Shivers of History by Emmie Christie

The secret compartment in the bureau slid open with the self-assuredness of a French word pointing out its silent vowels. Libby’s jaw dropped, her lips popping into an ‘o’, and stood there with the museum’s identifying tag in her hand for a good five seconds.

“Did anyone see that?” She said it aloud, but no one else worked in Room Four at this hour. Haiden cataloged radio vacuum tubes—her least favorite thing—in Room Ten, way down the hall. “No one? Cool. Cool.”

The bureau’s maker had crafted the wood so that the whorls appeared as the fancy middle part between the drawers. Clever. The Shivers ran through Libby’s fingers, questing for the unknown. She called it the Shivers, that need to find, to absorb what she didn’t know.

She peered down, glad for the secrecy, for the small mystery she hovered over. No one could know but her for just a little longer. She wanted to take in this secret and hold it close. What had the bureau maker needed to hide? A diary of an affair? An occult doll? She’d found weirder things stuffed inside nightstand drawers open for everyone to see.

A small silver ball rolled in the bottom. She squinted. Had she seen one of these before? Her fingers itched.

Libby plucked it out with her gloved hand and Room Four shifted. The white-painted walls flickered to red brick. A train clanged, and people strode out of the shadows, wearing clothing out of a historian’s dream: high-buttoned boots hitting the cobblestones, hems of petticoats swaying inches above the muddy street. She gasped and dropped the silver ball, and it thudded into the secret drawer, and the people and the sound of the train all faded back into the quiet of the museum’s basement.

“What the… hell…” Libby swallowed. The Shivers shuddered through her like relentless waves on a seashore. A silvery substance had rubbed onto her gloves.

Back in the 1800s, this place had functioned as a train station. Her brain parsed through the details of the petticoats and the smoke in the air, flipping through the sensory while her heart stuttered at the experience.

What had she found? Maybe this dream had danced its way inside her head. She’d imagined this happening hundreds of times, so it made sense. She bit her lip hard. Nope. Still dreaming.

She peered back into the secret compartment, her fingers trembling, needing to pick it back up. Had the silvery stuff on her gloves spread? The ball rolled around, leaving a line of color, like it couldn’t help but leak history. A history ball, Libby decided. That seemed a good name. Had the bureau maker fashioned this, as well? Or had it grown here in this secret place, in this not-a-place that no one had seen, after years of absorbing the world around it? She reached for it again, and the silver forked up her bare arms like a strike of lightning, turning her skin the same shining gray. Meld with us, several voices clamored. Give us what you know.

Libby jolted back, and shut the clandestine compartment, though everything in her wanted to keep it open. The silver on her arms Shivered but did not spread farther. The voices receded.

A secret drawer opened in her mind. She had touched one of these before, at a young age. It had shown her the story of her house and its past life as a shoe shop. The history ball had silvered her fingertips for a few days, but she had forgotten it. Buried it in the yard. Pretended it hadn’t happened, though that one had also asked her to curl up and join it, to give it what she knew, to merge.

How many people—how many lovers of history, lived inside?

Now another of them had touched her. The urge came over her to huddle inside a mysterious, hidden place. A place where she could watch and absorb events around her, to horde secrets to herself.

She backed away from the bureau. “Later,” she said to it. “Let me gather more. Let me live longer, first.”

The hidden ball did not answer, but it waited. It was only a matter of time before she gave in to the Shivers now crackling in her arms, itching to merge with all that knowledge, with the silvered lens of history amassed by others of her kind.


Emmie Christie’s work tends to hover around the topics of feminism, mental health, cats, and the speculative such as unicorns and affordable healthcare. She has been published in Flash Fiction Online and Three-Lobed Burning Eye, and she graduated from the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2013. She also enjoys narrating audiobooks for Audible. You can find her at her website.