Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet

BOOK: Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet
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Copyright © 2016 by Hilary Poole

Cover and internal design © 2016 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover design by Leo Nickolls

Cover images © Vallecita's leopards/The Photo Crafts Shop of Denver/Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-100766

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Apart from well-known historical figures, any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Quotations taken from
The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches
by W. E. B. Du Bois (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1903);
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
by L. Frank Baum (Chicago: George M. Hill Co., 1900); “Wade in the Water” (Negro spiritual, author unknown); “Oh Didn't He Ramble,” words and music by Will Handy, 1902; “My Little Coney Isle,” words by Andrew B. Stirling, music by Harry Von Tilzer, 1903.

Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567–4410

(630) 961–3900

Fax: (630) 961–2168

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data is on file with the publisher.


Front Cover

Title Page



Chapter 1: The Cyclone

Chapter 2: Thanks, but No

Chapter 3: Sitting with Shakespeare

Chapter 4: Mr. Deschamps

Chapter 5: Portrait of a Lady

Chapter 6: The Tiny Favor

Chapter 7: Missgeburten

Chapter 8: Cantilever

Chapter 9: Flamingos Don
t Lie

Chapter 10: Only in New York

Chapter 11: Unflappable Girls

Chapter 12: A Practical Matter

Chapter 13: Miasma

Chapter 14: Try On My Starry Crown

Chapter 15: Exactly Like This

Chapter 16: Ye Who Are Cursed

Chapter 17: Tourist Season

Chapter 18: A Piece of Paper

Chapter 19: To Whom Much Was Given...

Chapter 20: ...Of Him (or Her) Shall Much Be Required

Chapter 21: In the City of Sighs and Tears

Chapter 22: Two Dollars

Chapter 23: Mummies

Chapter 24: Give My Regards...

Chapter 25: The Hero

Chapter 26: The Ghost

Chapter 27: What Now?

Chapter 28: Captain Courageous

Chapter 29: Pretty Girl

Chapter 30: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

Chapter 31: Halfway Down the Stairs

Chapter 32: Elixir Salutis

Chapter 33: There
s No Business...

Chapter 34: The Hound

Chapter 35: The Good Thing

Chapter 36: Trust Me

Chapter 37: The Monster

Chapter 38: Bells

Chapter 39: Houseguests

Chapter 40: Important Men

Chapter 41: The Telegram

Chapter 42: Digby

Chapter 43: The Dragon

Chapter 44: Ha, Ha, Ha

Chapter 45: Hmm...

Chapter 46: To Hell with It

Chapter 47: Politics

Chapter 48: Knock Knock Knock

Chapter 49: Little Girl

Chapter 50: When It
s Over

Chapter 51: Useless

Chapter 52: Ding!


Author's Note

Reading Group Guide


About the Author

Back Cover

For Maia, who if
you deem “strange” will say “thank you”
and truly mean it.


At last, the giant reaches Hell Gate. His shredded tuxedo is wet with blood. His own? Someone else's? He's no longer sure…Maybe both?

Probably both.

The giant's skin is dotted with bruise-colored lumps. The tips of his fingers are black and decayed. So are his toes, crushed into his vast patent-leather shoes. His rotting feet force him to limp and shuffle, determined and yet aimless, pushing forward on some vital errand he can no longer remember.

He coughs—not politely as a tuxedoed giant should, but violently. Bloody projectiles splatter on the boardwalk.

Above, a massive, winged demon crouches atop the gate of Hell. In between coughs, the giant peers up at the red-eyed monster. “Help?” he suggests, knowing better. The demon makes no move. “Just kidding,” the giant says.

“There he is!” Shouts and footsteps. “Get him!”

Oh yes
, the giant thinks.
That's what I was doing. I was running.

His only escape is through Hell Gate, and he stumbles toward it. Just beyond, a seething whirlpool drags the damned into the very center of the earth.

“Don't lose him! Take the shot, Crawford! Take the damn shot!”

A bullet to the back. The giant goes sprawling. His pursuers approach—slowly, fearfully. It strikes the giant as very funny that
should fear
when they have all the guns. But his laughter just gurgles and splutters.

The men gather in a circle around the fallen colossus.

“He dead?”

“'Course he ain't dead, dummy. Still coughin', ain't he?”

“Dead soon, though.”

“Not soon enough.”

Another shot, and a blinding white light rips across the giant's vision. As the light fades, he sees the demon—witnessing everything, feeling nothing.

“Help…” the giant whispers again, and then he's gone.

Chapter 1

The Cyclone

Zeph unlocks the heavy oak door of Theophilus P. Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet. As he does every morning, he considers propping the door open to give the museum a more welcoming “come on in” sort of feeling. But as he does every morning, he decides against it. Opening the door only increases the likelihood some fool might actually come on in.

Fortunately, not many fools do. Why would they? The Cabinet is on the wrong end of Coney Island.

