The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities: Cherie Priest and Mike Mignola Exclusives
Some sequels take awhile to marinate and simmer. Eight years after the publication of The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, a fiction anthology of fake diseases, my wife and I have published the follow-up: The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities. After the publication of the fake disease guide—which featured an all-star cast including Neil Gaiman and is still found with real medical guides in libraries—we received several offers to do another book in the series. Fake film guides. Fake book guides. A second fake disease guide.
And why not? The original was reprinted in three languages and did extremely well. The readings for that anthology were hilarious—our authors dressing up in lab coats and bringing beakers as props. People just walking by heard terms like “motile snarcoma” and “ballistic organ syndrome” and thought at first they had happened upon a real medical conference. The anthology went on to be a finalist for the Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award, among others.
But none of these sequel ideas really appealed to us. It wasn’t until we were out hiking and talking about eccentric collections that a eureka-type idea came to us: Dr. Lambshead, the supposed creator of the disease guide, had had a cabinet of curiosities in his basement, each artifact with its own secret history and story! Not only did the idea seem fresh, but we could include much more art and photography than in the first volume. Some of the writers could even create stories about the objects around the images, and we’d have the flexibility to include traditional plotted stories along with the more Borgesian material.
The result, published this week by HarperCollins, includes a virtual who’s who of imaginative fantasy creators: Holly Black, Naomi Novik, China Mieville, Carrie Vaughn Alan Moore, Lev Grossman Tad Williams, Helen Oyeyemi, Jeffrey Ford, N.K. Jemisin, Garth Nix, Ted Chiang, Greg Broadmore, Charles Yu, Jake von Slatt, and about 65 more. Famous Czech animator Jan Svankmajer even has a piece of art in the book.
Among the unique features of the Lambshead Cabinet are four original images by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. When sending them to us, Mignola requested to work with particular writers, including Cherie Priest. In an Omni exclusive, here’s both an excerpt from Priest’s story and the Mignola piece that Priest dubbed “The Clockroach.” (The full text comes complete with hilarious historical footnotes as a counterpoint to the generally serious nature of the story.)
The Clockroach (excerpt)
By Cherie Priest
(Set in the 1800s in the Pacific Northwest after the death of Howell’s wife.)
A few years later, as I heard it, Addison Howell was out and about doing whatever it is a wicked man does on a Sunday, and he came across a homesteader’s camp just off the old logging road. There was a wagon with a broken axle, and two dead men lying beside a campfire. It looked like they’d been tore up by wolves, or maybe mountain lions, or some such creature. But inside the wagon he heard a little girl crying. He looked inside and she screamed, and she bit him—because like attracts like, I suppose, and the girl had a bad streak in her, too. That’s why he took her home with him.
She was maybe eight or nine when he brought her inside, and legend has it she was mute. Or maybe she didn’t feel like talking, I couldn’t say….Anyway, he raised her as his own, and they lived together in the house in the hills, and nobody ever visited them because everybody knew they were doing evil things up there.
But people started telling stories about hearing strange noises out there at night, like someone was whacking on metal with a hammer, or sawing through steel. Word got around that he was building a machine that looked like a big bug, or a lobster, or something. It had a big stack on top and it was steam-powered, or coal-powered, or anyway it was supposed to move around when he was sitting inside it.
I don’t know who was fool-headed enough to get close enough to listen, but somebody did, and somebody talked.
And later on, the mayor and some friends of his, all of them with guns and itchy trigger fingers, went up to that house and demanded to know what was going on up there. For all they knew, he was summoning Satan, or beating up that girl, or raising whatever kind of hell I just don’t know.
Addison Howell told them they were welcome to look around, so they did. They didn’t find anything, and they were mad about it. They asked the girl what was going on, but she wouldn’t say nothing and they thought maybe she was scared of Howell, and that’s why she wasn’t being helpful. But she was a teenager by then, or old enough that she could live there with a dirty old man if she felt like it, and people’d look askance, but no one would take her away.
Not long after that, Addison Howell went into town to do some business—he was over at the logging foreman’s place, and nobody has any idea why, or what they were talking about. They got into some kind of fight—the foreman’s wife overheard it and she came out and saw them struggling, so she took her husband’s shotgun and she blew the back of Addison Howell’s head clean off, and he died right then and there.
The foreman went and got Herp Jones, and between ’em, they figured it was good riddance. They decided they should just leave him in the crypt with his wife, since there was a slot for him and everything, and that’s what they did. They wrapped up his body and carried it off.
When they got to the crypt, they found that one of the doors was hanging open—and that was odd, but they didn’t make nothing of it. They thought maybe there’d been an earthquake, a little one that wasn’t much noticed, and the place had gone a little crooked. It happens all the time. But inside the thing, they found the floor all tore up. There used to be marble tiles down there, and now they were gone. Nothing but dirt was left…
They didn’t worry about it much, though. They just dumped old Addison Howell into his slot, scooted the lid over him, and shut the place up behind them. Then they remembered the girl who lived at Howell’s place—nobody knew her name, on account of she’d never said it—and they headed up there to let her know what had happened.
I think privately they thought maybe now she’d come into town and pick a husband, somebody normal and good for her…When they told her the news she started screaming. They dragged her into town to try and calm her down, but she wasn’t having any of it. Around that time there was a doctor passing through, or maybe Humptulips had gotten one of its own. Regardless, this doctor gave her something to make her sleep, trying to settle her. They left her in the back room of the general store, passed out on a cot.
And that night, the town woke up to a terrible commotion coming from the cemetery behind Saint Hubert’s. Everybody jumped out of bed, and people grabbed their guns and their logging axes, and they went running down to the church to see what was happening—and the whole place was just in ruins. The church was on fire, and the cemetery looked like someone had set off a bunch of dynamite all over it. The Howell crypt was just a bunch of rubble, and there was a big old crater where it used to be.
And by the light of the burning church, the mayor and the logging foreman and about a dozen other people all swear by the saints and Jesus, too . . . they saw a big machine with a tall black stack crawling away—and sitting inside it was the demon Addison Howell, driving the thing straight back to hell. Some said he was laughing, some said he was crying. Most everyone said they were glad he was gone.