The Curiosity Cabinet

Original piece written by Tyler Turner

Molko speculated the cabinet with morbid fascination.

He drank in its gothic exterior; the raven-black oak doors were shrouded in a thick lining of dust, broken only by the intricately carved patterns that clung to it like cobwebs. Its grand glass panels were clouded cataracts, milky mixtures of filth and age that ensured no prying eye would see beyond those panes again. Two brass knobs jutted from its front, each unpolished and neglected of touch, encumbered with mystic engravings that seemed to speak a forgotten tongue.

Delicately, he allowed his fingers to tumble over it, leaving sleek tracks amid the dust. For years he had fantasised about the wonders concealed within. As a child, he would futilely strain his eye against the meagre crack that teasingly parted its doors in the hope of catching a glimpse of what lay inside. On many occasions, his grandmother had caught him and cursed him for snooping before banishing him from the furniture’s presence.

Now he stood before the cabinet and greeted it like an old acquaintance. Almost a decade had passed since he last looked upon its splendour. Being his grandmother’s only surviving heir meant that her sombre little shack and all enclosed within its walls was now his own; including the cabinet and its contents.

Without prising his eyes from its exquisite onyx frame, he reached into the pocket of his tattered paint-stained hoodie and prodded at the cool metallic object nested inside. His grandmother’s words niggled at the back of his mind:

Come away from the cabinet, Molko. Curiosity leads to catastrophe.

Ignoring her ethereal warning, Molko unsheathed the key from his pocket and held it triumphantly before him. He marvelled at its convoluted bow, twizzling the shaft carefully between his fingers as if wielding the most magnificent of swords. He couldn’t quite believe his situation; it was like he was watching himself in one of the many taunting dreams he had endured as a child.

Not wanting to deny himself of the truth any longer, Molko began to approach the cabinet cautiously as if afraid of disturbing it. Gingerly, he slid the key inside the lock with a trembling hand and felt his breath catch as the tumbler turned; a chill of excitement crept insidiously down his spine.

Molko froze as the doors groaned apart. His heart murmured within his chest and his palms prickled with anticipation. All the theories he had conjured as a child bulleted trough his mind in an overwhelming instant; old spell books and utensils of witchcraft; a secret portal to another realm; endless amounts of lost treasure, riddled with curses. All of which would have perplexed him less than what really greeted him once the doors had parted.

Nothing. The single large compartment was completely empty except for what appeared to be a peculiar white necklace stretched across the diameter of the cabinet floor.

Molko knelt and scooped up the queer object in order to examine it further. He allowed it to become entwined with his fingers, drooping between the gaps between them and sliding over the surface. He analysed the pearly texture; the flaked creamy contour that was browning with age. It took a long moment for him to admit to himself what it was he had held in his hand: A string of more than a hundred tiny human teeth.

 

***

 

More intrigued than repulsed by his discovery, Molko had slid the oddity into his pocket and promised himself to pursue the investigation further once he had finished preparing the house for resale. He instigated this fruitless task in the loft.

Inky darkness was already beginning to bleed across the sky and with the sunroof being the only source of light, he needed to act fast. Using a torch to aid his already impaired vision, he began awkwardly sifting through the array of timeworn boxes that dominated the space.

Twenty pot dolls, three bin-liners worth of moth-eaten clothing, and four biscuit tins full of sewing needles later, Molko had successfully separated the contents of the boxes into two ordered piles; charity shop and skip. He stood with the torch clasped between his lips so he was able to dust his hands. He was about to turn and leave for the night, but just as he did, the torch’s beam tumbled upon a rogue box that had been hidden away in a shadowed corner.

Shoulders slumped, Molko allowed a groan to escape him as he sulked towards the box. He dropped to his knees and proceeded to root half-heartedly through the mounds of paper held inside. The torches light lazily flitted over the paper, illuminating its glossy print. Molko quickly realised that they were Polaroid pictures. Hundreds and hundreds of old photographs.

Intrigued, Molko grabbed a handful at random and positioned himself comfortably with his back against the box, ready to investigate his findings. The first photo was of a sepia little girl, no older than five, cradling a teddy bear. She was a beautiful child, with rosy cheeks on either side of a pearly smile, and soft baby brown curls tumbling out of a lacy white bonnet. Molko smiled, though he failed to recognise the child.

