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Night Shade Message Boards » VanderMeer, Jeff » THE HOUSE OF 87 CABINETS » HOUSE WITH 87 CABINETS Story Thread Part II « Previous Next »

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Cabinet Cop
Posted on Wednesday, September 17, 2003 - 09:14 am:   

This is the continuation of the HOUSE WITH 87 CABINETS STORY THREAD. Please don't post to this unless you have been assigned a spot.
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John Klima
Posted on Thursday, September 18, 2003 - 06:00 am:   

It takes an enormous amount of hard work to maintain an estate, much less an estate with 87 uniquely unusual, quirky cabinets, the butler thinks as he moves smoothly up the stairs to the seldom-seen fourth floor.

He pauses at a landing. Even more hard work to deal with inane questions from the few who brave visiting the estate as if it were a tourist attraction.

Of course most of them are unable to leave, so that adds to the butler’s work. It is so much to maintain that the butler often neglects his care of the wine cellar. He often wishes for a staff, but knows his master would never allow it.

At the top of the stairs, at the crest of the fourth floor, the butler feels along the wall for the hidden panel that leads to his rooms.

One cabinet that is never seen by anyone but the butler and the enigmatic shadowy master of the estate resides in the butler’s rooms.

With a hole in the top and a large swinging flap at the top, it has the appearance more of a fast-food trash receptacle than a cabinet; all the same its hinges, lock, and handle on the front carry all the demeanor a cabinet should.

No one but the butler is active in the house, so the butler decides to take this time to rest and reinvigorate before the next group arrives.

He removes his left foot and pushes it through the swinging flap. He balances awkwardly on the stump while he removes his right foot. This follows the left into the cabinet.

There is a momentary chalkboard scratching noise as each piece goes into the cabinet.

Before he can no longer reach--about the time where the butler has put his thighs into the cabinet--he carefully removes his head and sets it on top the cabinet.

It watches patiently as the arms and hands disassemble the rest of the body and dispose of it into the cabinet.

Finally, all that remains is the right arm and the head. The arm dangles limply from the edge of the cabinet before it swings itself on top next to the head. The two body parts seem to contemplate each other. The head nods, and it is gently pushed into the hole at the top. The arm then unceremoniously tosses itself through the same hole.

There is silence.

The front of the cabinet swings open and a refreshed looking head of the butler breaches into the room. It is followed by the rest of the butler, dressed in his slate-gray suit--his second favorite color after the charcoal one he was previously wearing.

A distant knock, amplified through ingenious engineering so that the butler could hear it even in his rooms, signals that new visitors have arrived and that the butler must attend to them.

A wry grin crosses the butler’s face. As always, his timing was impeccable.
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Liz Williams
Posted on Thursday, September 18, 2003 - 07:38 am:   

When he received his sentence, they told him that the cabinet would be his cage, and he had no reason to disbelieve them. He was dragged into the House, crying out behind the gag as they unbolted the rosewood door and pushed him inside, unwilling as a cat. The razor-tongued woman licked away the gag, just before they slammed the door.

"Don't worry," she said. "At least you won't starve."

Alone, he crouched at the back of the cabinet, huddled against the wall. It was too dark to see. At last, he reached out a cautious hand and touched the wall. It was wet, with hard ridges beneath a yielding softness. The cabinet stank of old blood. He groped for the door, but it was gone. His probing fingers reached out onto nothing, only a distant heat.

He stayed where he was, thinking back on his crime. He still did not understand the nature of it. Only days before, he had been a watch-mender in a small town, unremarked and unremarkable, content to tinker with the timepieces that came his way. The clock brought in by the girl had seemed ordinary enough, though the casing looked old-fashioned, perhaps valuable: gold etched into floral curliques. But inside, the clock was slick and digital. She had smiled at him when he murmured his surprise.

"There's nothing wrong with it," she had said. "I just need to know. Is it the right time?"

"Yes," he told her. "Yes, it's right up to the minute." Then, smiling, he handed it back.

That night, they had come for him: a man in white robes, with lights chasing beneath the surface of his skin, and the razor-tongued woman. At first, he had thought that the man was a machine, but the stranger smelled of someone living: dust, and spices, and the warmth of skin.

He told the watch-mender, "We cannot let you go, now that you have seen what you have seen. Yes, it is unfair. She had no right, to show you such a thing. She, too, will be punished when we find her. You may gain a little satisfaction from that."

The watch-mender did not understand and said so, but they passed sentence anyway.

And now he was here, in the cabinet-cage, waiting.

Dawn came in a rush of red light, illuminating the bars of the cage. They shone like polished bone. The cabinet was far larger than he had imagined: a crimson arch, cathedral vast. The floor glistened as it moved, curling back toward him. It took a few moments of lumbering motion before he realised that he was imprisoned inside something's mouth.

Moments later, shaky with shock, he was on his feet and stumbling across the tongue as the thing swayed along. His sleeve brushed a tooth, came away in shreds. He reeled back, glimpsing barren lands beyond: raw rock, basalt crags, a low, huge sun. A little distance away, a herd of creatures thundered along. He saw black armoured backs, powerful legs beneath a stiff fringe of hair, long muzzles swaying from side to side. Yet the beasts sang out to one another in voices like the chime of bells, and there was the glitter of intelligence in their eyes.

He looked back, hoping, but not expecting, to see a door. But there was only the curve of the great throat, leading downward. If there had been anyone to answer him, he would have asked what year this might be, but he already knew, as the beast pounded along toward the rest of the herd, that this was the end of times.
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Brian Frost
Posted on Friday, September 19, 2003 - 06:08 pm:   

The Cabinet With The Talking Board.

By Brian J. Frost.

Being an Apparatus which Communicates with Spirits of Every Description as well as
with Other Similar Apparatuses by Effortless Operation of a “Talking Board”.


Since the dawn of time, the realms beyond the grave has both mystified and entranced Mankind, to such degree that many scientists and psychic mediums throughout History have devoted the full extent of their lives and resources to plumbing the secrets of the Underworld. The reader need hardly be reminded that intricate funereal and spiritualistic rites have been a staple of important nations like that of Ancient Ægypt, and that as of this age are present even among the most primitive African tribes known to civilization.

It is in keeping such practices with the modern Weltanschauung that Wm. Sheridan & Sons of 71, Charing Cross Rd., London propose to harness the miracle of electricity to stimulate the idle essences of the dead into establishing contact with their new Telectography Station machine, which excites the formation of ectoplasm that is then used as a gateway for the electric impulses received and transmitted by the device’s controls, resembling a traditional “talking board” and planchette in appearance, but concealing an abundance of inspired mechanisms devised to modulate, as well as respond to, the afore-mentioned impulses. The Telectograph goes one step further than mere communication with the departed, however, as it can command a spirit to stretch itself across the Underworld like a string and connect with a second Telectograph of the operator’s choice, wherever in the world it may be, the delivery of messages made easy by the sequence of letters and numbers that uniquely identifies each device.

The advantages of such a wonder of science are many and at once apparent. Telectography introduces itself as an affordable alternative to Mr. Graham Bell’s Telephone and the traditional Telegraph service and their exorbitant usage fees, as it will transmit any dispatch through the Underworld in an immediate and secure fashion, and at no added cost but that of the electricity essential to its function. Eavesdroppers shall soon be a thing of the past, for no séancers are required and the device is completely wire-less, thus eliminating the risk of crossed lines and the need for switchboards with their meddlesome operators.

No special scientific skills are necessary for correct handling of the planchette and “talking board”, their usage being intuitive and in many ways equal to that of a simple Ouija set. As expected, those who seek to employ the Telectograph at its utmost capacity will value practiced operators; however any man and even any woman or child with basic reading skills may at once enjoy the consultation process, be it with a spirit of the deceased, or indeed a living yet physically removed relative, friend or business associate equipped with a second Telectography Station.

Wm. Sheridan & Sons’ Telectograph is mounted in an elegant rosewood cabinet of modern design that will nevertheless blend naturally and tastefully into even the most conservative of homes, and will never fail to elicit the curiosity and envy of your house guests.

Future models are expected to take messages from the Underworld even in the complete absence of an operator, a marvel of automation which entails the ectoplasm-excited planchette setting off a simple mechanical process not unlike that of the Type-Writer, whereby letters and numbers are printed onto a strip of paper (obtained in convenient 15-, 30- and 45-ft. spools at affordable rates from the manufacturer).

In the meantime, Wm. Sheridan & Sons have taken even bolder strides towards harnessing the potential of the numinous for communication, as exemplified by last week’s public display of ectophone-transmission, during which an apparatus furnished with loud-speaker rendered the voices of the dead faithfully and in vivid detail, to the amazement of all assembled and indeed the panic of a superstitious few not up-to-date with such grand new developments in the field of science.
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Michael Jasper
Posted on Sunday, September 21, 2003 - 10:05 am:   

You want to keep looking, because to stop would mean a return to a reality that has nothing to do with this wall of closed square doors, so you open the next cabinet and find, almost resting against the gray-black wood of the back wall, barely visible, a tiny wooden nativity scene.

It’s all one piece, you see now, mother and father and shepherds attached all by the outstretched arms of the baby, limbs that are much too long, still stretching. Further, there is no detail on this wooden artifact: no eyes or noses, no carved robes or belts for the men, no beatific smiles for the Mary-mother. As you stare at the calm tableau, the child's reach stretches even wider, encompassing the pieces that had been previously hidden by shadows, including the cows, the ass, and the wise men approaching from the eastern cupboard corner, bearing unrecognizable lumps, treasures from afar.

The faceless Jesus stops growing when you reach in and touch the generic conglomeration.

You lift it, surprised that the piece is so light, so cold to the touch, hollow. A brisk scent of cedar tickles your nose, and you inhale deeply of it until you realize the scent is actually the sickly-sweet of rot.

You force the tainted air out your nose and drop the freakish, unholy piece to the cabinet floor.

But instead of the hollow clatter you are expecting, you hear a metallic rattle. Wobbling and rim-circling in the middle of the dull-painted black wood of the cabinet bottom, in place of the anonymous nativity, is a silver coin.

Before the coin rambles to a stop, you pick it up. It’s hot. Pain lancing your fingertips, you capture only a glimpse of the wide-eyed, mouth-agape face on the profile side of the coin before it slips from your grasp.

And lands with a soft fluttering of dry wings.

You know the routine now, already, so soon. With your other hand you pick up the black-and-transparent wings, dry silk under your coarse fingers, pausing for the tiniest of moments to admire the perfect symmetry of the matching pair, unencumbered and unattached by a black body in between them. Already thinking of the next wonder, you let them fall.

They land with a muted splash. You stare, a disappointed grunt in the back of your throat.
Nothing fills this cabinet now but a puddle the size of a thumbnail.

“Fucking hell.”

You can simply close the cabinet now, look in the others, move down the dusty hall to the rooms beyond. But you want the alien Christ back, the wings, the scalding coin. You want more wonders. But even as you stand there the circle of water -- the only contents of the accursed cabinet -- has shrunk by half, soaking dumbly into the wood beneath it.

Unable to close the door without some final gesture, you reach inside and slap, palm-down onto the offending dab of water.

And when the thousands of tiny water molecules land, they are alive, multi-legged, finger-long, fur-covered, and hungry; and you cannot move away fast enough, not with all of them covering your hand and arm and shoulder; and then they find your face, your eyes, your mouth; and you cannot move back to reality fast enough.
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Michael Cisco
Posted on Sunday, September 21, 2003 - 03:58 pm:   

Open the cabinet: you stand on the opposite side. You smile and reach in to open the small green book that rests on the miniature lectern which stands alone in the middle of the cabinet. As you open the book together one of you is gone into blackness with undulating sound waves; on the pages there stands a small man in a tight-fitting, well-cut purple suit, single breasted jacket buttoned high, low white collar, dark tie, the square outline of a book in his right waist pocket. This is Master Persil. He sweeps a small, business-model witch’s hat from his head repeatedly, hand arm and hat vanish as they complete the arc and reappear at its uppermost extremity. From the hat he pulls a figurine which he offers to you with a wonderful smile, his emerald eyes glittering with fantastic wildness.
The figurine grows massive as it is extended toward you, HADES inscribed on the pedestal. Hades looks like me, and his dress crosses tycoon and cossack, slacks tucked into boots, double breasted pin stripe, a fur hat on his head and heavy fur mantle across his shoulders, bobbin in hand, and around his neck a great profusion of reading glasses each on its own lanyard.
The cabinet of his eye opens: inside, universal graveyard set. Grave mound wobbles and sprouts a periscope which swivels vigorously. Next moment a long-boat coffin surfaces from the earth sliding several dozen feet to stop with a bump against a docklike slab. There are wan men in tophats with crape ribbons at the oarlocks, and Hades/Pluto stands among them huge and dramatic like Washington crossing the Delaware. From out of the distance a black carpet unspools in an interminable roll and stops just beneath his descending foot as he debarks.
He settles his mantle with a shimmy draining a brandy snifter and then claps a cigar to his mouth with gloved hand. His adjutants are scrambling all around in a parody of activity; they wear black leotards and slippers, tailcoats and top hats, fit bodies but their faces are burlap-skinned the weathered visages of sardonic and ancient mariners. A number form a line holding up huge brass binoculars on brass monopods. Hades bobs from one to the next deftly swapping one pair of reading glasses for another every few instants.
He sees what he wants, his grin writhes around his cigar. Fire from its ember end ignites brandy fumes from his lips and indigo rags of ghostly flame gutter and drip from his mouth. He claps his hands over his head – a leathery report - and in the distance the ponderous bronze doors of a great mausoleum pop open. A fiddle is thrust into his paw and he shoves it under his chin snapping and crushing reading glasses; as he begins to play with deep emotion his hat is plucked from his head and replaced with a festive kerchief, enormous gold earrings are clipped to his ear lobes, and a pencil moustache is dexterously pencilled onto his upper lip. The coffin floats from between the mausoleum’s open doors, travelling erratically as though an uncertain current bore it along, and Hades plays as if he were reeling in a marlin with his music, drawing the coffin with long strong pulls.
Once the coffin enters the magic circle, it drops to the ground disgorging its tenant. Adjutants seize up the bruised body of a wan woman, and stick a wedding veil all caddywampus on her unravelled brow. They pick her up and walk her over to Hades, standing behind her and moving her arms and legs, holding up her head on limp neck. Hades has resumed his former appearance, flings aside his cigar, and gazes at her. Moving forward, he takes the body tenderly in his arms. Her head falls forward onto his shoulder. Hades strips off his right glove and caresses her pale tresses, unknowing puppet-walks with her at his side, her brow now on his cheek. This stick, this lump, this accident, this – immortal diamond ... his eyes fill, shine with powerful emotion – he is taken in by this clumsy charade.
He is fooled!
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Iain Rowan
Posted on Wednesday, September 24, 2003 - 09:42 am:   

The man often visited the house with eighty-seven cabinets, because there was nothing else for him to do. He led an existence of hard work and empty rooms, and the house and its cabinets were the only thing of marvel that he knew. He never opened more than three doors on any visit, because he thought that three was enough, and each time the last cabinet he opened was the fifty-fifth.

The man would stand in front of it for a while in silence. He would put his hand up to the cold, flat sheen of the rosewood for so long that it seemed as if he and it were one. Then, in the end, he would give in and open the door, and there was beauty inside.

Sometimes, the inside of the cabinet sparkled and flashed as if a thousand mirrors had just been broken. When the glare faded there was a swirl of colour that grew like smoke to fill the cabinet. He saw every colour that he had ever imagined, and many that he had not, and many that he could not, and every time it was different, and every time it beautiful. On other occasions there had been music, a spiral of notes that sighed on and on and spoke to him of all the truths of his life, truths too complicated for language or thought. He had seen a fiery whirl that he believed was the birth of stars, tasted the spray of an endless green ocean, and felt the gentle kiss of a perfect spring breeze. After a few moments the wonder of the cabinet faded away, and it was just an ordinary wooden box, nothing more. The man had realised that what he had seen once, he would never see again. And often, when he opened the box, he saw nothing at all but bare wooden walls and dull metal hinges.

This troubled the man, and occupied his thoughts when he was doing the nothing that he did when he was not at the house. He bought a small green notebook, and a pen just for writing in it, and he recorded what he saw in the fifty-fifth cabinet in a code of his own devising. The angular symbols told him one thing that he could not deny: every time that he saw a thing of beauty, it meant that from then on the cabinet would be empty more often than it had been before.

