“The price of anything is the amount of life you’re willing to pay for it.” — Henry David Thoreau

Peter Stubbins had grown up around antique stores.

He’d seen sellers, buyers, merchants and traders. Price upticks and downfalls.

It was like the stock market, something that had always fascinated Peter from a very young age. If he’d been born a city kid, he likely would have been a broker.

But of course, as life sometimes misplaces people, Peter had grown up in the sleepy village of Tetbury. It was a village where, as you can probably imagine, very little exciting or high-octane happened.

At the age of 14, Peter longed to live in the Big Apple, in the big Fortune 500 companies he’d read about in the few crumpled magazines he kept under his bed, which Tetbury ‘Zines and Sundry restocked once every six months.

He could see the giant and beautiful corporate monoliths, the glowing green and red arrows. NASDAQ. JPMorgan Chase and Moody’s. Fancy cars and suits. People with mobiles who were eternally on their way to meetings with their alligator scale briefcases and their impeccable crew cut hairstyles.

Oh, one day he’d be out of this rotted rural town, he just knew it.

He’d be a high flyer, a hot shot, a maverick who didn’t play by the—

“Peter?” came the voice of Mrs Stubbins, from somewhere far away. “Are you alright?”

Peter’s daydream bubble popped. He blinked, before he finally remembered where he was. He saw his mother’s face from the other side of the mahogany dining table, looking concerned.

“Fine, Mum. Just fine.”

“You haven’t touched your peas. Or your mash.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Eat your food,” Mr. Stubbins grunted, smears of cranberry sauce running down his face.
“It’s cold.”

“It’s only cold ‘coz you’ve been pushing it around on your plate for 20 minutes and staring off into space.

“Can I get down please?”

Both his parents groaned loudly.

Peter took his chance to leap from the table and ran to his bedroom next door, which he immediately locked.

The bedroom door shook as his mother pounded the frame.

“Well, don’t come crying to us when you get hungry later!” she bellowed.

Peter threw himself onto his bed and the old springboards creaked from somewhere underneath the mattress.

If I was a New York stockbroker, Peter thought, I wouldn’t have to deal with stupid parents. If I wanted to get down from the table without eating my goddamn mash and my goddamn peas, then I’d damn well do it.

Peter fluffed his mouldering pillows and climbed down under his duvet.

He lay there for some time as evening settled into a dusky twilight.

He heard noises outside, and the porch light clicked. He heard the front door open and his father start to yell.

The homeless man was back, an old and smelly tramp who lived deep in the decommissioned train tunnels in the nearby wheat fields, the stalks now rimed with winter frost.

His dad kept yelling at him to go away and that if he kept hanging around, he’d call the police.

“And this time, I mean it!” Peter heard through the thin bedroom drywall. He could hear the beggarly tramp begin to sob as well, as he always did.

He must have backed off, though, as the cries quietened into a dim snivelling.

Peter wasn’t sorry to see the man go. Truth be told, he was terrified of him, ever since he woke up in the middle of the night and saw the vagrant staring at him.

He’d screamed and woke up both his parents, who’d called the authorities to get him off of their property and then spent a bitter hour arguing about the bungalow that Mrs. Stubbins had “never wanted to live in from the beginning, Hank!”

Their argument hadn’t bothered Peter. He’d become used to his parents bickering, but he’d always remember the wild and frantic look in the eyes of the homeless man.

That would always stay with him, no doubt about it.

The man was clearly a drug fiend, anyway. The sort of things he was saying was proof enough of that.


As the cries of the homeless man subsided into the blackness, Peter Stubbins fell into a thin and uneasy sleep.

The pips and squalls of the morning birds outside the window brought Peter lazily back into consciousness.

He rolled, bleary-eyed, out of bed and stretched out, feeling the soft pop of his limbering joints as he did so. Outside, the hazy colours of gold, orange, and blue filled the morning sky.

He checked the alarm clock by his bed and realised it hadn’t gone off.

