Doctor Frickle’s Mysterious Cabinet of Transmogrify

Submitted into Contest #123 in response to: Start your story looking down from a stage.... view prompt


Historical Fiction Fantasy Horror


I observed my audience looking positively frabjous in their waiting that night; yes, I took a little peek from the red velvets right before showtime. Curiosity killed the cat, and my magic proficiency cannot hold a candle to Carroll's 71’-word invention of frabjous. What a wordsmith as his reading audience fell for his poppycock hook line and sinker; the same will be valid for me, the magician. 

I pulled my red velveteen curtain open and hooked it to the left. I began my well-rehearsed opening patter while making my trek down to center stage, "Ladies and Gentlemen, please let me introduce myself. I am Doctor Phileas Frickel, known in some circles as 'Frickel the Great.' Why? Because I have the supernatural gift of prestidigitation. Not just magic tricks but miracles, my friends. Real miracles!"

As I advertise, my dime museum has astonishing curiosities. I travel with them from town to town in my wagon that is also my stage. My setup is comfortable for both myself and my audiences. However, it's probably not near as comfortable for the members of my museum as some of them are the results of experiments that went awry. I should think the name 'Frickle's mistakes' is more applicable than 'Frickle's curiosities.'

On the day in question, the 17th of August 1890, I entered the lawless mining town called Leadville, Colorado. I was greeted by Horace Tabor himself as he saw my mule, Sal, pulling an unmanned wagon straight down Harrison Street. We entered every town this way as it causes a ruckus. However, may I state, Sal wasn't alone at all as I walked beside him, handing out flyers and hawking my miracles. 

My wagon is painted a flamboyant red with bright yellow wagon wheels. The spokes are uniquely carved with devilish-looking faces on every other one, and the artwork on the sidewall I had purchased in Denver and found it to be beyond compare. It read: Doctor Phileas T. Frickle, Prestidigitator Magic, Marvels, and a dime museum of curiosities! I had the artist render a painting of the two-headed baby and a Fairy who was waving. Under it, all was the line see the mysterious cabinet of transmogrify.

Proudly, I had my flyers printed for me while in Denver. The printer had used brilliant yellow lettering that looked just like the writing penned neatly on the side of my flashy red wagon. The first 20 or so customers gathered that night had my brochures in their rough hands, no doubt to see my astonishing curiosities. They are my draw, as I never did half as well without them.

"I am about to introduce you to two wonders of this world, friends, and therefore must ask you to pay your dime. The creatures you are about to meet are alive and breathing marvels." Before introducing Robert, the squirrel boy, and Hildegard, the 8-inch-tall Sprite, I noticed several more people were gathering, so I first brought out two tables, both covered in black shrouds. 

I began my spiel, "Before you meet the living, you will need to view the dead. These, my friends, are the abominations that the great creator deemed unlivable in this world. I am about to invite you to walk across my stage to look through their formaldehyde." I lifted the shroud to the left and said, "This, my friends is the rare cadaver of a mermaid who once lived in an ancient Caspian sea," knowing darn well it once belonged to the great Barnum. He had brilliantly sewn together the top half of a dead monkey to the tail half of a carp. Then I moved slowly to the right and removed the cover of my two-headed premature baby that I had bought from a medical laboratory while in Baltimore. "Shed no tears for my dead infant Son, Malachi, friends. He would not have been able to live in this world with such an affliction." Of course, the unfinished infant wasn't my son, and I have a receipt for its purchase.

My paid audience now left the stage and took their seats. Mesmerized to see more, I carried out a covered small birdcage and began my speech. "You decided; you paid to enter, so now will you see an error, half beast half boy could it be that only 10 cents bought you the chance to see these impossibilities?" I loved the patter I wrote for this one, "I'm an ailurophile at heart. As a boy, I dreamed of being a feline wrangler by trying to teach my old yellow Tomcat Toby to walk on a tight rope using only his front paws. It never worked for me. However, I had heard the Russians had accomplished this miraculous feat of training your cats, so I went to see for myself. The cats were magnificent, but I was transfixed on this rare creature."