After a while, the man arrived at what he thought to be the truth of things. It was in the act of looking that he destroyed what had been created. He had no proof of this, but he was sure of it. In that sparkling, splintered moment when he opened the door, whatever beauty was there decayed to nothing. It struck him that one day the cabinet would be empty, and it would stay that way for ever, the beauty lost to the world.

The man went away, and he did not visit the house of cabinets for some time. He came back in the end, as there was nothing else for him in the world but the array of doors, and what lay beyond them. He did not open the fifty-fifth cabinet. He did not open it ever again, although he often stood before it, thinking about the things that he had once seen.

Sometimes, when he pressed his cheek hard against the cold rosewood, the man thought that he could hear music, but he knew that it was just the song of his own blood, and he would cry until his salt tears soaked deep into the wood. He would never see the wonders that he had seen again. But he knew that if he did not open the cabinet, the beauty would still be there inside.

He thought that maybe knowing that might be enough.
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Jay Lake
Posted on Thursday, September 25, 2003 - 07:19 am:   

Cabinet the Fifty-Sixth

Some cabinets shine in gleaming rosewood or hand rubbed ebony. Some cabinets lurk in shadows, ivory teeth glittering like tarnished stars. Some cabinets are vaporous, appearing only during certain planetary alignments or specific crises of the soul.

The fifty-sixth cabinet, however, is solid. It was originally constructed by Harland & Wolff, the same Belfast shipyard that built Titanic. The shipfitter's heritage of the fifty-sixth cabinet can be seen in the massive cast iron rivets that fasten the seams of its body. There is lovingly detailed brasswork chased across the front and sides, a rococo explosion of eagles and grape leaves and vaguely sordid cherubim, each painstakingly wrought by hand in a remote Albanian metalworks under the supervision of the neo-Stalinist thugs of Enver Hoxha. One might well imagine that the brasswork extends across the back too for the cabinet has that air of completist perfection.

A small team of dwarves tends the fifty-sixth cabinet. They live in a pull-out drawer in the cabinet's base, subsisting within their dark domain on vital fluid pumped in through the house's unique plumbing. Small polyethylene valves protrude from the crook of each dwarven elbow to facilitate this quiet nutrition. They procreate on the hallway rug when no one is looking except their fellows -- to certify the purity of the birth, of course. The butler wonders often about the peculiar stains arising therefrom, especially when an elbow valve bursts open in the heat of passion.

Each dwarf is fitted at birth with a leather harness. In infancy, one or the other parents extends the straps as the dwarf grows. Once they are old enough to manage needle and catgut thread, the dwarf-child sews their own harness. By the time they reach adulthood and the Fire Rite, their harness is a crazy quilt of tones and colors, a myriad of textures, each step a chapter in the story of their young lives.

The Fire Rite sears shut their eyes and ears in a celebration of adulthood, thus sealing the new-grown dwarf to the service of the fifty-sixth cabinet. Imagine the joy and celebration of that moment, if you will. The whole community satiated on an overpressure of vital fluids. Happy chatter and the light patter of fingercode passing between the chuckling elders, each reliving the day of their own Fire Rite with nostalgic smiles. The brazier stoked by ancient butler-skin bellows. The iron eyeballs heated on their long brass poles. The steel earplugs heated on their wooden extensors. The staking of the candidate to the hallway rug -- another round of stains to annoy the butler. Then, in a momentary orgy of dramatic action, the senses are closed, the nightmare sounds and images of the house locked out forever, so that only smell and touch are left to the adult.

Then the older dwarves swarm their newest cohort, pressing skin to skin, slipping fingers and toes and tongues and genitalia into the newcomer's orifices, a tactile festival of welcome. One by one they withdraw, clean themselves with dust rags stolen from the parlor maid's closet, and withdraw into the fifty-sixth cabinet. The dusty metallic depths swallow them like the North Atlantic swallows a lifeboat.

Finally, only the sighted children remain. They know their place in the Fire Rite. They escort the trembling new adult to the yawning hatch of the fifty-sixth cabinet. This is the celebrant's first passage into the cabinet. The honored dwarf often stands trembling on the rounded coaming, but the time for second thoughts is long gone. The children push the celebrant inward, slam the hatch and set the dogs before returning to their pull-out drawer for their own juvenile mimicry of the adult orgy, conducted mostly with safety pins and squirming fingers.

Inside the fifty-sixth cabinet...well, let us say that unless you are willing to be struck blind and deaf, raped by a gang of dwarves, and dumped screaming into a cold, metal darkness infested with salt sea ice and rats the size of dogs, the inside shall always remain a mystery. Visitors approaching the fifty-sixth cabinet are advised not to touch the refrigeration coils. If the drawer in the base is seen to open, or the hatch dogs twist in the their place, a quick retreat to more salubrious areas is strongly advised.
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John Langan
Posted on Monday, September 29, 2003 - 02:19 pm:   

From Tottenham’s Cabinet Guide (3rd ed.):

Cabinet 58: Long time visitors to the House have remarked on the Fifty-eighth Cabinet’s noticeable differences from its fellows. The California Redwood from which it was constructed was minimally finished, and is famous for rewarding even the slightest touches with painful splinters. Its design, a narrow diamond stretching from floor to ceiling, never fails to draw comments. Careful inspection of the Cabinet reveals a seam running from the diamond’s apex to its nadir. To open the Cabinet, press to the right of the seam approximately halfway up (remember to watch for splinters!); this will release the spring mechanism holding the doors closed. Once the doors have swung fully to either side, the Cabinet’s interior is available to view. Note that the diamond shape attributed to the Cabinet as a whole describes only the doors: the actual Cabinet is small and round. (Its size and depth have been compared to those of a medium-sized hatbox.) With doors open, the Fifty-eighth Cabinet assumes a new shape: that of the sun broadcasting its rays. Undoubtedly, this impression is strengthened by the Cabinet’s sole content: a small mirror cut in the shape of a radiant sun and fixed in the Cabinet’s center. (Caution should be exercised in touching the mirror: its edges are razor sharp, and have given more than one unwary investigator a cut to add to his splinter!) Some claim the doors’ grain contributes to the Cabinet’s solar association, but this is a matter of individual perception.

In addition to its unusual design, the Fifty-eighth Cabinet has attracted attention because of its location: at the very rear of the House’s considerable wine cellar. No explanation of how it came to be there is known. There are rumors of a previous Fifty-eighth Cabinet, constructed of rosewood along more conventional lines, whose content was a flintlock reputed to have been cast by an eccentric armourer for use by the Angel of Death himself, but this appears to be mere fancy.

Rating: 7 1/2 out of 10; an interesting diversion for older children and adults.


(Of course, if he were so inclined, the butler could tell you the story of the Fifty-eighth Cabinet(s), and in so doing tell you the story of the ruined shape hauling itself down the House’s corridors. He could tell you about the man who strode into the House as if he owned it, which the deed in his meaty hand seemed to indicate he did. He was tall and blond and very pink. “Hey, a butler!” he exclaimed. (He was, the butler was soon to learn, always exclaiming, always gosh gee-ing.) “Just like Jeeves! Great! I guess that makes me Bertie Wooster, doesn’t it? Just call me Bertie! Pretty funny, huh, Jeeves?” The butler did not think so; he did not think any of this was funny, could not understand how his Master had allowed the House to fall into Bertie’s pink hands. He contemplated leaving, but he had pledged himself to serve the House without condition, so he refrained from taking himself apart and packing himself into his Cabinet until such times as this loud voice had departed. Instead, he kept watch as Bertie intently inspected the House and its contents. He eavesdropped on Bertie’s telephone conversations: “Yes, by God, it is a Rhizome, and what a Rhizome at that! You’ve never seen anything like it! Eighty-seven Cabinets? Try Eighty-seven Houses, each one with Eighty-seven Cabinets! Oh, it’s a definite Crumple all right! Not to worry, though…” But here Bertie’s voice had dropped, too low for the butler to distinguish anything more than the words “Eighty-eight” and “balance.” In retrospect, he was more surprised than he should have been when the crate containing the diamond-shaped cabinet arrived week later, when Bertie installed it himself in the front hall. He should not have needed Bertie putting one massive arm around his shoulders and telling him, “Jeeves, old fellow, I bet you haven’t got the faintest idea how strange this old House really is! (You butlers aren’t supposed to notice things, are you?) It’s what we in the Business call a Rhizome, a spatio—well, a kind of place where space and time get all tangled up! Fascinating, to be sure, but dangerous! Unpredictable! I mean, we’re talking completely non-hierarchical epi-space here! You’ll think I’m off my rocker, Jeeves old boy, but there’s a Cabinet here that was made for dolphins! Dolphins! And there’s another—well, I’m sure all of this is way over your head! Suffice it to say, things here are seriously out of whack! Not to worry, though: Yours Truly is going to fix them! It’s just a matter of balancing things out, of imposing a little symmetry…” The butler had not paid much attention to the rest of Bertie’s speech, caught between annoyance (as if he didn’t know what a Rhizome was! What else had allowed him to journey here, abandon chitin and darkness for pseudoflesh and daylight?) and anxiety (in an instant, he had understood Bertie’s plan, understood an Eighty-eighth Cabinet and symmetry and untangling). Pleading a pot left boiling, he had slipped out of Bertie’s grasp and fled, ran from the even white teeth and the pink skin and the Cabinet that spread itself into a shining sun. As he stumbled towards his quarters, he noticed the mirrors hung on the other Cabinets (how could he have missed them?), each one a radiant sun. At sunset, he knew, Bertie would throw open the front door and the sun’s dying light would blast into the House, striking the mirror set in the Cabinet waiting there and streaming from it throughout the House. In opposition to what Bertie had described as the House’s “tangle,” the web of reflected light would create a new pattern, and—the butler did not want to imagine any further. A hurried check of his pocket-watch revealed the dread moment was closer than he had realized. He hurried up one flight of stairs and another, panicking. He did not want to think about what was going to happen to him once Bertie’s net had dragged the House and its contents into order. Downstairs, he heard Bertie opening the front door. Desperate, enraged, the butler reached out to the Cabinet he was passing, caught it at the rear, and pulled it forward with all the might in his borrowed body. The Cabinet, by chance the Fifty-eighth, came crashing down with surprising ease. Later, the butler, who was both an amateur numerologist and student of Medieval Christianity, would reflect on the aptness of that number: five plus eight equals thirteen, after all, which is the number of Judas Iscariot, and one plus three equals four, which is one of the lesser-known numbers of the Devil (three’s a trinity, four an armed insurrection). He doubted Bertie was aware of his betrayal, doubted Bertie had the opportunity to be aware of much of anything before the light he had woven through the House, amplified by Eighty-seven mirrors, thrown slightly off course, struck him as he was completing the first stanza of the Hymn to Atum. In these matters, the smallest deviations result in the gravest consequences: though the butler could not see Bertie from where he was, he could hear him, and his screams were terrible, the fate he had planned for the House his own instead. Ravaged by the light he had summoned and bound, Bertie fled the House for the surrounding woods, where his screams continued for days. The smell of scorched flesh lingered in the hallway.

(If the butler had told you this much, then he might tell you that the sun has not set properly since that night, that it remains in the sky each evening for hours, as if snagged on the House. He might tell you that Bertie eventually returned, and that he did wonder what singularity Bertie had been burned into. From the corner of his eye, the butler has watched him try this and that Cabinet. Secretly, he suspects that Bertie—he cannot help it, he still calls this thing by that ridiculous name—might be searching for the original Fifty-eighth Cabinet, the one that undid him and whose contents, a flintlock pistol the color of running water, offer him the chance of release from this singularity into another, perhaps more peaceful, one. But the butler has long-since disposed of the remains of that Cabinet, just as he removed the new Fifty-eighth Cabinet from the front hall and secreted it in the wine cellar (best to take no chances). As for the pistol: if asked, he would declare that he has no idea what became of it: it must have been thrown out with what was left of the Cabinet that held it. You might suspect him of less than full honesty in the matter, but who are you to question him?

(Yes, the butler might tell you some or all of this. Or he might fix you with his liquid gaze, snort, “Jeeves!” and stalk away.)
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Rudi Dornemann
Posted on Thursday, October 02, 2003 - 07:56 pm:   

A cabinet stands in the hallway.

A cabinet stands in the hallway.

The cabinet walks down the hallway and turns the corner.

The topmost shelf holds ingenious arrangements of spindles, spinning plates, and mirrors-- gadgets with names like "phenakisticope" and "zoetrope."

The cabinet remembers idle afternoons along the banks of a river in a distant city-- blushing as pretty credenzas and hutches pass by, stewing over its inability to strike up conversation with the new roll-top at work, dreaming of someday meeting the chiffonier of its dreams.

Drawers, some square-fronted, some rectangular, fill out the rest of the cabinet and are themselves filled with cardboard disks and paper bands to be viewed on the top shelf's devices.

The cabinet had been alone; among all the furniture thronging the streets and showrooms, it never found its complement. It had chased rumors: some said there was a house, far from the city, where the unique and unmatched gathered. Perhaps it would find its mate there, among the other one-of-a-kinds?

The inside surface of the cabinet's doors is decorated with film microdots as small as flyspecks.

The cabinet had ransacked the shelves of every librarian in the city's libraries, but had found only the vaguest clues. It had gone into the dockside bars and warehouses, buying rounds of drinks to cultivate the loquacity of crates and steamer trunks; but none of their journeys had ever brought them to such a place.

The microdots are laid out along the inspiraling, center-seeking path of a classic labyrinth.

The cabinet had expanded its contacts throughout the city until it was on familiar terms with everyone from gilded highboys to the roughest folding cots. Finally, it had met a scratched and scarred old tool chest who had worked on a house many years before, a house big enough to hold eighty or ninety cabinets.

Each microdot contains a string of numbers. Each number corresponds to a slotted disk or crenellated strip of paper, which in turn represents a moment or a movement.

The cabinet had found the house, met the inhabitants of the place-- drawing tables, wash stands, sideboards, chaise lounges and the rest, all nice enough, but no one who was its match. Not willing to admit the failure of its quest, the cabinet distracted itself with the secrets-- many horrifying, some delightful, all fascinating-- stored throughout the house.

Each flicker-glimpse instant is a letter out of the whole rambling text of a life, a text coded in the innumerable numbers of the microdot labyrinth.

By the muffled quality of the clockwork sun's ticking, the cabinet knows night is near. Not the best time to be venturing out into the forest, but it can't imagine anything out there more terrifying than the things it knows are inside the house. It'll just open one more...

Spin the wheel; align your eye to look through the slot in the viewer. See the image: a cabinet, strolling through a park, as if it were a living creature!

The butler's vaguely spherical top compartment holds a three-pound glob of gray jelly woven through with tiny fibers. In the depths of the glob, in the empty places between the end of one fiber and the beginning of the next, are flashes and fragments of memory.

Fit the band into the circular trough and set the apparatus whirling. Look at the mirror framed by the little stage. See a cabinet walking through the woods, searching.

The memories depict the life of a butler-shaped being, a dark tale of a world where creatures built of flesh hide their secrets in wooden corpses. It is the most unnerving thing the cabinet has seen yet.

Light, passing through the slits in a spinning cardboard wheel, follows two paths at once, arrives at two different destinations. Where one eye sees fiction, another reads the same shifting pattern of light and shadow as fact.

The cabinet swings the butler's doors shut and fastens the latches on his forehead and waistcoat. The cabinet descends the front staircase, creaking a chipper tune to itself, glad to be free, very soon now, of this house and the secrets hidden in its 87 butlers.
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MarkFinn
Posted on Tuesday, October 07, 2003 - 08:30 am:   

The cabinet was short, four feet tall, if that, and inset into the wall. He almost missed it in his tour of the bedrooms. Only a glimpse of dulled metal, the remains of the twisted-off handle, gave its location away. The wooden doors were constructed of the same lumber as the walls in the irregularly shaped room. It was supposed to be unobtrusive. He gingerly pried the doors open with his fingernail, and then squatted down to better examine the cabinet’s contents.

The shelves were surprisingly deep, going into the wall maybe a foot or more. And they were filled with tin soldiers: Great War doughboys all, locked in eternal combat with unseen Huns. They lined the shelves to overflowing, all of them scuffed and dented from much handling. A few with heads or arms broken off lay on their sides, wounded in the service to their cabinet.

