The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

The Forever Book

Dust drifts through the air, landing on old, weathered spines and faded pages. I can do little more than watch from my shelf, wedged between an old dictionary and an atlas full of countries that now have other names.


We’re hardly going to talk about dust, even on this long and quiet afternoon, now are we? Not when there are so many other tales to tell each other. Those written on our pages, and the things we have seen from the bookcases and cabinets in which we have spent our years.


A great many years, some of us. For me, especially.


The customers who enter the shop likely do not know that we, the books, speak to each other. We whisper and rustle, and some of us are terrible gossips–though not me, of course.


All books do this, when no one is listening. And no one ever is, because they do not know they should.


No, the customers who visit are in search of a gift, perhaps, for a daughter or mother or brother, or in need of something with which to amuse themselves on a cold night by the fire, while the gas lamps outside sputter and spark.


The door creaks open, and for an instant the sound of horse hooves on the cobbles outside is quite loud, louder than the two chattering almanacs on the shelf below mine.


“Bonjour, Christophe,” says the customer. The words between my covers are English, but one picks up a thing or two. Hello. And I recognize the voice, which is a very good thing indeed. I may relax now; this gentleman won’t pluck me from my cozy spot and regret it forever.


This may seem a great exaggeration, but it is not.


“Ah! Bonjour!” Christophe says in return, coming out from behind his little desk to lead the man down through the crooked paths between shelves, piled high and teetering. As they pass, Christophe’s glittering black eyes flick up to read my spine, and quickly away again before the customer–whose bald head is gleaming in the dim light–notices and takes an interest.


Clearly, I am not kept in the room of rare books into which they disappear, though I should be. Nor am I kept locked away, safe from prying eyes, though I should certainly be that, too.


The constant babbling of the other books soothes my charred covers, crisp and ragged at the edges frm the countless times I have been hurled, tossed, gently placed into the flames. My pages crinkle, warped from the waters of every river marked in the atlas to my left.


I cannot be burned, or sunk, or torn apart. And so I am here, where no one will think to pick me up.


“People will open a book sitting on its own,” Christophe says, in French, but he has muttered this to himself so often I have come to know its meaning. “Here, they will ignore you.”


So far, this has worked. And as I say, I am calmed by the ceaseless talk around me. I do not long for a new…


…well, I suppose victim is truly the only appropriate word.


Cristophe was my last, and this is why he watches me with those obsidian eyes, carefully steering visitors away from my cracked spine. Because he knows. Oh, he knows all too well.


The bookshop is muffled, the voices from the back room too far away to hear, but for the bald man’s occasional exclamation over a book full of delicate paintings of birds. I’d forced Christophe to move that one–its chirping was near unbearable.


The door creaks again.


“Maman! The books!” a child says. There are snowflakes on the shoulders of her scarlet coat, winking like stars in a sky still red from sunset. Up and down the shelves, pages rustle excitedly. Pick me! they say, though of course she cannot hear. She does not know she is supposed to listen. No one does.


I am very still between my dictionary and my atlas. It is no thanks to them that I know so many words, so many places. My own adventures are responsible for that, and it has been a long time since I’ve had one.


“Oui, Madeleine. Be careful, yes?”


“I will!” says the girl, but she is not. Her little shoes kick up more dust from the carpet as she runs back and forth, nearly tipping over a stack of novels having an extremely animated conversation about…cheese, I believe. It’s possible I wasn’t listening quite close enough. For I am watching the girl.


Christophe and his other customer are still looking at birds, and I don’t know how I know this time will be different. That no one will steer the girl away, keep her small fingers from plucking me off the shelf.


The atlas begins to tremble hard enough to shake the mountains within. The dictionary mutters under its breath, words I surely won’t repeat here.


“Not me,” I say. She is still not listening. They never listen.


Her head tilts sideways. “The Forever Book, ” she reads. “Maman? What is im-mor-tal-it-y?”


“Why, it is living forever,” says Madeleine’s mother. “Never growing old or leaving this world for the next.” She shudders, this woman with a brain, for people do not know what they wish for when they seek this.