His eyes bulged in his head as he looked at the neon red “8:00,” which should have, for all intents and purposes had he remembered to actually set the alarm, said “7:00.”

He pulled on his clothes so fast that he ripped a button off of his sweatshirt and got the flies on his trousers stuck twice.

He skipped breakfast, grabbing two slices of bread and cramming them into his mouth instead of opting for his usual Marmite on toast.

“Slow down or you’ll choke,” Mrs Stubbins said, not looking up from her copy of Tetbury Today. On the front cover, the headline “LOCAL HOMELESS MAN COMMITS SUICIDE IN FOREST” was visible, along with a scaled-up image of the dirt-caked homeless man lying on a bed of dead leaves.

There were shadows around his neck that seemed to indicate rope lacerations.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s done the community a world of good,” said Mr. Stubbins, pottering around in the cereal cupboard and deciding on either Nesquik or Rice Crispies.

“Oh, Hank, do stop.”

“No I won’t,” came the voice from behind the cupboard door. “The man was a public menace, Francine.”

Peter didn’t hear any of this; he was already out of the door and halfway through the back passage by the side of the house.

He reckoned, as he pulled the tarpaulin off of his four-year-old moped, that he hadn’t missed at least a third of the sales.

But that was the trick with the antiques market in Tetbury, as anyone who dealt with the antiques market in Tetbury knew, that the early bird got the worm for a reasonable price with a pretty decent resell value.

As he rode off down the road and down past the large neighbouring houses enshrouded by large hedgerows, he hoped he hadn’t missed the good stuff.


He arrived at Tetbury Guild Hall at around 8:45 in the morning.

To his dismay, he saw two sellers drive out of the car park as he pulled in.

It seemed odd for sellers to leave so early, but perhaps they had already sold all of their wares.

As Peter looked at the two cars that were now bumbling amicably down Shaftsbury Way, he noticed that the boot of the car was not just stuffed with rickety half-broken tables and dusty tablecloth, the boot was also packed with…antiques?

Another car was trundling out, packed to the rafters with the shiny and lovely treasure that Peter hunted out every weekend and often made a tiny profit on.

His curiosity got the better of him and he stepped out in front of the third retreating car.

The driver, a 30-year-old marketing advisor named Stephen, honked his horn and leaned a pudgy arm towards the windscreen, gesturing wildly for him to—

“Get the fuck outta the way, kid!”

Peter jumped away from the oncoming car just in time to avoid getting mowed down.

Before the car turned off, he flagged it down and motioned the man inside to pull the window down. And he did so, reluctantly.

“Where are you going?” Peter asked. The driver looked at him serenely, his hands affixed to the steering wheel as if they’d been glued there.

“Home, of course. And if you’ve any sense, you’ll head back to yours!”

Peter was about to ask the driver of the vehicle why when he slammed his foot on the accelerator and sped off, his tyres throwing up a thin scrim of dust as he turned off.

The car park was emptying at an unprecedented rate for the Saturday morning Tetbury antiques market.

He gave up trying to find out more when he realised that most drivers wouldn’t, or perhaps couldn’t, stop and the only thing he was achieving almost getting run over repeatedly.

The Guild Hall at Tetbury smelled strongly of mothballs, cheap varnish, and tea.

There were very few people left in the building as Peter made his way around the small showing of wares left on the wooden tables and cloth covered benches.

Two women were warily admiring a Ming dynasty that Peter recognised instantly as a cheap reproduction of an original piece, near-worthless and definitely not resaleable for anything close to what the seller was asking for it.

The two women moved on as Peter made his way past to another table, this one coated in many paintings on canvas.

A single glance was enough for him to notice that they were prints of original pieces, cunningly textured in such a way to look as if they were real (Turps and baby powder, Peter reasoned), but reprints all the same.

He felt momentarily sorry for the poor schmuck, a greying man in his early sixties with noticeable ear-hair, who sat behind the stand and had likely bought the pieces.