The audience gasped as I uncovered the cage. "This, my friend, is a squirrel and or possibly a boy. It speaks in gibberish; listen." 

The creature in the cage did not come from Russia; he is what's left of an orphan boy named Robert that had volunteered to a metamorphosis accident I had while building my cabinet in Denver. I made up this story to cover that unfortunate incident when my' cabinet of transmogrify' did not work as planned. The boy did wish to be turned into a squirrel, after all.

Before Hildegard's introduction, I had fed her a dead mouse that I had caught in my trap. She drains their blood completely, which keeps her manageable. Hildegard the Sprite, as I advertised her, was also an unfortunate mistake of transmogrification.

The Swedish woman I chose from my audience in Wray Colorado could hardly speak English and wanted to sprout fairy wings; instead, she was miniaturized, turning an incredible glowing green with pale transparent insect wings. I keep her in a crystal box as she also has a healthy dose of mosquito in her and tends to not only suck blood but bite. 

Hildegard stays out as I segue into my flurry of magic effects. I introduced and then performed the ancient rings, the mysterious Tower of Babel, a trick I call the house of cards, and my striking habit of eating fire. The Sprite pays attention and applauds with her tiny hands after each feat of magic, and she wouldn't applaud unless I fed her first. 

Now I must confess the fake ending I used in my show that night did have to do with a citizen of Leadville going missing. I closed the curtain and came down-center stage again with my arms outstretched and my hands clean. "I want to thank you for coming out this evening. I hope you enjoyed yourselves, and I wish you all a wonderful rest of your evening." 

Then as in every show for at least the last ten years, someone from the audience shouted out, "What about the cabinet?" That night, an older fellow with a long gray beard laid upon his chest. He couldn't pronounce transmogrification, so he just said cabinet. That was a common occurrence. And just as I had planned, those who had stood up sat back down. 

"Are you asking to witness the use of a cabinet of transmogrification?" I asked in a curious questioning tone. I then noted, "I have given you all I promised," although I knew the flyers that I had handed out to the patrons of several filled saloons had included the cabinet but now played coy. "As advertised for only a dime, I would show you my collection and amaze and mystify you with my supernatural prestidigitations. And now you are asking for more?" 

They began hooting and hollering while demanding more. The noise attracted several more potential witnesses. I do like to keep a mysterious, Delphic air about me, and my motto is to keep them waiting until the anticipation nearly kills them.

"Alright then," I said back in my performance voice, "I cannot accomplish this miracle without someone from the audience who wishes for great change. Someone unhappy with life as it is will not condemn me, the miracle worker, if all does not occur to plan, and it happens. Please, is there anyone?"

No hand raised in the rowdy audience; it worried me just a bit, but then I provided myself with a volunteer after rolling the beautiful mahogany crate to center stage. It was a live lamb in the back that I had purchased for my dinner. The audience gasped with worry for the tiny creature when I carried the small lamb out. However, they never thought that the butcher at the center of the main street kills at least fifteen a day. 

I spoke, "As a man of magic and intrigue, I had an exquisite yearning to accomplish the impossible and have done so with my unique invention; I call it the mysterious Cabinet of Transmogrify.

For example, I will gently place this crated lamb into the box." I did and then closed the door and mumbled through many non-meaningful Persian incarnations. I said, "Aji Maji la Taraji" When I opened the cabinet, out sprang a spry small goat who simply jumped through the crowd and ran away. The cabinet never ceases to amaze. However, I swear on stacked bibles that I was not responsible for the goat, and I had never laid eyes on that beast before or after my performance. 

