An Evening's Entertainment with Neil Gaiman celebrating Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders.
In this dazzling new collection of more than twenty-five pieces of short fiction including a novella featuring the hero of his masterpiece "American Gods," Neil Gaiman charts the terrain between life and death, perception and reality, darkness and light. Guaranteed to dazzle the senses, haunt the imagination, and touch the heart, "Fragile Things" is a gift of wonder from one of the most unique literary artists of our time. Neil Gaiman is the critically acclaimed and award-winning author of the novels "American Gods," "Neverwhere," "Stardust," "Coraline," and "Anansi Boys;" "The Sandman" series of graphic novels; and "Smoke and Mirrors," a collection of short fiction- Cody's Books
Gaiman is also the coauthor of the novel Good Omens with Terry Pratchett. Among the many awards he has won are the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Locus, and Bram Stoker awards.
Bestselling author Neil Gaiman has long been one of the top writers in modern comics, as well as writing books for readers of all ages. He is listed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as one of the top ten living post-modern writers, and is a prolific creator of works of prose, poetry, film, journalism, comics, song lyrics, and drama. Gaiman's work has won the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker awards as well as the 2009 Newbery Medal and 2010 Carnegie Medal in Literature.
Thank you all. I think I was backstage going through...you did go over my achievementsand things, like you said you would? Good. Gave a good briefing, like you said...good.Being an introducer at a thing like this is a thankless task. John Hodgeman, who was myintroducer and interrogator in New York compared it to the audience to having walkedfor two days through a hot and trackless desert and finally reaching an oasis, and all thepeople who've come through the desert with you starving, thirsty, look out to the coolblue waters of this oasis and you say, "You can go down there and drink, but first! Let metell you the history of this oasis."So, the plan for this evening, and there is one. I am going to read to you. And then atsome point I'm going to grab this stack of questions that came in, take a deep breath, andsee how many of the questions we can get through. And then I'll read some more. And then we stop.And this was really a kind of solution to what happened the last time I tried signing in thisarea, where I got to leave at two o'clock in the morning, and the janitorial staff wereactually mopping around us as the last few weary people got their books signed. And Ithought, Well let's try and do something a bit more like this, where you may not actuallyget that magical 30 seconds at the end of a line where you forget how to spell your nameand I stare at your belt buckle. But with luck you'll get something a bit more fun. Andyou'll get to be in a warmed-up place with somebody reading you stories.If the person next to you starts snoring, you are allowed to nudge them. Hard andsuddenly. If at some point during this evening you get nudged hard and suddenly, do notyelp. This will only attract more attention to you. Cell phones: if you have one, turn it onturn it off, don't turn it on. If you have one turn it onto silent or turn it off now, or itwill be embarrassing otherwise. Somebody will ring you, it will start playing the Batmantheme, everybody will laugh at you.This is a poem, actually. And it's in this book Fragile Things like what everything I willread this evening is. And it's called, The Day the Saucers Came:That day, the saucers landed. Hundreds of them. Golden. Silent.Coming down from the sky like great snowflakes and the people of earth stared,descending, waiting to find, dry-mouthed, what waited inside for us,and none of us knowing if we would be here tomorrow. But you didn't notice it...because.That day, the day the saucers came, by some coincidence,was the day that the graves gave up their dead. And the zombies pushed upthrough soft earth or erupted, shambling and dull-eyed, unstoppable,came towards us, the living, and we screamed and ran.But you didn't notice this because on the saucer day, which was the zombie day,it was Rag n Rock also and the television screens showed us a shipbuilt of dead men's nails, a serpent, a wolf, all bigger than the mind could hold,and the cameramen could not get far enough away, and then the gods came out.But you did not see them coming because on the saucer-zombie-battling gods day,the floodgates broke. And each of us was engulfed by genies and spritesoffering us wishes and wonders and eternities, and charm and cleverness,and true brave hearts and pots of gold while giants fi-fo-fummed across the land and killer bees.But you had not idea of any of this because that day, the saucer day, the zombie day,the rag n rock n fairies day, the