The other end of the beach, the “proper” end, braves the weight of thousands upon thousands of tourists every day. Now that Dreamland has thrown open its sparkly gates, the 1904 season will bring the biggest crowds ever. And the eye of the storm is Surf Avenue, with its chic restaurants and bustling music halls. Live shows re-create the flooding of Galveston, Texas, and the volcanic demise of the city of Pompeii. Amusement rides terrify and delight with the mysterious power of electricity. A town populated solely by midgets makes visitors feel tall, and a genuine replica of a headhunters' village makes them feel civilized. Strange young men guess the weights of passersby, while strange old women tell their fortunes and mechanical calliopes play strange little tunes.

That's there. Here, on the wrong end of Coney? Theophilus P. Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet is just a homely old building with blacked-out windows and a faded sign. Thousands of souls may visit Coney Island, but few of those souls are hearty enough to peer inside Magruder's heavy oak door.

Which is exactly the way Zeph likes it.

He climbs onto his stool behind the counter at the front entrance, removing his worn, fingerless work gloves. On the counter, Doc Timur has left him a present: a book. Typical.

The old man hides in the museum's attic for days, emerging periodically to shout a few half-sane commands. Last night, he'd come downstairs barking that he needed more copper, which was sensible enough, but then he muttered something about a salt bridge. Salt has to be the stupidest idea for building material Zeph has ever heard, and he said as much. Which is when the insults started flying, mostly in Timur's native language and thus incomprehensible. But Zeph doesn't need to speak Uzbek to know when his intelligence is being questioned.

But the storm passed, and Zeph has arrived this morning to find this little apology waiting. Usually the apologies take the form of some gadget that Timur, in his guilt, assembled the night before. One time, he left Zeph a pocket watch—or, rather, it looked like a pocket watch until Zeph wound it. The casing of the watch split open like a beetle's shell to reveal little brass wings. Then the watch took to the air, flying a circle around Zeph's head before coming to rest on the counter again. “Nice trick, you crazy old man,” Zeph had muttered, “except I did actually want to know what time it is.”

Today, this book instead:
The Souls of Black Folk
by W. E. B. Du Bois. Zeph has wanted a copy since it came out last year. But an Unusual like Zeph can't just go shopping anytime he pleases. Had he mentioned the book to Timur? Zeph flips through the pages, trying to remember. Maybe Timur was just too busy to build an apology from scratch, so he'd gone rooting through his library—giving the book with “black folk” in the title to the black fellow at the front counter. But you never know with Doc. Maybe it's something else.

Zeph pulls his hair back and ties it into a knot so he can lean over the book without his locks obscuring the pages. It had been the Doc's idea that Zeph should let his hair grow into locks. One day, he'd reached into one of the museum's cabinets and pulled out a photograph of some Maasai hunters holding up a dead hyena. “You should look like this,” he'd said.

“Aww, hell no,” Zeph had replied. “I'm done with that Wild Man of Borneo freak-show crap. I'll work for you, but no chance I'll put on some moth-eaten costume and pretend to—”

“No, stupid. Hair. You look the hair like this.”

Zeph had studied the photo. The hunters grinned out at him from behind long black ropes they grew themselves. “Yeah? You think I'd look good?”

Timur had rolled his eyes. “You look terrible, obviously. But you spend less time fixing the hair and more time doing the work. This, I like.”

Zeph smiles at the memory and starts to read. Before long comes that familiar, unwelcome pounding on the front door.

“Zeph! I need to speak with you!”

He recognizes the voice. “That's all right, Joe. Y'all start the revolution without me.”

“Come on! I have something of yours!”

“Ain't nothing you got that I want, mister.”

“Zeph!” Joe thumps again, even harder.

Zeph frowns. The pounding and shouting risks drawing Timur out of his lab in a rage. “For God's sake, come in if you're gonna!”

The door cracks open, and sunlight floods the dim museum. Joe pokes his head around the door conspiratorially. “You alone?”

Zeph folds over a page in his book. “You're the only man I know so desperate for a scrap he'll try to break down an open door. Yes, I'm alone, what's it look like? What do you want?”

“Like I said, I have something of yours.” He opens the door a bit wider, and a young boy skulks in. Eight years old with skin the color of Coney beaches, he wears a newsboy cap, a checkered shirt, and short pants with no shoes. He looks up guiltily.

“P-Ray,” Zeph says. “What are you doing with this guy?” He glares at Joe. “Why are you messing with him?”

“My comrades and I liberated your boy from the
. You're welcome.” Joe comes inside. The left sleeve of his white shirt, where his arm used to be, is folded up and pinned at the shoulder. The pin has a tiny black flag on it.

“Comrades…what, you mean your gaggle of anarcho–circus freaks or whatever you're calling yourselves?”

Joe smiles indulgently. “Anarcho-syndicalists. It means we're concerned with the exploitation of labor by the—”

“Circus freaks.”

“Your boy here was fooling around with the police horses at the precinct, and it's just luck that we came along and—”

Zeph ignores him and turns to P-Ray. “You catch some good ones?”

P-Ray grins and holds up a small jar.

“Good job, little man,” Zeph says. “Go put them with the others. Must be feeding time by now anyway.”

P-Ray scampers behind a black velvet curtain that hides the rest of the museum from view.