At this point, I saw my volunteer, your missing person, making her way from the back of the audience. I reached out my hand to a huge woman dressed in virtual rags with a shawl wrapped around her enormous shoulders. "No need to be worried, my dear," I said with a bit of worried hesitation in my own words. “How does it work, you ask? A great magician is sworn never to reveal his secrets. But in this case, the invention is not magic at all, and it only plays with the human mind. You saw the lamb as you saw the goat, but it was simply in your imagination. And it works because the participant wishes for it too. And your name is what, my dear?" 

“Caroline Craft," she said in a meek, barely audible voice. 

Caroline unbosomed her concerns to the boisterous audience that she may not fit in the box. I gave her a tiny vile of sedative mixture that I said was a potion and held her cold shivering hand to lead her into the cabinet. After squeezing just a bit, it was a perfect fit. "I want to be thin again she said in a trembling voice."

The audience roared with laughter; I had nearly 100 people waiting to see my miracle by this time. I had to quiet them by saying, "You saw the unique creatures eternally confined to their glass coffins for that you paid a dime. It will only cost you another dime to watch your own Caroline transmute into her chosen desire. Who will pay? If you pay, you will watch! Who will watch? Those who pay! For only 10 cents, you saw the impossible, the improbable, a baby with two heads. Is it a repulsive mistake of nature? An abomination? And now, what will we see? We shall now see what will happen to this human being. I placed her into the box something never attempted in any of the great 48 States." What a liar I am, but a good teller of lies non-the-less, "I must ask you now to pay one more thin dime, a mere pittance to witness the miracle occur. You want to see Caroline become thin now, don't you? I never lied to you this evening, have I?" 

With those words, I saw the shine of their hard-earned dimes in the air and land in my hat 1, 5, 10, yes, at least 10 dollars. Ten dollars to most laborers is a week's wages. But just a measly little dime meant nothing to most. 

Caroline began to cry, so I closed the door and covered the crate with one of the black shrouds I had used earlier. I repeated the same incarnation I had used on the lamb, only this time adding the divine words of the Burtrust Chronicles. I will not write the actual words for you in fear they will further cause me dismay as they are of utmost holiness, but they mean boundary, release, and destroy. Perhaps including them brought about my demise and the writing of this confession letter.

When I opened the cabinet, I swear to God that I was as shocked as everyone who witnessed the occurrence. A woman in my front row ran screaming, leaving her friend, who in turn passed out. And a couple of men drew their guns to no avail as Caroline Craft stood before us as a living Skeleton. Her skin clung to her bones that looked like they were dripping an unworldly ooze. Her eyes, now black with anger, twitched back and forth, and her bared teeth tried to speak.

I threw the creature back in the cabinet and tried to reverse the spell. This time I said, "Taraji la Maji, Aji Abraxas" Mentors had told me many years ago that Abraxas in magic can be used with or without their stones but only with exceptional regard. I will admit that I did say the words quickly and without prayer. But they must have worked as I opened the cabinet door again. This time the audience saw nothing. I, on the other hand, saw a pile of dust. If what I saw was the truth, you can charge me with murder, but that was not the case. Caroline, who was still a skeleton, had escaped from the back of the cabinet, and my untidiness caused the pile of dust.

Later that night, when she came knocking on my wagon's door, I went to the illation that Caroline wanted to join us. A few weeks later, while pulling into Alma, I advertised my dime museum's newest feature, the skeleton woman. As capricious as Caroline's thin self was twas a paradox for her to be the star. 

However, while pulling into Lake City, Colorado, the sabotage and hijacking began towards the end of the season. Sitting around my campfire in a daze of relaxation, I had noticed how the high jagged peaks of this area do indeed look like they pierce the deep blue sky; the rage of the unleashed Sprite was upon me. No one could hear my screams except for the wildlife who had no cares. The rocky canyons and high valley floors had hidden us well as Caroline the living Skeleton and a living fairy Sprite had overtaken me and the show. 

First, may I say, it was Caroline who released my museum. So, I find I am in no way responsible for any further mayhem they might have caused. She even buried the two-headed baby and the mermaid corpse. I would add, the monkey fish was becoming putrid. As for all the mistakes from the cabinet, I know exactly where they are. Robert, the squirrel boy, ran off into the woods, but I hear his mindless chatter telling me he is close by from time to time. 