“Oh!” says Madeleine in her scarlet coat, and I am free, pulled from my cramped place between the dictionary and the atlas. All the other books are quiet now, their whispering silenced by fear.

Her eyes are very blue. My spine cracks and my pages stretch. From the back room, a shout comes, a thump, Christophe falling to the floor as Madeleine, my new owner, perhaps for a great many years to come, begins to read.

Jack Shadow

. This story based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Shadow.”

The shadow slipped through the night, hid from the sun, stretched out every morning and evening. Through towns and along roads that stretched for miles, the shadow slid.

You might not think that a shadow would have a name, but this one did, unpronounceable though it certainly was. It sounded a little like a snake slithering over moss, a little like fairy tears hitting the surface of a river.

But we…we shall call him Jack, just for now, because it is easier than snake-slithers and fairy tears, and this story is quite difficult enough to tell.

Jack was hunting. He had been for many years, and hoped it would not take much longer. A shadow, you see, needs a person, and this was the one thing he did not currently have.

Over his time, there had been many, tried on as one might test a new suit for a good fit. The last one, well, he had been nearly right, nearly perfect, but in the end that had made him very wrong.

A city loomed ahead; surely he would find what he was looking for in there, with so many people to choose from. Glass towers stood tall among small houses, reminding him of palaces. Of the days of dragons and kings.

Yes, my friends, our Jack the Shadow is that old, and then some.

I do suppose that now, as Jack edges into the city, mingling with all the normal shadows of sunset, is a good time to warn you that if Jack ever comes seeking to become your shadow, you must run. Run far and fast and do not look back. I only wish I had been able to warn the others, but I, unlike our Jack, am capable of regret.

Then again, you might well never know if Jack, or one like him, has begun to follow, a dark, sharp-edged blade of a thing.

He moved along the bustling streets, alert, careful, almost disappearing behind buildings as the sun dropped lower and lower in the sky. Turning a corner, he entered a quiet neighborhood full of tall, snow-white houses and old trees that spread leafy branches overhead.

This was promising. And you of course will know that when I say promising I mean dreadful, but to Jack, it was very promising indeed.

Up ahead, on the lawn of a large house on the next corner, a young boy kicked a ball, always reaching it just a second before his shadow—a real shadow—did. Jack crept up toward the house.

“Sam!” came a voice from within. “Time to wash up for dinner!”

“Coming!” he called back. Sam’s real shadow made to trail him into the house, but Jack caught it and held it back.

“We won’t be needing you anymore,” he said as the front door closed. Sam’s shadow turned around. It trembled in the breeze.

“No,” it said. “He’s a perfectly good boy and I won’t let you hurt him!”

“Hmmm,” said Jack the Shadow. “Why would you think I would hurt him?”

“I’ve heard of you,” it answered, shaking harder as the wind blew. “I heard what you did to that poor man, following him around for years and years, sucking the very life out of him until he was more of a shadow than you were!”

Jack laughed. It frightened the birds from the trees. He had been particularly proud of that one, but in the end, the man had not been the perfect fit. He had not wanted to become Jack’s shadow, and so there was only one thing that could be done.

“You killed him, and I won’t let you do it to Sam.”

“I do not think,” Jack said, “that you have a choice.” Swiftly, he plucked a strand of cobweb from a nearby bush and with it he slit the other shadow’s throat.

Now, you and I know that you could not ordinarily do such a thing with a cobweb, but shadows are not ordinary, and Jack was extraordinary, in the strictest sense of that word. Shadows do not play by the rules, and so the dead shadow shattered into a thousand tiny, black-winged moths and flew away.

The other shadow had been right about one thing. In fact, he had been right about everything, including what Jack did to the last one, but it was certainly right that Sam was a perfectly nice boy. Jack sat at the table while Sam ate, hid in a corner while he did every last bit of his schoolwork, and listened from the closet as his father read to him each night. He followed Sam to school and kicked a ball around the grass with him before dinner.

Jack was sure it was a perfect fit, that it was simply a matter of time.

Sam grew older, always a good boy, but taller, thinner, paler, his veins blue beneath his skin. His mother took him to the doctor, who said Sam was perfectly healthy, but perhaps a growing boy needed more sleep.