He flipped over to the next photo. The same child stared back at him. This time she was slumped in a chair. Her teddy lay baggy on her lap with its stuffing torn out and skewed all over. The girl’s mouth was slack. Stuffing had been crammed down her throat. Little tufts of it peeped through the bloody gaps where her teeth used to be.

Molko brought a hand to his mouth. He stared in repulse at the trail of blood that spilled over the curve of her lower lip and dribbled down her chin. Reluctantly, he followed the trail with his eyes to the bottom of her neck where a chain of tiny milk teeth hung loosely around it.

Frantically, Molko sifted through the remaining photos one by one. Each held similar disturbed images of children before and after being maimed and mutilated in different grotesque manners: A boy on a bicycle – a boy crushed to death with his own bicycle. A girl with a skipping rope – a girl strangled with a skipping rope. A toddler cocooned safely in a soft blanket – a toddler smothered with the same soft blanket.

Each child too had been posed like lifeless mannequins, modelling pearly necklaces crafted from their own savagely uprooted teeth.

Bile frothed threateningly at the back of Molko’s throat. He threw the photographs to the ground in distain. Questions had already started seething frantically in his mind; who were these kids? Who could commit such profanities? And why is the evidence subsiding in an old lady’s loft?

Molko froze. A white hot sensation crept sinisterly up the length of his spine. It had been faint, almost inaudible, but it had been there; a soft whimper, like that of a frightened child.

Shakily, Molko scoured the area with his torch, whose light was almost futile against the thickening darkness. Shadows from the boxes became erected like ghouls, and Molko jolted as his beam illuminated the glassy stare of a corpse pale pot doll seated in the corner. He laughed uneasily despite the absurdity of his situation.

Not having noticed the doll before, Molko examined it further with the light of his torch. He kept his distance. He couldn’t work out how he had managed to miss the doll before, slumped up in the corner, hidden in plain sight. Its lacy white dress and matching bonnet were tatty and moth-eaten, and the soft brown curls protruding from beneath the bonnet were knotted and frayed. It’s delicately crafted features were cracked and colourless.

A lump formed in Molko’s throat. He watched, disbelieving, as the ceramic lips parted slowly. So slowly that Molko couldn’t be sure that he wasn’t imagining it. The lips continued to part until the doll was wearing an expression of sheer terror. Crimson droplets christened the lower lip. The blood seeped out slowly at first, but then proceeded to pour like a waterfall, staining the white cloth.

Molko wanted to leave, but his feet failed to function. He held his ground unwillingly as the doll staggered to its feet.

He was dreaming, he thought pleadingly. He was dreaming while awake.

Moving slowly like decrepit clockwork, the doll progressed towards him. Its head flopped forwards, allowing the blood to ooze out onto the ground. Its movements were twitchy and clumsy, like a child learning to walk. Or a corpse relearning.

Not being able to stomach much more, Molko found the motivation to move. He dropped the torch, and bolted for the door. He yanked at the handle, but to no avail. The door was jammed shut. He turned with his back pressed firmly against the frame, watching helplessly as the torch flickered on and off, repeatedly illuminating the approaching oddity before plummeting him into darkness.

Molko’s heartbeat quickened uncontrollably. The doll was only a few feet away now, its crooked arm extended as if reaching out for help. It held something in its hand that Molko was unable to identify in the short intervals of light. It was close. Molko closed his eyes.

Colours danced and jumped behind his closed lids as the torch continued to flicker. A few moments had passed but nothing happened. Molko dared a peek, expecting to find the cold dead face an inch away from his own.

Nothing was there.

Breath gushed out of him as he slumped onto the floor in relief. He scoped the area, ensuring that he was truly alone. It took him a few more moments to realise that he had his hand wrapped around something long and bumpy. Confused, he raised his hand with the object to his face. The delicate string of yellowing milk teeth from the cabinet was entwined between his fingers.

Disgusted, Molko flung the teeth as far away from him as possible then leapt for the door handle a second time. This time, the door opened with surprising ease, spilling Molko’s weight onto the small space of floor at the top of the fold-out staircase that lead back to the second floor.

Relieved to have escaped the nightmare, Molko made a wobbly decent down the stairs.

 

***

 

Water boiled furiously in an old fashioned kettle seated on the stove. Molko foraged through his grandmother’s kitchen cupboards in search of some tea to help steady his frayed nerves. Pleased to have located some stray bags, he set out on his mission of preparing the drink.