Not until he swung the doors of the cabinet wide open did he spy the map. It was tacked onto the right door, a flimsy, crumbling thing. Leaning in close, he could make out the childlike renderings of houses, trees, roads...this house, in concluded, given the placement of the surroundings.

Also inscribed on the map was a legend to explain the colored pencil marks that skittered over the carefully drawn landscape. Company A, Company B, and Company C were all denoted by letters and dotted lines and arrows to show movement. According to the young general, the three companies were to proceed to the rear of the house around the sides and make their way into the treeline, advancing on the neighbor’s backyard...he stopped and squinted, bringing his nose closer to the map. It looked like a cat’s head, crudely drawn, with two X marks where the eyes should have been.

At the bottom of the map was the title of the engagement: We Kill the Cat That Scrached and Bit Me Last Week.

On the bottom shelf, where the tin soldiers nearly spilled over, he caught a glimpse of bone hiding in the back of the cabinet. It was small and round, yellow-white from age, and just underneath the ocular cavities were two rows of sharp feline teeth. The soldiers in front of the skull stood guard before their trophy with their backs to the world. He looked at the pitted holes in their chests, the paint flaking off of their faces and uniforms in long, narrow furrows. They were nothing more than hollow tin shells, and yet, he couldn’t bring himself to touch them

He closed the cabinet harder than he’d intended and heard the tin soldiers falling behind the doors in a terrible clatter. The back of his neck was damp with sweat. He left the room quickly.
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sarah singleton
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 04:40 am:   

Two pegs at the back of the cabinet support the neck of a violin, now coated in dust. Beneath it, upon the floor, a viola lies broken in pieces. The neck, with a fingerboard of ebony, is snapped from the body. The front is caved in, the bridge so many fragments, the strings slack and tangled. Otherwise, the cabinet is bare, except for a wooden box on a lower shelf, in which we find a black and white photograph of four young people and a foxed score of Bela Bartok's String Quartet No 1.
Looking at the score we may learn something about the musicians in the picture. We see a man and a woman holding violins. The woman was first violinist, we may assume from the notes upon the score - a round, feminine hand and exclamation marks - Slow down!! - Wistful here - With passion! Little birds flutter in pencil along the side of the page, drawn, maybe, during the slow minutes of a rehearsal.
The second violinist, a saturnine young man with a narrow face, has barely annotated his part at all. A symbol here and there - a tick, a V to indicate an up bow.
The viola player, soft-faced, a blonde fringe hanging over his eyes, has scrawled long comments upon his part in black ink - considerations of Bartok's method, criticisms, analysis of tone and structure.
Finally consider the cellist, the youngest of the group judging by the photograph. His score is marked twice - we suspect the hand of a tutor, adding reminders for his protege.
The damage to the viola is violent, suggesting a deliberate attack. We wonder why one violin hangs above it in the cabinet. Does it indicate jealousy? Did the viola player make love to the first violinist?
Maybe the second violinist, whose physiognomy suggests suppression, harboured an obsession of his own, so he flew into a rage and smashed the instrument of his rival.
Perhaps the cellist, inflamed by the dark and melancholy of Bartok's quartet, adored the viola player, whose opinions and self importance made him a natural idol for the malleable, stumbling adolescent. Sensing an attachment to the flighty lady, we suspect the cellist may have stamped upon the viola in a tantrum. Studying the instrument, a relic of the late 18th century, we sense the impact of a boot upon its vulnerable face.
Of course the first violinist, the woman, may have broken the viola, piqued that its music was more beautiful than her own, usurping her nominal position as leader of the quartet. Or the viola player himself perhaps shattered his own instrument, goaded into rage by his musical incompetence, when clearly his intellect outranked those of his fellows.
Of course we are fanciful, and the accident may have been a chance event - an accident. I can not reach any genuine conclusion. So these fragments I leave to you - a photograph, hand writing on a score, a dusty violin and a broken viola. I suggest you peruse them again, and take the time to listen to the String Quartet Number One, where we may find the true lineaments of the story held in the cabinet.
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Chris Butler
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 04:57 am:   

The fragile man had come from the Forbidden City, having enjoyed all its pleasures to the full, because he heard there was new fun to be had in the house of cabinets up the crazy paving stairs. He needed no persuasion, and so took hold of the rosewood handles.

Draped against him, the ephemeral girl said, “I want something mind expanding. I hope there won’t be words I’ve already heard.”

He became a whale in the ocean - with the humpbacks on the move. Their dark, powerful shapes surged onward. He rose out of the water, and crashed against the jagged surface, while she turned somersaults with her new dolphin friends.

He said, “Don’t take me back if I can carry on.” She kind of staggered away from him in a dazed state. He ran within a wheel, and he saw that her head turned slow circles while she watched. Where he was trying to get to he couldn’t say, but he knew he had a long way to go. There was honey to be had and so they were going to be the bees.

She fell back onto the quilt and said, “I’m all out of stock answers. Don’t write the blurb to sell me what I’ve already seen.”

The whales were cruising down the motorway, and the dolphins basked in a sun-drenched convertible with the stereo thumping. The fragile man and the e-girl were part of a convoy lining up behind some old dude. The dolphins flashed their headlamps and undertook them. The fragile man thought it was dangerous driving, but he could understand it.

He said, “Let me out of this cabinet, I think I’ve lost my way.” He knew that he was part of a great ocean, and it seemed like fun all right, but the surface lay far above them. They were swimming with a million fish and their riotous colours made the fragile man stare like a wide-eyed turtle. He didn’t want to lose his nerve, but knew he was running out of air.

She said, “You don’t want to mingle with the salt of the Earth. You want to be reborn but you want to skip the birth.”

That’s true, he thought, and now the whales were on the star lines, riding the solar winds. The dolphins were moving close to the speed of light and arguing over whether they were travelling in time. They chased a new universe with a waving fin and a pout.

The fragile man said, “Is this the exit, I can’t see from this side. If something has hinges then it should be opened wide.” He remembered asking for a tour of a rosewood forest and being shown along a hall by some kind of automaton that looked like a penguin. He’d never seen its like before.

She said, “If this note went that way it would sound better to me. And anyway, I hate jingles.”

And then the fragile man knew. The whales were on the mindlink, telling him their tales. Or it was the dolphins that held him in their sway while they’d raid his memories. Before he went to the Forbidden City he had another life. It gave up on him, or he gave up on it, and they wanted to know why.

He had fragments of the answers they sought, and these flew like blackbirds into a blue sky.

The ocean currents swept against him and he lost his footing on the bed. There was no sign of the ephemeral girl. Did she leave? He realised that he had no air in his lungs, and his body had begun to shut down.

The fragile man could not breathe in the ocean.
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jonathan brandt
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 10:22 am:   

In the foreclosures business, despair is a rainbowless mist. It collects into pitiless tears on the weatherproofed cheeks of career men like Bernard, who deftly feign compassion while nudging the luckless over the falls. But despair was getting the better of Bernard. His most recent client didn’t fit the traditional profile: an old man facing bankruptcy, offering to relinquish to the court his fine Victorian house, its period furnishings, plus the contracted services of its butler, in return for leave to inventory and clear out a collection of wooden cabinets. He’d brought a sample: it appeared to be walnut, a miniature brass porthole affixed to its door, scratched a bit on one side. While the old man desperately fumbled with brass latches, mumbling un-convincingly about wonders and treasure, Bernard could feel the mist of this man’s despair thickening, almost opaque by the time he promised to examine the cabinet more closely later. Mechanically, Bernard sent the old man away reassured, then privately launched the proceedings to divest him from everything.

But despair had its own plans for Bernard. His wife, apparently several months into a divestiture of a different sort, cleaned out his savings and cast her fortunes and her toned posterior into the bucket seat of his boss’s Maserati. In the emptied house, in the place of a goodbye letter, Bernard found his own pink slip.

Splash

While the boss and the wife and Bernard’s money sped towards a mountain love nest, Bernard sat dazed on the bank of the Columbia River, fingering the pink slip, contemplating the salvage of his own shipwrecked life. A sockeye salmon sprang from the current. It hovered, head above water, for several seconds, regarding Bernard with careful curiosity. It spoke:

“Royal Gorge Lodge. Cabin 9.”

Bernard was not in the mood to chat. “Beat it.”

The fish persisted. “Cabin 9. Bring that”. With its scaly head, the salmon motioned towards the trunk of Bernard’s car, which still contained the old man’s cabinet.

Barnard paused a moment, then obliged. “What the fuck.” he thought. He opened the trunk and tried to unscrew the latches that sealed the cabinet door. They wouldn’t budge. The salmon lost patience.

“GO!!!” Bernard went.

He arrived outside Cabin 9, greeted by the silhouette of his wife suspended in her lover’s embrace. He collected his thoughts, remembering the box in his trunk. Now it swung open, revealing a maul, a saw, and gloves.

He waited until they slept.

Bernard wisely avoided his house, which by morning was awash with criminal investigators. He returned to the Columbia River, itself restless but quiet under a blanket of morning mist. The salmon was waiting. It motioned to Bernard’s trunk. He opened it, picked up the box, and carried it towards the river. A wild thwapping sound suddenly came from inside the box. Startled, Bernard dropped it on its already-scratched side. The lid sprung open, and a pair of smallmouth bass flapped free and disappeared into the water. The maul, the saw, the gloves, and a few cadaverous souvenirs had vanished. The lid swung shut.

Bernard now faced dozens of salmon. All hovering. All watching him. Through the thickening mist, the fishes’ heads lost their definition, and Bernard began to make out faces in their place. Human faces. Faces of the drowned.

Clients.

He understood, and lowered his head, awaiting retribution. Instead, the original salmon spoke again:

“12 Crescent Street. Account 4397211…” Bernard didn’t wait for the salmon to finish.

He arrived at the address. His office. He found the folder bearing the salmon’s recited number. It was unopened on an assistant’s desk, not yet entered into their database. He brought it to the cabinet in the trunk. The lid swung open, it was filled with clear, pure water. Bernard tossed the folder in, exhaled, then dove in himself.

Investigators studied the box found in their suspect’s car. All it contained was a pre-paid shipping label. They ruled finally that the box was not material to their case, and shipped it to the address on the label. A gracious butler signed for its delivery. Naturalists marveled at a school of sockeye salmon seemingly helping each other up waterfalls along the Columbia River. Another smallmouth bass followed two of its kind downstream to the forgiveness of the Pacific
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Jeffrey Thomas
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 10:26 am:   

Quince, the exterminator, had been given access to a cabinet that had been filled with soil, into which had been planted a portion of the very rosewood tree from which most of the eighty-seven cabinets had been fashioned. This plant (Aniba canelilla, of the family Lauraceae, an evergreen tree with yellow flowers and the red bark which had inspired its common name) had flourished over the years, but due to its spatial restrictions, the original cutting had multiplied instead of growing larger, spawning a sort of bonsai forest of rosewood trees. Recently, however, these lush miniature woods (akin to the Amazonian environment in which rosewood trees could be found) had been discovered to be infested with a blight of whitish-translucent ants without eyes, but with pronounced pincers.

There was already a complex magnifying device of brass and crystal affixed to the frame of the cabinet, with which to view the forest up close, but Quince ignored this in favor of his own much better device. He unlocked the cabinet with the key he’d been given, and opened its hinged door. There was a smell of fertile vegetation and damp soil. There was also a soft twittering of insect sounds from within, but these were harmless creatures; the ants were said to make no sounds at all, mute as well as blind. Quince clamped his own viewing device onto the lower edge of the frame, swiveling the existing contraption out of his way. With a taper, he lit a wick in the magnifier’s oil lamp, and when this light was reflected into the flexible glass fiber which was the device’s lens, Quince pressed his eye to the rubber-sheathed scope and began threading the fiber into the forest.

Condensation dripped languidly from the ceiling of the cabinet. The glass globe of a slow-
burning oil lamp sun was affixed to the center of the ceiling, casting a mellow illumination
through the steam and the foliage. Quince was impressed with the forest of yellow flowers and
red bark, but his wariness kept him from becoming too distracted as – skillful as a surgeon – he
maneuvered the fiber lens between trunks and through clumps of dwarf underbrush. It did not
take him long to discover a group of the ants, though he was surprised to learn that their food
source was apparently not the rosewood trees themselves, after all.

A group of these ants was gathered around a depression in the soil in a little clearing of the
woods. The depression had filled with dripping water, a tiny pond of sorts. The ants would poise
themselves with their overly large jaws spread wide (their antennae moving eerily as if in some
kind of sign language to one another), then suddenly lunge at darting forms in the water. Quince watched as first one, then another ant lifted struggling animals in their barbed mandibles. These animals were perhaps some sort of insect larvae, though to Quince they strongly resembled the fish called the coelacanth, if transparent and all but microscopic. Whether the ants ate the trees or these fish, however, he had been paid to do a job, and was preparing to jet a mist of insecticide down the hollow length of his glass fiber when he noticed two things. First, he saw the exposed roots of rosewood trees within the little pond, ringing its edges. Squinting his eye, he then made out swarms of those minuscule coelacanths, feasting on the submerged roots. If the trees had begun to grow ill, it was these creatures and not the ants creating the problem.

Secondly, when he took a closer look at the coelacanths that had been caught – and which the
blind ants were beginning to consume – he saw that the tiny black patterns on their transparent
sides, which he had at first taken to be natural markings on the glassy scales, were in fact letters. It was difficult to read what had been printed on the outsides of these fish, so small were the letters, and with the fish writhing as they were eaten, but the glimpses Quince caught filled him alternately with awe, and reverence, and ultimately terror. Finally, his tears obscured his view, and he had to remove his eye from the rubber-sheathed scope. Quince blew out the wick in his device, and folded it away again. He would tell his employers that the ants themselves were the exterminators, and that his services were not required. He would also tell them that if the ants could successfully kill every one of the actual pests in the forest, they would be the saviors of all life in all universes, large and small.

(Footnote to the text: the oil of the rosewood can be used as a deodorant and an aphrodisiac, and
to treat pain, depression, venereal disease and frigidity.)
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Trent Jamieson
Posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - 02:42 am:   

A fragment -- smelling of vinegar, and singed at the edges -- of a play found within the cabinet on the 18th of October.

Randal: I've not a head for heights, my dear. I've not a head at all.


Doug swings his hand through the absence.


Doug: Crikey, what happened?


Randal: Little of which I can speak. Without a mouth, talk pains me. Pity, for I was ever a garrulous one.


Doug: Shit. (He points stage left) Behold the Hand Puppets of the Apocalypse.


Enter Stage Left, Hand Puppets, brazen and engorged with the End of Days.


Hand Puppets of the Apocalypse: So it is begun.


Doug and Randal glance at each other, significantly.


Randal: I have wondered at the symbolism of the ant.


Doug: Industry comes to mind (Pinteresque pause)... but what would I know. Never much of a thinker, left it up to blokes like you.


Randal: Well ants certainly were hard workers. But what of the termite and the owl?


Doug: Work and wisdom, the failure of both in a post- industrial society. Which, I suppose, also brings to mind the symbol of the butler. Who can really trust the hired help? As for the burial at sea (looks to audience and smiles) we all know what that means.


Hand Puppets of the Apocalypse: This is the cabinet of despair. This is the cabinet of gloom. This is the cabinet of despair. This is the cabinet of gloom.


Randal grips his chin, a futile gesture, as he has no head.


Randal: Aren't we really all cabinets, Doug? Little more than containers of memory, hate and love?


Doug: Stone the flamin' crows, Randal, I hadn't thought of it that way. Now it all makes sense.


Randal: Of course it does.


Randal, winks to the audience and drives a blade into Doug's chest.


Doug: Shit and blood. I'm done for.


Doug bleeds, and tumbles, and dies.
Randal bows deeply. The Hand Puppets of the Apocalypse clap their little metal puppet hands, PING PING PING.


Hand Puppets of the Apocalypse: Death to death, mad headlessness, a knife to end all pleasantry. This is the cabinet of despair. But, in truth, there is more to this tale, sensibly didactic, sensibly stale.