Then the moment passed and he remembered that this same man was sitting on a chair in the Guild Hall trying to re-flog the decoys to recoup his losses, and then the whole vicious cycle would begin again with some other miserable fool.

Peter moved on past this stall as well, getting a feel for the room. There were knick-knacks along with a few novelty collectables, but he’d need an hour to properly sort the worthless from the worthwhile. And he was starting to feel slightly uneasy.

He looked around and noticed the last of the customers and most of the traders exiting through the front door and assumed that the uneasy feeling in his stomach wasn’t just from eating his breakfast too fast.

And then, just like that, he saw it.

It was a painting of some sunflowers in a vase.

But it was the picture of sunflowers in a vase.

An original Van Gogh.

Invaluable, pristine, beautiful, propped up against a dirty glass coffee table next to a stack of saucepans, a bread bin, and a Bakelite tie rack.

“How, uh, how much for your painting, mate?” said Peter, tapping the shoulder of the man rooting around in a heap of boxes.

When he turned around, Peter had to stop himself screaming.

He wasn’t human. He wore human clothes, human skin and even a human smile.

But when Peter looked into his deep blue eyes, he saw an insect with a thousand black claw appendages scuttling inside each iris.

When he smiled, Peter noticed his teeth were perfectly white triangles that locked together like a coat zipper.

The man opened his mouth, which looked like a wound that hadn’t been sutured properly, and spoke.

“What do you have for me?”

“13 pounds and 26 pence.”

Peter felt somewhat ridiculous now that it was out of his mouth, but the seller didn’t appear to have noticed.

He laughed like a drain as if it was the funniest joke he’d heard in a while.

“A little short of the value of the piece,” said the man, “by roughly 29 million pounds or so.”

He grinned the same terrible grin, and Peter noticed a strange smell emanating from the inside of the dinner jacket that the man was wearing. It was a smell he’d become used to from car boot sales he’d attended when he was younger.

A sickly, sugary, smell. Of old clothes or books alongside fresh and warm candyfloss mixed with the pervading odour of hot-roasted pork joints.

“We do have other methods of payment if you really require this piece,” the man continued. “Tell me, do you have any internal organs you’d be willing to part with?”

Peter chuckled nervously as the man leaned into him. And after a brief moment, the man broke into laughter as well.

“I’m joking of course!” the man wheezed, patting Peter jocularly on the shoulder.

Peter was relieved until he looked up at the man’s glittering jade-green eyes.

“Your eyes, they’ve changed colour.”

The man smiled at him. When he spoke, he spoke in the terms of a patient parent explaining something to a particularly dim-witted child.

“Of course they didn’t, Peter Stubbins. Eyes don’t just change colour.”

“I never told you my name.”

The man in the dinner jacket simply smiled and looked at him, leaning on a bureau containing a pile of ornaments that looked suspiciously like the Crown Jewels.

“Sure, you did. I told you mine as well. Do you have a particularly short memory?”

Peter didn’t like the way that the man was leering at him slightly as he spoke, but his interest forced him on.

“What’s your name?”

“I have over 26, but I like Apollyon, Belial, Day-Star, and Son of the Morning the best.”

Peter swallowed hard. He turned around and noticed that the entire market hall was empty. And not only that, it seemed somehow more foggier. Dim. As if people who were outside of the building would steer clear of it without really knowing why.

His throat felt like chalk.

“Are you Satan?”

The man scoffed. “Do you see me holding a pitchfork, kid? Do you see a red-forked tail poking out of my trouser leg?”

He shook his trousers, as if to emphasise a point.

“I guess not,” said Peter. And then, feeling a little silly: “Sorry.”

The man regained his composure. “It’s quite alright, Peter. I’ll allow us to start over. You can just call me Son of the Morning, although I suppose it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.”

He considered.

“Call me the abbreviated version. Es-Oh-Tee-Em. Sottum, maybe. Call me Sottum.”

Peter agreed to call him that.