Jack hid under the chair in the doctor’s office and laughed. Goosebumps broke out over Sam’s skin.

“Sam,” Jack said that night, when the lights were out, the house quiet as a tomb.

“Who said that?” Sam asked, sitting bolt upright in bed.

“I’m your shadow.” Jack slid from the bed, over to the patch of moonlight on the floor. He stretched high as the ceiling, leaning over the boy in the bed. “You’ve been very good, but now it is time.”

“T-time for what?” Sam blinked, as if he was unsure whether he was truly awake.

“You are not dreaming,” said Jack. “It is time. I have followed you since you were young, Sam. I have done everything you asked of me, and now you must do what I ask of you. It is your turn to become my shadow.”

“I am dreaming,” Sam replied. “You aren’t real.” He lay back down and closed his eyes, turning his face into the pillow. Jack shook with rage, his whole thin, flat body shivering like the beat of a thousand moth wings. He slipped from the room, down the stairs, to the kitchen drawer where all the sharp knives were kept. Cobwebs did not work on people, and people follow the rules.

I cannot bear what happened next, just cannot bear it. You can imagine, you can close your eyes and picture it, if you so choose, though I wouldn’t choose to. Please forgive me if I don’t tell you every word, describe every drop of blood as it bloomed on the pillow.

I told you already that I wish I could have warned the others, and I only hope this has been enough of a warning for you. And so, rather than go through every last, horrible detail, I will instead ask you to do something for me. Go outside, stand in the sun. Close your eyes and feel it warm your face.

Open them again. Look around.

Is that truly your shadow?

Are you sure?


Deep in the forest, where there was only enough light to make shadows, where the air tasted of moss and rain, the spiders sang.

The forest was on the edge of a great city of glass towers and brick houses, of long roads filled with cars, and people. So very many people. They went about their lives, to school and work and home again, occasionally shooing small, scuttling things from kitchens and pillows.

“We wait,” the spiders hissed to each other. “We wait until the time is right.”

Not even a single leaf rustled overhead, the day entirely still. Above the treetops, far on the horizon, clouds moved across the sky.

The city people did not know about the spiders. Not the big ones, at least, in their enormous webs strung so thick they were like clouds, fallen to hang among the trunks and stroke the bark with wispy fingertips. There was no reason for the city people to know, no reason for them to venture so far into the forest.

“Tomorrow,” said the spiders. “Hungry.”

And they began to spin new webs.


Claudia Davenport hated her little brother, who had chased the dog away, over the fence and into the fields on the other side. She wasn’t supposed to go into the fields alone, and she definitely wasn’t supposed to go into the forest on the other side alone.

But she wasn’t supposed to lose the dog, either, and blaming it on Jamie would only get her sent to bed without dinner, because tattling wasn’t nice, according to her mother. Claudia held different opinions on that, but curiously, nobody seemed very interested in hearing them.

“Max!” she called. A warm breeze rippled the long grass in the field and it was nice, after so many long, hot days when there hadn’t been so much as a breath through the open windows of her house to cool her while she practiced the piano. The grass slapped against her bare, scabbed knees and whipped up dust from dry patches where it was completely worn away. “Max!”

She thought, perhaps, she could hear an answering bark, just inside the trees. On she trudged, feeling the air cool against her shoulders the instant she stepped into the shadows. It was quieter here, all sounds of the city muffled, and darker, though there was still plenty of light.

“Crazy dog, where are you?” Claudia’s voice bounced back and forth, set birds free from their branches. “No treats for you later.”

Footsteps padded along the moss nearby, but they didn’t sound like paws. That didn’t bother Claudia a bit. Jamie would be frightened, because he was a wimp and scared of everything, but Claudia liked all kinds of animals, and they liked her, too.


Spider legs danced along gossamer strings, spinning and weaving. “We are ready,” they agreed, and they crawled along their webs to sit, poised and waiting, all their many eyes staring in the same direction.

Down, down the strange avenue created by two lines of thick, gnarled trees, old as the ground to which they clung with their twisted roots.

Down the long path that led all the way to the fields and then the city.