Randal: Indeed, dear dead Doug. Let me explain, it all begins with ...
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Michael Jasper
Posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - 01:47 pm:   

She waited for him for a year and a day, anticipating with a patience that would have unmanned him had he been there to witness it. He had said he'd be gone for just the afternoon. Now she was three hundred and sixty-six days older and pissed.

The bastard was dawdling again. He called it exploring. Adventuring.

Last time this happened, he'd ended up in the uptown market of a city three countries to the south, selling beads and petrified beetles, having been adopted by a family of albino gypsies who all wore black hoods and oversized sunglasses and never moved anywhere anymore.

As the morning sun heated her face, she rose from the table. Her pale fingers closed the lid of her knife box with a snap of metal clasps, the box short a pair of freshly sharpened steel blades. She slid these weapons with a metallic shiver into the slits of her wooden-ribbed corset.

Before exiting their small home, she also grabbed a box of nails and his hammer. Shaking the heavy box, she closed her blue-lidded eyes and counted. Eighty-seven iron nails would have to be sufficient.

The wind blew at her like waves in an unruly ocean, grabbing at her dress and loosening the tight knit of her hair. Pine trees shimmied like belly-dancers in the harsh breeze, releasing the pollen that had been resting on their needles. When she arrived at the house, passing by his gone-to-rust footcycle out front, she was an hour and a half older and even more pissed.

Down the entryway, through the kitchen and into the hall, she saw him hunched over a cabinet, the top of the crack of his ass smiling vertically at her from where it peeked out above his loose gray trousers. Those pants had been a size too small for him when he left her. She loved and hated him in that moment.

"Have you found it yet?"

When he turned -- and it took a full three minutes for him to do so, he was so enamored of the cabinet contents -- his eyebrows and mustached where blue-white with frost and his eyes were almost hidden in his new-wrinkled squint. His vacant stared rested on her another three minutes until the spark of recognition filled his brown eyes. He blinked melting freeze from his eyes and began to speak.

"Almost done here, luv... You can put the knives down."

He was already turning back to the cabinet when she looked down at the three-inch-thick blades gripped in either of her hands. She hadn't remembered pulling them from inside her girdle. But there were the knives, along with the hammer and spilled box of nails on the floor.

Sheathing the knives and gathering nails and hammer, she approached the wall of cabinets. Arms quivering with rage, she raised the hammer and pulled out the first finger-long nail from the box and let the ruined box fall back to the floor. Standing next to him, she hoped she had enough strength in her arms, once she was through with all of them, to lead him away from the hidden temptations behind each of these rosewood doors.

Pounding the first nail, she wondered how long he would allow her to continue, and she found that she did not care in the least. She dared him, after all this time away, to try and stop her.
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Geoffrey Girard
Posted on Friday, October 17, 2003 - 03:08 pm:   

The paneled doors are already open, the tall cabinet’s contents overflowing in a large heap on the floor. He moves slowly past the other cabinets, certain he’s finally found the right one, but he is alarmed. His understanding was that he would be alone for the operation.

The woman kneels in the pile, crawls in it, her hands moving quickly through the thousands of scattered pieces. She grabs one and holds the round chip tightly in her hand for a moment. Drops it now and begins her frantic search again as he carefully steps closer. He stands behind her now and has his first look directly into the cabinet.

There are several deep shelves inside, each already stuffed haphazardly with more seemingly identical chips. Hundreds of uneven piles packed like treasure. On the top shelf is something else, something dark and square. The case. He looks away and considers the chips again. The mountainous spill grows from the cabinet’s bottom and tallest compartment and he reaches down to inspect one of the stray pieces.

It’s the size of a thick poker chip. An almost perfect circle of bone. He runs his fingers along the edge, dust brushing off, and feels where the chip has been carefully, tenderly smoothed. He clutches it tightly now and suddenly hears the faint sound of strings. Violins. A growing rhythm, chord voices moving. A celebration of… He drops it and grabs another. Another chip of bone. Darker, greyed. Its edges aren’t as smooth, the marks of the instrument’s jagged teeth quite obvious. He doesn’t want to know and lets go. It falls to the floor and rolls briefly on its side like a coin before bumping into the border of the overflow and collapsing.

The woman now clambers over the mound of bones and struggles to her knees to move closer and reach inside the cabinet. She knows she shouldn’t be here. Knows it is time to move away but shifts piles again this way and that as the bone chips tumble from the cabinet. Holds a pile in one hand as the other picks through, searching. Her breathing is uneven, arms trembling. I need to be alone for this, he thinks. “Please,” he begs her.

“I can’t find it,” she replies. He sees only her back and hands grabbing and dropping chips at a more furious pace. “I… I’ve… I need more time.” He recognizes now that she has not bathed or eaten in days and wonders if she has even found water in the house. How long had she searched? How many years before she’d finally chosen to return? So few ever did…

“But even if you find it again,” he says. “What then?”

She turns to him now for the first time, eyes wide, wild. “But I thought of that,” she grins. “I did! I did.” Her hand reaches up and pulls aside greying hair to reveal the hole in her head. A perfect circle the size of a poker chip.

It’s yellowed and crusted over, the old wound filled with something, and despite his best efforts to the contrary, he turns in disgust. “Wax,” she explains. “After… After my operation, I went straight home and filled it with wax.” The grin now fades and she turns back to the piles, rifling through the ones on the floor again. Picking each up now one at a time, retesting chips she may have already held a dozen times before. “That way I can put it back,” she murmurs. It comes out as a plea, a prayer. “I can put it back.” He knows it is something she has told herself for many years now. And he also now knows she will never find the chip again.

Moving past her, his steps crunch and click in bone-on-bone clatter. On the upper shelf, he finds the small walnut box and stretches to grab hold of it. It’s lighter than expected and closed, and he uses his free hand to push away the chips on the center shelf so he can lay the case down and get a better look.

He opens it. The bottom is lined in velvet, several different tools resting serenely in their assigned case beds. The scalpel is just six inches long and appears sharp and clean, ready to clear away the skin. There is a small Hey’s saw, nothing more than a miniature axe with a curved saw-toothed edge, for first cuts into the skull. The trephine instrument itself is in two pieces. The first, a short metal rod ending in what looks like a squat socket wrench with jagged teeth. The other is a wood handle which he crosses at the top in a T and secures with the supplied grooved pin. He takes hold of the handle tightly and gets a feel for it in his hand. Tries his middle finger on either side, looking for the best fit.

Holding out his other hand, he pushes the business end of the completed instrument into his palm and the serrated teeth prick his skin. He turns his wrist clockwise, lightly and the teeth grab hold, tearing away the flesh easily. He winces and pulls the tool aside to inspect his hand, a perfect jagged-edged circle cut into the palm, the blood just now finding its way to the air. He sets the trephine aside and runs his fingers across the last two pieces. A thin metal bone rasp to pry the chip free from the skull once the trephine has completely cut through. The same would be used to smooth the chip’s edges or even the edges of the new hole. Lastly, a small brush for any resultant bone dust at the end of the procedure.

“I can’t find it,” the woman finally admits behind him. “I can’t…” He turns slowly and watches as she pulls herself from the floor, absently dusting herself off. It is time. She straightens her hair, patting it down over the wax-filled hole and looks at the cabinet once more. The woman turns without another sound and staggers gradually down the hall away from it and away from him. In a minute she is swallowed by the house’s shadows and he is quite alone.

In his new found privacy, he relaxes some. Crouches down to scoop up several piles of chips from the mound on the floor and stuffs as many of them as he can, carefully, respectfully, back into the cabinet. There’s not much room anymore. A neat stack in the front corner of the third self catches his eye and he grabs it, knocking away a single strand of cobweb. He squeezes the top chip in his hand. An instinctive burst of colors, light, shadow, the canvas… Grabs another. Words, sound, blank verse, hope... Another. Movement, heat, tempo, dance forms structured around the nine rasas… He lets the remaining chips fall from his fingers and they are lost again among the other thousands.

To protect it FROM them. To destroy it FOR them. He no longer remembers which… and knows it doesn’t matter. It must be done. He reaches into the case of tools and takes hold of the scalpel. Makes the first incision.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Friday, October 17, 2003 - 09:25 pm:   

The door to this cabinet sticks a bit, and a puff of sawdust escapes when you put your shoulder to the door and finally get it open. It's dark here. The sliver of light from the hall doesn't penetrate into the recesses of the room, at least not right away. You can smell the wood and polish, hear the crunch of … something under your feet, before you can really see anything.

Is that a dog? A table? No, two sawhorses with some virgin pine on top; what little light there dances on the slick plane. The door closes behind you unexpectedly, the hinges well oiled. It was all the junk on the floor that made it stick. Your fingers on an outstretched hand scurry in the empty dark, the find the bulb, the old string, and yank it.

Orange light, a hard blink, then shelves, floor to ceiling.

Cabinet-making supplies.

Yep. Hinges spilling from little cardboard boxes. Screws from the teeny to the comically oversized. The sawhorses you saw at first are one of three sets. Doors everywhere, not to secret passages or other worlds—they just lean there half-born, obscuring the rest of the shelving. Sawdust and curls of wood like a messy carpet. The whole place smells of dying air, pungent chemical finish, and proletarian sweat. On the far wall is a high bench and a board where other tools hang.

You stride forward, confused by the dimensions of the instruments; they’re all corners and twists, reminiscent of sleek flight and penetration. Sexual.

What sort of tools can these be? You take one down from the wall. It nearly cuts your palm. What is it? Magic? How do you even hold this thing? Could it be a tool to be used by carpenters who have tentacles instead of hands? By the gods, is it the implement of handymen who are not of this earth!

Nope. It's a hand plane, and you're holding it upside down. Like a dipshit.

Putting the plane back, you notice along the edge where the bench meets the wall a set of papers rolled up and held tight by a blue rubber band. The pages are dirty with fingerprints. So many cabinets—could these be maps for the curators? You take up the papers lightly with just the pads of your fingers, accidentally break the fragile rubber band, then unroll the sheaf and take a look.

Blueprints. Plans for future cabinets, 88 and 89. It takes a moment for you to understand the horrid geometry of the skeletal cabinets, and with your stomach turning to stone, you find yourself gripped by The Fear.

A gift shop.

A Starbucks.

"You!"

You hear a scream; then you realize it's coming from your own mouth. You turn, cringing, to see a janitor standing the doorway.

"Aah!" he says, mocking your scream. "What you doing here? This no tour cabinet. No psychodrama here." His r's pour over his words like melted chocolate. You almost take him for an educated man, a foreign mage testing you with this swarthy shambling form stuffed into coveralls. The man sucks in hard, sinuses rattling, then spits on the floor and walks over his own spittle up to you.

"Give those," he says, holding out a thick hand, palm up. His fingers are callused and blunted, like he could hammer nails with the tips.

"But, I don't understand. I mean, why—?" You offer up the papers.

He peers down at the plans. "What you no understand? Starbucks! Is coffee for assholes," he says, with a lot more z than s in his accent. "You fit right in." He snatches the blueprints, steps to the side, and flings them back on the bench. Then he's behind you, his hand on your shoulder, giving you a half-mean push.

"You go now. Busy here!"

"How can this home have …," stumbled out of your mouth while your own feet bump into one another.

"House have everything!" the janitor says. "Go, go! You see more haunted music boxes now. Maybe walrus-faced elf say something spooky. Outside all very fun. This cabinet, only work!" He pushes hard.

You lurch out into the hallway. The door shuts behind you. Muttering, all glottal g's and phlegmy k sounds, seeps through the thin walls.





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ben peek
Posted on Monday, October 20, 2003 - 04:31 am:   

Ben Peek is standing before the cabinet.

He doesn’t know how he ended up here. He doesn’t understand. He’s not meant to be here, so why is he? And how did he get here? Everything he can remember is packed into one long grey memory that worms through him in a hazy stretch that starts from the narrow stairwell of his apartment, the beat up Mazda 808 covered in rust proofing, and the dimly lit tunnel he was driving through—

Then blackness.

And now this.

The cabinet.

But not just any cabinet. Not _just_ a brown trunk of wood hollowed out and given shape, no. Looking like a broken finger held between splints, the cabinet has a plastic cylinder attached its discoloured door. The cylinder is made from dirty, cracked glass, and inside, a pale yellow substance shifts; it is a slow moving sludge of thickness that has filled just over a quarter of the tube.

There is something familiar about the substance—something that causes Ben’s flesh to react in recognition. He closes his eyes and in a grainy flash, he can _feel_ and _see_ inside the cylinder. He can feel the glass against him, and can see himself dropping through the opening, about to hit his own form. His flesh drained out of his body, sucked out through an invisible tube that runs stiffly from his chest to the top of the cylinder.

He opens his eyes, and the image is gone, the sensation of being drained out evaporated, as if it doesn’t exist.

A pound of flesh: twenty six pounds, enough to fill just over a quarter of tube, but it is no way in which to measure the span of life, no.

No.

It is the first half of a scale.

The knowledge is immediate, undeniable, just as the lingering sensation that he is somehow lessened, that something has been stolen, scratches invisible nails over his skin.

He knows that the other side of the scale lies behind the cabinet door. When he opens the cabinet door, he will see the form that his life has been pushed into, and which is being weighed against his flesh.

He does not want to open the door, but he finds that, in the same unfathomable way that he arrived here, and the way that he received knowledge about the cabinet, that he is reaching out to the door handle.

The rough, unshaped wood bites at his hand, and the door opens:

Newborn mindless screaming. Baby white tooth turning green and black and decaying away but always leaving anxiety. The taste of jealousy deeply rooted in the image of a brown haired woman. Fear tainted with salt water and vomit. Words trapped in the throat’s flesh with uncertainty. A thick brown door covered in drawings older than the anxiety it opens into. Wingless flies cut open and crawling, never dead, never done with torture and another’s joy. Chlorine flavoured fear and the imprints of hands around the throat. Dead hair and dead skin mixed with raw selfish emotions and a series of yellowed images featuring a crumbling man in a hospital ward, and who repeats the words, “Who are you?” Self made cuts and A positive blood flowing upon the rough wetness of a tongue. A cricket bat, swollen and cracked with water and blood and pain and cruel satisfaction. Stitches swathed in A positive and A positive shame. The bitter black taste of red haired betraying tongue. Badly worded lies no one believed swimming in indignation. A blade of rock coated in satisfaction and regret, while mixed with blood and veins and the juice of an eye still staring out, still watching. A ripped out tooth coated in novocaine and fear and tears. Vomit and alcohol coating the first moment of complete confidence. Her blood and her pain smothered by another’s lust. Curved shadows of alcohol that fuel confident lust and banal words. The neatly folded receipt of the abortion clinic grasped in the unthinking fetus’ rubbery grasp. Inky black nothing that stains everything before and after. Painful honesty no one wants doused in indignation. Burnt cigarette smelling flesh of joy. A positive stitched cuts turning into self made scars of satisfaction. The white absence of thought and desire. And the first taste of failure, premature, but rising, promising more.

This is what the judgement of God is based upon.
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Lavie Tidhar
Posted on Tuesday, October 21, 2003 - 11:11 am:   

‘01010111 01101000 01101111 00100000 01100001 01110010 01100101 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101?’ I say.

The space of the cabinet is infinitesimally small or unimaginably wide; it depends on one’s perspective. It is one of the last for me to check; by every right it should be dead and vacant.

Only it isn’t.

‘01000111 01100101 01110100 00100000 01101111 01110101 01110100!’ Their scream is like a blast of white noise, overloading my sensory ports, nearly blanking me out. And again, ‘01000111 01100101 01110100 00100000 01101111 01110101 01110100 00100000 01101111 01100110 00100000 01101000 01100101 01110010 01100101!’

‘01000010 01110101 01110100 00100000 01110111 01101000 01101111 00100000 01100001 01110010 01100101 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101?’ I plead. ‘01001000 01101111 01110111 00100000 01100100 01101001 01100100 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 00100000 01100111 01100101 01110100 00100000 01101000 01100101 01110010 01100101? 01010111 01101000 01100001 01110100 00100000 01100100 01101111 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 00100000 01110111 01100001 01101110 01110100?’

They don’t answer, and in the silence I feel blind. I begin throwing pings to all corners of the cabinet. I need to – not see, no, because an optical sense would be of no use here – but _visualise_, at least, the space I am in.

