|Posted on Monday, March 24, 2003 - 06:13 pm: |
NOTE: Do not post to this thread unless you're signed up to create the House story and been assigned a cabinet. Thanks!
|Posted on Monday, March 24, 2003 - 06:14 pm: |
THE HOUSE WITH 87 CABINETS
The sun had burnt the sky, was fading, light refracted through the old glass windows of the house. It touched the floor of the kitchen, the hall, bringing with it a bronze silence, any flicker of a sound snuffed out. The light retreated, meandering, ate itself. It pulled away from the walls, hesitated, briefly touched the foot of something dragging itself down the hall. Something crawling, like the light, toward the cabinets. Eighty-seven square cabinets in polished rosewood—some ripped open, some intact, some gaping, some closed. The scent of oleander and of dust. The light recoiling from the dark. Outside, the tips of pine trees heavy with distant gold, the ground dark green, fading.
Inside, eighty-seven cabinets, and something moving toward them.
|Posted on Wednesday, March 26, 2003 - 02:20 pm: |
The forest, which was a moment before tranquil, now harbors the residue of a shock. As a countereffect, the house has taken on the character as a place of refuge. Opening this succession of cabinets, one by one and in sequence, seems the obvious way to mend the tissue of broken thoughts.
Upon opening its door, one discovers the rear of the first cabinet is a single sheet of flat-planed coral, whose vermillion hue engages in gorgeous combat with the orange light of the setting sun. (The sun is setting but it does not set, it hovers in a kind of seance at the horizon.)
There is a lean chest of shallow, numbered drawers in the cabinet. The chest is bound with brushed steel fastenings; each drawer is partitioned by a wooden divider-grid padded with two-inch square velvet cushions. Resting on every one of these is a bullet and a key. The bullets and keys are of all different varieties and calibers, some of the bullets have obviously been fired, others are pristine.
Some other contents of the first cabinet:
a churchwarden pipe, with a nine-inch stem and cherry wood bowl, resting on a communion kit – one wafer remaining in the chrome pyx.
farmer’s almanac for this year – today’s page has been dogeared, it is the equinox. Bible verse atop every page; today’s is: “Catch the jackals for us, the little jackals, / the despoilers of vineyards, for our vineyards are full of blossom.”
photograph of a statue: in wan white sunlight, a life-sized female angel whose carved hair hangs in dense coils, gazing unabashed into the lens coquettish and petulant, her brow lowered.
The door of the second cabinet hangs on one hinge. As it swings open, the hall is inundated with the odor of attar of roses. Lying at the bottom of the second cabinet, a scrap of patterned cloth, about the size of the palm of a hand, and two pearls that have been pierced for stringing. The wooden sides back top and bottom of the cabinet’s interior are everywhere scored with deep marks of claws, except the door which, apart from its hinges, is undamaged. Among these savage rents one can discover what might be whittled words, perhaps in Armenian letters.
This cabinet also contains a memory; the scent-petals of attar of roses, relaxing, expose it. Briefest flash – a naked youth in a clearing, so far from any house or road, or from any river or lake: unconscious of being observed, and unselfconscious, with the somnolent dignity and pallor of a pagan statue ... light, clear, like an apparition, or an idea ...
|Posted on Friday, March 28, 2003 - 03:57 am: |
Yet the door of the next cabinet will not open. It is said, though no one knows by whom, that it has not been opened for a thousand years, perhaps more, and that those who have tried to force it have lost nails and fingers and hands. They say - whoever they may be - that its interior is carved from the wood of a tree that once grew by the entrance to Avernus, and that it is impregnated with the scaly smoke from Pythian fires. If you put your ear closely enough to its heavy iron door, so they say, it is like listening to the sound of a shell: the cabinet whispers secrets, fragments of old prophecies, scraps of predictions which came to pass so long ago that they are lost to history. Some believe that the wood is a type of cypress that no longer grows in this world. Others claim that the cabinet is lined with birch: first of all trees, the wishing tree whose branches hang with rags and scraps of unhuman flesh.
At noon, the cabinet is silent, as if sulking, and seems to shrink upon itself. It does not appear to like light, or the sound of summer roses growing, or the hum of bees. It is not a hive, to which to tell secrets in the midday burn. But now, as the light starts to die and something moves along the hall, the cabinet rustles, as if clearing the ghost of a throat. It whispers of tombs in the desert, vanished under the sands. It murmurs of girls whose blood curdles to sap, youths whose hyacinth-changes herald fleshier transformations when the end of harvest comes. And it tells of one who waits in the dim silence of the great mausoleums to the south, across the sea: one who never speaks, whose flesh is as dark as the interior of an unopened box, one who is jackal-headed. It may be that this cabinet is exchanging information with its neighbours: ancient computation, long in the working.
The cabinet mutters throughout the evening. When the first star rises above the horizon, it is heard to sing, in a small and wondering voice, as if startled by its own temerity. But as the night draws on the cabinet begins to fall silent, with only a sudden gasping cry, as though someone has woken from an old, deep dream, to find themselves crammed and trapped behind a metal door, in someone else's home.
|Posted on Monday, March 31, 2003 - 06:22 am: |
The cabinet next along is silent. The faded, cartoonish drawings etched into the wood with enthusiastic coloured pens - a racing car, a star fighter, a footballer in a red shirt with “Best” in bold letters on his back - mark it as a child’s cubby hole, long abandoned.
A finger traces the footballer, as if guided by muscle-memory, but this inquisitive creature never had that kind of childhood, surely.
The door is stiff with misuse. The interior is still, without even a sparkling fall of dust in the light that flashes over the toy hamper piled high with objects. A suddenly illuminated jumble of plastic and metal, paper and wood. As if the child, on hearing approaching parental footsteps, had crammed all his clutter away and shut the door on it. The stillness stretches to a moment. Then, perhaps dislodged by the opening of the cabinet door, the mountain of playthings shifts and a scree of glass marbles skitters to the floor of the cabinet, drops and rattles onto the tiles, rolls into the dark corners of the hall.
A story book has slid down. A slip of something protrudes from between the pages. A photograph. Two children, boy and girl, pink and wild-haired on some gusty beach, and laughing like devils the pair of them. The first page of the book has a “Property of” label pasted in. A confident hand had written in the name of the owner. The sister’s name.
Was that movement, behind the toys? Something at the rear of the cabinet? No, just a plain panel of some dark reflective material. It was only the pile settling.
Fishing through the contents of the hamper reveals the owner to have been something of a prankster. The ragged rubber circle of a burst whoopee cushion and a handshake buzzer provide evidence of harmless mischief. A slingshot with strong black rubber bands, a pea shooter pipe and a handful of darts made from the snipped ends of shoelaces with pins pushed through the centre, perhaps not so harmless.
Movement again. Through the rear panel of the cabinet, like a dusky window, a woman’s face illuminated by unkind fluorescence. The kind of face that looks paler and more troubled, the brighter the light that shines on it. In front of the woman are two shelves of pharmacological excess. The woman stares, without seeing, at bottles and packets. Reaches a hand half way towards them, then, with an obvious effort of will, the hand quickly shuts a cabinet door on her side. The glass is dark again.
At the bottom of the hamper, the too serious shape of an air rifle and a mildewed cardboard box of pellets. The last object left at the bottom is a small, canvas drawstring bag. It has a laughing clown on it. Picking it up, turning it over. Nothing. The gizmo that makes the mechanical, maniacal laughter must be broken.
The door of the other cabinet opens again. In the intervening minutes the woman has been weeping. She snatches a bottle randomly from the shelf, shudders out a trembling handful, colourful as sweeties. Swallows them in one bitter mouthful.
Unknotting the strings of the laughing bag, teasing it open. It is empty. There is nothing inside. No, not nothing. Three feathers. Blue as the sky, gold as the sun, white as the sister’s communion dress.
Three feathers, and… faint but clear, a drift of childish laughter. Pure delight.
The woman behind the glass looks away as if she’s heard something, or remembered something.
Then the laughter fades.
She closes her cabinet.
Close this one too. Not even memories are left here.
|Posted on Wednesday, April 02, 2003 - 05:48 am: |
A visitor walks down the long hallway, the echoes of his tread swallowed by the thick layer of dust that shrouds the tattered carpet. From a coat pocket he removes a key, dulled brass and curiously old-fashioned, then moves slowly along the rows of cabinets until he finds the one he wants. This cabinet has not been opened for a long time, although it has been kept in good repair. His key turns easily and smoothly in the lock.
Inside, the cabinet is lined with series of shelves and pigeonholes into which have been crammed hundreds of yellowed and crumbling papers. Many of them have fallen from their slots and lie scattered across the bottom of the cabinet like piles of autumn leaves. Frowning, he leans closer and prods the pile with his finger. Bits of paper crumble at his touch and spiral to the floor like broken butterflies. There is a smell of dust and cinnamon.
He straightens, brushes dust from his coat sleeve, frowns again. Mouth tightening in distaste, he begins to sift through the moldering pile, pulls folded papers at random from their pigeonholes. In one corner he finds a stack of photographs, grainy and ill-lit, of a couple copulating on a leather couch. In another there is a packet of letters tied with a length of faded red ribbon. One begins, “My dearest Charles, how I miss you and pray every day for your safe return.” In a stray line from another he reads “. . . impossible to return without ridding myself of these encumbrances. Oh, God, the mess I’m in . . .”
There is more. A certificate of live birth, its print long since faded past legibility. An envelope stuffed with a series of brittle telegrams from adoption agencies in Munich, Odessa, Budapest. A photo album from which someone has been thoroughly, surgically excised.
He pauses momentarily over the tattered album, in which a tired-looking woman and an unsmiling young boy stand beside a small empty shape whose sharp-cut boundaries delineate only absence. He drops it into the pile of debris at his feet. His hands are trembling.
He finds them at last, stuffed into a tarnished silver cup near the back of the cabinet. He withdraws the papers carefully, smoothes the wrinkles from the crumpled pages. He sees by the date that the document is nearly as old as he is, and he holds the fragile edges gently in his long fingers. There, near the bottom of the top page he sees the first name, and the second below it just a few lines later.
The first name is his own. The other is one he has never known before.
He stands silently for a long moment, while around him bits of dust and paper and other cast-off flecks of time swirl sluggishly in the shafts of light thrown off by a dying sun. When he has finished weeping, he folds the papers into a sharp, neat square, tucks them into the breast pocket of his dark coat. He closes the cabinet, turns back toward the long walk down the darkening hallway. He tells himself that he is going home, but he no longer knows just where that place may be, or how long it will take to get there.
|Posted on Thursday, April 03, 2003 - 07:13 am: |
In the hallway upstairs, there is an exquisitely carved cabinet. The doors open soundlessly, revealing a toile-lined interior, with a full-length mirror set in one door. You find that women’s dresses fill one side of the cabinet. The standard simple black and white evening gowns are represented, but also shocking reds, vibrant blues, and lush purples. One can imagine the beauty of the woman capable of wearing these clothes. There is something for every man’s desire.
Underneath the dresses is a dizzying pile of shoes. Pumps, slides, sandals, platforms, stilettos, evening, casual, in fact, there is every style and color imaginable. Somehow, despite the disrespectful compact piling of the shoes, each pair is clearly together.
The bottom half of the other side of the cabinet holds three drawers. The drawers are stuffed beyond capacity with a blood rush to the head of bras, panties, chemises, teddys, merrywidows, and corsets. Straps and lace peek around the drawer edges like nervous animals.
There is a power in these garments.
On top of the three drawers are papers, photographs, a large mason jar filled with liquid and lumpy pieces of flesh, a long white silk chiffon gown stained a splashy brown, a pair of white evening heels similarly stained, and an over-sized hunting knife. Some of the items intrigue you; the jar makes you look away.
The papers and photographs — medical charts, police reports, and newspaper clippings — document the brutal rape and beating of a young woman by a group of nearly twenty soldiers in town on leave. Photos show the young lady was striking with a devilish smile and smoldering eyes before she met the soldiers. There is one photo for each soldier with a large black ‘X’ drawn through his face.
The documents complete the tale. The soldiers had only catcalled to begin with, but when she didn’t scurry away like a baby chick, they grew irritated, and when she grew indignant, they responded with anger. They dragged her into a nearby stand of trees.
Her brother found her when she never showed up for dinner. She was rushed to the hospital where she slipped into a coma. The father sank into a coma-like state himself, while the mother turned to her medicine cabinet, and the brother was somewhere in between. The only people who saw anything were the soldiers and the young lady. The soldiers said they were never there. The case was dismissed amid angry rumbles.
It wasn’t long before the soldiers were found dead. They were always last seen in the company of a beautiful young lady; a woman that would make you swoon to see her. The bodies were always castrated. The morning after each murder, the dead soldier’s dog tags were found at the bedside of the coma-bound girl. There was talk of a curse.
As you peruse the papers, drawn in by their horror, you see a figure behind you in the mirror. A young man whose fine-featured face is identical to that of his sister’s. He is wearing the crumpled white gown that lies before you, except his is stained a wet red. A dead soldier is lying on the bed next to him.
You watch while the young man takes the soldier’s necktie and fashions a noose around his neck. He knots the free end of the tie to a door knob and hangs himself.
It is over quickly, but you can’t make yourself turn around.
|Posted on Friday, April 04, 2003 - 09:54 pm: |
If you could, your eye might then be caught by the sight of an immense grey door set in the opposite end of the hallway. At first, you would think yourself drawn to it by its peculiar appearance—from a distance, it would seem to be covered in pale, weathered bark, as if it were made from the wood of a birch sliced vertically and thinly—but as you approach it, you will realise that its unusual colour and texture stem from its epidermis of cobwebs and dust, an unremarkable feature found on many doors throughout the house. Perhaps, you are forced to wonder, its magnetism derives not from any property it possesses, but from your desire not to smell the blood in the air or hear the waves-on-rock sound of rustling silk punctuated by snapping vertebrae.
You reach the door. Trying the dull silver doorknob, you find the door to be locked. You take out the key which you used to enter the house, but on its way to the keyhole, your hand falters. At this distance, an outline is faintly visible beneath the grey crust. After a pause, you raise the key to the outline's apex and begin to scrape. An exact tracing of the outline reveals a simple representation of a man's face, wide, bulbous-nosed, buffoon-like; it is strangely sinister. The colour of the wood exposed by your scraping is barely different from that of the crust.
You unlock the door and, straining against its weight, enter. You see a tall cabinet, twice the width of a man and as thickly encrusted with grey filth as the door, but you have little time to notice it before you stumble and find yourself falling through space.
You pick yourself up, bruised and with two fingers broken on your right hand. Confused, you look up, but can see no opening in the wall of the house; the view is blocked by a wide ledge that you missed on your way down. You would move further away, but you are blocked by a wall. Pain and frustration replace confusion, and you curse. You re-enter the house by the front door, broken-fingered hand dangling by your side.
Returning to the grey door, you are surprised to find it closed, but chalk it up to the wind. Harder to explain is the fact that it is once again locked. Your injured hand tingles. As you fumble the key into its hole with your other hand, you remember the outline in the door; examining it, you are struck by the grotesqueness of the face's gaping mouth. Stretched open like a bear-trap, it threatens to swallow up the rest. You have no recollection of this. However, you have no specific memory of the gape's absence, either, and you tell yourself that this is a comfort.
You turn the key, then the doorknob, and enter carefully this time.