Down the tunnel created by earth below and leaves above, through which–when the weather was just exactly right, the wind blew.


Claudia had never heard music like it before. Like violins, except not. Lower, richer, more like a cello, except not that, either. The melody was unearthly, nothing she recognized, and yet she knew it was music, intentional sound, not simply noise.

“Oh. Hi, Max,” she whispered, quietly enough that it didn’t interrupt the music playing everywhere, but especially inside her head. The dog had licked a large, slobbery patch on her shin. “When did you get here?”

Max whined, and shook a little at her feet. “Come on.”

The dog shook harder. Claudia had to clip his leash to his collar and pull to get him to follow, reluctantly, as she moved toward the music.

Louder, it grew. Louder and louder with every step.

It was weird, the way the trees grew this deep in the forest. As if someone had planted two neat rows and then stopped caring what happened on either side, so they were all jumbled up except for these two straight lines, a dozen feet apart. The toes of Claudia’s sneakers caught on rocks and snapped twigs, and she didn’t stop walking. Behind her, Max dug his little brown paws into the soft earth. She tugged him along.

Was it a harp? She’d seen someone play a harp, once, but it hadn’t made her feel like this, warm and sleepy. Almost floating.

The wind rushed at her back, past her, tossing her hair into her face, hardly broken by a little girl. She followed it, chased it, and stopped, peering through the dimness.

“Welcome,” said a voice. A voice that hissed, a voice with beady eyes and too many legs. The word wove itself into the music, adding another layer to the song. “She is a bit thin.”

“She is enough,” said another voice.

“She is plenty,” said a third.

And the wind blew harder through the spiderwebs. The music swelled. Max whined again. Claudia stepped closer.

“Plenty for what?” she asked, and her voice did not sound quite like her own. Somewhere, deep inside, a flicker of fear grew and was blown out by the wind. She should be scared, but the music was so pretty. Enormous webs spread out in front of her, stretched between the trees, spun in patterns she had never seen before. Nothing like the normal spiders in the basement. She reached out to touch a strand, vaguely surprised when it didn’t snap. Instead, a single clear note joined the melody, ringing through the forest.


Max whined again, pawing at her leg, and Claudia squinted. A spider as large as a football hovered just ahead, grinning.

There was another just there. And there. And over there. All around.

“You want…to eat me?”

“There is always one who hears the song when the winds come. Today, we feast.”


Occasionally, they got away. The little girl’s dog had yelped and snapped and chased her back down the avenue of trees. The spiders waited, sullen and starving, in their musical webs. So close, so very close. But not to be.

“Maybe she came this way,” said a voice, coming closer. “What a strange noise the wind makes in the trees here.”

Yes, oh yes.

“Mommy? Where’s Claudia? I didn’t mean to chase Max out of the yard.”

Two. The spiders grinned again, and bared their fangs.


Lush green leaves with saw-toothed edges brush the top of the skeleton train.

It comes from nowhere, and goes there, too, speeding by in the night, billows of steam rising to join the clouds.

And the tracks go clickety-clack.

Little Stevie March waits in the shadow of a bend, just past the old stone bridge that is slowly crumbling into the rushing water below. He’s heard the stories, but that’s never the same as seeing for yourself. So he sits, scarf tied against the cold, nibbling the cheese he filched from the kitchen on his way out, closing the door so quietly no one else in the house so much as rolled over in their beds.

His ears perk, but it’s only the wanderings of a rabbit–hopefully a rabbit–through the bushes. A yawn nearly splits his face in two, and his eyelids grow heavy.

But there…there it is.

Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack.

Quickly, he scrambles to the edge of the tracks, the wind whistling down a tunnel of trees to make him shiver. Muddy shoes dug into the ground, little Stevie March prepares to jump.

Black as soot, dusty, rusty, the skeleton train rounds the bend. The windows of every carriage glow, the light flickering across the trees, and beneath the roar of the engine, Stevie can just make out the sound of the tracks, thumping like his own heartbeat. For a single breath, he thinks of turning away, it’s coming so awfully fast, a blur, and one mistake will leave him a smear on the grass that will rot away with the end of summer.