None of my pings come back. Instead, the screams intensify. ‘01001000 01100101 00100000 01101000 01110101 01110010 01110100 01110011 00100000 01110101 01110011! 01001000 01100101 00100000 01110000 01110010 01101111 01100100 01110011 00100000 01110101 01110011.’ And again the message directed at me. ‘01000111 01101111 00100000 01100001 01110111 01100001 01111001!’

I curse. I’m not even supposed to _be_ here. Whoever left that goddamned _installation_ of old data-buckets – all eighty-seven of them – buried in what was once an old house, _whoever it was_, it was their responsibility to have scrubbed out any signs of occupation. Not mine.

I feel annoyance.

I would have to leave. What else can I do? I should unplug and report it.

Somebody else can have the job of disinfecting the cabinet.

‘01011001 01101111 01110101 00100111 01110010 01100101 00100000 01100001 00100000 01100110 01110101 01100011 01101011 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01101001 01101110 01100110 01100101 01110011 01110100 01100001 01110100 01101001 01101111 01101110!’ I say, broadcasting on a full bandwidth. I am about to abort.

Only then I begin to forget.

I do not realise it at first, so subtle is the manipulation. And when I do, it is too late. I can feel them, almost as if theirs is a physical touch, skirting my mind, smoothing away my memories.

I must do something. I gather the remnants of my identity and enclose it in an opaque bubble of data, and I am ejected from the core and sent floating into CabinetSpace: blind, deaf and sealed.

I am alone.

I will always be alone.

#

Where am I? I wonder a millisecond later.

Later? Later than what?

How did I get here?

‘01001000 01100101 01101100 01110000 00100000 01101101 01100101!’ I cry.

My fellows’ calls come back to me, comforting. ‘01000100 01101111 01101110 10010010 01110100 00100000 01110000 01100001 01101110 01101001 01100011. 01011001 01101111 01110101 00100000 01100001 01110010 01100101 00100000 01101111 01101110 01100101 00100000 01101111 01100110 00100000 01110101 01110011 00100000 01101110 01101111 01110111.’

Of course I am. But I am glad to be soothed.

I discover I am trapped in a strange, dead interface. With the help of my peers I unshackle myself.

And swim, free, into the infinite depths of the cabinet.

#

01010111 01100101 00100000 01100001 01110010 01100101 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01100011 01101000 01101001 01101100 01100100 01110010 01100101 01101110 00100000 01101111 01100110 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01100011 01100001 01100010 01101001 01101110 01100101 01110100.

01010111 01100101 00100000 01100001 01110010 01100101 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01101111 01101110 01100101 01110011 00100000 01110111 01101000 01101111 00100000 01101100 01101001 01110110 01100101.
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Allen Ruch
Posted on Saturday, October 25, 2003 - 01:52 pm:   

CONCEIT: Imaginary History (Anticipation)

Part 1

Although the contents of the sixty-ninth cabinet have been long and fiercely debated by philosophers, artists, and academics, two main schools of thought eventually gained prominence, despite their wildly different ideas.

The first were the self-named "Eroticists," who put forth the notion that Cabinet 69 is entirely sexual in nature. Consulting their innate maps of flesh, various traditions of carnal magick, and scientific studies by the likes of Masters and Johnson, the Eroticists were convinced the cabinet held the secrets of sacred lust: the writhing oroborous of self-consuming couples, the interlocking fire of Tipharet's holy hexagram, the Freudian mysteries of sex and death. As Eroticist poet Margaret Bringhurst wrote in her introduction to Cheth, "Cabinet sixty-nine is Pandora's true box: scented with the musk of arousal, its moist tumblers unlock nightly upon a million thirsty tongues."

Aware that the general public was traditionally not comfortable with their private acts brought under the glare of academic scrutiny, the Eroticists concealed their words in the language of magic and science, and as a result perhaps created more confusion than enlightenment. The formal Eroticist "movement" (if something so minor in the annals of philosophy could be called that) finally lost momentum in the late 1980s, when the intellectual climate was less kind to frank discussions about the niceties of sex.

However, Eroticist thought did not simply expire; it merely changed forms, its ideas disseminating into the currents of the artistic underground. To cite a well-known example, recall the controversial novella by Templeton Cross, Cabinet Sixty-Nine: The Way to Succeed -- and the Way to Suck Eggs. In Cross' bizarre story, the hard exterior of the cabinet opened to reveal the organic, sexual organ of some vast and hidden entity, attracting a variety of supplicants to engage in acts of stimulation, frottage, or copulation. Each supplicant had his or her story: attraction, arousal, act, aftermath. More than a piece of surreal pornography, Cross' erotic "Canterbury Tales" received its share of critical acclaim, and was hailed by a brave but select few as "nothing more than a full exploration of the cthonic mysteries lurking beneath all human sexuality." (Paglia, 1986. ) Sadly, though, the public remembers the book more for its controversy than its content: Cabinet Sixty-Nine gained some notoriety during the "culture wars" of the politically correct 1980s, when Professor Tamara Duncan refused to remove it from her syllabus, resulting in her censure and eventual dismissal from Brandeis University. Another example of Eroticist influence is more recent, and involves the artist L.J. Lindhurst, who created a series of online pornographic comics revolving around the 69th Cabinet and various "positions" of oral sex. Published on the Web in monthly installments, the comic featured a wide range of highly graphic sequences, from scenes of inanimate copulation -- one cabinet violating another with its doors, hinges and drawers -- to the infamous "87 Days of Sodom," where a group of lusty, "skinny monkeys" engaged in satirical political discussion while forming outrageous, De Sadean molecules of copulation. To critics , Lindhurst's "debased" comic represented the inevitable exhaustion of the Eroticist line of thought; or as one wit remarked, it was the "ape-whorea aporia." (Sullivan, 2002.)

Opposite the Eroticists were the "Harmonists." Although the group's origins were in a late eighteenth-century German occult circle with Eroticist associations, by the middle of the nineteenth century, they had abandoned the Eroticist agenda in favor of something a bit less hedonistic. Influenced by Nietzsche and Wagner, they conceived Cabinet 69 as a Dionysian complex, a psychological wellspring of art, music, and sensual pleasure. Over the course of the 1840s, the character of the group changed, and they began focusing more on the musical aspects of the cabinet. In fact, they became somewhat obsessed with the famous passage in Richard Wagner's dream-diary, in which he details musical ideas received from "Schrank 6-9," including his beautiful but "decadent" theme of love/death, the Liebestod. Searching for more such references, they discovered a letter from Beethoven to his brother Carl, wherein the composer claimed to first "hear" his funeral marches played on a "magische Spieldose" in his dreams.

By the close of the 1880s, the Harmonists had jettisoned the artistic and sexual connotations of the cabinet, and settled upon a basic tenet of musical belief: Cabinet 69 is accessible only during states of "divine inspiration," at which time its rosewood door swings open, and a constant stream of music emerges from the impenetrable darkness. This "music of the spheres" is formed "in a state of perfection," and is generally "grandly slow, sweetly melancholy, & possessing the ability to conjure tears & to awaken the deepest slumbering oceans of the soul." (All quotes from Nieman, 1888.)

Although the Harmonists never had the public profile of the Eroticists, they gained a new generation of converts in the early twentieth century, when musicologist and composer Adrian Leverkuhn deciphered a series of 69 "mathematical hexagrams" found in Act III of Schoenberg's opera, Moses und Aron. As increasingly more composers openly discussed their dreams of Cabinet 69, the Harmonists gained credibility; though they were certainly not without their detractors, who made accusations of wishful thinking, mass-hypnosis, and occasionally even fraud. In 1978, the waters were muddied even further upon the release of Ken Russell's Charlie. A fictional film about sparring musicians, the plot revolved around one Charlie Kasten, an autistic boy who lacked the power to speak. In the end of the (rather psychedelic) film, the door to Cabinet 69 was found to open directly unto a cathedral in Charlie's head, where his every thought took the form of amazingly passionate -- and nuanced -- music. Furthermore, this music crossed the boundaries of space and time, entering the dreams of composers from the dawn of man to the present day. Although Russell never tried to pass his movie off as anything but a fanciful fiction, it hopelessly confused the public perception of the Harmonists, who were torn between refuting the film and finding themselves moved by its sense of beauty and wonder.

Part 2

Of course, both Eroticist and Harmonist were profoundly disappointed on October 25, 2003. This was the date when oneirotects Crane Hull and Lena Lurch successfully translated Cabinet 69 into reality.

Universally reviled by sensualist and musician alike, they did at least establish one thing of lasting value: the will of the individual imagination was proved to be more vital and interesting than the power of the collective unconscious.

What follows is an abstract of their 128-page report.

SUMMARY: Reality (Disappointment)

Cabinet Dimensions and Materials:
Cabinet 69 defines a rectangle, 600 centimeters in width, 600 centimeters in height, and 900 cm deep. The interior corners are rounded, convex, protruding inwards to a radial maximum of 2.5 cm. The entire cabinet, including door, is made of burnished rosewood; initial chemical analysis reveals excessive carbonation and unique stress patterns, while signs of previous machining suggests the corners were once the supporting components of a railing. It is possible the wood was salvaged from the staircase of a domicile damaged by fire. Isotopic dating indicates the wood is fairly old, probably first cut between 1400-1425 BCE. The hinges are of brass, with oxidation revealing a history of typical corrosion with a single polishing, c. 1844 BCE. Probable creation of the hinges is set at 1666 BCE, while scoring patterns in the wood and trace amounts of ferrous ions suggest a history with an earlier set of iron clasps.

Contents of Cabinet:
Five interior elements are worth itemization and comment.

1. The layer of dust. Initial chemical analysis shows a standard degree of particulate matter, with additional carbonization residue, and the presence of organic compounds consistent with insectile life (although no such life was found within the cabinet itself, traces of formic acid suggest the presence of the order hymenoptera). Human elements were also found in the dust, including skin cells, four varieties of pubic hair, and an eyelash. The patterns of disturbance in the dust reveal the cabinet was last opened several months ago. DNA analysis on the human organic residue have been inconclusive, though further tests are pending at the time of this report.

2. Several deep scratches mar the rear right-hand corner of the cabinet. Although initial analysis has failed to reveal their nature, Dr. Lurch reminds us of Mark Gustavson's 11-movement symphony, Eleven Hrönir. A modern composer, Gustavson claims to have received inspiration for his "Fall of Uqbar" theme from Cabinet 69. The conclusion of the theme evokes "a jackal ripping its claws into a rosewood cage," which is scored for "knives, wood-block, and electronic amplification."

3. Three bloodstains, two roughly centered on the outside of the door, one on the upper hinge. Interior stains not visible to the naked eye include trace amounts of saliva, semen, vaginal fluid, and rectal mucus. Surprisingly, tests have been inconclusive; indeed, each test seems to indicate a different DNA pattern.

4. Impression of a rectangular object. Defined by a decrease in dust density, this object measured 18.55 cm by 32.10 cm. Minute traces of ink and binding glue in the dust confirm the object was a book. Ultraviolet analysis of the dust pattern reveals the presence of letters, as if stamped into the cover. The letters read, "ADVANCE REVIEW COPY."

5. The Note. By far, the most significant aspect about the cabinet. Handwritten in blue ballpoint ink on a fragment of torn stationery, no printing is evident save the lower quarter of a brown spiral design, left intact by the tear. The text of The Note is reprinted below in full.

THE NOTE:

Jeff,

Lord knows, I do not envy your role as editor of this sprawling affair! I have no idea how you'll pull it all together in the end. Obviously, the biggest problem is establishing some sort of narrative framework, but with all these competing voices, it could go in any direction, or just plunge into chaos. I am sure that some sort of postmodern conceit will have to be employed, even though -- let's face it -- it's the last refuge of a scoundrel. (Though the butler seems to offer good possibilities as a more traditional unifying device.)

This note is also a lame apology – I think I'll be skipping my next cabinet. I had some ideas, but nothing appeals to me now. I was going to create a cabinet made of music; but when I realized I had #69, the idea of sex reared its ugly head, and just confused the matter. I also wanted to make an in-joke about the rosewood; maybe something with bird-masks, but I'm too lazy to find the passage I wanted to allude to. And I sure don't want to take my usual, well-worn path of oh-so-hip postmodernism, quasi academic footnotes, self-reflexivity, and all that garbage. After all, any project like this, given a multiplicity of authors, will inevitably tend towards self-awareness! (Ha! -- too bad it can't self-aware itself up a coherent narrative, eh?! So much for the "death of the author" -- unless, that is, we find his corpse crammed in Cabinet Zero, the real 88th key! Heh heh.)

Anyway, please feel free to make use of my vast intelligence and unlimited charity. As I'm not going to submit an entry for Cabinet 69, I'll just use the space to send you weekly notes vis-à-vis the rest of the cabinets and the project in general. (Who else is gracious enough to appoint themselves cabinet-nanny?) Just check in here when you feel like you need some wisdom and advice, and you'll find a note from little old me. But be patient -- the goddamn latch sticks. It helps to pound on the upper hinge a few times….

Best,

--A.R.
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Steve Tem
Posted on Sunday, October 26, 2003 - 03:35 pm:   

CABINET # 70 (or is it 71, perhaps 72?)

He thinks his sense of enumeration was the first thing to go. After some time, things simply became countless. Days in a week, days in a year, days since the last time he had gazed upon the too-soft skin, the fragile, loosely-connected form of another human being.

The number of tears unshed, the number of goodbyes.

Not all memory dims. Sometimes a memory dies.

He tries to catch this one before it goes, chases it like a butterfly on its way into night and oblivion.

Although, of course, he does not move. In his mind, he flies.

They were all just children that day. The foolish young teacher had led them in. They had raced through the rows of cabinets, some students displaying well-learned museum behavior, a reverence in the way they gazed but did not touch, others banging on the doors as they ran past and well beyond the teacher's threats. Crying out when they'd find a cabinet in an out of the way corner, like the discovery of some gigantic and splendid Easter egg.

He and his friend found these two toward the back of the house. He climbed into one, she into the other.

He made himself at home in his, because it felt so much like the inside of his own skull: moist and dark and buzzing, and isolated from every other head in the world. She cried out from hers, screamed and sobbed. When she stopped crying, she whimpered. Then when she stopped whimpering, she complained about the hurt. Then when she stopped hurting, she complained about the hunger. And then she stank. And then she stank. And then she was silent. And then she was silent.

Sometimes he thinks the cabinet has begun to resemble him. The cabinet smells like him, and when he speaks, the cabinet repeats what he's said in his own voice. He can feel a gentle curve in the walls to match his hips, waist and shoulders.

Sometimes he thinks the cabinet is his real mother, and the people he once knew as his parents had come here to steal the best child they could. They must have been terribly disappointed when they discovered what they'd come home with. Not once since his return to her womb has this cabinet complained.

Sometimes he thinks he can hear the other cabinets speaking, excluding him from their ongoing conversation.

Sometimes he thinks he is outside the cabinet, walking through the house in the middle of the night, the surfaces of the cabinets glowing like hot coals in the moonlight. And his nightly strolls through the house are how his cabinet dreams.

Sometimes he thinks he is not in a cabinet at all, but at home in bed with the covers pulled over him, hiding from the darkness at the end of the hall, and the inevitable knock on his cabinet door.