Part of him wanted to tell Sottum that he had to go. He had to get home.

But every time he opened he opened his mouth, he couldn’t manage it.

“Do you like antiques?” said Sottum, suddenly. “Very old antiques, older than some silly marks on some old paper stretched across a piece of wood. I made some of the oldest ones, you know.”

“What do you mean?”

“Artifacts, Peter!” Sottum cried, impatiently. “Ancient artifacts! Black ones, white ones!”

Peter replied carefully, noticing the red sparks that were now dancing in Sottum’s eyes.

“Magical objects?”

Sottum’s face broke into a smile. This was a man, if it was a man, whose emotional temperature flared from one to a hundred in half-a-second.

“That’s exactly right, you clever young kid!” Sottum smiled.

He pulled a large covering, revealing a large wardrobe that stood to his side.

Dust plumed into the air, as if the covering hadn’t been removed in quite a while.

Peter coughed whilst Sottum seemed unfazed. When the dust eventually settled, Peter realised that it was no ordinary wardrobe.

“The inside is quite spectacular. You’ll see for yourself.”

He gestured to the handle, the wicked grin somehow never leaving his face. As Peter Stubbins stepped closer, he sensed something burning out of Sottum, something horrible, and he felt for the first time in his life an inhuman divinity.

This was not a higher power.

This is the creature that visits you in the darkest of nights, to take away your belief in any hope, mercy, or salvation you had in your heart.

Peter noticed his hand was shaking as it gripped the metal door handle, marked with ornate signs that weren’t quite right. There were runic symbols, but seemed a bastardisation of both.

This, this was Enochian. But it couldn’t! It wasn’t a real language! Didn’t exis—

Peter felt a sharp pain whiplash the side of his head. When he turned around, Sottum had his arms by his side and was standing some feet away.

But Peter was in no doubt that he’d hit him.

“Well?!” Sottum yelled. “Open the bloody door, boy!”

Peter pulled and the doors opened, onto nothing but a flight of old wooden steps leading down into solid blackness.

Peter peeked around the wardrobe and wondered briefly how it worked.

After all, the wardrobe was elevated on small wooden nubs and when Peter checked underneath, there was nothing but a gap between the bottom slats of the wardrobe and the solid floor.


“Sure,” said Sottum, his voice now soft as cotton. “But here it is.”

“And where does it go?”

“Anywhere you like, dearest boy. Anywhere you need to be.”

Peter’s eyes widened at that. Immediately, his marketing cap swivelled on.

“So I could go through there and bring back things from the past to resell them?”

Sottum grinned unpleasantly.

“Why, yes! I suppose you could do that!”

“And I can come back here, to this spot?”

The smile Sottum wore thinned for a moment. Then it knitted itself back into the same malevolent grin.

“I suppose you can, my dear boy.”

Without so much as a look back, Peter ran down the steps as the demon cackled behind him.

As Peter descended, the cackling dimmed and something extraordinary happened. As his foot stepped onto the next stair in the jet blackness, it seemed to turn, falling onto the side of the stair. He jolted, disoriented, unsure of if he was walking down, up, left or right.

He held in his mind one clear visual image and, as he grasped it fully, a bright light blossomed from either the bottom or the top of this strange staircase.

He emerged onto a bustling New York street, filled with people passing him on either side, rushing on without so much as a second glance. In the middle of the pavement—or, Peter thought humorously, the sidewalk—was another giant wardrobe.

Or maybe it was the same one. People swerved to avoid it without looking up, as if on instinct.

All thoughts of where he was or how he’d got here were swept away as he noticed the man heading towards him and his stomach tied itself into knots.

Bespectacled, trousers almost pulled up to his belly button, and a cheap wristwatch. Oh, it was him alright.

“Bill Gates?”

The pasty man passing him stopped abruptly and looked at him, startled.

“Yes, can I help you?”

Peter looked at the youngish face, Bill at perhaps his earliest.

“What year is it?”

Bill Gates looked puzzled and Peter rephrased the question quickly.