The cabinet is there, the same as when you first saw it. It takes up almost half of the room, which goes no wider or deeper than the breadth of the door; the cabinet not blocking your fall was a piece of bad luck. Beyond, there is open sky, brighter than you remember it, bordered by splintered edges. The splinters cling together in strange tapering shapes, as if damp; they remind you of the edges of a wound. Disquieted, you back away, and out of the room.
You close the door, and the face in the door confronts you.
Its mouth is now closed.
You scream and flail. Frantically, you claw at the face with your good hand. You tear chunks out of his forehead, his cheeks, his jaw. You tear away both eyes and one ear. You tear until your clothes are covered with cobwebs and your fingernails clogged with filth. Your broken fingers, though unused, spasm in agony. Finally, in desparation, you hurl yourself sidelong at the door.
The door does not open, but incredibly, it recedes, along with its frame.
You fall backward onto the floor, wide-eyed and panting. You lean against a wall and turn your head to look at the door. You cannot help it.
The mauled face of the fool stares back at you with sightless eyes. The blank patches you created with your attack are the exact same colour—the deep red of polished rosewood—as the lines that form his visage. Beneath the crust, the outline you first saw and traced from is nowhere to be found. It is as if you had drawn the man from scratch.
At the door's base, you see marks, lighter than the rest of the floor, that show where the door receded.
Propped up against the wall, you cradle your injured hand, which holds the key between its two unharmed fingers. Fevered thoughts crowd your head: A house with a room. A room that is a box, a cabinet, that can be pushed. A cabinet whose other side opens to the rest of the world. No, a cabinet that contains the rest of the world, or another world. Another world that contains a similar, but slightly different (the wood, the sky, the face) cabinet that itself opens to. . . .
You sit with your back to the wall, afraid to try the lock one more time, to see one more time what the room—no, the cabinet—holds, and what will happen to the face of the mauled fool, but not daring to leave, either.
And because of this you will never open the tall cabinet within the cabinet, so that by the time you become acquainted with the contents that some being has deposited within, you will have no eyes to see that they are six yellow human skeletons, each with two broken fingers on their right hands.
But you may well have nerves to feel it.
|Posted on Sunday, April 06, 2003 - 08:52 am: |
(Please ignore the last sentence. I'm sure we're not supposed to edit our stories after we've posted, and I'm terribly sorry, but I have a strong conviction that the cheap horror twist ending utterly destroys any validity my story might have had.
The story would thus end with ". . . so that by the time you become acquainted with its contents, you will have no eyes to see that they are six yellow human skeletons, each with two broken fingers on their right hands."
I'm terribly sorry.)
|Posted on Monday, April 07, 2003 - 08:05 am: |
The man opens the door to the cabinet. There is the soft whoosh of a broken seal, the sound of secrets being brought to light. But he finds nothing inside the cabinet.
A pungent wave redolent of decay flows from the opened cabinet doorway, a miasma that inhaled seems capable of setting root within his lungs and budding in such profligate fury that he could suffocate before taking a second breath. Also detectable are the smells of rotted fruit and vegetables, an acrid mixture of sweet and sour, and the stench of dead flesh accompanied by the coppery scent of dried blood.
He hears the patter of raindrops like those he used to fall asleep to as a child, a shower that presaged only green grass and daffodils, so that he relished the security of his blankets and had no fear of being swept up into a storm. Then he hears the fluttering intake of a breath and knows that what he took to be rain is the sound of tears falling.
Inside the cabinet there are two plates, a glass, and silverware. On the larger plate, he sees a steak topped with grilled onions and mushrooms and swimming in its own juices. There is also a potato in its crispy brown jacket, sliced open to accept the now-melting square of butter and a sprinkling of chives. Five stems of asparagus border the meat. On the smaller plate, there is a cored apple sliced into eight sections and a wedge of cheese. The glass contains wine of such a deep red that it almost black. When he reaches toward the food, for he is hungry, the image dissolves into nothingness.
All of the above are true. Accepting these truths, the man tells himself a story. There is a woman that made dinner, but seeing the food set out on the table, found herself unable to eat. The woman is thinking of how her son once shoved aside a similar meal. The son is the one she lost, that was stolen away, and like him she cannot eat the food in front of her. She puts the dinner into the cabinet and closes the door, trapping the echoes of her tears with the dinner. Over the years, fungi and bacteria accomplish what she could not: the food is consumed and the china dissolves into dust, leaving a ghostly image behind. This is the story the man tells himself because he is a man who takes comfort in explanations, even when the explanations are patently, absurdly, wrong.
Steve Rasnic Tem
|Posted on Wednesday, April 09, 2003 - 09:46 pm: |
He wakes with the door behind him. It rattles, rattles again. He hears the eager key opposed by the reluctant lock. He hears the torn breath of the key's owner, as if even this is too much effort. He hears a familiar language whose words he still cannot understand. He hears a music of distressed syllables, low vowels, painful consonants.
He risks a constricted, claustrophobic breath: these objects in front of him so close and yet somehow unreachable: the miniature table with the picture of the young girl: the bright red necklace arranged about the neck of her black and white image: the necklace moving one segment at a time down her throat: the click of insect legs on glass as the narrow red body disappears around the edge of the stained silver frame. A few inches away the square of soiled handkerchief, its aged stains graying into a spotted lizard hide. And on that cloth square the ruins of the young girl's comb, metal teeth broken and handle cracked, a swatch of blonde hair caught and held for decades, the whole of it collapsed like a wolf's decaying grin. And beyond that grin, crumpled like a life regurgitated, lie the meager remains of her last letter, paper fingered again and again almost to transparency, the blue ink of her words floating above the shadows.
And hanging around him the clothes he wore that day, as if he were standing in the changing room of a large swimming pool, as if the objects on the table were the things from his pockets, laid there away from the dampness that must eventually creep, that must eventually spread everywhere, and soften everything, and dissolve us all in its path.
The back wall of the cabinet shimmers, as if metal or glass, but he knows it's not metal nor glass, but he knows . . . nothing. And leaving the realm of factual carpentry, he understands this is the corridor outside the changing room, that leads to that grand public swimming pool, the passage glittering, reflecting the pool that lies beyond the doorway there, around the short hall to the left, where the water extends as far as his mind will allow, as deep, where every word he speaks has an echo, where the other swimmers repeat his awkward speech, but will not show their faces.
But he will not go there. He is not ready to go there. He hasn't done enough, even with all these cabinets to show for what can and has been done, each one holding a moment he can climb into. But he hasn't gathered enough. There's never enough time to gather everything he needs, and never enough space to hold it all. And what is there to do when every moment he's collected demands focus, insists upon his attention? Sometimes all he can do is leave.
He turns around and grabs the handle. He runs through all his keys, trying each in succession. The door rattles, rattles again. The reluctant lock resists the eager key. He hears his breath begin to tear in the close space of the cabinet. He rests his hand on the interior wall and is alarmed at how leathery it has become, how brittle, how yielding. He starts to pray in a familiar language whose words he cannot understand.
His repetitive plea becomes a music of distressed syllables and low vowels. The consonants are painful in the tender space of his mouth.
|Posted on Thursday, April 10, 2003 - 09:07 am: |
The dubious direction of next cabinet approach derived from a sense of both inner and outer address, as well as both game and serious quest. Which of these became appropriate would remain uncertain for some while, he felt – but he was at least sure he approached the next cabinet almost instantaneously, even possibly in advance of a few other cabinets that had once appeared chronologically prior to this his current locking into a new set of falling tumblers.
He was faced on the back wall with – not photographs or frozen televised shots of soldiers – but soldiers depicted in a tapestry (albeit with no obvious weft or woof in the fabric). The stitches or weaves were slipstreamed, nevertheless remained proud from the surface upon which they had been laid down like rich chintz: soldiers that once (in a previous or subsequent cabinet) had been photographed old (beyond indeed the age of film) but now even older like Mediaeval icons. Each of their eyes stared out at the face in the cabinet’s opening frame, like a gold coin ... or a military medal. He cringed, as if they deemed him unworthy of his own personality’s currency or exchange rate protagonism.
Then he noticed that the soldiers did not bear Xs like wounds or stigmata – Xs that had crossed them out in earlier lingering images once foretold by another cabinet. Here, the soldiers themselves crossed out the crosses by means of their tunics, but crosses still vaguely seen through the woven arteries of the soldiers' bodies in the shape of wrong marks or slipped knitting stitches or falsely identifiable co-ordinates where treasure was buried ... except the cross itself constituted the treasure and the uniform plateau of flesh above marked its spot.
The smell, he noticed, was simultaneously anger and incense, a strange heady contagion of eucalyptus cold cure like rhino-gomenol and the rankness of confession.
Beneath these images of soldiers were wickerwork baskets containing the ripe seeds of ancient sanitary processes – as if positioned there to catch all the droppings of the tapestried soldiers.
He laughed – he who had backed into this telling cabinet tableau – roared with hysterical mirth. Among the droppings were true pigeon-holes. Not those pigeon-holes that existed as familiar doorless mini-cabinet oubliettes that cross-hatched the back wall of many a cabinet proper … but, instead, as they rested and nested in ordure, singular nothingnesses like noughts.
|Posted on Friday, April 11, 2003 - 11:01 am: |
In the soft, pleasant swirl of confusion, a hard place at the core of its thoughts. Although the sun still hangs the cabinets with impossible drapes of insistent orange, the senile clock in the hall chimes the eleventh hour.
Eleven. There was something about eleven. The first ten...so many memories, from the time. The time before the time before when it was
But so sweet, the others. Even the soldiers, the soldiers were sweet, with their adolescent fears, the arousals sharp in their blood. The wolves were always sweeter than the sheep, the jackals sweeter than the wine. It remembers when
The voice starts again: the one with the smell of a poisonous white flower, a flower with a name it remembered only twelve hours ago in the forested dark. This seemed unusual, even in the state it was in: shouldn't silence have a scent? Why the voices? But this was the white...the white voice. Better than the rose voice, with its harsh syllables of massacre and attar, or the voice like a tree coughing in sickness; this was the white voice, the one it trusted above all others, the voice that tasted like steel in the raw meat of his brain, ruptured by the ten, by the others with their one two three four five
broken fingers bleeding holes ripping words suffocating one two
The third is a liar. That was the most difficult passage, almost praying it would open, open like a mouth: open mouths tell truths. Closed lips
Of course, eleven was open. Open mouths tell truths. That was only natural. Inside was emptiness and
The hard core in the fading swirl revolved like a fist of clutched nails. The others dissolved: six seven eight nine ten. Eleven. Eighty seven. Eighty seven cubic...something...of space. The white voice -- in cooperation with the hard thing, it was sure of that -- unfolded like a flower, like a...that name...and the clouds parted and the words with their ridiculous
"To understand what is actually in the Eleventh Cabinet we must first look to the records of YYY from the century immediately preceding the XXX Dynasty. According to EEE, the eighty-seven cubic WWW of space has been a constant presence in the universe from nearly its beginning, from the point it exploded from That Which Is Not into the nested rings of That Which Is. Since at least from the time of the NNN, the Heresiarchs of QQQ have contended that this space, or to more properly signify its importance, this Space, has been permanently 'unassigned' by a pre-helium entity they call the Department of VVV; although of course, this report must be tempered by the well-known paranoia of those heady times. In any event, what is certain is that the Space exists. What is less certain is, why? Long possessing the ability to capture the imaginations of poets, the most fanciful rationale for its existence may be found in UUU's epic, 'Three Capital Letters,' in which stanza eighty-seven speaks of a 'speculum vacuui,' a mirror of nothingness, in which may be seen reflected all the great but unknowable artistic masterpieces that have been deprived us by the wrongful death of children. Though it would be neglectful not to add SSS's sharp retort, 'What next, U, a silent opera?' A more spiritual explanation is advanced by the Archbishop of KKK, who believes that the Space represents the exact boundaries of the expanding universe at the point where God first regretted His act of Creation. Leaving religion for the world of science, Professor HHH suggests that the Space is a so-called 'Grey Hole,' a negative zone where matter and energy cannot exist, equivalent to a retinal blind spot. This idea was most famously elaborated in the 'Love Letters of III and OOO,' in which III suggests to his paramour that the Space is a 'blink in time,' a 'reset switch to a universe of broken hearts.' What needs to be remembered here is"
The smell the smell is overpowering. The emptiness a mirror of vacuums. As the clock strikes twelve, it puts its head inside and
|Posted on Saturday, April 12, 2003 - 08:13 pm: |
At midday Jane opened the small cabinet she always kept locked. Two shelves divided the cabinet into three sections, the middle one holding her wickerwork sewing basket. It was for this that she had opened the cabinet; she had a hem to mend, and it could be done before she began getting the vegetables ready for Ned’s lunch.
The lower section was full of writing paper, boxed sets, Christmas and birthday gifts from relatives and old school friends, courteous hints that she might try to write more often, reminders that they were fond of her and wished to hear from her.
Her hand went to the sewing basket, but without taking hold of it strayed upwards, to the top shelf where, pushed to the back, was a brass box with a Spanish bullfighter etched in fine lines on the lid. It had once contained fancy biscuits, another gift.
Jane drew her hand back, and closed her eyes. The clock made the only sound in the room apart from her own breathing; she could hear nothing from Ned’s room upstairs. She smelled the small domestic smells, of furniture oil and lavender sachets in the cabinet, warm dust in the air, the rack of lamb roasting in the kitchen, her own perfume.
Her hand moved again, her eyes opened, and she brought the box down. It was cool in her fingers, and lighter than it looked.
In it were four things for which she had not found other places in the house.
The first, a stone: pale grey, a rounded, irregular pyramid; her only item of stolen property. They had only been seven or eight, she and Ned and June, playing robbers and smugglers in June’s back garden. It had been Ned’s idea to sneak over the fence into Mrs Hillace’s garden next door. They could steal the china Chinaman from her jade-tree pot, he said. But once in there, his good upbringing asserted itself; he suddenly said that they had better not take anything after all, and June agreed. But Jane had not wanted to make the risky trip for nothing, so she took the stone from the path when the other two weren’t looking. At first she had kept it because it reminded her that she had been the boldest one; later on she had kept it because it reminded her that Ned had always been a good person.
The second was a pretty thing, a small necklace of green glass beads. Pale like green grapes and filled with bubbles like water in a stream, round and cool and only a little chipped, she had found them when she and June were twelve, riding their bicycles together down the lane outside the Addersley fair. June, who was inclined to believe in portents, said: ‘Ha! You’re the lucky one! When you make a find like that, you know you’re in for a lucky life.’
‘Lucky how, do you suppose?’ Jane had said, amused.
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ June said. ‘Perhaps you’ll marry Ned!’
Ned always called them his two J’s. With them, three was never a crowd. Until the summer came when childhood friendship grew up into first love; and June was right, Jane was the lucky one who married handsome, amiable Ned.
The third item was ten years newer. It was another box, white and small. Within it were Ned’s medals. Just service medals, no special ones for bravery. Jane did not wish to open that box; she hated the medals, but she kept them on Ned’s behalf.
The last item was a photograph of June, taken only a few years ago, looking plump and very grey-haired, but smiling broadly, on a bicycle, in the Forbidden City. In her scrawl on the back, June did not mention who the photographer was; but the intrusion of a finger on the upper left corner made Jane wonder about it, and made her think that June had sent this particular photograph with the taunting intent to make her wonder.
|Posted on Tuesday, April 22, 2003 - 06:03 am: |
The cabinet is locked tight but it bulges with hidden energy. Nobody who has ever approached it has dared to force it open. Many centuries ago, when there were more locks than keys, it was rumoured that a wild animal was trapped inside, a beast of unimagined ferocity and indefinite lifespan. Idle philosophers speculated that this animal desired nothing more than to escape and rend the world. Some poets even worshipped this creature in verse and sought to turn it into a metaphor for the raging passions which colour and destroy our own lives. Later this image fell into disrepute, for philosophy and poetry had gone into decline.