day the great winds came, and snows, and the cities turnedto crystal, the day all plants died, plastics dissolved, the day computers turned, the screens telling uswe would obey, the day angels drunk and muddled stumbled from the bars, and all the bellsof London were sounded, the day animals spoke to us in Assyrian, Yeti day,the fluttering capes and arrival of the time machine day, you didn't notice any of this.Because you were sitting in your room not doing anything, not even reading, not really,just looking at your telephone, wondering if I was going to call.And that was one that came in as a request. I actually...my god there's water down here.There's water...you have never seen so much water...I put out a thing on the blog, saying"if anybody had any requests," and a few came in. So I'm going to do all the ones thatcame in. Or at least, all the ones that came in before I left the hotel.So if you zoomed one in at 6:00, you're out of luck.Let's do a short story next. This next story was one that I did the first draft of when I was22. I started writing it late one night in the waiting room at East Hoyden Station whilethe winds howled and writing it in pencil on the back of whatever pieces of paper I had.And then I typed it up, I showed it to some people whose opinions I really respected.And the first one read it, went "Hm" and handed it back. And the second, because thiswas in England, read it through very carefully, said "Well, it's facetious twaddle, isn't it"and also handed it back. And so I put it away. And thought and when I thought of itover the years, it was with a sort of relief that I hadn't published it and publiclyembarrassed myself by going into print with facetious twaddle.And then twenty years later, I was asked by an anthology called Gothic if I would writethem a Gothic story. And I bethought me of cause I'm an author, and I'm allowed to saythings like "I bethought me" - and I bethought me of the tub in the attic where the folderthat everything sort of nothing ever gets thrown away in my house, which driveseverybody but me mad and went up to the tub in the attic and dug out the story and read it.And thought, "Actually, it's not bad. It's a really good first draft." You know, that youngman who wrote it needed there's things that could have been fixed, but it's pretty good.So I thought, I'll do a second draft. So I did. And the first thing I did, in my second draft,was I shortened the title. Because the title had been much too long.And I shortened the title to: Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret Houseof the Night of Dread Desire.One. Somewhere in the night, someone was writing.Two. Her feet scrunched the gravel as she ran wildly up the tree-lined drive. Her heart waspounding in her chest, her lungs felt as if they were bursting, heaving breath after breathof the cold night air. Her eyes fixed on the house ahead, the single light in the top-mostroom, drawing her toward it like a moth to a candle-flame. Above her and away in thedeep forest behind the house, night things whooped and scrocked.From the road behind her, she heard something scream briefly, a small animal that hadbeen the victim of some beast of prey, she hoped, but could not be certain. She ran as ifthe legions of hell were close on her heels, and spared not even a glance behind her untilshe reached the porch of the old mansion. In the moon's pale light, the white pillarsseemed skeletal, like the bones of a great beast. She clung to the wooden door frame,And then she rapped on the door, timorously at first, and then harder.The rapping echoed through the house. She imagined from the echo that came back toher that far away someone was knocking on a another door, muffled and dead. "Please!"she called. "If there's someone here, anyone, please let me in! I beseech you, I imploreyou!" Her voice sounded strange to her ears. The flickering light in the topmost roomfaded and vanished to reappear in successive descending windows. One person walkedwith a candle. The light vanished into the depths of the house. She tried to catch herbreath. It seemed like an age passed before she heard footsteps on the other side of thedoor and spied a chink of candle-light through a crack in the ill-fitting door frame."Hello?" she said.The voice, when it spoke, was dry as old bone, a dessicated voice, redolent of cracklingparchment and musty grave hangings. "Who calls?" it said. "Who knocks, who calls onthis night of all nights?" The voice gave her no comfort. She looked out to the night thatenveloped the house and then tossed her raven locks and said in a voice that she hopedbetrayed no fear, "Tis I, Amelia Ermshaw, recently orphaned and now on my way to takeup a position as a governess to two small children, a boy and a girl, of Lord Falconer,whose coy glances I found during our interview in his London residence both repellentand fascinating, but whose aquiline face haunts my dreams.""And what do