“Sorry, what date is it?”

“Oh, December 9th,” said Bill. “And 1975,” he added with a smile.

Peter’s heart began to race. “Out of interest,” said Peter, trying to keep the tremor out of his voice. “Have you heard of a company called Microsoft?”

Bill sighed. “You must have seen the flyers around town, I suppose. Man, it’s dead weight and I don’t want it.”

He continued muttering to himself angrily.

“I should have followed my parents’ advice and just stayed in university and not got involved with creditors and debtors…”

“So you’re selling shares?”

“Of course!” Bill snapped. “I’m a tech guy, not an entrepreneur or a marketer!”

Bill seemed to be getting more and more agitated by the second, and so Peter pulled out his wallet from his pocket and emptied his coins and notes out.

He milled through them, counting the coppers. “13 pounds and 26 pence.”

Bill looked amazed. “Wow, that’s enough for the food and bunk for a week! I’ll give you a ten percent share in Microsoft for that!”

Peter was flabbergasted; he’d heard of “Bill’s Dark Night of the Soul,” a fable told by envious businessmen who dreamed of being able to get such lucrative shares in Microsoft when they were at rock bottom.

It had become a myth, an investment legend.

But here it was. Right here, right now, in the flesh.

Peter barely registered Bill pulling some creased paper from his pocket and taking his money.

It was only when Bill moved on that Peter unfroze.

He whirled on his feet, clutching the shares proclaiming that he owned ten percent of a company that would be worth $41 billion in 2017, and headed back to the wardrobe.

For a terrible moment as he ascended (or descended?) the stairs, when Peter thought he was going to get lost on the dark eternal staircase for the rest of his life and panicked. He squeezed his eyes shut and visualised Tetbury Village Hall.

As soon as he did, a bright light appeared either above him or below him and he ran to it.

Once again, he felt a strange lurch in his stomach as his foot stepped around the stair.

He continued to walk the steps, unsure of the direction, and out into the bright light.

The warm breeze hit him first, followed by the sickly green cloud cover. He was surrounded by broken and charred rubble and he noticed nothing across the desolate landscape but charred and burnt ground and a single dead tree silhouetted on the horizon.

Sottum sat on a pile of broken bricks, swinging his legs.

“And you didn’t specify, Peter! You didn’t say when you wanted to come back!”

Forked lightning struck across the sky several miles away. The clouds rumbled above, discontentedly. Peter took it all in. The wasteland around him was terrifying. And most of the terror came from the fact that there was no doubt that the blasted landscape was the village he’d grown up in.

“You got shares in Microsoft, Petey ol’ boy, but there ain’t much to do with them in 2036, when the U.K. gets nuked.”

Peter was lost for words and felt his throat close up. “Nuked?” he croaked.

Sottum waved his arms to the ruins around him. “Yes, you moron. Nuked.”

He leapt down from the broken bricks flanged with ashen decay.

“If you must know, it was an international attack. Your Prime Minister couldn’t hold their tongue on social media, don’tcha know.”

Peter felt a sickness bubbling on the top of his stomach. He tried the handles on the wardrobe that had slammed shut behind him.
The wardrobe doors wouldn’t open.

“You are Satan, aren’t you?”

Sottum paused, before speaking with a gentle devastation.

“A rose by any other name.”

Peter kept trying the doors.

He was sobbing. Sobbing so uncontrollably.

“Would you like a second chance?” Sottum asked. He took his hands out of his pockets and gave a brief flick of his wrists.

Peter flew backwards as some catch in the wardrobe gave way and the doors flew open.

He hit the ground and felt pain shoot up his body.

He could hear chuckling above him. “On the house, this one.” Sottum said. “I won’t take your soul this time.”

Peter got to his feet, feeling an ache in the small of his back and a constant hum of agony from his ankle where he’d twisted it upon falling.

Sottum was leaning against the wardrobe, his face cheery.

“Off you pop, then!”