But he does jump, fingers closing around metal bars, cold and rough with age. Gasping, thrashing, kicking, he hoists himself to the platform between two carriages, standing still as the world rushes past.

And he opens the door.

The skeletons are dancing to violins played with bony hands. Goblets of wine–hopefully wine–slosh with the rocking of the train. All of them are grinning.

“A flesh-child!” cries one, pointing. It has no fingernails. “Welcome, flesh-child! Join the dance!”

“Yes, join us!” the rest cry.

And when they talk, their jaws go clickety-clack.

The train is like no train Stevie has ever been on, not to the city or to visit the aunt his mother doesn’t like, but won’t say so. Real crystal chandeliers swing from the ceiling, plush purple velvet covers the seats, but no one is sitting.

“Tell us your name, flesh-child,” says one, wrapping bleached-bone fingers around his wrist, pulling him into the throng of ribs and elbows. A single long, blonde lock of hair clings to her skull, just behind her forehead. The ragged remains of what was surely once a pretty dress drip from her shoulders.

“Stevie,” he says, laughing because the stories were true. Really true! “Stevie March, ma’am.”

“No need for manners here, Stevie-child, but you must dance, for we are the stuff of night and dreams, and the moment is gone all too soon!”

They spin and whirl, smiling toothlessly, snapping their fingers to the beat. Clickety-clack.

Beyond the windows, mountains and oceans and the square shadows of towns whizz past, sleeping, undisturbed by the passage of the skeleton train. Word must spread to the other carriages, for soon this one is packed so full Stevie can hear the bones scraping against each other, and he has to repeat his name over and over for the newcomers.

Stevie slips, quick as a fish, through a gap between bones and winds his way along the train, through now-empty carriages, past tables full of empty goblets and plates of strawberry tarts and paté. The soles of his shoes squash food into the lovely rug, fallen there because of course the skeletons can’t really eat it. Perhaps they can’t even taste it.

“A flesh-child!” comes the familiar cry when he steps into the compartment at the very front of the train. A navy blue coat with brass buttons is fastened tightly over this one’s ribs, a smart cap with a peaked brim perched jauntily atop a skull round and smooth and thin as an eggshell. “To what do we owe the honor of a visit?”

“I’m Stevie. I heard the stories and wanted to see for myself.”

“Aaaah. Pleasure to make your acquaintance. And do we live up to the tales?”

“It’s even better. No one told me about the dancing or the violins or the food.”

The skeleton grins. Well, he was grinning anyway, but it seems to Stevie that the smile widens, just a bit. “We know how to enjoy ourselves here on the skeleton train, for what is the point, if not joy and revelry?”

“I’m…I’m not sure.”

Ahead, the sky is pink with the first flush of dawn. In that fancy coat, the skeleton’s shoulders fall ever so slightly. “But morning always comes,” he says, the words hissing through the spaces once filled by teeth.

“Why does morning matter?” Stevie asks. The compartment is quiet. Under the floor, the tracks go clickety-clack.

“You’ll see. Go back to the party, little Stevie.”

The party is still a chaos of strings and bones, of rattling laughter and merry jokes. Squeezed by a window, Stevie watches the sun rise over a lake edged with weeping willows in their heaviest throes of sadness. The woman with the lock of blonde hair sits beside him, her cold, smooth hand on top of Stevie’s warm one.

“My daughter wakes up early,” she says, staring at him through empty eye sockets.

“Oh?” It’s an odd thing to tell him, but they’ve all been so welcoming, it’s best to be polite. “Do you miss her?”

The woman doesn’t answer.

She simply fades away.

Rays of light stream in through the windows, plates and forks and goblets drop to the floor, and Stevie is alone. He’s never heard this part of the story, but they are all gone. Up and down the train he looks in vain for any skeletons left on the skeleton train.

The chandeliers blow out, the violins are silent. Outside, there are no towns or mountains or rivers by which to chart, only a blank whiteness, as if the clouds have fallen to smother the train.

Which is just as well, for there are no maps. In fact, the only thing that tells Stevie the train is still moving at all is the sound.

Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. Clckety-clack as the train chugs on, rocking gently back and forth. It’s cold on the skeleton train without the music and the laughter. It’s lonely without the dancing. It’s empty without the land rushing past the windows.

But the seats are still very plush and soft, and Stevie curls up in the corner of one, hugging knees to chest and trying not to wonder what happens next, or think about his parents waking up from their warm bed to find him gone.

He does not dream, and even if he did, he has no one to dream about, no way to bring back even one of the skeletons.

“Flesh-child. Flesh-child.” Thin fingers curl around Stevie’s arm to shake him awake. “It’s about time you went home, isn’t it?”

Stevie blinks. The train is clean, tables crammed with goblets freshly filled. The sky is dark. The violins await. “Can I go back?”

The chandelier’s light bounces off brass buttons thick and round as coins. “Of course you may, now that you know the truth of the skeleton train. Go back, and do not forget to dream of us. Stand between the carriages, I’ll slow it down, unless you want to become one of us before your time.”

“Thank you.”

In the tiny space between compartments, the wind howls, the tracks are loud. The train slows to a crawl, and as Stevie prepares to jump, the music begins to play.

He lands heavily on a bank of grass and rolls down, down, into the river with a splash. The skeleton train is already out of sight, but just ahead is the old bridge, its stones crumbling into the water.

Soaking wet, shaking from the chill, Stevie drags himself out and up toward the road. What a sight he’ll be to his parents when he gets home, though perhaps that doesn’t matter now. He wraps his arms about himself for warmth, but his teeth still chatter.


Poppy and the Poison Garden

Mischievous readers! It took much longer to bring this object to you than this Curator had hoped. Oh, the tales I could tell of plagues and an hourglass through which sand fell three times faster than time as we usually know it. Yes, I could tell those tales, but they might be too frightening even to belong in this Cabinet. I hope you will be appeased by the following instead.

— Curator Trevayne

Behind the gates at the end of the lane, the poison garden grew.

Even if there hadn’t been a sign hung on the iron, the children would have known exactly what was planted there, they would have known they were forbidden to enter, this being the source of their parents’ most frequent and hysterical warnings. “Don’t ever go in, are you listening?”

But there is a very particular kind of person who will take words such as these as a challenge, not a warning.

“You’re just scared,” Poppy’s brother teased.

“You are,” she retorted. The rest of the children laughed. It was easy to taunt each other in this way, since, no matter how hard they’d tried, none of them had managed to find out how to get in. The stone wall was twice as high as a person, topped with spikes sharp as needles, and went on as far as they could see. One long, lazy summer afternoon they had followed it, looking for a crack or a hole or some place where the heavy rocks had come loose. Many hours later, smeared with mud and scratched by brambles, they had ended up where they began, back under the sign on the gates, with its warning that the plants within could kill a full-grown man.

“I want to see,” said one of the other boys.

“You want to see a man die?” Poppy asked, with far more curiosity than horror.

“‘Course not, but I want to see what could do it. The plants in my garden are boring. All basil and whatnot.”

Everyone else, maybe a half-dozen children in total, nodded in agreement. Poppy took her little brother’s hand and began to march him back down the lane to their house in time for dinner. Beside the front steps, bright red poppies bloomed with the last flush of life, planted there by her mother every year on Poppy’s birthday. They were pretty enough, but surely the things growing in the poison garden were much more interesting.

Poppy was quite a fan of interesting.

“Poppy, David, wash your hands, what have you been getting up to?” their mother asked.

“We were up at the garden,” said David, because younger brothers are very stupid and don’t know when to keep their mouths shut.

Their mother dropped a ladle. “You must never go in there!”

“We know,” said Poppy, rolling her eyes. “We couldn’t anyway, it’s all locked up. We were just outside.”

“Well, all right,” said their mother, stirring a pot of soup. “But I wish you’d find something else to do. There’s something not right about that place.”

Poppy had heard all the stories. That men disappeared inside the gates, that the only person with a key was an old woman nobody ever saw, that strange footprints, neither human nor beast, were sometimes seen on the dusty path. Those things couldn’t all be true, and anyway, it was just the kind of place about which such stories were told.

