son, it is time. What would you like to make?”

“Something like what you make, father! Something marvelous!” said the boy. And it was true that the older man made all manner of wondrous things. One only had to step outside, into the fine spring day, to see a whole hundred of them. Airships that buzzed through the fluffy clouds, grass-cutting machines that drove themselves along fine lawns in front of even finer houses. Toys that wound up and down and up again.

“Well, my Simon, you’d best get started. Do what you can, and show me when you’ve finished.”

Simon slid from the stool at which he always sat to watch his father, the great inventor, construct his great inventions. So many of them, now, that the city wouldn’t function without them. There had come imitators, of course, but anyone who wished for the best pushed open the door to Cracknell’s Clockwork Contrivances and placed their order, prepared to wait. Or else they sent letters written with elegant quills on thick parchment, sealed carefully with wax.

There was simply the small matter of deciding just what Simon would like to build, which wasn’t a small matter at all. He had toys, and games, and things that whirled and ticked and went clunk in the night. An automaton that looked quite like a person brought their dinners to the dining room each evening, and cleared the dirty plates away again to the kitchen, where a great, hulking, water-filled thing scrubbed them clean. Machines sharpened his pencils and tied his bootlaces tight, so that they never came undone and tripped him.

What did he need? What did he want?

It really was very warm, almost unseasonably so. The last of the frosts had turned the trees silver only the week before, but Simon removed his coat just a few minutes after setting off to wander the streets. A familiar creaking behind told him he was perfectly safe walking alone, the automaton Father had built just for this would never let any harm come to Simon. And so he walked, seeing the ladies in their fine gowns step into carriages surrounded by great swathes of steam and gentlemen stop to chat beneath gas lamps that would sputter to life at the first hint of darkness.

The first flowers were beginning to bloom, a dozen clocks in tall, stone towers counted the seconds away to summer, the sun arcing higher over the airships in the sky.

Down by the river, a wide, rippling river which cleaved the city in two, Simon stood. He had skated on it not a month earlier, spinning in circles as snow fell all around him.

Simon decided exactly what he wanted to make.


“And how is the great invention coming along?” his father asked, looking up from a table scattered with the pieces of a bird, fashioned from brass and copper.

“Fine,” said Simon, though that was not, strictly speaking, entirely true. He had tried many things, and so far, none of them had worked. But Father did not get to where he was by giving up, and Simon wasn’t about to, either. Asking for help would be precisely the same thing.

On a small counter in the corner of the workshop, just the right height, a collection of tools lay jumbled together. Hammers and chisels and blades thin as a hair. Buckets of water trembled with every footstep, waiting to be turned to steam, and tiny cogs glittered like snowflakes.

He had sneaked from his bed in the dead of night and inspected one of the many machines in the kitchen for so long the ice within it melted and puddles formed on the floor. The very next midnight, he’d taken the thing apart and only put it back together after carefully inspecting every piece.

In the morning, he had tried again.

It was a sweltering summer day.


The first leaf fell from a tree beside the river, and deep in the cool, dark workshop, an enormous machine chugged.

“What are you building, lad?”

Simon smiled. “You’ll see, Father.” Simon was close, he was sure of it, but there was one missing piece, a tiny filament or enormous wheel, that kept the thing from working. Oh, the mechanisms inside ticked and tocked, steam hissed and he had even, just this morning, managed to form a thin layer of ice on the inside, but it still did not work. Not really. Not quite.

He looked around at all of his father’s inventions, perfect moving parts and perfectly functioning wholes. They all had a spirit, his Father said, clucking over them as if they were children. A purpose, an essence. A machine needs a reason to run, not simply coal or gas or clockwork, but a reason why it must exist.


It was a crisp, perfect autumn, with warm days, and cool nights that were growing colder. Simon waited, setting the clock beside his bed to ring in the depths of darkness, and when it woke up, checking the window before falling back to sleep. His ice skates sat beside the bed, waiting, too.

Finally, it came. The first frost. It would be weeks before snow fell, or the river froze over, but what is the essence of winter, if not the first frost stealing across a flower?

Simon tiptoed outside, his toes cold, and plucked it from a bush. He could not name the sort of flower, he didn’t know those things, but he knew it was right, that the silvery sheen was the missing element of his grand invention.


