The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

Rhapsody in Doom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such was the case the day Dmitri Hatchett was born.


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

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

But not before she sang to him.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But just wait. He deserves it.


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Dirty rotten masked liars.

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

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

Or a few of something even more precious than that.

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


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

He would . . . he would . . .

What was that?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

Until now.

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

It whispered, Drive, beasts. Drive.

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

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


“Have you heard?”

Dmitri turned over and put his pillow over his head.

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

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

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

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

Another child had been taken.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People were afraid.


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

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

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

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

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

Twelve children.

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

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


Twelve children.

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

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

Image by Nate Robert

Image by Nate Robert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“One more. I only need one more.”


At three in the morning, Dmitri stopped pacing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardy was dumbstruck. “Like what?”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

Or so the legend goes.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

You’re stepping on my foot!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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2 Responses to “Rhapsody in Doom”

  1. LOVE THIS! So awesome and creepy and beautiful! 😀

  2. mindy says:

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

    And I did.

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