“And I can come back up to the year 2017, right?”

Something dark ran across Sottum’s face, and then was gone as soon as it had appeared.


Peter stepped into the gloom.

When he stepped out of the other end into the bright hot sun, he wasted no time.

Stepping across the beautiful plaza, Peter caught the smell of salted fish from the markets, along with the cut tang of citrus. All around the little corners of the villa stood Sicilian lemon trees, orange trees, and hundreds of aromatic flowers.

Under better circumstances, he would have probably appreciated them.

The man he was looking for sat on a bench, staring out at the sea.

Salvador Dalí wasn’t too hard to find. Just sitting on the outskirts of the town, on a bench.

The man was just as strange-looking as Peter thought he’d be, wearing a red velvet jacket and picking idly at his waxed moustache.

“Hi there, Dalí,” said Peter Stubbins.

Salvador Dalí looked up at the boy, his bulging eyes taking in his every detail.

“What you want, señor?”

“Have you got any art for sale?”

Dalí scoffed. “Ah, no sale, sir. No sale. All Spain want Dalí art. It boring, señor!”

Dalí grinned up at Peter, who felt any chance of making money slipping through his hands like sand.

Peter felt through his pockets and found nothing, apart from a small notice proclaiming that he owned a ten percent share in Microsoft, a company that didn’t even exist yet.

It’d be a hard sell, but it’d be worth it if he could pull it off.

Peter cleared his throat.

“I have this. Would you consider a trade?”

He held out the paper, knowing in his heart of hearts that it was futile and that the man on the bench would have no interest in it. But his eyes seemed to widen as he scanned the dull business document. He smiled and nodded.

“Yes. Yes, young man.” said Salvador. “Will do nicely. Very nice piece of modern art you have.”

“Oh it’s not a piece of modern art,” said Peter, instantly regretting his decision as Dalí raised an eyebrow questioningly.

“I mean, it’s not mine,” Peter sputtered. “I bought it off a merchant in town.”

“Is no matter! Is good art!” said Dalí. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a scrap of paper. A sketch doodle, a little sloppy and clearly done in a few minutes.

But what set it apart was the signature, a little scrawl at the bottom that made it worth a small fortune.

He traded with Dalí and made his way back to the wardrobe.

On his journey back, he thought briefly of what awaited him back in Tetbury Village Hall and if Sottum had something up his sleeve.

Peter worried, as he travelled back and once more felt the lurch in his stomach.

Perhaps the scrap would end up useless, Peter thought. Perhaps Dalí never paints anything else, ends up in obscurity and this art is worthless!

The idea filled him with dread.

The reality, of course, was much worse.

He stepped out of the wardrobe and into the hall. And everything looked alright, it looked normal.

Sottum was polishing a large ornate mirror and whistling to himself.

And that was when he looked down at the little piece of art he’d brought back from the past, crumbling into thick textured clumps in his hand.

“Should have brought it back in a Ziplock bag, Petey. A good 70 years will do that to paper.”

As the old paper flaked away in his hand, Peter Stubbins noticed his wrinkled hands and wrecked clothes.

“It’ll do a number on your body as well.”

Sottum swivelled the mirror and Peter screamed as he saw his emaciated form.

He fled the hall, running for home as Sottum yelled after him that he’d kept his side of the bargain, and that it was indeed the same year, minus perhaps a few weeks.

The laughter of the Devil followed him all the way home.


Peter Stubbins sat up in his bed, terrified. The bearded homeless man hammered his bedroom window. Peter yelled in fright and ran to his parents.

The other Peter Stubbins tried to explain to his parents that he meant no harm to the boy hiding behind them, explaining that the boy was a younger version of him and trying to get them to understand that he’d been cursed for trading Microsoft shares with Dalí in a visit into a wardrobe.

He broke down in tears when they called the police, still trying to explain to his two distraught parents that were both decades younger than him that he’d been to see the apocalypse and met the Devil himself.

He was in hysterics by the time the police took him away.