“It’s ready, Father!” he said, before the eggs had been put on for breakfast. Simon’s father smiled widely.

“Show me.”

In the workshop, Simon took a deep breath, and flicked the switch. Outside, the frost was gone and the sun was shining. The grass was green and the river glimmered.

And it began to snow. Simon ran outside to see, his father on his heels. Around them, the air grew cold and colder, and the ladies in their elegant gowns began to shiver. Gentlemen stopped beneath gas lamps to point up at the sky. The airships shuddered, knocked off kilter by the sudden wash of freezing air.

“It’s my winter machine!” said Simon. “Look, the water’s freezing!”

“Oh, now that is clever,” said his father, but Simon barely heard, already inside and halfway up the stairs to fetch his skates. Both his father and the automaton followed him down to the river’s edge to watch him tie the laces tight. Over the ice Simon glided and spun as snowflakes fell around him.

“Very, very clever,” said his father again and again, gazing about as winter fell upon the city. When the lamps sputtered on, he called to Simon to come back.

“We must go and turn it off, before we do any harm,” he said. “All the plants must die so they can come back in the spring. Animals must build their shelters before the cold truly comes, so they can sleep through it.”

“All right,” said Simon, happier than he’d ever been. The machine had worked! He would let the real winter come now, and skate again then, but it had worked. Rubbing his numb fingers, he reached for the switch and flicked it once more.

But nothing happened.


It was a cold, bitter winter day. All the people who lived in the city huddled together for warmth, eating the last of the food, not knowing when the snows would melt on the roads that snaked in from the farms so more could be brought. Water pipes froze and split, fish were trapped and smothered by the solid mass of ice that was once a flowing river.

Simon watched it from the window, his skates buried beneath a crate in the back of the wardrobe. He had tried and tried, but the machine would not turn off. His father had tried, but Simon had built it too well. It would not turn off, or come apart, or cease working when hit with water or fire or rocks.

It was a cold, bitter winter day.

And so was the next one.

And the next.


Fire People

Mama always told me not to speak to the people in the fire.


“Leave them be,” she said, as I sat on the hearthrug and watched. Faces and flames, bodies that crackled orange and vanished, only to reappear again, dancing along another burning log.


Mama told me not everyone could see them, but that our family had always been able to.


She told me not to tell anyone I could see them.


The colder it was outside, the more the fire people gathered. Sometimes, when frost glittered along the branches of the trees that tap-tap-tapped against the windows in the wind, there were so many of the fire people that I could scarcely make out each one. They were a mass of waving arms and flickering tongues, sparks flying up when they opened their mouths.


To sing, or scream, I could never tell.


Did it hurt them? Or could they not be burned, because they were made of the fire itself? I longed to ask, to lean in close until the heat scorched my cheeks, but of course I didn’t. Because Mama always said to leave them be.


The first snowflakes hissed against the glass in my bedroom window. I couldn’t say what woke me, or even if I was awake, for certain. The night certainly felt like a dream. A dream with darkness in it. A dream simply waiting to become a nightmare.


It was quite completely dark. Not even a tiny amber glow came from the hearth, the fire burned down to positively nothing. No whisper of heat. No cackle-crackle of light. And I missed them, I missed the company of the fire people, but only the folk up in the grand manor house had fires that blazed all through the night. Us as were in the smaller cottages, we made do with enough to cook our dinner on, and keep us warm until bedtime.


We weren’t starving, I want to make that very clear. Mama scrubbed and scrubbed to put food on the table, and there was always enough of it. Trouble is, there wasn’t overmuch of anything else. When Maise and Harriet at school had new hair ribbons or dresses that had only belonged to one of their sisters, I made do with my old ones. And I had no sisters; my dresses came from everyone else’s sisters.


But we did alright, Mama and me. Summers, I’d help her with the vegetables and I was always the best at getting the chickens to give up their eggs.


Anyways, I was shivering in my bed, thinking about the chickens. I hoped they were warm in their coop. The floor was terribly cold on my toes as I crept from bed, down the stairs of the tiny cottage to the room where Mama and me did everything but sleep. And oh, it was cold. The coldest night of the year by a long ways. I shivered in my nightdress, toes so chilled they hurt. I was sure if there was enough light to see by, I’d see they was blue. I tried to pour a cup of water from the jug, only it was frozen solid.


