The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

Generously Donated By…

It is one seventeen in the afternoon, and you are bored. Who cares about mummies and old statues and broken bowls someone found in the dirt, anyway? Not even a whole bowl. Your feet drag, and once again Mrs. Webster’s voice calls, “Keep up, everyone, remember to stay with your buddy!”

Her voice echoes around the drafty museum, and Sabrina Linklater is most definitely not your buddy. She smells like cotton candy and she doesn’t like you. You know this because she’s told you every day since you were both five, so it’s just your luck to be stuck with her now.

“We’re going to see a very special exhibit,” says Mrs. Webster, which means nothing; she’s said this about all of them, all day, and your feet hurt. Nobody listened this morning when you insisted these shoes pinch your toes, too busy trying to make you eat horrible slimy oatmeal and remember your bag for the field trip.

This room is dim, and cool, like the others have been. Spotlights bounce off glass cases and the walls seem to swallow every noise, turning voices down to whispers. A few other visitors are wandering around, stopping in front of each piece before slipping through the swathes of shadow to pop up at the next thing to see.

It’s the statue that makes you pause. There’s nothing special about it, in fact it is another boring thing, just a figure of a small man, cast in white stone.

It looks exactly the same as it did in the last room.

And the room before that.

Which is cheating, really, isn’t it. The museum should try to put different things in all the exhibits, or there’s no point to traipsing through the entire building, and maybe then your shoes wouldn’t squash your feet so much. You’re certain you have a blister, just there, on the outside of your left pinky toe.

But you move toward the statue. The air in the room smells funny, like the second before a lightning strike in the dead heat of summer.

Slotted neatly between two of the statue’s fingers is a small card:

Puck, or Robin Goodfellow
England, c. 1805
Mythical trickster and nature sprite
Artist: Unknown
Kindly donated by Mr. Alistair Harbuckle

Boring. You turn, and a tiny sound breaks the hush that smothers everything else, including Sabrina Linklater’s whiny voice and Adam Beech’s constant questions.

Scrape. Scrape. You’ve made that sound before, striking two rocks together to start a fire—which, you can say with authority, absolutely never works.

Scrape. Scrape.


You whirl back. The statue is perfectly still, and looks no different, except it must be like that famous painting, because its eyes seem to follow you, and the hairs prickle on the back of your neck.

“This way, kids,” says Mrs. Webster. You can barely hear her.

“That statue is weird,” you say when Sabrina reluctantly falls into step beside you.

“You’re an idiot,” she answers.

The next room is filled with bones and the ghosts of the dinosaurs who wore them, grinning skulls with hollow eyes peering down from overhead. This is more interesting than half an old dinner plate or an ancient chess set, and you move up close to read the names on the little cards, inspect the hinged, talon-pointed feet fixed to the stands.

Scrape, scraaaape.

The statue is in the corner, stone-frozen and smiling, its finger crooked, beckoning you, glowing white in the shadows. Nobody is watching. Your buddy—ha, ha—is way over there, exclaiming over something that would once have had huge, leathery wings. Mrs. Webster is leaning against a pillar, her hair loose from its pins.

Closer, the outline of a door scratches itself onto the wall beside Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, mythical trickster.

And this is not boring. Your heart beats faster and you check again that no one is watching. Just for a minute, that’s all, and then you’ll go back to looking at the bones, but the statue chose you, not stinking Sabrina or annoying Adam Beech, and this is very, very interesting.

“In here?” you ask, and it doesn’t even feel silly to be speaking to a piece of stone, however humanlike it suddenly seems to be.

Scrape. Nod. Scrape.

You push on the wall. It’s cool, but not cold, smooth, but not perfectly, and it gives way without a creak, a doorway just large enough to slip through.

Into a forest. A square, room-shaped forest, but a forest. The sunlight from the ceiling is warm on your face, the earth soft underfoot. It smells like it just rained, fresh and clean. A fat bumblebee buzzes lazily in a cluster of snowdrops, the air is tinged with green so rich and sweet you can taste it. Birds twitter, something clawed scuttles away, unseen. The nearest tree is thick, branches gnarled like an old man’s hands grasping for the sky, and carved into its trunk are the words:

Elsewhere, c. The Year of the Mocking Mirrors
Generously donated by Lord and Lady Hummingbird-Glass

It is real, the bark rough as bark should be, catching your fingertips when you trace each one of the letters. Fallen twigs snap with each step deeper into the trees. This is a different kind of quiet, here, a silence that is such even though it sparkles with birdcalls and rustling.