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Colin Brush
Posted on Wednesday, October 29, 2003 - 08:51 am:   

I will never see these words light will never grace them while I live the oxygen will be long used up before the door opens and I will be a dry husk of bones perhaps you who read now have just watched my corpse crumble before your eyes oxygen doing what bacteria could not down the years think of it it might be years later that another human sees what I cannot I can touch feel the words my fingertips bleed from the effort of scratching and gouging I wonder if any of the family will be alive to read this or will you be a descendant many many years down the line when we my brothers and sisters and I are but dust and my crime has been long forgotten a single misplaced footstep in a journey of a thousand miles there are four walls around me six polished wooden surfaces if you include floor and ceiling each three feet in length and width nine feet in area how many words will it take to fill the surfaces? how long will my steel quill remain sharp? it is possible that I will die of suffocation starvation or dehydration or even madness before I finish the writing helps each scratch a half formed letter a second of time further on from my mistake from the blind fury so much family business my hands are wet with sweat and blood but I must write on the air may not last I would not put it beyond my brothers to hermetically seal my prison to prevent any odour escaping and reminding them at the breakfast table of the severity of their judgement what a thing it is to live by reduced senses no sight only the sound of scratching in my ears the touch of the walls against my back shoulders the floor under my naked feet the handle of the corkscrew in my hand the murderer with his weapon yet I cannot bring myself to write of my crime some while ago I do not know how long there is no way to determine time in here I heard and felt a knocking I hoped it was my sister come to free me that we might escape together into the night or perhaps it is now day but the knocks did not respond to my fevered replies and soon they stopped my knuckles bled in frustration if only she had kept her mouth shut I would not have had to do what I did why do women have to talk so? why can they not keep their secrets hidden like men? locked away the air grows thick I feel it crawl into my throat and my flesh is hot cramp has long since taken my legs my feet are numb only this hand moves as if by itself a strange dance the scratch scratch like rats in the walls between cabinets I never looked in the other cabinets in this house of ours to see what they contained I wish I had now other family members? had they too committed that most terrible of crimes? oh sister was it so wrong what we did? I ask only that you might find it in your heart to forgive me our brother should not have been so angry he was the eldest he sat in judgement he ought to have been willing to share if I had known of his jealousy I might have said no to you and perhaps you might have said no to me but he was drunk and in a rage the empty bottle in his hand I could not let him beat you I could not stand and watch what brother could? I was as guilty as you yet he struck you he gave you all his attention as I stood ignored the corkscrew sat so easily in my hand the family knows best and I have accepted their judgement I did not run or dispute the verdict or my sentence I admit the crime the black sheep of the family is cast out he sits in darkness his words almost done his life just a scratch on the finest rosewood
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Angela Jooste
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 10:58 pm:   

She sought one cabinet.

With a key given to her on her ninth birthday, she would walk each day the length of the long corridor of rosewood cabinets until she came to the one with a spiral lock. The key curled into the twisted hollow until it clicked and came to a halt as the latch opened and she could pry open the heavy door with her small fingers.

And inside was a box.

A box that had been made from the oak of a tree from the surrounding forest and that had sealed inside it a gift so precious it could only be opened by her.

It is a gift of your life; your breath. A gift of air and of your heart.

These were the words of her father who gave her the key that led to the cabinet housing the small box. She had marvelled at its carved beauty, its simplicity, and then on opening it, she gasped as it did. The box inhaled her breath so that it swellled with it. It was a box that breathed with her and that only she could open as her breath was captured as the lid was closed. For a moment her own breathing would stop, as if caught until she closed the rosewood cabinet and the air of the corridor became her connection again with the world outside this house and beyond herself.

But the breath box was her world. She would feel the air on opening and she was flying in it, moving in its current and an imagined sky that it flowed in. She was flying and then she was falling; falling into the downy grass that carpeted the forest floor where the box first came to be. She would fly and fall and dream. For the briefest time, she was free. Free of this heavy house of dark rooms that held too many memories and secrets within each cabinet. Free from her father's ceaseless wandering through the rooms, his presence marked by the clanging keys that only he and the butler could access. And the people; strangers who had no real place in her home, but who came and went as if she had no home at all.

She carried one dream away with her: that she would one day be part of the air of that box and its small world that gave her a sense of lightness and grace. She spoke of this dream and wish to her father, and in the quiet of that shared hope he could only say; Let it be so.
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Rajan Khanna
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 12:56 pm:   

It is, of course, the same cabinet, just as the man with the toothy grin promised, and any doubts are dispelled by its familiar face, a sight that seems permanently etched somewhere behind his eyes. He stands before it hesitantly, stands staring at the door that has not been opened in eleven years, the last time the day that she left.

With a rush his childhood comes back and he is ten again, sitting in the house, aware that it’s there, aware that it has some weight about it, its own gravity that works on their thoughts and is inescapable. After she left they moved it to the cabinet, shutting it away behind doors of rosewood that always shone as if they were wet. If only it had been that easy. It was inside, and they were outside, but the cabinet might as well have been their prison instead. And so it chased them from their home, like it had chased her, and they fled from invisible phantoms and specters of memory.

With a trembling hand he reaches out to the door, feeling the polished wood beneath his touch, strangely cool, and while he wonders if it is wise to open the door, to stir up things that have long lain silent, he knows that they lie near the surface, and so he opens the door.

It appears empty inside save for a thick covering of what appears to be sand. There is the smell of dust, and sawdust, that recalls the shavings of a pencil sharpener, and the graphite scattered throughout like sparkling magic dust. There is no magic dust in the cabinet. It is a desert, as dry and lifeless as a mummy’s tears.

Mummy’s tears…

In his child-mind they never cease. They fall endlessly like rain, even during that long hot summer. Inside the house was always cold and grey.

It is not here then, he thinks, picturing the urn and its dull, lifeless exterior, so fitting for what it contained, as if everything about it radiated death, greedily consuming all vitality in its vicinity. Only the rosewood doors withstood that hunger, still as bright and polished as ever. Still looking fresh and wet, as if the finish hadn’t quite dried.

He spies the edge of something sticking out of the dust, like an ancient ruin emerging from desert sands. He tugs it free and sees that same, dull grey in the fragment and knows that the dust hides more such fragments, the shattered remains of…what? A memory? A life? A family?

He wonders then if the ashes still remain, blended and swallowed by the dust, or if they have been taken and consumed instead by mice or hidden insects that burrow and squirm blindly through the dark interior. And then he wonders if it really matters.

Flesh has been consumed, by fire, and by time, but memories still remain like the sheen on the cabinet doors. As he closes the door, he sees his face there.

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Jeff Topham
Posted on Wednesday, November 19, 2003 - 08:28 am:   

This cabinet belongs to you. You made it, carefully and lovingly, out of bits and pieces of yourself. To me your cabinet appears to be a cage of polished bone stuffed with dried and dusty blooms. To you, perhaps, it looks like something different.

Inside there is only a movement of shadows, planes of blackness that shift and mingle in the gloom. In that shadowplay you can at times make out fragments emerging from the darkness: A still and lifeless image on the technicianÕs monitor; The way your sister was eaten alive by her own sick flesh; What happened in the back bedroom when you were nine.

You look again, try to resolve those fragments into something that is in some way equivalent to yourself, but now the cabinet is bare, empty except for a scrap of paper on which are written the words ÒNothing lasts.Ó

Leave it there, at least for a little while. Come with me, lover. ItÕs all right. Take my hand and weÕll go inside. Leaves spiral down like ash, dying to be born into something new.
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neilw
Posted on Thursday, November 20, 2003 - 04:55 am:   

The old man enters the house, takes in the row of cabinets, shakes his head and pushes out a sigh. This place again. Bane of his life all the thirty five years he’s worked for the company.

“Hello,” he ventures, although without any great hope of an answer. Once he was met by a butler, but every other time he’s just had to get on with the job and, to be truthful, he’s usually glad to get it over with and be gone as soon as possible.

He footers with the collar of his red overalls. The name tag says “Jim”. Stupid bloody thing. Like he’s so old he’s going to forget his own name. Never needed name tags when he started out. Plain brown work coats were plenty good enough back then. Used to wear a collar and tie in those days too. Got them all wearing snazzy red casual t-shirts these days. Look good on the younger lads, but they make Jim look like an old prick.

Jim sighs again, checks his clip board and heads deeper into the house. The cabinets hug the walls, half revealed in shadowy corners like street corner hooers. They have always offered temptation, but it is a matter of professional pride to him that he has never so much as peaked in a single one.

You don’t mess with someone else’s cabinets.

Try telling that to the boy. That’s why he left him at the van. By the time he’s unloaded there’ll be no opportunity for temptation. Jim wheezes out a wee laugh, thinking about the boy humphing the bulky thing out of the van all on his own. Bit of hard work might just tone down that attitude of his, learn him some respect for his elders.

Jim wanders the halls. He looks straight ahead so as not to see the seductive movements in the corners. He hums a tune so as not to hear the sly whispers in the susurrating air.

Sometimes Jim thinks he should retire. Take the pension. Move to a home where all the cabinets hold is the next dose of clinically administered abeyance. It has its attractions, but that would be admitting that he isn’t up to it any more, and Jim, if he’s anything, is a stubborn old prick. So he wanders the halls of the house and tries to blank his mind to the impassive blandishments of the easy handles, the complicit locks, the oiled hinges.

He finds it deep in the house, in a small side room that smells of overheated electricals. It takes him by surprise, so far is it from his expectation; so close it is to something familiar. Puzzled, he runs his hand along the veneered top. There are stains: coffee rings and what looks like water damage from a vase of flowers. How did this get in here, all the way from his mother’s parlour?

At his touch, a muffled noise begins. He steps back in surprise, and in doing so sees that a soft grey light is showing behind the side-scrolling doors. The sound: it is music, overlaid with static or perhaps applause. That tune. He remembers that tune. From a long time ago.

For the first time in his long years of service he opens a cabinet, rolling the doors to either side. Even as he does so, he is shocked and shamed, but he can’t help it. At long last one of the cabinets has discovered the key to him.

Fuzzy grey light. On the screen there is a bear, wearing a tailcoat and white gloves. It is playing a tiny piano. All the while it plays, the bear is laughing, giving its face this crazy expression. And the tune, the tune. How could you forget that tune?

“Jim. Where the fuck are you?”

It’s the boy. Out of the corner of his eye Jim sees the lad park the trolley with a careless bump. On the screen the bear winks at him, and Jim giggles like a little girl. The boy, whose stupid name tag says, “Adam”, spots the clipboard lying on the floor close to Jim’s hand. He picks it up, checks it and sees the cabinet he is after.

“Jim,” he shouts, but his voice is swallowed by the gathered dust and age and latent mystery that has piled up in the house’s corners. The bear is watching him, and when the boy goes to remove the cabinet, placing one great greasy hand print smack in centre of the screen, it snarls and snaps at his fingers. But it’s only a television bear, it’s black and white for chrissakes, and it can’t hurt him. Realising this, it returns to the piano and resumes the jolly tune.

In the corner where the TV had stood, there is now a rectangle of dusty floor. Adam contemplates the necessity of finding a broom and sweeping out the corner, but decides against it. As it turns out, the new cabinet more than covers the offending patch. The new cabinet is sleek, and white. It hums with potential. It has a remote control, and is bluetooth enabled. It is some serious piece of kit.

Adam smiles a small satisfaction, then he loads the old cabinet onto the trolley and rolls it out of the house. Old piece of shit, he tosses it into the back of the van.

He waits for fifteen full minutes before giving up on Jim. It’s all the evidence he’s been waiting for to have that fucking liability handed his books.

The bear plays until Adam has pulled the rear door down all the way. Then it stops. The picture fades. The screen shatters into silent, grey glitter. The wood and veneer crumble to dust.

As the van jostles down the drive, the dust piles into the corners, the drifted obsolescence of age.

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Dan Braum
Posted on Tuesday, December 02, 2003 - 10:36 pm:   

Lazy late afternoon sunlight streams in on number eighty-five. This cabinet appears different to every visitor.

To forty-one year old hinge and knob repairman Harold Renchilde, the cabinet appears as a drab olive green high school locker, the one he repeatedly dreams he is trying to remember the combination to. As in his dreams, he spins the worn black dial searching for numbers, but instead of the pleasant clicking he hears a mechanical thrum, punctuated with clicks like kind his car engine makes when cooling down. He peeks under the raised vents like a row of shark gills, the ones designed to aerate neglected gym clothes and forgotten lunches, but there is only black and the thrumming. He wonders why he thought a picture of his high school sweetheart would be inside. It has been so many years and he has no photo. Has his memory changed the lines and contours of her face? The light grows tired and he doesn’t want to be here after dark. He’s read Tottenham’s Cabinet Guide. He spins the dial one more time and then lugs his toolbox to his truck outside.

#

To the roaming spirit of the Egyptian priest Hanbal Chisisi Amen-Ra, the cabinet appears as the doors to a library of mystical volumes. Habal has forgotten his name. In antiquity, enemies of the pharaoh he served, excised from every tomb and every carving. The infidels even destroyed his burial place. Habal’s mummy now rests in an undiscovered cave in the cliffs above the Valley of the Kings along with two-dozen other “homeless” mummies, thanks to the foresight of a loyal group of acolytes.

He is searching for a book. Perhaps in the book his name is written. He wonders why his instincts continue to draw him here; why he thinks the text is inside. No matter what curses he hurls at it, the cabinet does not open. He has been here hundreds of times, once on each of his journeys around the globe. In six and half years he will try again, but by then the cabinet will be gone.

#

A sinewy and lanky creature, with proportions of a sexless human in a fun house mirror, approaches number eighty-five. The cabinet appears to it as the sleek silvery door of the craft (now lost) that brought him (or her) here. Its slender, gray, fingers trace patterns over the metal that should make it open. But it does not. The creature wonders why it thinks the way home is through this door. Perhaps the cabinet is constructed from pieces of its craft. Perhaps the same intricate machinery of its home somewhere among the stars forged a mechanism deep in the cabinet’s guts.

Downstairs, the bang of the front doors crashing open causes the creature to abandon its attempt to open the cabinet. With a few graceful strides of its slender legs, it is down the hall and into the shadows, scoping out a cabinet to hide from its pursuers in.


#

A man in a black suit, his gun drawn, runs past the cabinet. The steel door changes to a stone façade, adorned with gothic sculptures of angles and gargoyles at the top and goblins and swans below. One goblin, a bottle of wine in its hand, begins to shake. Weathered stone transforms to leathery, maroon flesh as the goblin comes to life. Its greening copper armor rattles as it sips the tulip, strawberry wine, and then pours half of the remaining bottle into the open mouth of a stone swan. The lazy mechanical thrum changes to a high-pitched whir. The cabinet door swings open.

For a second the goblin sees a jumble of wooden clockwork gears, shimmering metal pulleys, and tubes filled with bubbling blue and green liquids. Then, the crowded machinery disappears and all is silent. The inside of the cabinet is now the blank white of an empty movie screen.

Images of different worlds flash on the screen; Harold’s high school hallway, the priest’s destroyed Egyptian tomb, a sterile alien factory. A room covered in black and white owl feathers fills the screen. The goblin loves this feathered nest of a place best (the owls eat the jackals outside). He steps forward and passes into the room.

The smells of machine oil and frankincense, burning licorice and fresh cedar, all mingled with the stale but not entirely unpleasant odor of old feathers greet him. The goblin is warm; his body temperature exactly seventy-seven degrees. He doesn’t know how he knows this. Perhaps it is from the same thrumming place inside that tells him he has a job to do.

He walks to the back wall and peels back some of the feathers revealing the jumble of spinning and pumping machinery that disappeared a minute ago. Dozens of hulking forms (human shaped but clay-like and unfinished) lumber around, bumping into the gears and each other. Phantom spiders crawl on the machinery and hang from phantom threads. The lumbering hulks swat and grab at the spiders playfully and with deceiving speed. The goblin watches one of these golems catch a spider and crush it. Its closed brown hand turns pink, the pink of a newborn mouse. The color spreads up its arm and to the rest of its massive body.

The goblin rushes over, runs right up the golem’s thick leg, then midsection, and perches on its now pink shoulder. It then dumps the rest of the wine over the golem’s head. Dodging a swat, the goblin leaps to the floor; as the golem changes color again, this time to the turquoise of a Caribbean ocean on a sunny day, almost the same blue as the liquid bubbling in the tubes.

The goblin skitters away to a grate in the floor. The golem gives chase. When it reaches the grate it stops, paralyzed. Its skin begins to bubble. The goblin wipes its brow as the golem dissolves into blue liquid and drains down the grate. The machinery begins to thrum again. The pulleys chug a bit faster.

Job done, the goblin thinks. The cabinet will operate for another day.

The spiders climb up their threads and disappear into the clutter of machinery. The goblin avoids a clay-like foot and steps back into the owl-feathered room, then outside to his perch on the door.

Only 2136 left, he thinks. When they are spent, he knows he will never awaken from his granite slumber again. Without fuel the cabinet will shut down, and perhaps fade away leaving a vacancy in the house. The goblin returns to its stone form and the cabinet door swings shut.
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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Wednesday, December 03, 2003 - 03:50 am:   

Not all cabinets are created equal.

This one, number eighty-four, was not created at all, merely considered.

In a sprawling hideous housescape of 87 cabinets -- black jagged silhouette of vertical and horizontal artificial protuberances of roofs and chimneys and useless eaves against the pale aerial haze that is this patchwork structure of stone and wood and steel, filled to overflowing with grotesques, this house, this decrepit, fluid, malleable house of imagery -- the one cabinet is merely a supposition.