When the geologists and meteorologists came to prominence, they determined from the changes in pressure and temperature in the vicinity of the cabinet that it was full of storms and earthquakes.
Shortly after the stethoscope was invented, a team of medical students approached the cabinet and applied this new instrument to every inch of its outer surface. They reported that the groanings and creakings from inside were not the cries of a living being nor those of natural disasters. They believed that such sounds were a type of music, created by pipes and horns and oddly stringed guitars. They hired a composer to score the melodies which issued from deep inside the cabinet. His manuscripts were eventually stored in the basement of the university and forgotten about. The music hypothesis was abandoned. Only the eccentric doctor Thackery Lambshead still continues to advocate it.
The communists believed that the cabinet contained a factory of heroic workers. The capitalists concluded that an important trade fair was taking place inside.
At last it was left to the physicists to determine the truth. They set up large X-Ray machines around the cabinet and examined the ghostly images of its interior. Then they turned and fled in alarm. Many of them settled in distant regions of the world, but the anxiety never left them. For what they had seen inside the cabinet was *another* cabinet, and inside that one yet another, and another, and so on, all the way down beyond the limits of their science.
At first it may be concluded that a series of smaller and smaller cabinets are nested inside each other. Unfortunately the X-Rays also revealed the presence of powerful springs. Each cabinet is BIGGER than the one which contains it. The sides of each cabinet are designed to slide on runners and expand on these springs. These cabinets are compressed within a smaller space than their natural volumes. The physicists also noted a length of string running between each subsequent door. If the first cabinet is opened, all the others will be automatically opened in sequence.
The opening of the first cabinet will release the second, which is twice as big, and this is turn will release the third, which is twice as big as the second, and so on. To avoid being crushed, the opener of the first cabinet will be forced to vacate the room, then the house, then the town, then the land, then the continent, then the planet, then the solar system, then the galaxy.
The final cabinet will push the universe aside and will stand (next to everything) in nothingness, completely filled with impossibility, infinity and absurdity, these items perhaps stored there for safekeeping.
|Posted on Thursday, April 24, 2003 - 07:07 pm: |
First, the Father removed the cabinet door.
The long screws protested, shrieking as he unwound them from the wood, a sticky fluid seeping out of the holes and onto his hands as he did. The fluid was clear except for the vague suggestion of an image that, beneath the light, appeared as a face that was never the same twice: morphing continually, it was one face with endless features. He tried to wash it off with scalding water and a steel brush in the depilated kitchen, and when that failed, he drew out the new blades from his work kit: but the fluid remained, soaking up his blood.
That night, his first night in the house, his hands were tainted with a crimson wash that ended at his wrists.
His first reaction, despite being a big, meaty man who prided himself on strength, was to scream; his second was to drain the fuel tank of his car, coat the inside of the house with it, and burn it down; but he did not. After the initial shock, he told himself that he had not finished with the cabinet door and admitted that he was not surprised: the key to the cabinet door, bent and green, had appeared on his bed spread, plucked from a dream, one week ago.
With that thought, he returned to the dismantled door, and with his bloody hands, continued to remove the past.
Originally names had been tattooed in a chaotic pattern across the cabinet door: Simon, Elaine, Yolanda, Harold, Scott, Nerida, and more. More names than he wished to count, all of them bleeding black ink into the next, conjuring bright images of blonde haired girls, sandy haired boys, and two story houses with neatly cut lawns in the front. Images the Father did not care for; images he would not secure his Daughter behind.
“They offer no protection,” he told her. “You’ll not be safe with them.”
His Daughter, two, dark haired, brown eyed, and already in the cabinet, said nothing.
The outbreak of bone from her chest had stopped her from speaking the precious few words she knew. The bone emerged from every angle of her body, pushing itself out through her organs, rendering her comatose. The outbreak had begun two months prior, and until the dream, the Father had not known what to do, and until he eased her into the cabinet’s inky stomach, he had not known any comfort.
On the day that has hands turned bloody, the bone growth took on a second appearance. No longer a web of bone pushing from her brown skin without order, it had begun to form—and he did not know why he thought this, but he did—roads and wide open spaces. The bone did not hang in the air, but pushed into the cabinet’s sides and back for support, the bone and cabinet embracing one another as it did. Before the Father’s eyes, on the empty spaces of bone, towers began to rise: tall, bony constructions that one might find in metropolis, and squat brown buildings, with linking cables between them.
The Father reached out and curled his thick, bloody left hand around the tallest building—
“You must not.”
The voice, masculine, emerged from his Daughter.
He spoke her name, his voice a harsh whisper.
“That is our vessel, not us,” the voice replied, using his Daughter’s lips. “But to damage our city is to damage it.”
Before him, a lone carriage of bone began to make its way along the road closest to him, drawn by blood red horses; moments later, along the cables of bone, a bone carriage appeared. Inside were crimson figures, the exact colour of his hands.
“You will finish the seal to our world,” her lips said. “You should never have removed our names: the trauma was great to us. But you were not to know. Finish the seal, replace it, and collect your reward from the drawer of your world.”
His Daughter did not speak again. In a daze, compelled to finish, the Father worked upon the door, completing it. He then placed the smooth, brown piece back in place, turning the screws in gently, no fluid emerging, his hands remaining crimson. Once he had turned the screwdriver one last time, the door closed and the lock became useless, no matter how many times he turned the green key. He tried desperately, and finally took an axe to it, for he had not said goodbye; but as he prepared to bring down the axe, names appeared on the door: Simon, Elaine, Yolanda, Harold, Scott, and Nerida.
The axe fell to the ground, and bitter, the Father stepped over to the drawer and used the key to open it.
A spent bullet, rusted with age, waited for him.
|Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 08:15 am: |
Albertus Major was a private soul, and he kept his body and life private as well. He had heard once that hair retained memories, storing the record of a man’s existence such that it could be carried around, unseen, unnoticed, but relevant in its vibrational impact. Albertus had taken it to heart, wondering perhaps, as a man’s memories accumulated, whether it caused the hairs to grow in more abundance. He had noted that trend of late -- the hairs sprouting in a seeming profusion reminding him constantly of his own mortality. The fact that death was stalking him through his follicles, touching each participle of his being with mortal taint caused him tremulous unease; mortality was not a thing he liked to consider.
The purchase of the slim, black pair of tweezers that he kept beside the greying and black-chipped porcelain sink in his bathroom became his solution. As one by one, the fine hairs sprouted from his face, that part of him closest to the seat of memory and thought, he would deal with them. The daily ritual involved him leaning, peering into the mirror above his sink, the tops of his thighs pressed up against the cold, hard curve, repositioning himself first to one side then the other to avoid the yellow-silver mottling that showed the mirror’s own age. From ears and nose, from the tiny tuft between his brows he plucked, taking each individual tiny hair and subjecting it to scrutiny before placing it carefully on the neatly smoothed cotton kerchief he spread nightly on one side of the sink. Some of the hairs were dark, but others, half whitened near the root or pale from top to tip. He took this as a worrying sign that his memories may be fading too.
Carefully, he would take the handkerchief by opposite corners, lift them together, then one at a time, raise the remaining two corners and grasp these too, tightly between thumb and forefinger. He would bear his precious burden to his door, listening, and then ease the door open. Each evening he would pause at the doorway, then, alert to the creaking of boards and stairs above and below, tiptoe down to that place where the cabinets sat. His own cabinet, sturdy, contents lying unrevealed to the world, remained fastened tight. This, after all, was the repository of his life. He cared not a whit for the other cabinets, nor for their owners, except that they should spy him in his nightly ritual.
With slow, deliberate motion, he would reach into his pocket, making sure the keys didn’t jangle, and gently unlock the polished rosewood door and open it, always careful lest a stray breeze disturb the contents. At first glance, the cabinet appeared empty, hollow, but closer inspection revealed a fine carpet covering the base like pine needles, very small, dark and light. Albertus, still maintaining his grip on one handkerchief corner would extend his hand inside, let the other corners drop, then with a gentle brushing motion of his other hand, let the newly accumulated hairs tumble down to join those already lying there. Giving the handkerchief one last shake, with equal care, he would gently close the door and lock it tight, sealing his forest carpet of memory and mortality away, but safe for another night, for he didn’t want to remember, but nor did he want to forget.
|Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 03:05 pm: |
Over the years, more than one pair of hands have opened the cabinet with the tiny holes that
form a kind of margin along its four edges. These raw, ugly holes marring the lovely rosewood
were once filled with nails that held the cabinet securely shut, but the nails have since been pried
loose by the foremost of the aforementioned sets of hands. The holes are 87 in number, and look
like places where insects have burrowed into the cabinet. Maybe that’s the case, instead. Or
perhaps the insects pried those nails free in their chitin jaws.
Resting inside this cabinet is an exact, miniature model of the entire rosewood case, its 87
diminutive cabinets unlocked. Opening them, in each can be found a tiny scrap of onionskin
paper upon which is typed a single letter in a faded courier font. Altogether there are 9 a’s, 2 b’s,
2 c’s, 4 d’s, 5 e’s, 4 f’s, 2 g’s, 4 h’s, 5 i’s, 1 j, 1 k, 8 l’s, 2 m’s, 4 n’s, 9 o’s, 4 r’s, 8 s’s, 6 t’s, 4
w’s, 1 y, 1 comma and 1 period. There are two sheets of paper tucked behind the model of the
rosewood case. On one of them, a crisp sheet of glaringly white onionskin paper, in a much-
corrected handwritten script, someone has assembled the disconnected letters to form the words:
a jackal with the body of a man dangles from a rosewood scaffold, its howls stillborn while it
Beneath that sheet there is a second, yellowed and brittle and older, crumbling into flakes like a
very old autumn leaf pressed between the pages of a book. Someone has typed on this sheet in a
courier font, blotched here and there with white-out. The 87 fragmented letters have been
grouped to spell out the following:
anagrams locked with a little tool forged from insect jaws, as bad ants fish in hollow beds for
One will not leave this cabinet open for long, however. A whispery touch will crawl lightly
along the nape of one’s neck, across one’s back beneath one’s shirt. It will feel as though a flea
or some other tiny creature has gotten into one’s clothing. One may even feel sharply bitten. But
when such a pinched area is examined, one will invariably find a tiny letter raised up in a red
welt on the skin. An “a”, an “s”, maybe even a minuscule comma. It is as though the letter itself
was crawling on the individual, and used its sharp seraphs to burrow beneath the skin. But the
letters always fade away quickly once the cabinet it closed again.
|Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 05:56 pm: |
The next cabinet appears solid, but at the slightest touch -- really no more than the suggestion of a touch -- the door crumbles inwards.
Once thick pine has been hollowed and weakened. Not all of the 87 are up to the task of binding universes.
Whatever this cabinet contained is gone, transformed, become a midden of isopterous industry. For closer inspection reveals termites, plump and white, legs flexing and pumping as they seep-scurry down into mud tubes that lead to cracks in the floor, and then deeper still to a plump queen of endless and interesting hungers. They have eaten and excreted the past.
His saliva-sticky tongue sweeps down and seeks out the remaining creatures; those perhaps too fat on history to hurry. Nostalgia is a potent opiate and these, for all their hunger are simple creatures -- jaw and gut -- dazed and happier not to struggle.
The taste is curious, perhaps more texture than flavour, wriggling crackers soaked in distilled water. However, there is enough to ignite memories, nebulous, but none-the-less, foreign and tangible.
The Purchase of a Packet of Salt and Vinegar Flavoured Crisps.
Jane is handing over a five-dollar note, a lascivious expression on her face.
“In the evening it gets rather cold,” she says.
The shopkeeper's fingers are warm though the smile he offers is bland.
The Crucifixion of Eight Owls.
The owls struggle and bleed. Nails describe their last flight. Four to a wing and one each shuddering tarsus. Ten to a bird. Eighty in all.
"Will this work?" Someone whispers. "Will this work?"
The packet is opened but the contents are not eaten. Inside Jane finds a feather and a rusty nail, and crisps that looked like they have been soaked in blood rather than oil. Jane means to take the packet back, but never gets around to it, or can't bring herself to, or dies before she gets the chance. So it takes up residence in her cupboard and, after her death, they are packed mindlessly away and forgotten.
Well, not completely forgotten.
These cabinets are dangerous things. But that is their appeal. Cabinets have always been dangerous; they do not forget.
His tongue lunges again and finds only soft splinters, and then a last salty discharge of memory.
"Will this work?"
He pulls back, wipes the wood from his lips, he has tiny, soft splinters in his jaw.
“Will this work?”
He wonders if it will.
|Posted on Saturday, May 10, 2003 - 04:47 pm: |
Wispy gray tendrils curl from the bottom corners of the door to the next cabinet. The door is long and narrow, its handle set close to ceiling level. The cabinet sits astride another, but is set further back into the wall so that the top of the lower cabinet provides a narrow ledge upon which an intrepid investigator or determined butler might set his toes and, using the hammered brass hinges as purchase for his fingers, draw himself to stand face to face with the door.
The energy of this cabinet is not potential but kinetic. Moisture beads its shellacked face, the droplets jittering narrow paths halfway down the door before evaporating into the dry gloom of the hall like misplaced virga. From this vantage one may reach the handle and its trembling push-button latch. One is forced to stand on his right foot alone, right hand braced against the near wall, in order to press his left thumb down and allow the bundled energy of the cabinet to shoulder the door roughly open past his precariously balanced body. To regain his footing he leans into the cabinet, his right hand flailing to grasp the inner edge of the out-flung door.
Our intrepid investigator, our determined butler, teeters on the precipice of the door. He is faced with a billowing gray vista, his skin instantly dappled with condensation, his shoes kissed and prodded by tentacular fog. His startled gasp roils the closest gauzy clouds, parting them sufficiently to reveal the cabinet’s internal terrain.
Far below him more fog lies in a descended stratus deck over the frayed silhouettes of more substantial forms. The middle distance is lost in mist, which rises to join the pendulous bulges of a cloaking cumulonimbus mammatus. He reaches out to convince himself this is no trompe l’oeil, and stirs the clouds into new formations.
For a moment the cumulonimbus gather into angry towers, their anvil tops piled high like the powdered, unraveling wig of a dauphin’s mad aunt. Their steely undersides flash once, twice, with blinding release, before the whole range of them begin to crumble. Low crepuscular rays forge through the breaks in the clouds and burn into the fog layer beneath. It surrenders its hold on the land reluctantly, allowing each enshrouded feature more resolution in desultory increments. The skyscape fragments further, gray nimbus giving way to the popcorn of altocumulus bronzed by a setting light that barely scrapes the uppermost branches of the forest at the edge of the panorama. These scud across the bruising sky, chased by the looming, stratified saucers of lenticular clouds.
Our now apprehensive investigator, now irresolute butler, turns his gaze earthward to what the dissipated fog has revealed: a crumbling stone home, no longer a mansion, hunkered in a green vale; a rushing brook nearly foaming in its haste, drowned birds among its flotsam; and a garden dominated by a chain of pergola overgrown with obscenely ripe grapevines. No human moves on the grounds, but two figures guard the glistening fruit, one at each end of the trellis track. The first, a pagan statue, gazes in somnolent dignity down the overgrown colonnades at the second. The second, a life-sized female angel, seems to shake her dense coils of hair in coquettish fashion at her archaic companion, her face familiar to our startled onlooker from some fogged and dimly remembered photograph.