At the far side of the forest, between two trees growing right from the walls, another door stands an inch ajar, enough to welcome. The one you came in is too far behind to see, but one more room won’t hurt. This is a clever trick of the museum’s, and maybe the next exhibit will give a clue as to how it works.

This is what you tell yourself.

Mostly, this is decidedly interesting.

The next room is empty. A dull, gray box, bare of the merest smudge or speck of dust.

You begin to laugh. Laugh so hard your eyes water and your belly hurts and you fall to your knees, holding your sides as if the air itself is tickling you.

“Help!” you gasp. “Stop!”

No one comes. It’s up to you to crawl, cackling, to the next door, and the instant you’re through the laughter stops, smothered by the weight of thousands of eyes, watching, all turned to stare.

Paired up in jars, in rows and rows on shelves. Green and blue and brown, floating in water or something like it.

Everywhere, c. The Beginning of Time – Who Knows?
Generously donated by: please see labels


You jump.

“Would you care to make a donation?” the statue asks. He’s still holding the sign with his name on it in one hand. In the other is an empty jar with your name on it. And a spoon. “Yours are lovely.”

“You mean, these are—?” and there is nowhere in the room that’s far enough away from any of the staring eyes. That jar, right there…one is brown and one is blue. Everything goes dark.

Scrape, scrape.

You uncover your eyes. “Do I have to?”

“Oh, no. It’s not required. Please, enjoy your stay. There is always one who is bored.”

The watch on your wrist has stopped. Perhaps it’s time to go back. You look up from the unmoving hands and the statue is gone.

So is the door from the laughing room.

A tingle crawls slowly down your spine. That thud is your heartbeat. Thud. Thud-thud. Thudthudthud.

Inside their jars, the eyes follow as you walk, then run the length of the room. Through a room of music boxes, each playing a different tune. Another full of spiders, all spindly feather-light legs that crawl over you through the next four rooms, rooms you don’t see because you hate spiders most of all. In the one after that, it’s snowing, the snow of a hundred Christmases. And a room of ghosts, cold and dark, generously donated by…everyone. The next room makes you scream as you tumble inside.

For it has no floor. It is only sky. Generously donated by… and a gust of wind blows the rest of the cloud letters to nothing, tossing you this way and that, soaring, flying, blowing you through a hole in the blue to land on a hard, bruising floor.

This has become, perhaps, a little too interesting.

“Hello?” you call. “I need to go! They’ll be missing me!”

No one answers.


There is no scrape of stone.

Only laughter. Distant laughter.

“This isn’t funny now! It’s all very interesting, but I need to get back!”

Laughter, laughter, laughter.

You grit your teeth and look around this room. This room that might be the strangest, most wonderful and terrible of all, for it is yours.

Everything as you left it this morning, in the shoes that pinch, belly full of slimy oatmeal.

The sweater you hate is at the back of the closet. The secret thing you don’t tell anyone about is under the bed.

It can’t be.

Outside the window, the sky is pink and orange, the first stars glinting in a tinge of darkness at the edge of sunset.

It can’t have been that long. They’re all going to be so furious. Maybe they’ve even called the police, desperate to find you.

You sit on your bed. Feel the lump in the mattress that’s exactly where it always is. Read the plaque on the bedside table that is the only unusual thing, and stop when you get to your parents’ names.

Not generously donated, no, no.

“Is this all because I was bored?”


“Mostly it’s because I am,” says the statue. More scrapes. He snaps his fingers, two doors appear. “One of these will lead you back out, one will keep you here. If you go through either, you cannot return to this particular room. Your only taste of home.”

Flutter, flutter, your heart beats. “Is this a trick?”

“Yes. No. Possibly.”

And he disappears again.

The doors are identical, down to the knots in the wood, the polished brass handles. No way to tell them apart, so which do you choose?