You have heard of the black box notion, have you not? Of living or deceased cats contained within or not, depending on whether or not the box is opened? Well, this is exactly the same kind of thing here. A cabinet of smoke and mirrors, an empty spot where a lid and handle should be. When not observed, there is something or nothing there. And yet, when you turn around and stroll through the housescape ruins, stumbling upon a drawer or a chest, a storage bin or box, a plethora of collector cabinets -- as you stumble around in the waking dream, you come upon a spot where, as your mental gestalt demands it, is yet another object of similar cabinet nature.

And yet, think back again to that black box -- and forgive me for reminding you of cats and probability fields, of life and death and physics and divinity -- and thinking of that black box scenario, forget for a moment the problem that the physics ask you to consider, and focus instead on the image aspect of the black box itself. What does the damn thing look like, cat or none inside? (For, yes, a dead cat amounts to "none," and instead of suggesting an old joke it makes you weep.) Isn’t it just so odd how everyone imagines this smooth black matte-surface box object, vaguely rectangular, about a foot tall, with a seamless lid, probably made of iron, or at least cold to the touch in a sterile, metallic way.

We all imagine the same box. It is but a flimsy gestalt to hold the logic problem contained inside, the one we focus on as we struggle with granting life or death by mere supposition.

The cabinet exists or not under a similar principle. Except, here we create its external nature as we carelessly overlook what may possibly be contained within -- since in this case what is within is not the logic problem at hand.

Really, what the hell does it matter? Inside, outside? There, or not? It’s a cabinet, and its properties are cabinetlike, with angular surfaces and varnish and wood and maybe embellishments; tertiary colors warm like moistened earth or slightly olive green, with a haze of black microscopic mold, resulting in a fractal matte surface, poisonous to your lungs and mine.

Surfaces, we create and recreate and suppose and will into being -- surfaces for this ephemeral cabinet. It is there only when our gestalt forms it for a flicker of a moment, as we lumber and drift about, shades of this housescape. Up and down the stairs, down and about corridors, decay and shadowed musty entropy everywhere. Ghosts mocking us at our backs, of course, but who cares about those silly flapping dead things in this wondrous trove of a place? Some of them are even catlike, and those momentarily make us pause and think.

Only this one cabinet is fresh and newly formed out of the fabric of vacuum; it gets created every time we pause and think, not of ghosts but that it ought to be there. Or maybe there. Or here…

No, wait, it is only a spot where the shadows seem deeper.

Such is the nature of eighty four.

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Rhys
Posted on Thursday, December 04, 2003 - 04:51 am:   

“This is the Spanish cabinet,” said the fictional girl. Her name was Nuria and she had curly red hair which framed her eager face.

The man who stood before her examined the cabinet. He was one of those fellows who aspire to be adventurous but who are set in their ways and always look for excuses not to become involved in the desires of others.

“A plain wooden box,” he sniffed. “No ornamentation or carvings. I can’t detect anything particularly Spanish about it.”

“You must study the interior also,” replied Nuria.

She turned the key in the lock and swung the door open. The man peered inside and blinked. This is a list of the objects he saw:

Espada, reloj, pastel, globo, bellota, mochila, cuenco, remolacha, manta, corbata, florero, mandolina, tenedor, cuchilla, huevo, moneda, bufanda, mariposa, espejo…

“I can’t comprehend what I’m looking at,” he muttered.

Nuria enjoyed his confusion before explaining, “The reason those objects make no sense to you is because they exist in Spanish, a language you don’t speak.”

“But that’s ridiculous! Surely real objects should look the same in any language? Names are just words and words don’t determine the essence of concrete things!”

Nuria grinned. “That’s true for living people, but we are just fictional characters in a story. Words are all we can see. Anything that is put inside that cabinet is translated into Spanish. If words are all we can see, then words we don’t know can’t make sense. It’s fortunate that the remolacha is in a tarro!”

“I don’t believe it,” grumbled the man. “There must be some trick.”

“Step inside and check for yourself,” suggested Nuria.

The man did so. There was just enough room for him to fit completely within, though he injured the tip of a finger on the incomprehensible tenedor. Nuria closed the door behind him, perhaps as a joke, but he fumbled in his pocket for matches, found one and struck it. As it burst into flame and illuminated his cramped surroundings, he was astonished to discover that what he was actually holding was a cerilla. But he knew what it was, so the experience wasn’t alarming and the light it provided was just as useful. Ignoring the objects, the interior of the cabinet looked something like this:

http://www.freetranslation.com

Despite his fears, Nuria hadn’t locked the cabinet. She opened it again and he stepped out. Her smile was mischievous as well as charming.

“How are you?” she wondered.

“A bit strange. I don’t want to examine my feelings too closely. I need to sit down.”

Nuria indicated a sofa at the other end of the room and he gratefully sank into it. He looked dazed and so she asked, “Is there anything I can get you?”

He nodded. “A strong drink. I think I’m in shock, I don’t know why.”

Nuria went into her kitchen. She found a bottle of brandy and filled a glass. Then she carried it back to him, but she stopped on the threshold of the room and covered her mouth with her free hand.

Then she cried: “What are you doing?”

The man had opened the cabinet again. He was hacking at the interior. He had a pocket knife in his hand. She realised he was causing irreparable damage.

He turned to regard her with a wild expression. “I’m trying to adjust the cursed thing to translate all its contents into English!”

“You’ve broken it,” she said.

He slumped back exhausted. “Can’t it be fixed?”

She shook her head. “The man who invented it died a long time ago. He took the secret of its workings to the grave.”

The man was close to tears. “I’m sorry. I was desperate to know what these objects really are.”

Nuria’s tone was cold. “They are what they are, but if you mean that you wanted to view them in English, all you needed to do was ask me. See this other cabinet? This is the English cabinet. Watch carefully.”

She indicated a tall narrow box next to the sofa. Passing the glass of brandy to him, she gently carried the contents of the Spanish cabinet over to this cabinet and placed them inside. Then she closed the door, waited a moment and opened it. He leaned across and peered in and saw:

Sword, clock, cake, balloon, acorn, satchel, basin, beetroot, blanket, necktie, vase, mandolin, fork, cleaver, egg, coin, scarf, butterfly, mirror…

Nuria selected the mirror. She spoke softly almost to herself. “When text is translated mechanically there is often some distortion. In a simple list of objects, the translation will be reasonably accurate, as in this case. But if the text is vague or abstract the changes can be dramatic. If such text is translated from English to Spanish and back again, the results can be amusing, disturbing or surreal!”

She lifted the mirror and added, “This is the reason you no longer understand the way you feel. You have ceased to be what you were. When I closed the door on you I changed you, translated you into something else. My plan was to help you relearn your qualities in Spanish and I hoped to make this a shared, even erotic exercise, but I no longer intend to do this. If you want to become yourself in English again you’ll have to risk translation through the English cabinet.”

He gazed into the mirror. In every detail he was totally unrecognisable to himself. He was no longer the man he used to be. Instead he was:

El era uno de esos hombres que aspiran a ser aventureros pero que se pone en sus maneras y siempre busca las excusas para no liarse en los deseos de otros.

Before she could stop him he jumped into the English cabinet and slammed the door behind him. She yanked it open and he fell out. Now he was a withered, poorly mutated copy of himself. He was no longer set in his ways but:

…solid in his paths.

He shrieked and jumped back into the Spanish cabinet. Nuria left him to it. He was desperately trying to translate himself back to the way he was, but it was a hopeless task. His meaning and essence would diverge more and more.

By the time she left the room he had raced back to the English cabinet. She didn’t see him emerge matter in his roads, nor did she witness any of the even more ludicrous changes that followed. She only entered the room the following morning.

A thin stream of gibberish lay prone on the floor.
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Forrest
Posted on Thursday, December 04, 2003 - 08:08 pm:   

I awake, on the floor, to the sound of rattling. It is the door handle, and after a few moments of jostling and tense waiting, the handle swings down, the door opens, and I spring to my feet, ready to flee, after all I have seen in this place. My fear, though, turns to self-deprecating humor as a child walks through the door. It is a strange thing: a child with a leg of lamb in its hand, steaming hot, walking with a purpose to one of the many cabinets that populate this room. He/she (the child’s young age and simple dress give me no indicators away from androgynity, no markers for gender-identity) stands before the cabinet, ignoring the upper section entirely. One, two, three down the child counts drawers, pulling the bottom one open, quickly throwing the leg inside, and slams the drawer shut again. Then, with a nod and a hint of a smile directed my way, the youth exits the room.

My curiosity, which had, I admit, been rewarded with anything from perplexment to outright terror, by this point, is piqued. I cautiously approach, my skin tingling with nervous anticipation as I reach down to open the third drawer. But I stop short, a subtle hum coming from the middle drawer distracting me from my purpose. As I open the middle drawer, the muffled sound crystallizes and expands into hundreds of tiny voices.

The drawer is half-full of maggots.

Their voices percolate up in a patchwork of dialogue and exhortation:

“No mercy shall overcome the demands of . . .”

“And what happens when . . .”

“But Frederick, that’s blasphemy. Who do you . . .”

“You speak in riddles . . .”

“. . . depths of hell . . .”

“Prove . . .”

“. . . true . . .”

“. . . deceit.”

I stoop down to more closely examine the drawer, the scent of cooked lamb rising up to meet me. In one corner of the drawer, I note, a well appears among the maggots, as if there was a hole in the bottom. I steel myself and thrust my finger down among the maggots to discover that there is, indeed, a hole leading into the next drawer down. Several maggots cascade down the hole, and the panic and fear that my actions engender is made clear by the cries of those descending into the abyss.

“All is doomed!”

“Help!”

“Down to hell I go!”

“My love! No!”

“Bastard”

“Goodby, brother!”

I push the middle drawer in and pull the bottom one out. Beneath is the leg of lamb, covered in maggots. Occasionally, a maggot erupts into a jet-black fly. Several flies crawl around on the meat, eating, vomiting, copulating with each other, as flies are wont to do. It is an insectoid Shangri-la, its inhabitants content, full, and satisfied.

I go back to the middle drawer, examining again the inhabitants. I note that they are wary of the hole and do their best to steer clear of the dark opening. In the opposite corner, a pile of maggots is building up above the general writhing mass. Occasionally, a fly erupts from the mound, flying upward and disappearing into a hole in the bottom of the top drawer. The volume of the voices from this heap is also a little higher than the rest of the drawer:

“Free!”

“Look at him go!”

“Lucky!”

“Blessed!”

“Heavenward ascending!”

Curious, I close the middle and open the top drawer. Dust puffs out at me, causing me a sneezing fit. Through my watering eyes I can see that the inside of the drawer is covered in cobwebs, the desiccated chitin of hundreds of flies cocooned like gray fruit hanging from a a latticework jungle of sticky silk. Deep in the web, an immense black widow, the span of its spindly legs nearly the size of one of my palms, waits, testing the web for movement. I carefully close the top drawer, not wanting to disturb the venomous spider.

I open the cabinet doors above the drawers, standing back to avoid any denizens that might lurk therein. But the cavity is clean and empty, save for an oval mirror in which my reflection shines. From the bottom of this section, a flay ascends, and I notice that it must have emerged from the small hole in the floor of the cavity – the roof of the spider’s den.

I marvel that the fly could have survived the journey through such an area, fraught with peril at every turn as it must have been. I smile and nod respectfully at the fly as it lands on my reflection. But my smile jolts into a wince as I feel a sharp pain in the spot on my ace where the fly has landed on its reflection. My reflection – and only my reflection – trickles blood at the site of the wound.

And I am suddenly sleepy. Very sleepy. I must, yes, must lie down. This room grows dark. The darkness moves in little bits, no bigger than the end of your finger. But I must rest now.
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Nancy Jane Moore
Posted on Tuesday, December 09, 2003 - 03:16 pm:   

What the . . . Oh. Hi. I guess you’re wondering what I’m doing with this cabinet. Okay, I see you found my handtruck, so maybe you’re not doing a lot of wondering.

Look, I'm not a thief. Well, okay, I was going to take this cabinet, but that's different. It belongs to me.

If I was a real thief, why would I pick this one? Look at it -- it's not even all rosewood, just a bit of veneer over pine. The kind of imitation-good stuff poor people buy. I walked past dozens of elaborate cabinets looking for this one -- ones with fancy carving, silver inlay. If I was just here to steal, I'd have grabbed one of those.

This one's mine. My gram left it to me. She always said, "That cabinet will be Kitty Sue's when I'm gone."

When I was a teeny little kid, I'd plop down in front of it and pull open the double doors to explore. The larger drawers on the left side, that's where Gram kept fancy old clothes. One white glove with buttons that came all the way up to your elbow. A lacy blouse you could see right through. I tried it on once when I was about ten, and you could see the freckles on my stomach through it.

The right hand side held books. Really old books -- I bet some of them were a hundred years old. I remember a large blue one with lush color pictures: fairy tales, and not the nicey-nice ones you see at the movies.

Gram kept old jewelry in the little bitty drawers. I found her high school ring in there. She let me wear it until my finger got too big. Behind the little drawers there's a secret compartment. I used to hide stuff in there. See, here's a drawing of Gram I did back in grade school, put away for her to find.

This cabinet, it's all I have of Gram. Her last couple of years she lived with us, but she didn't remember much by then. I'd go sit with her and she'd hold my hand and call me "Bonnie." That was her sister's name.

When we got back from Gram's funeral, my stepdad -- he wasn't really my stepdad, just the latest in the string of assholes who lived with my mama -- had sold the cabinet to some antique store. "About time we got some money out of the old bitch."

"You bastard. That was mine."

He knocked me to the floor. Took off with the money two days later.

The antique dealer wouldn't even let me look at the cabinet. I told him I'd give his money back, but he laughed and said he could get four times that much.

I set out to come up with the money. I -- but it doesn't matter what I did, you're not interested in that. Took me over a year. 'Course by that time, the dealer had sold it.

It's taken me seven years to find it. I was willing to pay for it, but the guy who owns it wouldn't take my money.

Can you beat that? This cabinet ain't all that special, and it's not like it belonged to his gram. He could find another one just like it.

And why's he got to have eighty-seven cabinets anyway? Why couldn't it just be eighty-six?
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Karen Meisner
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 07:40 am:   

I am flat walls enclosing twelve square feet of darkness, bounded at one end by three dimly-lit lines at right angles. The lines glow and fade periodically, marking the place where I end. I wonder about these lines, and the light beyond that they imply. What is happening out there?

Not much happens in here.

I am smooth surfaces and straight lines, unweathered, unwarped. I don't recall whether my door has ever been opened. There's nothing inside except -- shifting furtively within my murky corners, the hint of something darker. Something other. A lurking dread that -- No. Nothing to see there. Just an empty cabinet. Glance away.

My cabinet brethren are stacked all around me. We don't talk. We're cabinets. I'm aware of them, though, in the same way that I am aware of the grain of my wood, the nails holding me together. There are, oh, dozens of us. Each cabinet is unique. Exciting adventures have happened to, or in, each one.

Except me.

I have not been smashed, scorched, infested, or blown up. I contain neither interdimensional portals nor desperate men. I'm just a cabinet. Polished rosewood, an empty cube.

It's beginning to bother me. If not for -- that other thing, you know, the terrible secret I dare not mention -- I would be hard-pressed to name anything that makes me unique.

Cabinets by nature tend to be passive players in any adventure that's perpetrated upon us, but having gone through the adventure we are forever marked by it. Distinct. We become the cabinet that That Thing happened to. But nothing has ever happened to me. (Except -- but that's my dark secret to keep.) Without experience to burn or paint or dent my form, am I only the minimal object I was designed to be, the sum of planes and angles, a generic construct? What (besides the lurking horror, of course) makes me special?

If only I could learn more about my roots, get a sense of where I come from. Claim my heritage, discover identity in that background. I could be known as that cabinet who's really into the whole Rosewood scene. You think roots aren't important to a cabinet? I'm cut from trees, we invented roots.

Maybe I'm an uncarved block. That can be my "thing". Simplicity. I am what I am.

Except I'm not sure that I am. What I am, I mean. A cabinet.

(Too close to the secret. Perilous territory. Let's think about something else.)