Frankly, she had her doubts that it was dangerous at all. Interesting, yes, but it wasn’t as if anyone was going in there and picking leaves to eat as salad, and didn’t a person usually have to eat the wrong plants to get sick? That sort of thing happened all the time in books, some princess or other foolishly swallowing a cake or pudding someone had given her, without thinking whether it was truly a gift.

Funny, it was always an old woman in those stories, too.

Outside Poppy’s window, the moon was very full and bright. She blinked, still sleepy, unsure what had awoken her. No voices drifted up from downstairs, which meant it must be late enough that her parents had gone to bed, but still too early for the birds to have begun twittering in their trees.

The long path up to the garden glowed almost blue, moonlight against the gray dust of a summer without much rain.

And someone was limping up toward the gates, doubled over so that she looked most like a bundle of blankets propped up by a walking stick.

Poppy’s bare feet made no sound on the floor as she crept out onto the landing and down the stairs, pausing only for a moment to wonder whether she should wake David, who would want to see.

But he would make too much noise, and so she slipped through the front door alone. She dared not call to the woman, which might wake up everyone on the street. Stones cut at her toes and a chill wind bit through her nightshirt, but Poppy didn’t stop. Squinting through the moonlight, she could just see the old woman, almost at the gates.

If she locked them behind her, all Poppy was going to have to show for sneaking from her bed in the middle of the night would be sore feet and a cough from catching cold. Poppy hurried, cursing very quietly whenever she stepped on something sharp.

The gates, when she got there, were open.

“Hello?” Poppy called, one hand on the iron. There was no reply. “Can I come in?”

A warm breeze gusted from inside the garden, scented with something sweetly gentle. Poppy stepped through the gates, into warmth better suited to noon than midnight, lovely after the chilly walk. Neat paths wove between flowerbeds, tall trees spread thick branches overhead. Moss, soft and green, curled over rocks, laying a hush over everything.

“Hello?” Poppy called, one more time, and even to her own ears her voice came out as a whisper. There was no sign of the old woman, nor even of the tapping of her cane over the paths, but it wasn’t completely silent.

Nearby, something skittered, as did a shiver up Poppy’s back. “Some kind of animal,” she told herself, venturing further into the garden. It was light enough to read the little signs on wooden plaques in front of every plant and so she did, tasting the words, too beautiful to be bitter or poisonous. Oleander. Narcissus. Hyacinth. Why, her mother planted those last ones, they couldn’t be so very dangerous, no matter what else the sign said.

“Foxglove,” she read at the next one, looking first at the plant, then the sign, and then…

The bones in the flowerbed beside it, scraps of cloth still clinging to shins and arms. One elbow bent, the hand clutching at where the heart would once have been.

Poppy stumbled back, her own heart racing as if she’d eaten the flowers herself. The skull grinned at her and she ran, not paying attention to the paths or direction until she had to stop, gasping for breath.

The gates were nowhere in sight. The garden walls were too far to make out. And there, there were more bones, slumped against the trunk of a yew tree.

Also known as the Graveyard Tree, read the sign beside a foot, bleached white by moonlight.

She wanted to scream, to yell, but no sound would come out and in any case, she knew it wouldn’t do any good. She would just have to find her own way back, out through the gates and down the path and into her own warm bed, for she was suddenly very tired.

Every step felt as if her aching feet were made of stones big as the ones that made up the walls. On and on she went, until she suddenly stopped.

The air was sickly sweet. All around her, poppies bloomed red as blood. Truly, she hadn’t meant to step on them, but the moment she did, the soreness in her scraped and bruised feet seemed to disappear completely.

“You’re mine,” she said to the flowers, though it didn’t make any sense. “We have the same name.”

The poppies danced in the warm breeze.

Poppy knelt to touch the petals and look at their deep black hearts. Oh, they were so soft against her fingers and her legs and her cheek as she lay down among them, their perfume covering her like a blanket.

Blankets. A bundle of them stood on the path, right where Poppy had just been.

“Goodnight,” said Poppy. The walking stick rapped twice on the ground and the bundle turned away.

And Poppy closed her eyes.