How can you choose?

You close your eyes.


Feel the round doorknob, chill against your hand, perfectly smooth.

The draft as you pull it open.

And you smell…cotton candy.

“There you are,” says Sabrina Linklater. “You’re a terrible buddy. I don’t like you.”

Mrs. Webster is still leaning against the wall, her hair loose from its pins. The rest of the class is clearly tired of the dinosaur bones. The statue stands in the corner, and you wonder if maybe the donation from Mr. Alistair Harbuckle wasn’t the biggest trick of all.

The watch on your wrist ticks away, working just fine.

It is one forty-three in the afternoon. And you are not bored.

The Circus

They said I was found in an eggshell. That a witch sailed to sea in the shell to whip up a storm that would smash the boats to ribbons on the rocks, and when the shell came back to land, there was I, curled inside.

That’s what they said. Rubbish, of course, but in our line of work, an interesting story was important as the clothes on your back. Maybe more important.

And it’s true I was always lucky, right from a tiny thing, always first to find stones with holes in their middles when we cleared the ground for the tents, or see a cat the color of midnight. Lucky Luke, they called me.

But only once. Tempting fate like that is the height of foolishness, and we are by nature a superstitious lot.

Perhaps that’s what happened.


I was seven, possibly eight. Not knowing exactly my birthday on account of the eggshells, it was difficult to say for sure, but that sounds about right. Seven or eight, and there was so much glittering, thrilling fun to be had, ducking under the juggler’s clubs, spitting water back at the elephants. Waiting for the moment when everyone had taken their seats and the whole tent held its breath…

“Welcome, welcome!” Mister Scully, the ringmaster, would cry. The towns changed, some big, some small, at the edges of lakes or swaddled by mountains, but this was always the same. And then I would be wheeled out in a special box, because I was one of the small ones, and the magician would saw me clean in two.

Not truly. But it looked for all the world as if he had.

On one particular day, the animals were tired and grizzly, and the rest of us soaked through from a week’s worth of rain. “Are we there yet?” I asked. I remember this quite clearly.

“Nearly, Lucky Luke!” roared Scully, trying very hard to smile beneath his drooping, dripping mustache. Beside me the fortune teller made a sign to ward off evil spirits.

We turned down a dirt road walled on both sides with trees tall as hills. Somewhere behind my little nest of blankets the lion roared, the tamer rattled his chains.

And the beast was silenced.

Inside the trees, nightfall had come at breakfast time, so dark it was. Leaves rustled, and whatever tiny points of light broke through seemed more like stars than daylight. The forest kept the rain off, however. That was something.

It felt an age that we traveled that dark road, peering ahead for any sign of it ending, and when it did, trees giving way to open space and then a large town of wood and brick, it was as abrupt and surprising as a miracle. As finding a penny beside your shoe the moment you happen to look down.

“Everybody out!”

Everyone has a job, in the circus. In truth, everyone has twenty-seven jobs, all part of a well-oiled mechanism. The acrobats climbed atop the piles on the wagons to grasp tent pegs with their toes. The magicians vanished burlap sacks as soon as they were emptied. I wriggled through the small spaces, ran jackrabbit-quick between the carts and the tent.

With a sweeping arm, Scully donned his top hat and crossed the muddy field to the town. I remember this quite clearly, too, though I could not now say why it made such an impression. He always went to issue a formal invitation, as if the people hadn’t watched our arrival through their windows.

The circus had come to town, and oh, wouldn’t they come that very evening to see what wonders the Big Top held?

Of course they would come. They always came, ready to stamp their feet and clap their hands and hiss like snakes.

Only later, much later, did I realize I hadn’t found a single holed stone, or seen a cat hunting for field mice. I was too busy helping the tumblers with their spangles, tying knots in the trapeze ropes, fetching buckets of sawdust and rainwater.

I wouldn’t realize until later.


The tent was full to bursting. I sneaked out and away, far enough that I could see how grand it was, great stripes lit up with torches against the backdrop of that deep, dark forest.


“Here!” I ran back, back to Maximilian, the magician, ready to tuck me into the box so he might cut me in two again.