As he stirred the fluid, Molko turned over the events in his head. He reminded himself that he had been decorating for most of the week, and the lack of sleep coupled with the high exposure to paint fumes could have provoked him to hallucinate. Feeling somewhat convinced, he took a sip of his tea. He didn’t trust the milk that had been left in the fridge, so was forced to go without. The liquid was bitterly scolding, but comforting nonetheless.

His cup was half drained by the time the solitary bulb hanging above his head started to flicker. A sense of dread swelled up inside Molko as he was reminded of the flickering torch in the loft. Deciding that the bulb was probably just loose, he carefully clambered upon the chair he had just been sat on, and reached up to screw it back in.

His fingertips had barely grazed the glass when it exploded.

Shards of the bulb scattered out across the room. Molko had fallen from the chair due to the shock of the explosion, and had skidded across the tiles, colliding with the wall. Without the light, Molko was unable to see his own hands before him. He listened to the sound of each bulb in every room bursting one by one, drowning the whole house in darkness. He told himself that he must have tripped the system somehow.

With his eyes now starting to adjust, Molko noticed a small silhouette crouched beneath the table. It appeared to be rocking back and forth with its back to him. A pang of panic erupted in Molko’s chest, but he forced himself to bury it. He could hear faint sniffles and feebly concealed sobs coming from the figure.

“Hello?” Molko called hoarsely, shocked by the sound of his own voice.

The figure’s rocking halted immediately. The sniffles and snobs continued.

Molko dared to approach nearer. He was both impressed and horrified by his own nerve. His moistened his lips with a trembling tongue before trying again.

“Hello?”

Molko recoiled in horror as the figure’s face appeared terribly close to his own. That which was probably once a young boy was now a rotting carcass. He donned the familiar bloodied chin and toothless grimace. Tears sprang from the blackening holes where the eyes used to be, dissolving the features further as it streaked down the crumbling flesh. His lips were ragged and melting. His nose was an open crater.

Instinctively, Molko swung at the being, sending it sprawling back into the table. The child only wailed harder, a concoction of tears, blood and bile spilling onto the tiles. It sat up and attempted to approach Molko a second time, its arms outstretched needily. Molko kicked it square in the chest, provoking a sickening crunch before it crumbled back onto the floor.

She did this,” it gargled repulsively.

It started grabbing desperately at something around its neck. Molko swallowed hard when he recognised the familiar misshapen outline of milk teeth through the darkness.

Finally the child managed to claw the chain off of his neck, sending the teeth sprawling freely in all directions. The child then attempted to pick up its broken body, its feeble arms pushing it up only to give way beneath it, sending it plummeting back to the ground. It repeated this process, emitting a revolting squelching sound on impact.

Molko took advantage of the creature’s lack of mobility, and scrambled towards the door. He slammed the door shut behind him as he made his escape, and wasted no time in making his way towards the exit of the house.

In order to reach the front door, Molko had to cross the living room. He thrust his way in, swallowing large gulps of the musty air as he panted deeply. He loosened up a bit as he drank in his surroundings. He had chosen to decorate this room last, with it having been his grandmother’s favourite room and subsequently the one she had died in. He had felt she wouldn’t really be dead until this room was stripped bare and renovated.

Old-fashioned floral patterned furniture sat cosily around the room, clashing with the slightly different floral pattern used for the carpet. The walls were lime green, which had always been Molko’s favourite colour growing up. Without looking at it, Molko knew that there was a quaint old rocking chair nestled in the corner where his grandmother would sit doing her cross-stitching. He was scared that looking up and finding the chair unoccupied would send him over the edge. His memories were so vivid that he could almost hear the familiar squeak of the wood rocking back and forth.

Except he could hear it.

Molko’s breath caught in his throat. His glistening eyes crumpled shut. He could hear his blood pumping in his ears, but the squeaking of the chair somehow managed to drown it out. He turned towards the chair. His eyes were reluctant to open, his lids heavy and leaden. He willed them to part.

She was there. Seated and rocking steadily as she had often been in life. A smile danced on her rotting lips, coaxingly. Her once perfectly permed hair was loose and withered. Her features were sullen and grey with decay. Her terribly bloodshot eyes were wide and threatening. And they were fixed on Molko.

Curiosity leads to catastrophe.

 

***

 

Days had passed before Molko was found.

Having tracked his bloody scuppered footprints to the cabinet, the police prised open the doors and beheld him there. His decaying body coiled up in the foetal position between its enclosed walls; the string of milk teeth clasped in his dead, vice-like hands; his features frozen in a toothless scream.