One lonely log sat by the hearth, and I wouldn’t normally—you have to know I wouldn’t—but it was so very cold, and I knew Mister Lavender would be by in the morning, carving tracks up through the snow to bring Mama and me extra firewood for the cold spell.


Mama kept a bowl of matches on the mantel. The fire caught with a snap.




I wasn’t sure I’d heard it, not at first. Fires, you see, can make all kinds of strange sounds.




I saw its mouth move, right at the exact moment it spoke.


“Hello,” I said back. This couldn’t be disobeying Mama. I hadn’t spoken to the fire person, it had spoken to me. There was, curiously, only one, despite the chill outside. But it had the full length of our last log to dance upon.


“You are cold,” said the fire. I wondered how it knew, and then decided it probably knew of such things better than anyone, having the leisure to sit back and witness them from afar.


I nodded. It had long legs and log arms and wild, spiky, sparky hair and I held out my hand before I could think what I was doing. And before it could think what it was doing—or perhaps not—it leaped into my outstretched palm.


My yelp drew a loud snore from Mama above. The fire jhopped back into the hearth. The bed creaked as Mama rolled over. Two tiny foot-shapes blistered on my hand.


I wasn’t cold anymore.


“What else can you do?” I asked. Perhaps nothing. Perhaps warmth was the fire’s only trick.


It raised its arms and an enormous, searing ball of flame flew up the chimney. It spread them, and my face appeared, shimmering red and orange. It jumped from the grate again and ran around the room, laughing as my heart rose into my throat, moving too quickly to damage much of anything.


And we didn’t have much of anything to damage, so I suppose that worked out just fine. A few bits of furniture, and Mama’s old chest filled with books and papers. Sometimes, when the light stretched out just a little longer, she’d read them to me.


The fire person still hadn’t answered my question. “What else can you do?” I asked it again. It grinned a wide, red grin, its hair twisted and curled.


“Follow me, Mary,” it hissed.


“How do you know my name?”


“We watch you. And now, it is time for you to watch us. It is time to learn.”


Sparks flew from the floorboards as it ran to the door and slipped through the crack beneath it. I fumbled with the latch, my fingers numb and cold again now that the fire was gone. An inch of snow lay over all the ground, perfect and untouched except where the fire person stood. In the snow, he—and I will always think of it as a he—was almost blinding, such a bright and flashing flame. A circle had melted around him, the grass below too sodden from the snow to catch fire.


“Where are we going?”


He smiled. Flicker, flicker. “Come close. Stay warm. And now we go make everyone else warm, too.”


I should have been shivering, my teeth should have been chattering as I stood there, all in my nightdress and bare feet. He ran ahead, not so far that the cold came rushing back to me, but far enough that I had no choice but to follow. How could I not follow this dancing, running, skipping creature of crackle and flame as it led me deeper into the village?


“Now,” he said, stopping outside a grand house. Not the grandest, but larger than the little cottage Mama and I shared. “Come, friends!”


And there they were, all at once. All the fire people who hadn’t come inside when I lit the last log. They jumped and twirled and crackle-cackled, and the grass might have been too wet to burn, but the old, dry wood of the houses was not.


A half-dozen were alight before I realized what was happening. My screams were lost to the roaring fire.


All I could do was turn and run. Run back up to the cottage, chased by the fire that had spread to every house in the village. Every house except our little cottage, where Mama was outside the door, holding my coat and my shoes, her old trunk by her feet.


“We have to help them!” I said.


She did not look angry, but she did look sad. “Put those on, Mary,” she answered, pointing at my things. I still wasn’t cold, but I did as she told me. From the chest, she pulled a square of folded paper, and from her pocket, a match.


“I told you not to speak to the fire people,” she said, unfurling the paper on the lid of the trunk. It was covered in tiny holes with ragged, scorched edges. Mama flicked the match with her thumb and touched the flame to the tiny spot where the name of our village was marked. Sparks popped as she blew out the tiny flames and studied the map for one more moment.


“This way,” she said, taking my hand and pulling the trunk along behind us, over to the road that led north. “In the next place, we leave the fire people be.”