“In you go, then.”

It was dark as a bruise inside the box, but I wasn’t afraid. No need for that. Done it a hundred times, hadn’t I?

The tent was dark, too. I couldn’t see, but I knew, it was always dark as I was wheeled out to the edge of the ring in my box. Dark and quiet enough to hear a pin drop. The band silent, Scully in his waistcoat and top hat waiting, waiting until the townsfolk couldn’t stay still for another moment.

And then the lights would burst to life, and the waiting band would play, and Scully would welcome everyone, and the show would begin.

Just another moment, that’s all. Squashed inside my box, I knew it would only take another moment.

That’s when the whistle began. A low, mournful whistle that brought goosebumps to my skin. A trombone made a noise like a cat under a cartwheel. Glass shattered.

“Lights!” Scully ordered. Maximilian flicked the latches with fingers that made the whole box shake. I tumbled out, heart thudding, as the ring of torches flared on our fearful faces. High up on the ladders, Ivan and Cassandra dropped their trapezes to put their hands to their mouths. Juliette dropped her deck of cards that did not foresee this. She would have said.

“Who was that,” Scully whispered, gazing about the tent. “Who whistled?”

No one said a word. He looked terrifying, terrible, inhuman with his wide mustache and goggling eyes.

“It is terrible luck to whistle in a circus tent, you know. Let us not get off on such a terrible foot, my friends. Who was it?”

Still, no one answered. Bunch of cowards, I thought then. Bunch of stinking cowards.

Scully gave a last look around the tent. “All right. Welcome, welcome.” It was not a cry, that time.

It was something more of a warning.

The smashed mirror was swept, cards gathered, latches closed on the box, locking me back inside. For the first time I was afraid as the sword sliced the air, but the trick went off without a hitch. And for the rest, if our hands shook a little more, if our feet were not so steady that evening, who was to notice?

But we would not stay another night, that was decided the instant the tent had cleared. Pack up first thing, be on our way to somewhere more hospitable.

In the morning, the wheels stuck so fast in the mud not even the elephants could pull them free.

That afternoon, bored, restless, Cassandra set up a tightrope between two trees, and Ivan wasn’t quick enough to catch her when she fell.

Sulky and starving, the lion seemed to feel the tamer was taking too long to bring his dinner. A single scream broke the sunset, blood stained the ground.

By nightfall, we were all huddled in a single wagon, Juliette’s cards promising death, and death, and death again.

For these things always came in threes. We stole glances at each other’s faces, wondering.

I don’t suppose I’ll ever know who knocked the candle, and I am the only one left to think of it.


I was always lucky. Found in an eggshell, the first to spot four-leafed clovers and make wishes on shooting stars.

The only one to wake as the flames licked and crackled over parched wood and moth-eaten blankets. My screams trapped in my throat, my hands weak. No one stirred when I shook them.

Jackrabbit-quick, I ran. Into the woods, dark, dank, safe. From behind a tree I saw the fire spread down the chain of wagons, heard the lion roar, the elephants stamp their feet and toss their heads, strong enough to break their chains and let them run.

But there was no saving the circus. Nothing to do but wait for the flames to burn themselves out in the hour of sunrise, when the sky matched the burning embers exactly. On knocking knees I walked, edging closer to a sight too terrible to look at, and yet too terrible to look away.

Part of my magic box survived, charred wood held together by silver hinges, surrounded by a pile of spangles and ash. A beautiful, brightly-colored bird, like a fire itself, flew down to perch on its edge.

It turned a beady eye on me, and then on the rising sun. And it began to whistle, sounding for all the world like a man.

The Graveyard of Hearts

 Curator’s note: Happy February, curious readers. This month in the Cabinet, you shall find delights centered on the theme of “love,” though, of course, with our own special, wicked twists.

No matter how bright or warm the day, the graveyard was always a cold, foggy place. Fingers of shadow reached from headstone to headstone, brushing over dates long past, long forgotten.

Every week, Alice came with her mother, and wandered deep amongst the tombs and statues while her mother stayed at the edge to put flowers on those graves that bore their their family’s name.