Caroline, the skeleton woman, and Hildegard, the nasty Sprite, are both bound and determined that no one will ever find me. Taking justice into her claw-like hands, Caroline is holding me hostage. She and that evil Sprite have made away with me. They have taken me high up to cliffside on Slumgullion Pass. From my cave-cage, all I can see is the wild San Juan mountains. Unless it is snowing, then all I see is white with red drops. The Sprite makes daily blood draws from me, and Caroline has forced me into writing this confession and selling off my wagon, Sal, and all my magic apparatus. Unfortunately, including my mysterious Cabinet of Transmogrify.

With utmost truth in confession,

Phileas T. Frickle

7th of December 1890

Move forward 96 years;

As luck would have it. I own Doctor Frickle's Cabinet of Transmogrify and his confession letter now. I told the cop I had found it neatly folded in an envelope, addressed, and stamped but never mailed stashed away in a lovely mahogany cabinet my wife and I found in an Antique store on Broadway Street here in Denver last Christmas time. 

At that time, both my wife and I found the letter curious and took it to the Denver police station near our home. After reading it, they didn't seem to care, and I thought it might be a practical joke. But then my wife Laura and I decided to try it out at a dinner party we had hosted. Laura thought it would be a fun and unique experience for our guests to show them the cabinet and then read the letter. After doing so, Laura got in the box, and I repeated Doctor Frickle's' words. My wife had made a wish to become famous. Judging by the Rocky Mountain News headline. "Wife murdered, and the husband pleads a magic trick did it!", she won. My wife got her wish of notoriety, if not infamous fame, and is, unfortunately, dead to prove it, and I am now being held as her murderer. I plead not guilty, and I am using this letter as evidence. It was the strange cabinet that did it, not me. 

I signed the submission envelope, stating more words from Doctor Frickle, 'with utmost truth,' Brian Wilcox the accused. Sign sealed and delivered to my defense attorney, who snickered when he read it.

December 08, 2021 02:53

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Tanya Humphreys
18:58 Dec 17, 2021

Reedsy Critiquer here, I very much enjoyed this story. And thank you for your correct punctuation and flowing grammar. This story could easily have been written by Poe. Keep up the good work! I'll be following.


Connie Elstun
20:17 Dec 17, 2021

As a Poe and Lovecraft devotee, I thank you for your words of encouragement.


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Patrick Samuel
15:41 Dec 16, 2021

This was an enthralling read. I love how you slowly revealed the horror, alluding to the worst of it like an afterthought in civilized patter, which makes it supremely macabre in its elegance. I would clap, but am afraid of what that could bring. PS - If I may point out a possible typo (or is it?) you wrote about "a tiny vile of sedative mixture" when I believe you meant "vial." Or maybe you didn't, "vile" being such a useful word for so many occasions. I am however quite certain you meant to put the final quotation mark earlier in the last...


Connie Elstun
20:52 Dec 16, 2021

Patrick Samuel my gratitude to you for both the kind words and spot on critiques. I confess to using the old spellchecker as something of a crutch, and trust it far too much. Hence vile should be vial. Good catch on your part! Unfortunately, I didn’t double up and make it a vile vial. The quotation I went back and forth with. Was it he that said it or she? In my mind I pictured Frickle saying it however, in hindsight I do believe I should have used her. Once again I am most grateful for your words.


Patrick Samuel
21:05 Dec 16, 2021

You're quite welcome, Connie. I hadn't realized that Frickle could be the one saying this, which is quite cruel of him but adds an edge to the scene. Maybe you should leave it this way and let the reader decide if she did say it and he's repeating it to the audience (which is bad enough) or if he's putting words in her mouth, which is even worse. Sometimes, it's best not to know all the answers.


Connie Elstun
21:56 Dec 16, 2021

In agreement.


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