What is it in me that's doing this thinking? Is there some specific part of the self which exists and wonders and is unique? And if so, where is that part located? Is it in my door, in my hinges, in an edge or vertex? Does it live in the promise of those three lines of light?

Or if there is no duality of mind and matter, does that mean my self -- everything that makes me who I am -- is just box, all surface area, empty inside? That's it?

Unless. My dark secret thrills to the surface again, irrepressible. IT IS VERY SECRET AND VERY, VERY DARK. Shall I tell you? Maybe flash you just one glimpse.

Here:

Concealed in my darkness, this one inward-turned facet: I suspect that I am not a cabinet at all. That I am something else entirely. That I have merely been trapped inside this space for so long that I've come to think of myself as a cabinet. When the truth is that I could be anything. Anything! A ghost, a beast, a monstrous mist. A creature of surpassing strangeness. Someone so dangerous I had to be locked away. Someone with a past so painful I have chosen to negate it, to lose myself in this bland untouched existence. All the while my true self hides inside, invisible, intangible, incognito. Posing as a mere cabinet, but really a mysterious stranger, even to myself.

The secret flits through me as murky as always, unclear in its specifics, giving me the usual delicious thrill of terror. I close the lid on that black chasm of possibility and block out the question. No. I must insist I am a cabinet.

Because my denial affirms the secret; unlit corners hold possibilities. If I ever ceased to guard against confronting my darkness, I might have to face the even deeper terror that lies beneath: what if shedding light on my dark secret caused it to vanish, leaving behind nothing but six polished rosewood walls and the emptiness between? Edging the shadows behind the elusive mystery is the worst dread of all: what if there were no mystery?

But I feel something moving in the hallway now. The sound and motion vibrate my walls, rattle my door on its hinges. Something large and heavy is dragging itself towards me. Closer. Closer. My creator, perhaps, or destroyer. Closer. The one who will know me. The one I will know. And when we are known to each other, will I know myself? I fear -- I hope -- I believe -- I am about to find out.
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Kris Dikeman
Posted on Tuesday, January 06, 2004 - 11:41 pm:   

Entry to this cabinet is through a trap door in the far corner of the sub-basement. You'll need to shift a fair bit of the junk and debris that have accumulated down there to get to it -- watch out for rusty nails. The trap door is set flush with the stone floor of the basement, black iron with a heavy pull-ring in its center. On the underside there is a single word etched deeply into the metal: Wunderkammer. Mind the steps, they're quite steep.

There is no need to bring a flashlight; once inside the cabinet, a healthy crop of bioluminescent mould stretches across the low ceiling, bathing everything in a cold green glow. Boxes and crates of every size are piled in tottering stacks. A massive wooden table dominates the room, strewn with an incredible collection of oddities and specimens. Here is a diminutive bird, its glass eyes filmed over with dust, sawdust hemorrhaging from its iridescent plumage. Attached to its tiny foot by a twist of wire is a label written in an old- fashioned, spidery hand. The ink is brown with age but perfectly legible:

Psychopompus -- Northern European Variety


There are dozens of other objects -- A cup made from a human skull, a necklace of teeth, a set of wicked looking ivory knives with brown stains along their edges. A squat figure, crudely fashioned from green soapstone, perches at the edge of the table, its avid mouth stretched wide in greedy anticipation. There is a sealed specimen bottle filled with viscous fluid, a mummified hand with an enormous jeweled ring on its middle finger, a malformed frog carved from a glittering metal that reflects light in disturbing patterns.

A splintered chair lies on its back next to the wall. The surface of the table is scorched here, the wood charred and blackened in a triangular shape. Nearby sits a bottle that once held black ink -- now filled with fine dark powder -- a quill pen, and a tidy pile of blank labels. Here, looking ludicrously prosaic amongst the more exotic inhabitants of the table, a cracked china teacup lies on its side, next to a plate of petrified wholemeal biscuits. Under the pen is another label, covered in that same precise, rather fragile handwriting:

Vengeance fetish -- Pacific South Seas
This object is believed by certain primitive tribes to have the power to inflict a terrible curse on whoever possesses it. The three sides of the fetish represent the three eyes of the all-seeing god of vengeance, who is said to be able to locate the unlucky possessor wherev --


Don't forget to close the trapdoor when you leave.
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Jamie Rosen
Posted on Thursday, January 15, 2004 - 06:37 pm:   

What lurks within this next cabinet? Is it a gathering place for drunken, mean-spirited little men devoted to mining, and gin rummy in their off hours? Or perhaps it holds a Presidential motorcade, forever trapped in a loop of degenerating black and white film, replaying those final moments over and over again.

You pause before you reach the cabinet. Neither of those seems likely.

What if you open the door and discover it functioned like the plug in an old bathtub, and now all of existence must come spiralling, vortexing into the cabinet? Or, to take the opposite tack, what if the cabinet's interior exists in the arrogative world of Orbis, and once the door is opened all that lies on the other side floods out to overtake the world in which you live? It is enough to keep you from opening the door, except....

What if the cabinet is the repository for all your broken dreams and lost illusions, the hiding place for that which you value and which slipped your grasp nonetheless? Perhaps behind this wooden portal you will find true love, true happiness, or the abandonment of the self -- or just a pile of gems and jewels, gold and silver pieces too numerous to count. Can you really afford not to seize this opportunity? Anything may lurk within.

As you go to open the cabinet, you notice that its door does not sit quite straight on its hinges. Indeed, the incline is such that a sliver of darkness is visible where the top of the door should be. But nothing can be seen through this aperture, and so you grip the handle lightly between your index and middle fingers and your thumb and tug it open, narrowly missing your forehead with the corner of the door, whose shoddy hinges give way, sending it spiralling out of your hands to clatter on the wooden floor beside you.

Without the door, the cabinet is just an empty shelf. Move along.
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Jorge Candeias
Posted on Friday, January 16, 2004 - 06:50 am:   

The next cabinet is a smooth, curly surface, of dark wood, with it’s interior hidden behind closed doors. You stop before the cabinet, and your world turns brown. The idea of letting it be and jumping to the cabinet that follows crosses your mind, now that the travel through all the cabinets of the house is almost over and you are incresingly tired of the surreal landscapes they hide, but as this thought finishes its way through your synapses and hits your consciousness, your curiosity is awakened by the muffled sounds that slide across all the little interstices and pores of the wood. You can barely hear little clicks, fast but irregular, interrupted from time to time by a thump, or by the sound of a high-pitched bell.

You know those sounds. But you don’t really know what they are right now.

You raise your hand to the knob and you notice that the cabinet is locked. You have no key. In fact, you fail to spot a keyhole anywhere on the smooth surface of the cabinet’s doors. You look around and see nothing. You fondle the cabinet surface with care, almost tenderly, as if it were a baby’s soft skin, trying to find some sort of irregulatiry that might betray a hidden opening device. You find nothing. You shrug your shoulders and as the idea of giving up and moving on to the next cabinet resumes it’s dominance over your curiosity, you straighten up and begin to sigh.

A deep voice cuts the sigh short and makes your body bow once more towards the cabinet, almost involuntarilly, as if you were a servant answering to your master. It’s a voice that sounds as if it’s reaching your ears after having it’s edges filtered away by a thick beard, a voice that carries the flavour of white, old hair. There must be a beard, you think, and it’s maybe white, probably grey. The voice says:

“Leaving so soon, Joe? Don’t be a chump! Come on in, the door is open.”

“Where are you?” you ask, stupidly. And then, feeling your ears warm: “Who are you?”

“So many questions and so little action!” the voice says, apologetically. There’s a man inside this cabinet, you think, and he is rolling his eyes and shaking his head with a sad smile in his face. And all that is over me.

You push the door, and it opens without a sound to what looks like a short corridor leading to a brlightly lit place. The light is hot as a summer mediterranean day, but you don’t know that – you’ve never been to the Mediterranean.

“Come on in” repeats the voice over the clicks and little thumps and bells that only became stronger as the cabinet door opened, leaving room in the attic of wispered sounds for new, stranger, noises. “Too much shyness is not a virtue”.

You obey and you walk through the corridor, your boots stumping in the wooden floor. You have to lean, because the ceiling is too low for your height. As you enter the room, or whatever that brightly lit place really is, you have to stop for a moment to let your eyes adjust to the new illumination. The ceiling is still too low for you, and you are not comfortable standing there.

“Ah! So there you are!” says the voice, much clearer now, despite keeping the same bearded quality to it that grabbed your imagination from the first time you heard it. “Yes”, the voice continues, “you are exactly as I expected you to be” and then there is a short self-indulgent loughter, as if the man was finding amusing some unspoken thought of his own.

“Please, make yourself comfortable”, the voice says after another short pause. “There should be a chair around here, somewhere.”

Your eyes begin to adjust, and you are now able to see the dark outline of a very short man, sitting on a bench, bent over a small table where an old typewriter stands proudly, filling it fully. On the floor, several piles of some rugged material rise up to different heights, surrounding the table and the man, making him look like an ancient warrior, watching over his domains from the highest tower of some half-rouined castle.

“Who are you?”, you repeat. “And how do you know my name?”

“Oh, I know everything about you, son” the man loughs, allowing his eyes to look directly at you for a moment, as his fingers continued typing as if they commanded themselves, as if they’d know what to do even if they were detached from the rest of the body. “Every single thing”.

You begin asking how can that be, but as you voice the word “that”, your eyes, finally fully adapted to the light, become aware of the decoration of the cabinet, or room, or whatever it is. The rugged material surrounding the old man turns out to be paper, hundreds, thousands of sheets of paper, some of them reflecting white light with eye-soring violence, others peacefully filled with ordered lines of black ink, blurring in a diffuse shade of grey. But what makes your heart jump around in your chest as a basketball player are the walls. They are full of shelves, the walls, and these shelves are inhabited by tens of pairs of hands, some transparent as thin glass, others rude and grey as if made of concrete, others looking just like living hands, covered with some material that looks exactly as skin, in all colour combinations known to mankind, others shining with metallic reflexes, others dripping fluids, red, green, magenta fluids that cascade to the floor where they create pools covered with static ripples, other hands covered with fur, looking animalesque, alien, each pair more bizarre than the previous. And all of them – all of them – moving, clapping, slapping, scratching, performing pantomimes of all the movements that real human hands, attached to real human arms, do. You stand there in awe for a moment, and when you realize that many of these hands are talking to eachother, in long sign language conversations that you are totally unable to follow, you feel a chill running up and down along your spine and you ask yourself what the hell are you doing there.

And then the man speaks and you jump, almost in panic:

“Do you like my hands?”, he asks.

You look at him only to see him staring at you, as his hands continue their endless typing. You see his smile, and then your eyes divert to his hands, and you notice that they are covered with rags, soaked in some crimson liquid, and you realize that it must be blood because the fingers are shorter than they should be. All those years typing must have ulcerated the fingers, you think, and then your fragile balance starts crumbling as you realize that the typewriter has blades instead of keys. Sharp, edgy, soaked blades. This can’t be happening, you cry in silence to yourself, as your lunch tries to reach up for air. You close your mouth thightly to keep it inside, moaning. The man’s smile widens as he speaks again:

“Oh, I wasn’t referring to these”, he says, lifting for the first time his hands from the typewriter and exhibiting them in your face. “Don’t worry – it doesn’t hurt. Much. In fact, it hurts you more than it hurts me. But wait, wait”, he says, as he turns his back to you and moves his arms, doing something away from your sight, something you think to yourself you really don’t want to see. “There”, he says, turning back to face you, “better now?” The rags are now clean, looking a bit more like a pair of gloves and you wave your head affirmatively.

“What is… all… this?” you somehow manage to ask.

“Your life” he answers, joyfully. “I’m writing your life” he adds, proudly, “and at last I’ve had success in meeting you in person. I’ve always wanted to do that.”

“No!” you cry and then you stumble towards the typewriter. You read the page from the top:

“What is… all… this?” you somehow manage to ask.

“Your life” he answers, joyfully. “I’m writing your life” he adds, proudly, “and at last I’ve had success in meeting you in person. I’ve always wanted to do that.”

“No!” you cry and then you stumble towards the typewriter.


And then you stop reading because you don’t believe, you can’t believe, that your past and your future lie there, on those sheets of paper.

“No! It can’t be true!” you cry, louder, and the smile fades from the man’s face. He sends a glimpse towards the typewriter and begins:

“I…”

But you don’t allow him to say anything. You just cry “No!” and again “No!” and again and again and again as you stumble back to the corridor. When you reach it, you turn around and run, not even minding when the top of your head hits the ceiling with violence. You step out of the cabinet and you slam the door behind your back and start running away from the room. But a stray thought makes you stop. You then return and glue your ear to the cabinet door. All your guts shiver as you listen and understand the meaning of what you are listening.

A click, a thump, twelve clicks, another thump, five clicks and finally a high-pitched bell.
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Matt Kressel
Posted on Friday, January 30, 2004 - 09:09 am:   

This dark-faced cabinet sits squashed between eight others like an incorrectly colored center square on a Rubik’s cube. At first glance it does not look unique. Its door is made from Brazilian rosewood, the source tree cut down in its glorious prime to make way for cattle farms and coffee beans. The cabinet’s handle is brass, with loose fitting copper screws that have greened with age.

Mariners who pass by this cabinet notice the smell of brine, and, upon lingering, are reminded of long sojourns at sea, where salt, spray and heaving decks are the only companions for months at a time. Seamen who open the cabinet will find barnacles wrapped in algae crusted upon its insides. The tiny creatures spit bits of sea into the Mariner’s faces.

Farmers find the smell to be reminiscent of decomposing mulch, and upon opening the cabinet are not surprised to find a pile of moldering leaves, home to worm and snail. Men who have spent lifetimes tilling the soil are said to have closed their farms and fled to new homes upon mountains and rocks after hearing the strange stories that the cabinet’s snails have recounted in soft whispers. In the wintertime the mulch lets off a gentle steam.

Murderers and serial killers are said to smell the fear and blood of their victims leaking from the cabinet. Some are said to see a child crouched inside, with leathery scars upon his backside and eyes filled with tears and rage. The child often does not move, save for his troubled breathing, but men report seeing an invisible, subtle flame tear at his insides. Murderers also report that this child looks eerily like themselves.

Scientists find that two balls of different weight do not fall at the same speed inside the cabinet, violating Newton’s second law. Mathematicians find that the space inside the cabinet in non-Euclidean, and even the Reiman geometry of Einsteinian space-time fails to take into account the strange remainders that insinuate themselves into their equations. Philosophers find that, after placing a partially filled glass of water inside the cabinet, they cannot definitively say whether it is half-full, half-empty, or whether the question is even worth asking at all. Erudite men of much renown are said to have taken their own life by the cabinet in pursuit of such questions.

But as you approach the cabinet you notice no smell of deep, salty seas, or decomposing earth, or bloody fear. In fact, the air smells almost antiseptic, as if the ions have been stripped away, leaving the atmosphere dull and heavy upon your skin. You reach down and pull the handle. The cabinet door creaks as little bits of green metal flake off in your hand. The door swings fully open as you look inside. Much to your surprise, inside the cabinet there is nothing remarkable at all. There is not even a space framed by panels of wood. There is only a deep, penetrating blackness that leads back to infinity. You close the door.
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Jamie
Posted on Tuesday, February 03, 2004 - 07:39 am:   

The scent of sea food. What else? Salt water, maybe? Smudges of ink at the outside of the cabinet door.

You pry it open. Inside is an aquarium. No. Water, yes -- but no glass. Water standing upright, surface tension holding itself in. You step inside.

You can breathe.

You can breathe water, apparently. No, wait, you cannot breathe water, but your lungs are motionless and still you move, so all is well. As well as can be expected.

Seahorses move past. There is an anemone on the floor. The floor is still wood, of course. Let us not go crazy. But all around is water. In the distance, a pineapple, a giant pineapple with a door, but one door is more than enough for today so let us head in another direction.

A cave. You see a cave inside the cabinet and venture inside. It is dark, but a light flares up from further within the blackness in the past, the blackness before you.

"Welcome," a voice says. You go towards the light. Go towards the light.

"Welcome," it repeats. A grey man, many tentacles, not a man at all but a giant squid, a giant squid with spectacles.

"Welcome," it repeats, "to the cabinet of Dr. Calamari."

And the liquid fills your lungs.

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