He leaps back off the ledge, slams the long, narrow door back into place, presses his palms against its cool lacquered surface as if to hold in this living diorama, this holograph, this kinetic impossibility. He knows only how to question, only how to serve. He feels a trembling in his fingertips, unsure whether the storm gathers again in the cabinet or in him.
|Posted on Wednesday, May 14, 2003 - 03:00 pm: |
Brandy is a fine cure for storms, but the butler forgets where he hid the bottle. There, perhaps? No, not that one, maybe...
One particular cabinet door sports several handles; he has tried counting them, but never gets the same number twice. Twice, as a boy, he tried to look up the nanny's skirt. Only twice. He'll drink a toast to her if he ever finds that bottle. Once he touched a dead woman's breast because it was winter and his heart moved like a moth. Just that once.
He counts the knobs, opens the door and finds his prize. He has hidden other things here as well...a wishbone, a woman's bonnet caked with scabs of dried lipstick, a Cyclops pearl milky as insulin, dead moths crisper than dried hydrangea blooms and a squat mason jar filled with all manner of teeth.
The inside of the cabinet is a narrow fireplace, a Rumford perhaps, built in the late 1700s (or later). Perhaps the butler will drink a toast to the Count, and to nannies' bloomers and hearts the shape of moth wings.
There are bricks the color of dried blood, creosote fit for a Jolson mask, but no kindling nor tinder, nor firedogs at all, only scraps from a blackened arm cast and burnt fragments of crown moulding. A toast to broken limbs might be just the thing, he thinks. A toast to Count Rumford, to moths, hydrangeas and...something else that he can't quite remember.
The fireplace has not been lit in years, but it remembers. Light strobes, summer blinks, a naked youth stands in a field, head gone, cardinals flying out like blood for Heaven.
It all comes back to him now. The butler opens the bottle and drinks a toast to the equinox, and because they never did find the nanny.
|Posted on Saturday, May 24, 2003 - 10:45 am: |
I have lingered in front of the cabinet for exactly twenty minutes now. My watch says so, but I know as well as the eternal sunset outside that the Greater Time finds no purchase in this place. The cabinet in question hums and vibrates with an unseen force, as if a swarm of electric locusts was trapped inside, going round and round in the empty darkness, much in the same way a whirlwind rages within my head and shuffles the memories of what has been with those of events possibly yet to come.
I demand respite from this madness. I sense the key must lie in these eighty-seven cabinets, but I’m too tired and too dizzy for any more of it. I started to write about them, but the schizoid assembly of memories that leak from my pen make little to no sense at all. Each faded photograph, each crumbling letter, each scrap of silk or cotton or velvet --- the sights and sounds they evoke are still as alien to me as Time is to this house. I made up my mind to let my twin into this search for order, and don’t intend to back out again.
Now and then, I put my hand to the faux rosewood surface of the cabinet, and leave it there until my fingertips become numb with cold. It’s no suicide, but even so I hesitate to open the door exactly as I would leaping from a stool with a noose round my throat. I’m suddenly reminded of the purple hairline that encircles my neck and I trace it with one finger, following the subtle furrow of that single clean cut that made me what I am today.
The butler teeters on the edge of my vision like a nervous insect. I can’t tell if he’s concerned, or afraid that I might swat him for having pried into some of the other cabinets. I don’t care. I wave him closer, and he approaches reluctantly, zipping from left to right on his bandy old legs without ever standing where I might see him clearly.
With a long, deep breath, I open the cabinet door, and am immediately bathed by a frosty breeze with the distinctive tinge of ammonia. Thick tendrils of condensation curl around my ankles and I step back, prompted by an irrational anxiety of some kind.
Ice-locked inside the cold cabinet is a glass jar. Inside the jar is a head, a human head, immersed in transparent syrup. It blinks and moves its mouth lethargically, startled from deeper stupor by the comparatively harsh sunset light. A tube of corrugated rubber provides life support by connecting the stump of its neck to complex machinery on the back of the cabinet.
Presently the butler approaches with a chair clutched in a tense, white-knuckled grip. He knows what to do. I nod, and take the seat, and make myself relax. Rheumy eyes stare me from behind the thick glass, expectant, impatient. Before long, the butler places one pergameneous hand on my nape and cushions my chin in the other. Slowly, but firmly, he begins to unscrew---
|Posted on Friday, May 30, 2003 - 04:30 pm: |
The door of the twentieth cabinet is locked, and the key has been lost for years.
Inside there is silence, then a faint rustle, then silence again. Then there is a scuffle of paws and the mother mouse squeezes through the hole in the cabinet to be back with her children. There are six of them. One of them will die before the end of that day. One of them will disappear on the first day that they begin to explore what lies beyond the splintered crack in the rosewood. For now though, there are six, and the twentieth cabinet is their world.
They lie in a bed woven from the dreams and memories of the other eighty-six. Their mother has wandered far and wide, and although they sleep warm amongst the shredded photographs and matted tatters of hair, she has given them much more than this. She has sniffed and squeezed through all of the other cabinets, and brought back all the things that she has seen there. The memories of those who use the cabinets pour out to the suckling babies in her milk. Her children take in the sadness and the joy, the mystery and the wonder, with every spluttering gulp and they make it part of them.
Although they are still blind, they have seen so much, dreamt so many dreams of lovers and parting, children and loss, the crumbling petals of a love long-dead. Five of them will never leave the cabinets, but they have so much of the world in them already. Sometimes they dream of gold-tipped pines that shake and whisper the secrets of the wind high above their heads. Aside from their lives, this was their only gift from a father who came from beyond the house, from in amongst the shifting, hissing needles that lie beneath the shivering trees.
The mother has lived a long time, for a mouse. She knows that there is a world beyond the rosewood, but she does not go there. There are worlds enough for her inside. Her children know what has happened and what will happen and what will never happen, for in the cabinets, these three things are all the same. They suckle and dream on.
|Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 02:15 pm: |
Who am I...?
The footfalls commence once again, sending faint vibrations throughout my massive frame. They restore a semblance of life into the ancient cabinet structure that is my corpus; indeed, I feel my blood-sap uncongealing, releasing some of its glacial potential. As this recent intruder stumbles near the cabinet my consciousness now inhabits, his presence arouses in me a strange mix of nearly forgotten desires.
The present cabinet provides me no sensory clues of any kind. This lack of sensation provides me with a needed respite from the rich overload of the other cabinets. Here I can collect myself, and continue my quest for identity.
When not here, my mind moves freely among the other cabinets, where I feed, devouring whatever loss, pain, confusion or despair that can be extracted. With the enthusiasm of a glutton and the concentration of an epicure I sample their strange contents, nourishing myself on what I can. Thus I survive the disagreeable state in which I find myself. Just as a sad tune is the best cure for the inconsolable, the pain of others revives me and sharpens my desire to continue.
Who am I? This vital shred of information is long gone. When I feed, I can lose myself in the memories of the that cabinet, and can forget my angst for a time. In the present cabinet, I have no distractions and must face the black void of my ignorance. Was I enchanted into this wood? Am I --Jackal-Headed One forbid!-- mere furniture cursed with a soul? Was I a dryad that once cavorted in Hibernian groves? Am I a man dreaming I am a cabinet? Naturally, my speculation most often turns to the possibility that I am somehow connected to one or more of these cabinets, whether in life, dream, or nightmare. These are the thoughts that have tormented me since... when?
The intruder carries his head by the hair like a lantern, turning it this way and that, the eyes seeking but not finding my mind's present location. His gaze slips off this drawer, his eyes trying to fill in the details from the surrounding cabinets, but to no avail. Were one to calculate the number of cabinets in this wooden matrix, counting down and across, one would surely arrive at the figure "eighty-seven". Even so, one could not pinpoint this cabinet. A faint odor of ozone may be detectable nearby, or a low staticky hum of white noise, but otherwise my refuge is secure.
As I watch the intruder, I reflect on the dying twilight. In this drawn out prelude to night, I am cheered with the hope that nightfall may bring some dark epiphany about my identity and whatever destiny awaits me. Perhaps this visitor may herald a final denouement to my quandary. But I am ravenous, desiring a substantial repast before this night of awakening ensues. And it has been too long since I have feasted on fresh memories.
|Posted on Saturday, June 21, 2003 - 10:42 am: |
The dust of this cabinet; the despair.
You should not have opened it, but you did so anyway. Inside: darkness, dust. A few stray hairs, some traces of spilled ink. The smell of a school desk, familiar from decades ago and fresh as yesterday. Pellets of paper chewed by a mouse or a child.
Essentially: only a book. Grey-backed, well-worn, nothing on the binding. An old school text-book which has lost its cover.
You take it up, and feel as you do so a sudden shiver in time, an abrupt vertiginous sense of deja vu. Odd. You think it is odd. You open the book. Most of its pages are blank; you turn to the front. The fly-leaf is stained with ancient tea, or blood. Printed in lean type: The House of the Eighty-Seven Cabinets.
You have done this before, of course. Are you not the reader? You feel it even as you turn the page: how you must read, how it is inevitable. First Cabinet, you read. The forest, which was a moment before tranquil, now harbors the residue of a shock.
That's funny, you think. A house with eighty-seven cabinets.
And now even as you keep reading, your page lit by the glow of a sunset which never ends, you forget yourself and are drawn, drawn deeper in. Attar of roses, you read. Pythian fires. Three feathers: blue as the sky, gold as the sun, white as a communion dress.
What is this strange place, this benighted house with its trapped memories, its lost bubbles of joy, its horrors waiting to burst beneath the surface? Broken butterflies. Cast-off flecks of time. Pumps, slides, sandals, stilettos. Castrated. The more you read, the more you crave the solution to the puzzle. This murderous jigsaw with eighty-seven pieces.
Blood in the air. Five stems of asparagus and a wedge of cheese. A music of distressed syllables. Rhino-gomenol and the rankness of confession.
Are you going mad? You feel on the back of your neck the breath of something cold and alien. Yet you keep reading. The wolves were always sweeter than the sheep. You are the reader, you cannot help yourself.
And something is coming now, a terrible denouement, you think you begin to see the answer to all this. Pale like green grapes, to escape and rend the world. Simon, Elaine, Yolanda, Harold, Scott, Nerida. Death was stalking him through his follicles. You read faster, searching for the clues: the key to the last cabinet which will explode this mystery, scatter the house and its traumas to the four winds.
Sixteenth Cabinet. 9 a's, 4 b's, 6 t's, 1 comma and 1 period. The Crucifixion of Eight Owls. Tentacular fog, his heart moved like a moth. Riddles, mazes, monsters, sadness, families. I demand respite from this madness. Dreams of lovers and parting, children and loss.
Too late. Too late. Some dark epiphany.
Twenty-Third Cabinet. You should not have opened it, but you did so anyway.
The dust of this cabinet. The despair.
|Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 07:29 am: |
That final time you spoke with your father he related a story; some wisdom hard-earned, he said. He told of a house of cabinets and a world where there are two kinds of people.
The first kind, he told you, approach the twenty-fourth cabinet like thieves at midnight, feet shushing over the parquet floor; heart quivering, pulse trembling. Hands slick with dewy sweat, they finger the wooden door tentatively and leave beads of moisture clinging to the oily surface.
Disappointment clouds eager eyes. There is no lock, no barrier to what they seek. Nothing to send them back empty handed.
They slide a long finger nail into a crack and the door whispers open. The hinges do not squeak, their silence conspiratorial: no one else must know. Inside are two objects: one parchment, the other canvas. Both rolled into tubes. Shivering at the audacity, unconvinced by its own bravery, a hand spiders in and snatches at the roll of canvas.
Slowly, breath a bubble trapped in the throat, our thief unrolls the canvas to reveal the painting hidden within. Eyes close for a moment – not yet believing, too undependable. Gold. The paint seems varnished in gold. Flecks of it sparkle from the waters of the harbour. The fluted columns on the shore capture the sunset light and glow in welcome. Domes swell above the sea-front buildings. Minarets hold the sky at bay. And people, flowers cast at their feet, dance in remembrance of what they once wished to be.
The painting brings a gasp of recognition, the bubble set free. A city dreamt of one night; a dream never quite forgotten. We’ve all had it. At some desperate moment in our lives. And afterwards it haunts us in the first moments of waking as we throw off the coils of sleep.
And here it is captured in paint. Dried oils. Made real.
The canvas is rolled up and replaced. The parchment removed. Opened up. The instructions inside memorised; never noted down. Directions, signposts, the way onward. The parchment is returned and the temptation to look upon our heart’s desire one more time is resisted. The cabinet door is closed.
Silently the encumbered thief leaves, knowing they can never return.
The other kind of person, your father told you, approaches the cabinet in much the same manner as the first. But they hesitate before reaching for the door and think of their dream, of the place it occupies in their heart. The moment drags on. The sweat on their skin dries. They turn and they leave as silently as they came. The dust without memory of their passage.
Now you only see your father in dreams.
|Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 11:24 am: |
Among the Anglo-Saxon tribes, the warg, or oath-breaker, was exiled from the stockaded safety of the civilized village to skulk out a feral existence in the woods. Caught again, these werewolves met death by hanging, the noose binding as tightly as the mere wind of easy words had not.
This cabinet is all solid, all surface. Its hinges are counterfeit; the lines that seem to mark edges of doors and drawers are, in fact, only grooves. The cabinet was carved from a single piece of wood, heavy and slow-grown as teak or onyx. Beneath the faux-rosewood, it is the trunk heartwood of the gallows tree.
In spite of the transom window ajar opposite the cabinet, the air is as still as the paused-breath moment before judgment is uttered. Held suspended are scents of cinnamon, oleander, and dust; of cobwebs, rotted fruit, and old blood; of furniture oil and roast lamb; of dead moths and of dust, of dust. But to a mouse, this air also holds whiskerings of escape, hints of familiar forest.
The sun, reflected in the gloss of the cabinet's finish, stalls at the horizon. Like a neck paused at the guillotine blade's edge. As if it might not come back from wherever it's going, if it ever does get there.
What this cabinet contains is ring-memory stained by centuries of dangling silhouettes, nicked by the claws of generations of ravens, nourished by the exhalations of crisply declared sentences and lung-clearing death rattles.
The mouse is clutched in this moment, all four feet on the edge of the lip of the cabinet top, a spasm-instant when he might fall (into the shadows, into the path of the whatever drags itself along the corridors) or might spring (to the sill, to the window, then out into dusk, to meet or elude the owl's beak, the jackal's teeth.) Balanced on this fulcrum of spring or fall, like an egg on end, like the sun ready to wink under the horizon.
Then the next moment, when one thing or the other happens. When the mouse is gone to either the shortening or the lengthening of his days.
And owls by the eight will spread their wings crucifixion-wide to embrace the not-quite-night. Under stars indistinct as gasped prayers or muttered last words, the windy darkness will be broken and now and again by a bright creak, as of a strained branch or a taunt rope.
And the little jackals will dance to see such sport, treading pine needles and stolen grapes into mud, the barks of their wine-sweet laughter echoing from cabinet walls too close together let the sound go and too smoothly polished to hold it as tight as memory's noose.
|Posted on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 12:49 pm: |
If your gaze were to follow the shafts of dying light that caress the elegant lines of the thirty-first cabinet, you might assume no hand had violated its interior in the thirteen decades since it was sealed. That assumption would be debatable, however, for the cabinet's sole content is a neatly severed human hand.