Joe looks confused. “What was it in that jar? Bugs?”


“Off the horses? That's disgusting. Why'd you let him bring fleas in here?”

“Don't fret yourself about it. Okay, well, thanks, Joe. Sorry you can't stay, but—”

“Now wait a minute.” Joe leans over the counter, and Zeph gets a look at the jagged, poorly healed scar running down his cheek. “I brought your boy back to you, brother. It seems like I deserve something in return?”

seems like
P-Ray was doing fine on his own.”

would have pinched him if I hadn't—”

Zeph shakes his head. “Cops around here all know P-Ray. He ain't no trouble. So why don't you go back to your anarcho-cymbals, and I'll—”

“I want to talk to your boss.”

Zeph frowns. “Trust me, you don't. And the Doc don't want to talk to you.”

“I've got business.”


Joe drops the cheerful tone. “I must talk to him, brother.”

. Timur don't talk to nobody. If you truly have business with him, then you tell me. That's what he pays me for.”

Joe chuckles. “Is that so? Looks like he pays you to sit here like a chump, taking tickets at a crummy museum with no customers.”

“You ain't exactly helping your case, you realize. Just tell me what you want, and in the unlikely event it ain't completely stupid, I'll pass it on.”

Joe straightens up contemplatively. He drums on the counter with his five remaining fingers, gazing at the tapestry hung behind Zeph. It shows a large, golden wheel with spokes dividing the image into sections. In one, a rooster bites a pig, who in turn bites a snake. In another, men battle against strange beings—gods or monsters or both. There's a man in a boat, another with an arrow through his eye, another carrying a corpse. The entire wheel sits in the lap of a red-faced demon, who grasps it with needlelike fingers and bites it with sharp fangs.

Joe grimaces. “What in the Sam Hill is that picture anyway?”

Sipa Khorlo
, the Tibetan wheel of life.”

“Yeah, so why's that monster trying to eat it?”

Zeph sighs. “Private tours of the museum cost extra, Joe. How 'bout you run along and—”

“All right, all right. I'll tell you. Very soon, on this fine Coney of ours, a Decoration Day event will be attended by no other than His Highness, President Theodore Roosevelt. Parade, speech, and a party at the Oriental Hotel. All the hogs will be at the trough, every swell in New York, pouring claret down their gullets and congratulating one another on—”

Zeph rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I get it. And y'all gonna what? Pull some anarcho-cinder-block nonsense on them, is that it?”

Joe gives a vague “why not” one-shouldered shrug. “We intend to spoil their party, yes. Just like we spoiled McKinley's trip to the World's Fair.”

“Come on—it was that one guy did that. You and your dimwit battalion had nothing to do with killing President McKinley.”

“Didn't we?” Joe says smugly. “Well, obviously
know everything, Zeph…”

“So let me understand. All y'all gonna attack the president on
Decoration Day
. Decoration Day, the one day of the year when everybody—black, white, rich, poor, North, South—everybody sets all their shit aside to say thank-you to our boys in uniform. And on
that day
, y'all gonna try to kill the commander in chief?”

Joe nods, his eyes glimmering. “Quite the irony, don't you think?”

“Oh, it's quite something,” Zeph says, eyebrow arched. “That's sure to gather folks around your cause…”

“That's exactly what I've been saying.”

“Gather 'em to watch your cracker ass swing from a rope.”

“Shows how little you know. This country is ripe for revolution. Like the prophets say, it's time for the bourgeoisie to reap the whirlwind. And when I spotted your boy on the street today, I got to thinking about Timur. What contraptions does that madman have in his attic?”

“I have no idea what you're talking about,” Zeph says, only somewhat believably.

“Sure, sure, the picture of innocence, ain'tcha. Everybody knows there's something ain't right up there in that lab of his. What
we accomplish with a man like that on our side?”

“Timur ain't on nobody's side but Timur's.”

“Come on,” Joe scoffs. “Are you going to look me in the eye and say that man doesn't build bombs?”

“I'm saying that Timur don't build bombs
for you
. Now hustle off before
call the

• • •

When Joe's gone, Zeph turns around and addresses the dark museum. “I know you're there, little man…”

Sheepishly, P-Ray pulls back the velvet curtain and steps forward.

“You hear all that?”

The boy nods, his eyes wide.

“Don't be afraid, little man. Ain't nobody killing nobody. That Joe…I swear, he's so full of it, place was starting to smell like my daddy's farm. Nothing bad gonna happen. Zeph won't let it, you hear?”

The boy nods again but can only force a half smile.

“Okay, how can I make you feel better? You want me to read to you?”

Before Zeph can even finish the offer, P-Ray races to the shelf next to Zeph's stool and pulls out a book. He hands it to Zeph and arranges himself on the counter, his bare feet dangling over the edge.

Zeph looks at the cover. “Not

P-Ray nods solemnly.

Zeph makes a big show of sighing in misery as he opens the book for the hundredth time. But he winks at P-Ray and begins to read.

Chapter One: The Cyclone. Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer's wife…

BOOK: Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet
7.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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