“It’s how we remind them that we still love them,” said Alice’s mother, and that was fair enough, but she always felt a chill in the graveyard.

The ground was soggy, sloshy from the recent rains, sucking at the soles of Alice’s boots as she walked. By now, she had memorized almost all of the etchings on the stones, knew which residents had lived long lives, and which had only lived short ones, and it was at old Mr. Fernsby’s spot that she tripped.

Mud splattered everywhere, and this would surely mean a bath later, but there was no point in worrying about such injustices now, not when Alice saw what had made her fall. Even covered in muck, the necklace was a pretty, delicate thing, clearly old, a filigreed heart hung from it on a tiny clasp.

Perhaps it had washed up, she thought, washed up on the bones of the last to wear it. It was a delicious, shivery idea.

“Time to go,” Alice’s mother called, and quickly she slipped the necklace into the pocket of her coat. After dinner, she made sure her parents were occupied with their books before she fetched it again, took it to the kitchen to rinse it clean under the tap. When it shone, all bronze and gold, she dried it carefully and slipped it around her neck.

Nothing happened. It was a disappointment, really, since something ought to happen when one slipped on old jewelry found in creepy graveyards, but Alice felt no different. She hid it beneath her pajamas while she slept, and under her sweater to school the next day.

The following week, it was warmer in the graveyard. Not much. Possibly Alice was imagining it.

“Spring is coming,” said her mother, hands full of daisies, though the shadows still slithered around the headstones.

“I’m going for a walk,” said Alice.

“Don’t go far. I love you.”

“I won’t.” And Alice went off with a smile, eyes adjusting to the gloom. Against her chest, the little heart began to beat.

And the shadows were not just shadows anymore.

Deep, etched wrinkles marred the ghostly face of Mr. Fernsby as he sat on his own headstone, lips pursed in a whistle. Alice stood very still. There was Mrs. Culpepper, young and beautiful and translucent, drifting over the grass in her wedding dress. And Joseph Brown, who was shorter than Alice herself, eyes bright with the fever that had taken him.

Alice wondered if she should be afraid, but she was not.


“You look pale.” Alice’s mother held her hand to Alice’s forehead. “Would you like to stay home today?”

The filigreed heart thumped in time with Alice’s pulse. “No,” she said, throwing off the covers. She wanted to go to school, so she could go to the graveyard after to see if the ghosts were there again. Muscles and bones aching, she tried to pay attention during math and science and art, trembling with cold.

Inside the graveyard gates, the air was warm again, blissfully warm. Alice let go of her mother’s hand. They were everywhere, so many more of the graveyard people than the week before. Gaunt and bloody, old and young, tattered, rotten clothes hanging from pearl-gray limbs.

“Don’t go far,” said her mother, carrying a bunch of lilies right through Mrs. Dankworth, who had a friendly smile.

So her mother couldn’t see them. But to Alice, the ghosts seemed so much more real, more solid than they had the week before.

The metal heart hammered. Old Mr. Fernsby adjusted his tie and touched Alice’s arm with cool, dry fingers. Mrs. Culpepper whirled, arms spread, in her wedding dress.

And the shadows ran away.

That night, Alice fell asleep before she could even eat supper, and the next day she sneaked from the house while her mother was cleaning. In bone-brittle whispers, the ghosts told her their stories. Her great-great grandfather held her on his knee until she was so ill and exhausted she dragged herself home to bed, pretending, when her mother asked, that she had been there the whole time.

Against her chest, the heart was hot, too hot. She tried to pull it off, but it wouldn’t come. The tiny clasp slipped through her hands. She tried to call for her mother, but her voice was silenced, stolen by the graveyard people for their own.

In the graveyard, the people danced, warm and alive for the first time in many years, in centuries for some, as Alice lay in her bed. The door creaked open and Alice’s mother immediately flew into a panic, calling for Alice’s father, for Alice was not in her bed, was nowhere to be seen.

But Alice was there. As her parents rushed downstairs to see if perhaps she was there, Alice dragged herself up and over to the mirror above the chest of drawers.

Lit by the moonlight streaming through the windows, the faintest, ghostliest reflection of Alice, too weak even to cast a shadow, shimmered in the mirror, a tiny, filigreed heart still hung round her neck.