And if, defying the symbols of warning cast in wax and sealed with curses, you were to pull open the cabinet’s bombé doors, you would discover a single, spacious chamber of richly polished rosewood. Although the cabinet once housed an array of shelves and drawers, they are gone, their supporting framework ripped violently away, leaving a pattern of raw, unstained striations that punctuate the cabinet’s gleaming maw like shattered ribs. The effect suggests the glistening cavity of a freshly disemboweled corpse, organs removed in preparation for embalming, or mummification.
Which is fitting, for the hand’s owner had been both an undertaker and a practitioner of Egyptian magick. He was also a rake and a liberal user of laudanum. And he was a fool, for he was told in no uncertain terms by the husband of the cabinet’s original owner that any physical contact with his wife would result in the removal of all appendages involved.
Save for the withered skin that curls inward around the cut, framing hard, frayed tendons and slightly protruding bones, Levi Craven’s hand is in surprisingly fine condition. The arrangement of the fingers is enigmatic, but otherwise the hand appears much as it did on the warm summer evening a tourniquet was tightened below Craven’s right elbow and a surgeon’s hacksaw went to work fulfilling an oath.
Even in an opium-drenched stupor, Craven knew something was terribly wrong. His waking dream had taken an unexpected turn. The jackal-headed one was locked in combat with the ibis-headed one, and Craven was somehow caught in the midst of their struggle, his arm wrenched in the grip of Anubis’ all-powerful jaws. Thoth’s stylus inscribed unspeakable thoughts across Craven’s sweat-drenched forehead as inhuman teeth sawed deeper and deeper into his forearm. Suddenly something snapped, and Craven was lost in the void.
He awoke on the same bunk in the same decrepit den in which he had begun that evening’s horrific journey, a neat bandage capping his arm like an alabaster chalice brimming with sacrificial blood. He later had a goldsmith fashion a curious device, more a claw than a hand, to encase the stump. And though he used every scrap of arcane knowledge at his disposal to locate his lost appendage, he never discovered its fate. He was, of course, well aware of the identity of the man who could reveal the mystery, but he prudently chose to give that man a very wide berth.
That man, an Army doctor, an amateur taxidermist, a practitioner of Egyptian magick, is now long dead. As is his wife. As is Levi Craven. And all that remains of events that linked their lives is sealed within the thirty-first cabinet.
|Posted on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 01:06 am: |
At some point in the immeasurable time of the house, this particular cabinet was turned into a den (of much inequities, many would say). It became the den of the notorious skinny monkeys.
It would be wise to leave this cabinet well enough alone, but if you insist on looking inside, be sure to sneak up on it and throw open the doors as if to exclaim - "Aha!" Otherwise, if you announce your coming with noisy steps, you will be greeted with a barrage of skinny monkey feces. As you stand there covered in filth, you will hear the screeching laughter of the skinny monkeys.
The skinny monkeys pride themselves on their wit, but that really amounts to the verbal equivalent of feces-hurling. An example: a mother skinny monkey carrying a baby skinny monkey is socializing with other skinny monkeys in the main square in the central drawer of the cabinet when she inadvertently lets out a fart. In her embarrassment, she tries to blame it on her baby by saying - "Sweety, you have a tummy ache?" To which the baby replies - "What, I get a tummy ache and your smelly ass goes 'pong'. Is that how it works?"
The mortal enemies of the skinny monkeys are the bum weasels, an enmity that goes back to far antiquity. At the Ninetieth Congress of the Supreme Council of Skinny Monkeys, held in the sumptuous top drawer of the cabinet, the President Elect affirmed that: "It is not enough that skinny monkeys do well, but bum weasels must do badly." The skinny monkeys find nothing more amusing than to lure a bum weasel into the cabinet with some sausage bits, set it on fire, and watch it run around in panic while they screech in laughter. Just to show themselves that they are not cruel creatures, they extinguish the fire by peeing on the flaming bum weasel before it gets seriously burned.
The wealth of the skinny monkeys, apparent from the luxurious dwellings in the cabinet, is based on the sales of the so-called 'Skinny Monkey Juice', produced at the industrial complex in the bottom drawer of the cabinet, which they once claimed has marvelous curative powers (also 'Eau de Singe Maigre' cologne, 'Royal Skinny Monkey Extract Face and Hand Cream', and 'Healthful Skinny Hou Soothing Balm). Scientists have not only debunked its medical benefits but also shown that the liquid does not come from any part of a skinny monkey. Undaunted, the skinny monkeys are now marketing it, whatever 'it' really is, as a refreshing sports drink, avoiding accusations of false-labeling buy renaming it 'I Can't Believe It's Not Skinny Monkey Juice'.
After Germanicus Caesar (16 BCE - 19 CE) led the punitive expedition against the skinny monkeys, he described their nature to the Roman Senate thus: "You can impress a Greek with your love of learning. You can impress a Jew with your moral integrity. You can impress a Spaniard with your sense of honor. And you can impress an African with the nobility of your bearing. But a skinny monkey will be impressed by none of these things. When you encounter a skinny monkey, strike it down with all your might. As it tries to get up, strike it again. Then strike it a third time as it writhes on the dusty ground, and then, and only then, will it respect you."
|Posted on Friday, July 04, 2003 - 04:17 am: |
Ned took the bunch of keys from his silk-lined pocket, and looked at the metallic tangle for a moment as it lay in the leathery palm of his hand. When he unlocked the cabinet door it fell back towards him, and he smiled with delight. Inside, the cabinet was visibly tilted back at an angle so that he would walk uphill as he pushed inside. It reminded him of an old seesaw, left abandoned some day long ago when the last child climbed off and ran away. Keeping hold of the interior rosewood handle, he moved in and pulled the door shut behind him; then hung the oil lamp from a wrought iron hook.
Everything within the cabinet was consistent, so that you might forget its peculiar orientation were it not for the telltale offset of the gravitational pull. On the side walls there were rows of shelving that ran parallel to the floor and ceiling. The objects stored there would no doubt have rolled along and fallen off but for the exquisite ash bookends at regular intervals, each clamped to a shelf by a wooden screw tightened from underneath.
He glanced upwards, admiring the night sky through the skylight. Then he turned to scan the contents of the shelves on the left-hand wall (feeling the weight of his head being pulled to the left now). Each item rested against the bookend positioned to its left: a microphone he once sang into to a packed hall; a meteorite fragment; a small piece of wood given to him by the child, Mary, when they were out walking one day, decades ago. He smiled with the memory of the sun filtered through the leaves of the oak trees.
His searching gaze alighted now upon the toy gyroscope. He reached out a trembling hand and clutched at it. He sighed at its poor condition. The paint, once bright red on the platter, had flaked almost entirely away. With his finger and thumb he attempted to rotate the spindle, but it turned only reluctantly.
Further along this shelf: a jam jar filled with pens and pencils. He rummaged among them and pulled out a screwdriver with a small blade. With this he loosened the gyroscope’s base screw so that the spindle dropped into his hand. Now, where was the little can of oil? Ah yes, on the next shelf down. He applied a drop to the ball joints at the top and in the base screw, then re-inserted the spindle, and now the central mechanism turned smoothly.
Several pieces of strong twine were stored on another shelf. He pulled a strand loose and inserted it into the hole in the spindle, like threading cotton into a needle, and wound the twine on tightly. All ready now - a swift tug on the twine set the gyroscope spinning.
Quickly, Ned placed the humming device on the floor, and as it continued to spin he felt the shift of gravity moving back to vertical. All the items on the shelves rolled slightly, away from the bookends. He glanced upwards, out through the skylight, and saw that the cabinet lay in perfect alignment with the stars above. The starlight glistened in his teary eyes.
After a few moments more, the spindle of the gyroscope slowed to a stop and the device toppled over. The items on the shelves rattled as the cabinet rolled back to its previous inclination. He knelt down on one knee to retrieve this wonderful toy from his childhood, then returned it to its place on the shelf. It rolled to rest against the bookend to its left.
He opened the cabinet door, felt the pull of it as it swung open. Finally, Ned pushed the door closed and locked it. In the hallway, everything seemed normal. He tossed the tangle of keys into the air, caught them and returned them to his pocket.
"I love a cabinet that knows its own mind," he said, and he laughed gently as he wandered away.
|Posted on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 07:02 am: |
Eighty-seven cabinets in dusty hallways riven by the arrows of time. Were there eighty-eight, the keys would amount to a concert of locks. Like the black fangs of a familiar white-toothed monster, some cabinets hang back, alternately sharp and flat, glimmering.
Our attention turns to one particular cabinet, narrow and tall, its rosewood finished blacked with age, or perhaps the smoke of campfires left burning in the hall by generations of sentinels. The door stands open, just a slivered crack, and a sort of music echoes from some vasty deep within, each monstrous note a staggering drunk measuring its pace toward silence before the next can launch forth.
We slide through the dark crack, thin as any angelfish, not even disturbing the guardian dust, to find an echoing cavern, a tiny little universe of rosewood and finishing nails and varnish crafted from the blood of insects and the tears of virgin daughters. At the floor of this universe -- for this particular bubble in the swirl of quantum foam is squared -- there is a city, large as any city needs to be, yet small enough to step across in moments. The city itself is silent, the music issuing from somewhere else.
Walking the empty, riddling streets, illuminated only by the tall, narrow sun behind us, we find a highway leading outward from a crumbling gate, paved in some rough, ropy stuff that might be carpet woven by giants. The place smells of wax and rotting paper, with an undertone of mold. The notes continue to stagger drunkenly to our ears, in no tempo or measure, a piano played by the accidents of time. It must be the size of the universe, this piano, for the music to be so omnipresent. But then this is a very, very small universe.
Atop a distant hill, where once a beacon fire might have been lit to warn of invaders from the twenty-first cabinet, or watches kept for rope-collared jackals on the loose, there broods a prison-fortress. The music seems closer here, more personal, as if this were the wellspring.
We enter the fortress-prison, glancing over our shoulder at the thin and distant sun and the wider universe of hallway and house hinted at within its skinny monkey glare, before that view is lost to us within curling groins of close-set, mossy stone. The sound here _is_ more close, encompassing in the way that tooth-cracking pain is encompassing. Ivory, with gaps, one missing as a tooth might be from a long ago fight -- we recoil from the banal analogy, but the familiar monster grins scales in our head.
This prison is as deserted as the city behind it, all locks and wards thrown open, bars rusted into postures of freedom. Still we find the comfort of a narrow bed, still we lie beneath the softer shadow of a thin window, still we sigh out our sorrows in the comfort of dusty, dim confinement, lulled by the drunken lullaby of eighty-seven cabinet keys.
There is safety in numbers, more so in some than others.
|Posted on Wednesday, July 09, 2003 - 09:02 am: |
Patience was the third of nine children born to Isaac and Lenore Reede, who farmed an eleven-hundred-acre land grant in Orange County, Virginia Colony. She was strangely healthy – six of her siblings died before puberty – and by the age of eighteen she had grown to the extraordinary height of five feet eleven inches. This was not good tidings to the varied folk who did business with the Reedes, for it was said she gained her strength, her size, her power, from the withering and dead around her.
It was also said, quietly and in very secure company, that, when she had the mind to, she could halt the setting sun. This twice had been observed: At the Vernal Equinox of 1747, and on a day known thereafter as Butcher’s Day, when Isaac Reede led his wife and remaining children to the bank of the Rappahannock River and hacked them to mush.
She married Idol Mather, a silversmith and son of a Chesapeake Indian and an exiled Baptist midwife. They moved to Baltimore in 1751 due to the strong demand for Roman Catholic ceremonial objects. Idol knew this craft well, and he quickly became known for his skillful incorporation of relics in his gilt-work.
What remained undisclosed to the purchasers, however, was the contribution Patience made to each piece. After all, relics is a dark trade. Idol prospered by the superiority of his work, and this earned him the tolerance of a pious white clientele for his muddied racial lineage. But this protection would not follow him into the shadows of the ports of Baltimore, nor to the markets for ravaged graves. So, when he needed a bone, he took it from his wife.
She never seemed to mind, and could manage quite adeptly with a few less fingers, or a shaving off her hip. Idol used each bit with the greatest economy, lest he whittle his spouse down to nothing during the Easter rush. This suited them and their trade for several years, but by the summer of 1756 there was not enough left of her to cut without piquing suspicion or compromising her cooking skills. At her request, Idol commissioned a box. Rosewood. Thirty-five inches square, fourteen inches deep. The work was simple but elegant, with and inlaid brass lock, exposed dovetails, and book-matched panels that bespoke the carpenter’s art. It’s interior was fragrant with a dozen rubbed oils. With little effort, Idol lifted his whittled wife and lowered her, backside-down, into the cabinet. He closed its lid and tilted the whole piece upright. Inside, she chanted softly to herself -- a tonal, meandering song in an ancient tongue spoken only by a dozen or so folk now retreated to the headwaters of the Rappahannock.
It was July, 1756. Imperceptibly, the setting sun halted. Throughout Baltimore a scourge of spotted fever shrouded the respectable homes of white pious Roman Catholics. In each victim’s house could be found a broken ceremonial object, it’s silver gilt torn as if from the inside. After several days and nights Patience’s song ended. Idol dutifully unlocked the cabinet, and she uncurled herself from its embrace refreshed, reclaimed, fully fingered, six feet tall.
Thus came malignant fever in 1764, scarlet fever in 1775, yellow fever in 1794. But tragedy befell the silversmith’s shop during the smallpox of 1805: Idol himself was stricken. Bewildered, fearing his wife’s power as well as her height, he cast the cabinet into the harbor, then he burned his home, his shop, his tools, and himself to ashes.
The cabinet drifted down the Chesapeake to the mouth of the Rappahannock. There its journey was interrupted by a skiff captain, who spotted it illuminated by a lingering sunset. He was drawn to it by its simple, elegant workmanship and the faint, meandering song he thought came from within. But he, too, perceived its power and kept it hidden and unopened until his death from typhus in 1836.
How it came to join the other cabinets is unknown – the story gone with the players and the sicknesses that befell them. The song, however faint, still draws the unfortunate few. At the moment, a butler…
|Posted on Monday, July 14, 2003 - 08:18 am: |
After the operation, I watch with grave curiosity as the butler trudges toward one of the many cabinets that crowd the room like monstrous buildings on a narrow city street, the ceiling almost hidden by the heads of wooden sentries keeping watch over some unspoken secret. I am careful not to let him catch me looking his way, but my concern is moot. Something holds him transfixed, like a somnambulist whose soul was strung between the worlds of phantasm and concrescence. He swings open the cabinet doors, and conspiracy fills the air.
The inside walls and drawers of this cabinet are lined with polished olivewood, accented with small strips of ebony, that casts a warm glow quite counter to the gloomy aura that flows from its recesses. A black-and-white photograph hangs on either door. To the right, “Il Duce,” fist raised in the air above his smart black cap, brow wrinkled in its trademark permanent furrow. To the left, a large, grainy portrait of a family – mother, father and child all dressed in well-pressed black. I look closely at the picture, at the butler, then back again. The resemblance between the four is so strong that they might shuffle hairstyles or clothing and pass for one another – familial dopplegangers. All have the same tightly curled black hair and dark complexion, languid brown eyes, and thin, Mediterranean lips – un-smiling, un-frowning, un-emotive. The only distinguishing feature between the paper and the flesh is a white armband emblazoned with a black fasces, worn by those in the family, but absent from the butler’s arm.
But the butler glances only briefly at this memorabilia. At the center of the olivewood triptych hangs his focus: A papier mache mask. Scaramouche, by the proboscic nose, except that this mask is fitted with three eye-holes, one slightly above and directly between the other two, over the hypophisial fossa. The mask’s cheeks are marked by gold foil dots that contrast sharply with the crimson maw and nose that stand so prominently on its leering face.
Beneath the mask hangs a pistol: Luger 9mm Parabellum.
Now, a revelation: I spot the inward-curling paper around the edge of the third eye – the third eye that was naught but a bullet hole.
The butler withdraws the scaramouche from the cabinet, revealing another mask beneath. It is carved ebony, in the form of an African prince, with the word “Ethiopus” chiseled into a small, stylized banner at the mask’s neck. The expression on the face is one of aloofness, as if carved from a model that felt disdain for the artist. There is something more sinister, though: something about the throbbing darkness in its eyes indicates a life, once present, now fled. The butler’s jittering hands shoot out and remove the black visage from its roost. He quickly stuffs it under one arm . . .
. . . and looks up to meet his own gaze in an oval mirror. Puzzlement washes over his face as he leans closer, eyes fixed on a small, shining black spot between his reflection’s eyes. A twitch, a buzz, and the fly – Glossina Pallidipes – traces loops and arcs through the still air as if drunken in flight, landing on the butler’s ear lobe.
He stops to listen, then cries out as the insect bites his ear – the first sound, outside of breathing, to come from the man’s mouth. Or is it a man? The androgynous family photo flip-flops in my memory. Before I can look at the family photo, he drops the masks to the floor and snatches the picture up in his hands, shuffling from the room muttering “So tired, so tired”.
And I am left alone, unacknowledged, with a yawn and the click of a closing door.
|Posted on Tuesday, July 15, 2003 - 11:31 am: |
No-one has opened the cabinet for twenty years or more, though the door isn't locked. The floor is covered with a sprinkling of fine sand. A white muslin dress hangs from a rail, the lace at the cuffs and collar a little yellow, with age. Enclosed for so long, the air retains the faint perfume of salt and stone, the breath of the sea.
Shelves to the right hold books, papers and half a dozen decorated cardboard boxes. Tucked away at the back is a weekend suitcase, battered at the edges, with a brown paper label tied to the handle.
The books - The Trespassers, by DH Lawrence, Mann's Death in Venice, and a collection of romantic poetry. A programme is tucked between them, for an outdoor theatrical production. The title page is printed in black and white, with an Art Nouveau border of vines and flowers, announcing a performance of The Tempest. The programme is much thumbed, corners bent.
Upon the shelf beneath, a bundle of letters is tied up with a piece of turquoise ribbon. The letters are written in pale blue ink. They are addressed to: Eloise. This name also appears on the suitcase label.
The first box, covered in paper printed with faded poppies, contains the accoutrements of the amateur water colour artist. Dried up tubes of paint, some twisted up, a little jar for water and a selection of brushes. Aquamarine, cobalt, sea mist, navy. A sketchpad with half a dozen studies of a fallen wall, ivy growing over. And later, numerous sketches of a man's face, his hands, the set of a neck and shoulders. The artist seems dissatisfied with the results. The same attitude is repeated over and over. Some are drawn through.
The next box is smaller, cream coloured with a lid. A dozen shells lie inside, an assortment of sizes and colours and textures, some black and razor sharp, others white and baby pink, or a pale mauve, or pocked with barnacles. And pebbles, each carefully chosen, one shaped like a heart, another pink like a rose.
The largest box contains numerous train tickets, and a selection of ferry timetables, from both this and the last century. Also, a menu, a monographed napkin, a box of matches, each from a different hotel. A museum catalogue. Three monochrome photographs - a man and a young woman on the beach. A faint breath of floral perfume, and one white silk glove. A string of pearls locked in a velvet box. An oyster shell, an empty chocolate box.
An old shoebox holds a collection of postcards. A multitude of seascapes and beaches. Sandy shores in holiday season, crowded piers, deserted headlands, vistas of an ocean bordered with rocks. The postcards are written by men, many men, at the end of their holiday romance. The most recent was posted twenty years ago. The oldest dates back to the end of the 19th century, a black and white picture of a lighthouse. But the addressee is always the same.
Dearest Eloise. With all my love.
Dying to see you again. Write back to me, Eloise.
|Posted on Tuesday, July 15, 2003 - 12:10 pm: |
The cabinet in the guest bedroom was large and dilapidated, like the rest of the furnishings. Once a grandiose piece of furniture, it now gave in to the weight of time and sagged forward on its chipped and unsteady legs like an old man. The bright, trompe d’oeil doors had once been painted to look like encased bookshelves, but the wood underneath revolted at the deception and now showed through in deep, grained whorls like dirty fingerprints. The character of the wood was dark and rugged, and the surface had a blasted quality that seemed to imply that the cabinet had spent its entire life exposed to the elements. It was too tall to see the top, even without the carved scrollwork. The double doors ran the length of the cabinet and hung slightly askance.
When he touched the left cabinet door, a splinter lodged in the meat of his index finger. Deep and thin, the splinter’s removal produced a single drop of blood; a shameful punctuation mark against his fishstick skin. It wasn’t the first time the cabinet had drawn blood.
Pressing his thumb to the wound, he opened the cabinet doors with his other hand. The inside was disappointingly empty at first: no unusual objects could be seen on the empty shelves on the right hand side of the cabinet, nor pieces of telling wardrobe hanging on the pegs on the left hand side of the cabinet.
However, as he continued to examine the cabinet, he noticed that a hole in the top of the cabinet, large enough for a human head, had been patched and filled in with mediocre skill. He saw similar holes on the left and right inner walls, just under the shelves, which he could now see weren’t part of the original design.
Leaning in, he could smell the embedded scents of the past; light, sweet-smelling oil, sweat, copper, smoke, and something he couldn’t quite place. Two indentations on the floor of the cabinet were clearly marked with ancient tape, in the rough shape of a foot.
Reaching in, he felt the back wall, and sure enough, it gave way to his touch, opening silently on hidden hinges and coming to rest against the bedroom wall. He looked left and right until he found the latch, and closed the door with nimble fingers.
As soon as the back had closed, he heard a faint sound, a rasp of steel. He straightened quickly, thinking he had activated some mechanical device. Again he heard the rasp of steel, soft and indistinct, followed by a thump. Perhaps it was coming from the back, he thought. He had no sooner rested his hand on the back panel when the rasping sound was heard again, followed immediately by a gasp and a strangled cry. When he stepped back from the cabinet to let some light in, he noticed the dark stain where his hand had rested. Had the stain been there before, he wondered? Or had it just appeared?
He reached in again, touched the dark stain in the middle of the back wall. The latch, which had opened so easily before, now was stuck. He pushed against the back wall, trying to reopen it, to no avail. He looked down at his pricked finger. The bleeding had stopped. He closed the doors, catching a final, musty gulp of dead air, and turned away.
|Posted on Sunday, July 20, 2003 - 01:38 am: |
Can you see?
I can see you, she whispers.
A box within a box. Worlds within worlds.
Within the cabinet was a small wooden box. The cabinet door was unlocked, and easily opened, but the box was sealed.
And that was all there was. This small wooden box, a small world for anyone to see. In the silence of the house with its secrets, its mysteries, encased within this box there was a girl, pressed and trapped in a photograph.
A girl in a box.
I can hear you, she whispers. I can hear you breathe.
Where are you from?
Another world. One outside the frame of the box, the walls of the cabinet. There is a glimmer of it in her eyes. If you look closely you can see. A field edged with pine trees and a house. This house? Perhaps. A house that she once called home. A house with a family and a father who liked to collect. In each cabinet is a universe, he would say to her. The contents of each a constellation, a pattern of his imagination. And others. Other people’s memories and dreams. Objects of wonder. One held a book. A solitary book, the pages barely written on. Another held voices and the whisper of the sea. Then there were cabinets with letters and riddles; full of tears and rain; that would sing and be silent, and one that made her laugh. It held three feathers: blue, gold and white.
He would carry a ring of keys that clanged and butted each other as he walked the house, and he would give it to her so that she could open each cabinet at random. To delight her. But there were some he forbade her to enter, the keys removed and placed in another box for him alone. Cabinets with the imprint of other people’s lives that he kept locked for them alone. A keeper of secrets. Worlds unopened for her to see.
Keep looking, she whispers.
She holds a key. A key hanging from a chain that is twisted and that seems improbable to open anything. Yet its spiral shape is somewhere else.
Closer, she says urgently.
Her dress. A smock dress of a girl not yet a young woman. Embroidered on its front is a spiral. Imagine it to be a pink, a deep pink that burrows beneath the fabric surface to become flesh. Deeper than flesh.
A key to her heart.
Look, she says. Look at me.
A hue overlaid the black and white of the girl. A vermilion halo. A slight tint to her hair and skin, the cast of her eyes and the fabric of her dress. He had laid her there, in that box. Laid her flattened image and sealed her with glass. Tinted, tainted. There was no key to unlock it, no way to alter her over time.
…and nestled in front of the photograph, wedged against the length of the glass, is a wooden box.
A box with a spiral keyhole.
Can you see?
Nancy Jane Moore
|Posted on Tuesday, July 22, 2003 - 07:05 pm: |
The front door to the house has been left unlocked, perhaps by carelessness, perhaps by guile.
You push it open slowly, trying to avoid the inevitable squeak. When the opening is wide enough to get through sideways, you slide in. The squeak comes as you close the door. You dart behind the first cabinet, in case the butler is watching.
You wait a few minutes. No butler. So you begin your tour of the cabinets, trailing your finger through the dust. Here is the one on which some child has drawn colored pictures; here is the one covered in intricate carvings.
As always, you try to count the cabinets. As always, you lose your place somewhere in the twenties.
You stop at your favorite. The rosewood veneer is chipped, and a cat has sharpened its claws at the base. The gilt has worn off the door pulls, showing the cheap brass underneath. You grab hold of the knobs, pull open the double doors.
The cabinet is empty. Bare walls, no shelves, no forlorn pearls, not a book or a photograph, or even a carelessly dropped letter. But the inside is highly polished and shows no trace of scratch or blemish.
You climb in. Your hair—those curls that never lie flat—brushes the ceiling. Someday you will be too tall for the cabinet, but not yet, not today. You pull the doors to.
An engine begins to whir. The cabinet moves. It jerks a bit at first, and then moves more rapidly, like an operator-run elevator that, when it goes from the first floor to the tenth without stopping, causes you to feel you left your stomach on two or three.
Except the cabinet moves sideways, not up. Your body is pressed against the side.
It stops after seconds? Minutes? Hours?
The doors pop open. You step onto grass a week overdue for mowing. Wildflowers stake claim to the ground: oranges, purples, blues, and whites. A narrow creek trickles along, water so clean you can see each rock on the bottom. You take off your sandals, and wade. Silver minnows dart along. You dangle a hand down, try to catch one.
A perfect spot for a picnic. You take crumbled cookies out of your pocket, and eat them sitting on the bank. The sun shines. A soft breeze blows.
Time for post-picnic exercise. You take a running start, and leap over the creek, landing with both feet on the opposite bank, the first time you’ve ever cleared the water in one jump. You run around laughing.
And step on something sharp. A stone? Broken glass? A shattered bone? Your foot is bleeding. You wash it in the creek, watch the blood trickle downstream.
The sky turns dark. You snatch up your sandals, run back to the cabinet and pull the doors shut.
The walls close in, the whir begins, and you are pressed to the opposite side.
The doors do not open automatically when you reach your beginning point. You reach for the inner latch. It sticks. What if the doors won’t open?
It gives, finally. You listen, hear nothing, push the doors open, peer out. No one.
The front door squeaks as you open it wide enough to sidle through.
A smear of blood remains in the cabinet.
|Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 01:31 pm: |
"…may unwind the winding path," the man in Skopje had said, quoting Yeats in his heavily accented english as he handed you the key.
Sunlight drapes the room in the west wing of the great house in vivid riot of red, but as if being aware of your low self-esteem, it leaves you standing in perpetual gloom. But you don't mind, for the persistent ticking of the great clock in the hall soothes your frayed nerves. For the sound is Ahata; a struck sound, sound designed to comfort and give pleasure. In your right hand you hold the key; as big as a Bowie knife. Any resemblance to a conventional key is purely arbitrary, for it is nothing more but a stick of pearly-white, rock-hard bone.
"Carved from the thigh-bone of Gulbirra ," The Man had said. And you believed him utterly. Believed him, because any other option would have been…unthinkable. Clutching this remnant of a dreamtime animal is an apotheosis and finally you move forward. The shadows follow while the sunlight obediently recedes.
You have braved the horrible old men and women and their shops filled with terrifying antiquities in Surakarta, Jai-salmer, Prague and in Skopje to finally stand before your salvation: Number thirty-six.
The door of the cabinet is bereft of any ornamentation, even veneer. It looks like it's been completely sandblasted.
The keyhole is nothing but a puckered wound in the wood. But the key fits perfectly. Inserting it feels like an inter-course. The tumblers click, but the sound that issues is not audible. For it is Anahata; an unstruck sound, the basic vibration of the universe. Your catharsis.
The inside of the cabinet is an anticlimax: Time-riven, unhealthy-looking and quite empy. But what did you expect? A Hades' bobbin bound in mummy-cloth?
You feel like you are sinking all the way back to to Skopje, Prague, Jaisalmer, Surakarta…and then you notice the deep gouges on the walls. They look like claw-marks.
"Thus death came to Arcadia," you whisper, as you lightly trace the gouges with your fingers. They make you think of Thoorkook and his dogs.
Then you notice that the cabinet isn't empty after all. For on the wall right beside you a rusty nail has been hamme-red, and hanging from it is a piece of bark attached to a cord.
"So the devil of Skopje was right after all." You know your quest is over. It is a Dreamtime artifact. Burliwarni. Ngur-rarngay. The First Bullroarer. Unlike the bullroarers sold to tourists in places like Adelaide and Alice Springs, this one is unpainted. Like the door of the cabinet it is also bereft of any distinguishing marks. Sandblasted by the sands of time.
But it is more than a mere musical instrument. It is also a vessel that contains the spirits of the sons of Byama kan-garoo brothers. Young sons, who had both been named Weerooimbrall and slain out of spite by evil Thoorkook and his dogs. But the spirits of Weeooimbralls endure. For anyboby to whirl the bullroarer, their spirit wail is Anahata. It preserves and it strengthens.
Your whisper is like a sob: "Please…a release…Weerooimbralls, grant me a boon!" With shaking hands and al-most reverently you lift the Bullroarer from the nail. "Ahata will give us pleasure, but Anahata will set us free." This silently whispered sentence from Narada Purana is your mantra for courage as you tie the Bullroarer around your wrist.
Slowly, you start to whirl it. Then faster and faster still until a sound like angry buzzsaw issues. The sandblasted piece of bark at the end of its cord is a mere blur in your eyes when finally, Anahata emerges: The chant of the ever-circling skeletal family. The White Voice. The Fiddler of Dooney. The Guns and Drums of Gallipoli. And then, to your immense relief and elation, a high keening sound…
In the gloom, something answers Weerooimbralls' cry.
|Posted on Thursday, July 31, 2003 - 12:39 pm: |
Wandering the halls with no particular purpose, I come across a beautiful oak cabinet that appears to have no door. It is only when viewed from directly in front that one realizes the door is a smoky glass. The effect is a little disconcerting, as if the cabinet is a hole through which one might fall.