Fairy Cakes

The fairies come in the night, leaving tiny footprints in the sugar and the flour.

The townspeople are always too tired after the day of baking to tidy up properly, sweep the floors and wipe the countertops with a rag. A mess can wait.

But the fairies won’t.

Everyone knows what happened the first time the fairies didn’t get their cakes. It is, coincidentally, also the last time the fairies didn’t get their cakes, and the stories are still told in shaking whispers, in lead-lined rooms, the only place the people can be sure they won’t be overheard.

They come on a Tuesday, which is an odd sort of day all around, really, but most Tuesdays are not so very odd as the first Tuesday of February. For as long as anyone can remember, and far longer than that, the fairies have come on this day, and the snows always melt just in time to clear the pass through the mountains.

In the morning, the townspeople line the streets to wait for the deliveries. Fresh milk, and flour, sugar and eggs wrapped in cotton and honey from warm, distant lands where the bees are hard at work. The honey is especially important. No one speaks. No one even looks up. Eyes closed, they listen for the rumble of wheels over the broken road.

And on this morning, the rumbles never come.

An hour passes, then another. Higher, higher, the sun creeps.

They’re not coming,” says a voice. Quietly, but the whisper carries down the line, passed from neighbor to neighbor.

Have to,” says another. “Have to.”

Everyone is thinking the same thing. Angry teeth and unbreakable, fluttering wings. The light fades and the shivers start, and the suggestion comes to check all the cupboards. At once the street is empty, the kitchens full of searching hands, thin and bony from winter. Little children are sent to bed, but they do not sleep, their fingertips trapped in the dust on windowsills as they watch their mothers and fathers scurry to and from the town hall.

It’ll be all right,” says a young girl to her younger sister. Their noses press against the glass, tips growing cold and red, until they have to wipe breath-mist away with the sleeves of their nightgowns.


I promise,” says the older one, fingers crossed behind her back.

On the wide countertop in the town hall, too much wood shows between the meager gatherings, certainly not enough to bake for each one of the fairies, and no honey at all.

Outside, the moon rises in the sunset-sky. The clock on the wall, hammered into the lead with a heavy spike, chimes the truth that there is no time to get away.

There is no choice but to make do with what they have. When all is said and done, a few dozen tiny cakes sit, cooling, where there should be hundreds. One by one, the townspeople slip through the door and back to their homes. They pull the little children from the windows and tuck them into their beds, planting kisses on foreheads. The girl and her sister curl on their sides, huddling together for warmth, and they are asleep when the humming begins.

Thousands upon thousands of wings block out the moon and the mountains, the noise growing louder and sharper as the fairies descend. Smiling, teeth bared, ready for the feast that is their due. The town hall door stands open; some fly inside, others land on the ground to run, cackling, over the floor.

And the cackles turn to screeching, inhuman cries.

Years later, the stories are told of what happened the second time the fairies didn’t get their cakes. The girl is old, wrinkled, her younger sister only a little less lined. In lead-lined rooms, they tell their children and grandchildren of the night the fairies went hungry. Of the sound that woke them from their beds and sent them back to the windows to watch as feathers flew and blood-curdling screams tore the night apart.

They covered their eyes, and then their ears, and then tried to cover both at once. Crouched down, they waited, safe, for the fairies never harm little children. The screams finally stopped, and the humming grew distant, disappearing over the mountains into the dawn.

By the light of day, feathers littered the broken road where the townspeople had tried to protect themselves, even while knowing it was no use.

There was no blood. There were no bones. There was only silence, and then, slowly, whispers as the children met outside their houses. Older ones took smaller hands, promising, again, that it would be all right. They had watched their parents, and knew what to do on the next first Tuesday of February, and the one after that.

It would be all right.

Bravely, the children crept into the town hall. Crumbs littered the countertop, spat out by fairy-mouths the moment they tasted the cakes, baked without honey. Splintered wooden spoons lay strewn on the floor, mixing bowls sat dented where the fairies had used them for war drums.

In the last scraps of sugar and flour were tiny footprints, no bigger than a fingernail, from when the fairies had come in the night.