At first impression, the glass seems to hide the cubby’s contents from casual view. Peering closer, the interior of the cabinet becomes vaguely apparent. The massive shelves line the cabinet floor-to-ceiling and recede into an undeterminable distance. Through the dark glass the titles are unreadable, but the books themselves appear to be in excellent shape. I pause and look around the hallway which contains this mysterious cabinet. Tentatively, I pull at the door, which opens easily.
The divine smell of a well-kept library wafts out as the door opens. Fondly, I inhale deeply of the rich smell of leather books, linen paper, and old ink. The faintest odor of brandy and old cigars laces the air. I step carefully inside the cabinet and begin to peruse the shelves closest to the door through which I have entered.
“Odd”, I think to myself, “My favorite author, but I’ve never heard of it.”
I glance at my watch and realize that I have the entire afternoon before me. I lift the book from its nesting place on the shelf and opening it tenderly, begin to read. I quickly become engrossed and forget to check the time. The story is incredible and it is unbelievable that I’ve read it before. Soon I’m mere pages from the end and the plot is working toward an exciting denouement. As I turn the page, I’m shocked to see that the next page is blank!
Feverishly, I begin flipping through the remaining pages, nothing! They’re all blank! Throwing the book down in frustration, I grab another off the shelf. Another beloved author, another unknown work. I quickly turn to the back of the book, more blank pages! The print ends in the middle of what appears to be the final chapter. The pile of discarded books at my feet quickly grows as I continue to pull volume after volume from the shelf. The same frustrating story each time.
Finally, I come to my senses and turn to leave this library from hell. Where is the door? There’s a sharp sound behind me as if something has been opened. The air is suddenly colder and I have the unmistakable feeling that I’m being watched. I turn to look
|Posted on Tuesday, August 12, 2003 - 05:02 pm: |
What I found most unusual was not that the inside of the cabinet was visibly charred, but rather that the rest of the room was completely untouched by the effects of fire or smoke. No smoke stains on the wall or ceiling. No sign that the oak floor had been so much as singed by a falling ember.
The inside of the cabinet was black. As dim as the room was, no light reflected outward, as if the interior of the cabinet was not an open space shrouded in shadow, but instead a thick weave of blackness. This was just a trick of the light, as I discovered when I stepped closer. The inside of the cabinet was completely burned out--or was it? Certainly, all of the inner walls of the cabinet were blackened by fire, but I realized that the cabinet must have been emptied out, even the shelves removed, before the fire started.
The smell of burnt teak I had detected upon entry to the room had gotten stronger with my approach. It was actually a pleasant smell, evoking memories of time spent in the company of friends, gazing at fireplaces and campfires. I wondered what had taken place in front of this cabinet as it burned. Someone, or perhaps multiple people, had been present at the time. I deduced that the fire must have been started deliberately and then supervised. Otherwise, how could such a controlled burn have been accomplished? Perhaps some flammable fluid had been used to douse the walls of the cabinet, but I could not imagine how the whole cabinet had not been eaten by flames.
Setting aside the how for a moment, why? Misdirected rage? A predilection for pyromania? A ceremonial motivation of some sort? Boredom?
Standing there, my mind wandered. I contemplated the mundane strangeness of life, the wonder of found things. The everyday mysteries emanating from a crumpled note found lying on the ground, a discarded photograph, a cabinet filled with other people's things. I thought for the first time in ages about Andrew, a childhood friend who died in bed while his house burned down around him. It was the smell, dredging up more memories, now less pleasant. Suddenly overcome with sadness, I turned away from this mystery in search of happier rooms.
|Posted on Tuesday, August 19, 2003 - 09:34 am: |
There’s a room, perhaps a child’s, cabinets, a single bed. In the corner, one is calling, calling you as if you’re led.
See the cabinet, see it open, see what lies behind its door.
On the floor a doll is lying, resting in a pool of dust. On the left the eye is missing, plucked out many years ago.
On the right a blue-veined eye stares in vacant wonderment. And the head is somewhat twisted, sitting loose upon the neck. There’s a gash across its tummy, a hole drilled through its abdomen. Through the hole a darkness moves.
Take a look inside the doll!
In the doll there nests a spider. Mother spider, dark and bold. On its back a brood of children, baby spiders, small and cold.
Unused air fills wooden spaces, old and musty, fungal taste. Hardened wood, unvarnished, sterile, holding nothing but a doll.
Inside the doll the spider wakens, little spiders tumbling off. See the spiders, see them sprawl, see them crawl inside the doll!
But the doll itself is lifeless, and the spiders need to feed. Feel them scraping at the plastic, feel them raging in their need. It is hot inside the cabinet, has been hot for quite some time. Taste the doll, it is delicious, pliable like chewing-gum.
Look at them, the little monsters! They have polished off the lot! Plastic skin, a blue-tinged eyeball, cheap eyelashes, painted toes. They have even eaten Mother, tore her legs off one by one. Waited till she grew some new ones, then they fought over the crumbs.
See them free, and see them scuttle, see them scuttle on the floor, leaving eight-marks in the dust. See them grow bizarre appendages, plastic skin and fingernails, see them try to readjust.
Quick! A broom! Before they scuttle, scuttle out of the door. Hybrid doll and spider creatures, legs a jig of four and four.
Quick, the broom! And smash! And smack! See the mess across the cabinet, where dust and vital fluids meet. See the mud, the small crushed bodies, feel the silence settle back.
Close the cabinet door – softly! Careful you don’t wake the dead. Move along to number forty, that’s the one beside the bed.
Luís 'Halle-fuckin-lujah' Rodrigues
|Posted on Friday, August 29, 2003 - 04:38 am: |
Open the cabinet of Vlad the entomologist and be greeted by row upon row upon row of slender rosewood drawers extending all the way down from the top. A gentle tug at their delicate tin handles will dislodge each dilated panel from its case, and infuse the air with must and vibrant reflections from the glass plates that protect this most treasured collection from the wages of neglect and the hands of mischievous children.
On the top drawer, the rare Jackal Moth presides over this glass- and wood-bound garden of insectile mortality, each specimen mounted on stainless steel stems where no summer breeze can ruffle its wing-petals. Below is the Karner Blue entombed in sanguine velvet, a crown of withered lupine flowers laid around it to mourn its passing. Let the drawer beneath it slide outward for forty-nine toxic kisses from the pale, pert butterfly lips of the Danaides. Further down, the Atlas Moth, the Queen Alexandra Birdwing, the Giant Silkworm, the Hercules, the Owlet, the White Witch. Then the Silver Emperor, the Malachite, the Beautiful Beamer. Seized in their killer’s beautiful eye, no longer will their wings like sails cruise the air in drunken little arcs and ellipses. You crouch to inspect the lower shelves. Armies of butterflies — hundreds of them — parade before you in their finest iridescent regimentals, impaled in a mockery of flight over the red-lined battlefields. Preserved in this undeath, does the Calyptra eustrigata still thirst for blood? Does the Lobocraspis griseifusa still crave the briny sadness of your eyes?
When you finally arrive at the lowermost drawer, you do so with a mixture of surprise and relief. Pinned within is a book, open at the middle, two hundred wings to each side upon which a seemingly random succession of sins and virtues has been penned in ornate longhand.
As you carefully slide it back inside the cabinet, you hear a sudden rattle of wings above you. Slowly, reluctantly, with the mind looped around the thought of a storm of insects rushing towards your face, you make yourself look into the other drawers again. You open them. They are empty.
|Posted on Sunday, August 31, 2003 - 02:00 pm: |
If anyone entered this cabinet, I could only remember the vague type of person involved and the thoughts judged in isolation from being that person. Impossible to pigeon-hole. Yet an insulated dream which knew itself – at least somewhere – to be real and boundless.
As soon as I (as this person or in this role) had stepped within the cabinet – a walk-in wardrobe that I could never have afforded the space to own – I perceived the dulcet care of lighting that a gentleman about town may have confessed was intended for liaisons rather than garment storage. The two long mirrors failed to hype up or eke out any illumination.
There were no garments; they had been stripped out along with their clothes-horse frames, tie-racks and sock-drawers. No see-through drip-dry shirt-tails to conspire with the lighting’s urge to dim or brighten. The tapestry that had once concealed cross-hangers – as a fold-away draught-excluder or light wind-break – now slipped from the memory I used. Indeed, many things were not there, nor even thought about or considered worthy of noting as absent, I’m sure.
But there was a dead tree lying on the parquet floor. Seeping open its own flayed and palsied bark. Not the corpse of a soldier as I first unaccountably assumed, but a genuinely slumped trunk reaching into the darkest regions of the 'wardrobe', leafless branches out-splayed like a thousand knotted limbs grasping at nothing: crumbling where the damp had reached its due existence of further nothing. Rotting by root and tip. Indeed its minor rootlets were further limbs, more sveltely ‘living’ than the branches. Yet rotting, nonetheless.
The major roots were tantamount to things I once feared growing in my own body. No possible description of such huge coiled menaces, because they were hidden by their own membranes ... yet vaguely sensed in the wardrobe’s body-mirrors on each side wall.
I stooped to touch the dead tree’s bark or, rather, its upper sutures – or I didn’t stoop at all, but squinted in the sedated unstructured light to see the shape more clearly, without daring to approach it. Merely to touch with my eyes, as it were, while failing to see that this was the most dangerous entry to the soul with which I saw.
The dampness had reached such depths, I spotted a tiny lake amid the runnelled surface of the bark – even a pocket sea. I yearned to saw through various branches to allow irrigation to drier areas where tiny wooden mouths seemed to pock out with airlets or minuscule dry bubblings. I fondled the nail-file in my pocket, wondering if its serrations would prove sufficient purchase. I clicked my heels on the parquet, in a tantrum of powerlessness.
Crosses had been carved into words upon the bark and equally dressed with some verjuice that my tongue knew (more intimately than my nose) to be rhino-gomenol, despite various trajectories of these two senses being conflated with surrogate touching. I could not read or reach the words thus chiselled, words which no doubt were denoting some tryst beneath the tree’s wide bower in happier times.
The tree’s pulpy ridges pulsed but, then again, they were dead, completely dead ... as if the floaters in my eyes – fed by deeper heartbeats – lent their own life to what they witnessed.
Back and forth our sight does travel, nobody owning its visions.
Being my last and best liaison perhaps, I raised a hand tentatively to the dimmer-switch.
A voice spoke that this cabinet itself was made that way. From dead wood.
|Posted on Wednesday, September 03, 2003 - 09:24 am: |
The door opens to reveal a tableau of four dusky figures: dolls arranged in a pattern approximating a circle. Then the music starts, a tinny waltz, and small lights come on in recessed alcoves to spotlight the figures. The figures begin to move—automata!—and their movements serve to shrug the mouse-colored dust from their heads and shoulders. There is a gentleman in a tuxedo, his wife in a blue ball gown decorated with ribbons and pearls, and a golden-haired girl wearing the miniature version of her mother’s dress. And a chimpanzee dressed in the garish approximation of a servant’s finery.
The spectator watching the Lilliputian scene recognizes the faces of the three human automata. He has seen them before in the memorabilia left in other cabinets of the house.
The automata dance to the waltz, arms linked, but it soon becomes clear that they cannot keep up with the music. They shuffle and miss steps. Occasionally, they stop all together as if confused, then start again but demonstrate no improvement in their control. Soon the mother is dragging her daughter along because she no longer makes any effort to move her feet.
Then all four stop. They have given up.
The woman reaches into the front of her dress and pulls out four white sticks. She holds these straws out in a bundle, only the top ends exposed above her fist. The gentleman, the girl, and the ape reach out in turn to each withdraw one straw from her hand. The drawing completed, they hold up their straws for comparison to each other
The ape gets the short straw.
The head of the ape droops is recognition and acceptance. He pulls open his green jacket and unbuttons his red vest to reveal the gears and wires in his chest. The three human automata each reach into his chest cavity and take a gear. They then tilt their heads back and open their mouths—their mouths are much wider than their painted lips—to swallow the gears. There is a metallic rattling as their mouths chomp up and down.
The three human automata now return to the dance. Renewed, invigorated, they spin with feverish abandon, their feet even leaving the floor of the cabinet on occasion. It seems that they will never stop, but stop they do eventually, although apparently out of pride rather than necessity. They stand side by side, facing the spectator, and bow repeatedly until the spectator shuts the door to the cabinet.
Having shut the door, the spectator realizes that he does not know what happened to the ape, only that it was not part of the final waltz. To resolve this mystery, he opens the cabinet again. He will watch the mechanism run its course, but this time he will watch what happens to the ape after its gears are removed, rather than following the movements of the dancers.
The music starts. The lights come on. However, this time there are only three figures and the ape is not amongst them. The spectator quickly closes the door but he still hears the muffled sound of the waltz continuing behind it.
|Posted on Friday, September 05, 2003 - 07:32 pm: |
Floating like a vast lily pad high in the currents of the sky, the structure was an impossible blend of soft, organic matter and classical Greco-Roman architecture, bathed in misty, ethereal light. Stranger walked across the spongy, living surface of the place, drawn almost magnetically toward a circle of white, marble columns. As he approached, he saw the pillars encircled a small, sunken marble pool, six feet in diameter perhaps, filled with straw-colored oil.
Lounging casually in the pool was an ancient man with aquiline features. His hair was the color of ivory, cut short, with a fringe of bangs. His skeletal body was covered with bruises and abrasions. His toga swayed slowly in the viscous fluid as he tilted his head back to look up at Stranger.
“You shouldn’t be here yet,” the old man said, without opening his mouth.
He pulled himself out of the pool with alarming speed and dexterity, and with a ferocity that belied his frail appearance threw an oily punch directly into Stranger’s solar plexus.
The blow sent Stranger stumbling backward, over the edge, into the void. A cacophony of voices, some screaming, some singing, some chanting, filled his ears. “You have been here before,” they sang. “You are here,” they cried. “You will be here again,” they whispered. Something brushed his face in the rushing darkness, something that felt like feathers, or the small, soft fingers of a child.
Stranger’s head hit something hard. Bright shards of light exploded inside his brain, then swam lazily in the darkness in front of his open eyes. A metallic jingling filled his ears. Moaning, he reached out in the darkness. His hand touched something smooth, then, moving upward, something cool and hard and round. A bar. He gripped it and pulled himself up, knocking his head against something low and flat and wooden, intensifying his pain. His hand slid across the pole, encountering a cluster of empty coat hangers, still swaying, still jingling. He smelled must, and camphor, and varnish.
Turning his head, Stranger noticed a long, thin, vertical sliver of light. Stooping, he moved toward it and put his hand against the smooth surface next to the ruddy glow. A door swung outward and Stranger stumbled into yet another unknown place. Turning, he saw the gaping maw of a cabinet, its polished rosewood interior gleaming in the dying light of a strange, new world.
|Posted on Sunday, September 07, 2003 - 05:07 pm: |
In the master bedroom there is a door to walk-in closet that runs long and narrow at an angle perpendicular to the bedroom itself. At the far end of this closet, exactly opposite the door, there is a tall Chinese Yuanjiaogui cabinet made of deeply stained and polished cherry wood. The cabinet has two doors that open in the middle and cover the full height of the cabinet.
Carved within each door is an illustration from an ancient Taoist pillow book--on the left, a couple seated on a cushion, in the throes of Fish With Scales Conjoined; on the right, the same couple on a canopied bed, enjoying the position of Monkey Leaping. On the inside of the cabinet doors are carved two inscriptions, both written in Chinese and English.
On the left, this stanza by the Han poet Cheng Heng:
I have swept clean the pillow and bedmat,
And have fitted the burner with rare incense.
Let us now lock the double door with the golden lock,
And light the lamp to fill our room with brilliance.
I shed my robes and remove my paint and powder,
And roll out the picture scroll by the pillow.
The Pain Girl I shall take as my instructress,
So that we may practice all the variegated postures,
Those that an ordinary husband has but rarely seen,
Such as taught by Tien-Lao to the Yellow Emperor.
On the right, this caution, excerpted from the Dynastic History of Later Han:
"The arts of the bedroom constitute the climax of human emotions and encompass the totality of Tao. Therefore, the ancient sages regulated man's external pleasures in order to control his inner passions, and they made detailed rules governing sexual intercourse. If a man regulates his sexual pleasure, he will feel at peace and attain longevity. If, however, a man abandons himself to sexual pleasure without regard for the rules set forth in the ancient texts, he will soon fall ill and gravely injure his life."
The top shelves of the cabinet are lined with neat rows of dusty porcelain vials, each sealed with a cork. On the front of each vial is a single Chinese character, with an English translation beneath. In this vial is a powder of Horny Goat Weed, in another pulverized Japanese wax-privet seeds. All of the vials are filled with aphrodisiac substances derived from a cornucopia of sources, many plant based, but many with origins inescapably cruel and unusual: sea horses, the velvety horn of the young Sika deer, red-spotted lizards, the dried genitalia of male seals and sea lions, tortoise shell, the hides of wild donkeys, and human placenta.
On a middle shelf is a box filled with the remains of what were once fresh Chinese Dates, otherwise known as jujubes. Like many of the rare concoctions in this cabinet, these special jujubes, however, were available to only the most well connected, prosperous, and audacious Chinese nobles, and the master of this house was well connected and prosperous indeed to have obtained them from so far away. A poor family would receive fresh jujubes (along with a sizable payment intended to sooth the indignity of the arrangement) from the servant of a rich nobleman, with instructions to lodge them inside of their virgin daughters while they slept. Thus infused, the jujubes become powerful aphrodisiacs.
Finally, on the bottom shelf were six bottles filled with Spring Wine, which is made over the period of year by steeping a variety of aphrodisiacal herbs and powders in rum and brandy. The mixture includes many of the substances found on the shelves in this cabinet: Korean ginseng root, Chinese wolfberry, raspberry seeds, rehmannia rhizome, and cynomorium stems, to name just a few. A few ounces of this Spring Wine on an empty stomach by man and woman will be the prelude to an amorous evening in which sleep comes not until long after repose. Written in careful calligraphy on each bottle, from the Golden Lotus:
Swallow this aphrodisiac,
And wintry nights become springtime mornings.
Like a hurricane in the boudoir,
You will sweep away all oncomers.
|Posted on Tuesday, September 09, 2003 - 10:22 am: |
After a small, precise bow, the butler closes the door to the master bedroom, resisting the urge to glance to his left, where the crawling thing pauses in front of a small, exquisite cabinet in a corner where the hallway turns to the east. Dust covers everything in the disused hallway, a thick coat of neglect that carries an air of malignance.
Yet not one speck of dust touches the ornate cabinet, its rosewood surface beset with inlays and hand-tooled leather. Closer to an overlarge jewelry box, it crouches upon spindly legs that are covered with carvings of impatiens, ending in clawed feet.
Within the hinged lid, carved in recessed mahogany, is a pastoral scene of children frolicking about a stream. Only the keenest eyes would notice the faint outline of a child beneath the surface of the burbling brook.
The front panel, embossed in hide the color of burnt flesh, reveals 3 skinny monkeys, each sitting with legs crossed in Buddha’s repose. One monkey’s arms reach up for its eyes, the next for its ears, and the last for its mouth--or so one would suppose if only their hands and heads weren’t missing, severed cleanly from their bodies before being permanently committed to leathery hide.
The left side of the cabinet, the one facing east--the future hoped to be avoided--is inlaid with ancient ivory, yellowed and cracked. Carved in bas-relief is a scene of tranquil harmony on the African veldt: a pride of somnolent lions on top of a hillock lazily watch as a pair of elephants drink from a watering hole below. But etched into the ivory flesh of the sides of each elephant are very different scenes, laid out like stations of the cross. In the most delicate of scrimshaw, lovingly scratched by the hands of a master, are scenes of men with harsh, blazing eyes, men who cut down native hunters, burn villages, and herd the survivors, stringing them together like livestock.
The crawling thing reaches its hand for the right-hand side of the cabinet. Its fingers work their weary and wary way along the side, seeking the secret release in back. Only a fool would lift the lid, or someone who craves the sensuous call of a harsh oblivion. Its hand caresses the carved, knotty wood of a cypress long forgotten by the world. The smooth curve of a woman’s hip plays beneath his fingers. A weaker being--or a stronger one--would need to lay eyes upon this figure, would turn the cabinet from the wall, sowing destruction and death upon any who would gaze at the terrible, ageless beauty depicted there, carved by a blind man who then hung himself, whether out of fear, dread, frustration, or triumph, the answer unknown, left dangling at the end of a hemp rope.
With a sigh whistling through gritted teeth, he reaches beyond, to the back of the cabinet. His index finger brushes something strange and angled. He pulls back with a sharp intake of breath, mindful not to jostle the cabinet. After a few eternal moments, he releases his held breath. Oh so carefully he resumes, reaching past the harsh protuberance, knowing he’s close.
A spider--all plastic and hair--brushes the back of his hand, and an involuntary tremble passes through him. A bare whisper of movement, but enough. Too much.
With a hollow, ringing gasp, the cabinet folds in upon itself, compressing into an empty void . . . but the wrong void.
All that remains is a hint of ozone in the air and his ragged breathing. Tears splash into the dust, eventually mixing with the trail of blood and entrails that congeal underneath and behind it, marking its journey more than half complete.
|Posted on Wednesday, September 10, 2003 - 07:52 pm: |
You all know the story of Captain La Brea and how he sailed his windy galleon into the tar pits, how The Scaramouche was lost to a swallowing blacked-out moon. The crew mumbled as they went down, all in sticky tuxedoes. All masked like raccoons. All that was ever found was the Captain’s jawbone, and two boots like gelatinized obsidian.
Then, through circumstances too tiresome to recount here, a boy came into possession of the mandible. (A drunken archaeologist lost the tarry boots in a round of pitch.) In his sixth April, the boy played “Chopsticks” on the Captain’s teeth. Tone deaf, he fashioned a harness of leather thongs which held the oversized jawbone to his face, like a calcified beard, and sang sea shanties that he did not even know.
Grown, he spent a sleepless August de-armoring crickets -- tweezers and small sharp blades busy at all hours, while his wife dreamed of rye fields and harpoons, under the juggling stars.
It was meticulous work removing the tiny black plates, but once he had accumulated a sufficient number, he glued them all over the jawbone. He covered every bit of it, teeth and all. By September he had finished, and he took the glinting black prize to a house filled with cabinets. An inventor at heart, he fastened a spring to the back of one cabinet, then attached the jawbone to the business end of the spring. The result, of course, was a jack-in-the-box.
Whatever you do, don’t open this cabinet, or Captain La Brea may give you half a bite.
|Posted on Saturday, September 13, 2003 - 12:50 pm: |
The cabinet maker may have been nothing more than a charlatan, a former apprentice of the tailor who made the proverbial emperor's clothes, or he may have been nothing less than a sage, an heir to the wisdom of the philosopher who demonstrated that the true essense of a vase lies not in its tangible shape but in the nothingness within, as with all things in the world. Likewise, his claim that his is the most extraordinary cabinet in the house full of wondrous cabinets may have been a groundless boast, designed moreover to insult the other cabinet makers, or it may have simply been a factual statement pointing to some singular aspect of his work that does set it apart from all the other cabinets. I have my own opinion on the matter, of course, but I will first describe the cabinet itself, so that you may form your own ideas on its nature.
First of all, the cabinet is invisible. To all appearances, there is only an empty space where it is suppose to be. Second, it is odorless, tasteless, textureless, and soundless when you attempt to strike it. And third, it is insubstantial to a degree that if you step into its space you will feel no discernible resistance to your intrusion. In fact, there is no actual way you can sense or logically ascertain its presence there at all. Devices such as a x-ray machine, a radar, and a thermal detector have been brought in but yielded no results, and even true psychics and deep meditationists who concentrated their mental powers on it all ended up confessing to failure. Scholars who have taken an interest in the mysterious cabinet on a philosophical, rather than physical, basis came up with several theories which they offered to the maker for his apparoval.
Some suggested that the cabinet maker had once reached a moment of transcendence in his work and succeeded in constructing a cabinet that was perfect. Its perfection turned it into a veritable Platonic ideal of a cabinet, so that it became too good for mere earthly existence. The moment it was completed, on that very empty spot in the house of many cabinets, it elevated itself to the world of ideas. The cabinet maker, however, laughed at their faces and called them dreamy, noodle-headed idealists.
Others speculated that a perfect cabinet once existed on that spot, but no more, having either been destroyed or removed. Yet the power of its perfection was such that the physical memory of its presense in that space lingers on, acquiring the reality of a cabinet-that-once-was. But the cabinet maker only rolled his eyes in exasperation and called them nostalgic, ham-headed romantics.
Still others considered that the space is reserved for a perfect cabinet that us yet to be built or brought to the rightful place. Again, the power of its perfection to come is such that the very anticipation of its future presence on the spot has taken on a life of its own as a cabinet-that-will-be. The cabinet maker screamed out in frustration and called them pathetic, monkey-brained utopians.
Since the cabinet maker has now passed away, and we will never know the truth of his intention or sincereity (perhaps sanity as well) I feel quite comfortable offering my own idea on the nature of his work. I believe that his cabinet has no existence in the past, present, or the future, in either the world of sense or the world of ideas. What indeed makes it extraordinary, and sets it apart from all the other cabinets in the house of many cabinets, is its very non-existence, and nothing more. The thing in the empty space is a cabinet in name only, the defining feature of which is that it is not there at all.*
"What should be examined are beings only, and besides that -nothing; being alone, and further - nothing; solely beings, and beyond that - nothing.
What about nothing? The nothing is rejected precisely by science, given as a nullity. But when we give up the nothing in such a way don't we just concede it?" - Martin Heidegger
(*But how can this cabinet be extraordinary because of its non-existence, when none of the other cabinets in the house exists either. They are all figments of various writers' imagination, for a fictional account of a house of many cabinets. In other words, no cabinet there 'really' exist as such, which makes this cabinet quite ordinary. Perhaps one way it could still be considered extraordinary it in the admission of its non-existence as its primary and only feature.)
|Posted on Sunday, September 14, 2003 - 08:24 am: |
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|Posted on Tuesday, September 16, 2003 - 04:32 pm: |
Black apotheosis. The subject has been deprived of bare necessities like sleep, food, warmth, dignity and oxygen in order to induce a pliable state of mental awareness. After sufficient deprivation the subject's mind has been suitably weakened and drugs have been administered. Although substances like LSD-25, Barbiturates, Scopolamine, Morphine and Hashis have previously been used with high degree of success, the subject has been reacting most favourably to the drug Majoun.
His mind is now ready to accept suggestions. He is now ready to transcend from the subject to the candidate.
Deep in the woods, not very far from the great house there is a secret glade. It is quite unremarkable in appearance, but if an unwary vagabond would by accident find himself there, all the unmarked mounts of earth would soon reveal the place's true nature. Beneath the mounds lie those for whom the destroyer of delights came prematurely. They are the cancelled failures that unfortunately resulted when the methods for a perfect assassination delivery system were being evaluated.
No doubt the aforementioned unwary vagabond will be greatly disturbed by the unnatural graveyard. This would make him careless, and stumbling on a rock or a small tree-stump he falls. A moment later he will realise that the ground met him much later than he anticipated. For he has fallen into a freshly-dug grave. It will be too deep for him to climb out and nobody will hear his cries for help. But it is not for him. All the freshly-dug graves are reserved for future cancellations. The system is about to go online.
In the dark hallway words are being whispered. Strung together they compose a command line that now trigger the subject's transcendence. Obediently the candidate steps forward to stand before a very old man. Only the cold blue eyes and thin nose are visible while his mouth and chin are completely hidden by a thick, grey beard. Again he whispers words in an unknown tongue. His sibilants are full of mocking laughter. The old man gestures with his right hand and the candidate sees that they are standing beside a huge old cabinet that is completely panelled in blackest obsidian. As if obeying the old man's gesture, the door of number forty-nine swings open. At first glance the cabinet seems to be lacking any interior, but it is only occluded by darkness, a wall of black even blacker than the cabinet's panelling. Hesitantly the candidate takes a step. He might still be high on Majoun, but such hesitation is still quite unacceptable. A strong hand on his back takes care of any hesitation, and stumbling through a wall of black he falls.
For a casual visitor there would be something more than slightly unnerving going on in Agdal asylum in Casablanca. All the inmates are middle-aged men and all have suffered a chance encounter with the terrible Aisha Kandisha.
Everyday they are treated with elaborate ceremonies of trance and music including frenzied dancing and even self-flagellation. But these men will be insane forever. At night they dream of snakes and during the day they shiver uncontrollably. When they bleed their blood is glacially cold. Such is the touch of the she-devil enchantress.
And if the casual visitor would wander to the cellars, he would be in the seldom visited area of the institution. Here dwell the forty-eight men -Majoun eaters all- who claim to have been lovers of the voracious Jinniya. All chew their fingernails and make strange fluid-like gestures with their feet. But most of the time they just sit and stare at nothing. Watching and -perchance- waiting.
And the casual visitor can only marvel. Agdal reptiles on Majoun. Such devotion.
The candidate is standing in the midst of unparalleled beauty. By both sides he is surrounded by streams overflowing with white and amber liquid. The warm setting sun is shining upon the garden of trees that slightly wave in the gentle breeze. Soft grass is stretching towards the darkening sky. The candidate knows this to be paradise. For only angels dwell in paradise. They appear out of the grove of trees to dance around him in wide circle. These women, dressed in colourful, revealing clothes are the most beautiful women the candidate has ever seen. But the one that steps forward is more handsome than all the rest, almost ethereal in her loveliness. Immediately the candidate recognises his old, terrifying lover. She is just like the candidate remembers her. From hip to toe she moves with unnatural fluidity. Her clear voice is a twinkling laughter laced with milk and honey that is promising, beckoning and demanding. And by her powers the candidate becomes the adherent. Weeping cold tears of joy, the adherent is genuflecting, when quite without warning, an irresistible force is pushing him backwards.
"Nothing is real. Everything is permitted."
Paradise lost. The adherent is lying on his back in the dark hallway. He is utterly without will now, and does nothing when strong hands pull him up. Again the adherent faces the old man whom he now knows to be the Supreme Being in the universe. Whispered words fill the adherent's head. They demand purity, vigilance and they want him to behave. They instruct him of his terrible obligations and in return give promises of eternal paradise. The adherent nods without hesitation and is thus transcended into a full-fledged Fida'i. Again, words are being whispered. Names, places and dates that give form and meaning to Fida'i's obligations.
And so the severer of societies goes forth to carry out the orders of Alamut.
|Posted on Wednesday, September 17, 2003 - 09:15 am: |
Please do not post further Cabinets to this thread. Look for the HOUSE WITH 87 CABINETS STORY THREAD Part II
|Posted on Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - 08:50 am: |
I just want to say great job anf keep working had so you guy will improve your company goods.