you do here then, at this house, on this night of all nights of all nights?Falconer castle lies a good twenty leagues on from here on the other side of the moors.""The coachman, an ill-natured fellow, and a mute or so he pretended to be, for he formedno words but made his wishes known only by grunts and gobblings, reined in his team amile or so back down the road, or so I judge, and then he showed me by gestures that hewould go no further, and that I was to alight. Well I did refuse to do so. He pushed meroughly from the carriage to the cold earth, then whipping the poor horses into a frenzy heclattered off the way he had come, taking my several bags and my trunk with him. Icalled after him but he did not return, and it seemed to me that a deeper darkness stirredin the forests behind me. I saw the light in your window and I-- I--" she was able to keepup her pretense of bravery no longer. She began to sob."Your father," came the voice from the other side of the door,"would he have been the honorable Hubert Ermshaw?"Amelia choked back her tears. "Yes. Yes he was.""And you-- you say you are an orphan." She thought of this father, of his tweed jacket, asthe maelstrom seized him and whipped him on the rocks and away from her forever."He died trying to save my mother's life. They both were drowned." She heard the dullchunking of a key being turned in a lock, then twin booms as iron bolts were drawn back."Welcome, then, Miss Amelia Ermshaw. Welcome to your inheritance in this housewithout a name, I welcome on this night of all nights." The door opened. The man held ablack tallow candle. Its flickering flame illuminated his face from below giving it anunearthly and elfish appearance. He could have been a jack o' lantern, she thought, or aparticularly elderly axe-murderer. He gestured for her to come in."Why do you keep saying that," she asked."Why do I keep saying what?""On this night of all nights, you've said it three times so far." He simply stared at her fora moment. Then he beckoned again with one bone-colored finger. As she entered, hethrust the candle close to her face and stared at her with eyes that were not truly mad butwere still far from sane. He seemed to be examining her, and eventually he grunted and nodded."This way," was all he said. She followed him down a long corridor. The candle flamethrew fantastic shadows about the two of them. And in its light the Grandfather clockand the spindly chairs and tables danced and capered. The old man fumbled with hiskeychain and unlocked a door in the wall beneath the stairs. A smell came from beyondof must and dust and abandonment."Where are we going?" she asked.He nodded as if he had not understood her, then he said, "There are some as are what theyare and there some as aren't what they seem to be and there are some as only seem to bewhat they seem to be. Mark my words and mark them well, Hubert Ermshaw's daughter,do you understand me?" She shook her head. He began to walk and did not look back.She followed the old man down the stairs.Three. Far away and far along the young man slammed his quill down upon the manuscript,spattering sepia ink across the ream of paper and the polished table. "It's no good," hesaid despondently. He dabbed at the circle of ink he had just made on the table with adelicate forefinger, smearing the pique a darker brown, then unthinkingly rubbed hisfinger across the bridge of his nose. It left a dark smudge."Hello, sir." The butler had entered almost soundlessly."It's happening again, Tombs. Humor creeps in. Self-parody whispers at the edges ofthings. I find myself denying literary convention and sending up both myself and thewhole scribbling profession. The butler gazed unblinking at his young master."I believe humor is very highly thought of in certain circles, sir."The young man rested his head in his hands, rubbing his forehead pensively with hisfingertips. "Well that's not the point, Tombs. I'm trying to create a slice of life here, anaccurate representation of the world as it is and the human condition. Instead I findmyself indulging as I write in the foibles of my fellows. I make jokes." He had smearedink all over his face. From the forbidden room at the top of the house an eerie undulatingcry rang out, echoing through the house. The young man sighed."You had better feed Aunt Agatha, Tombs.""Very good, sir." The young man picked up the quill pen and idly scratched his ear withthe tip. Behind him, in a bad light, on the portrait of his great-great grandfather. Thepainted eyes had been cut out most carefully long ago, and now real eyes stared out of thecanvas face, looking down at the writer. The eyes glinted a tawny gold. If the young manhad turned around and remarked upon them, he might've thought them golden eyes ofsome great cat or of some misshapen bird of prey, were such a thing possible. Thosewere not eyes that belonged in any human head. But the young man did not turn.Instead, oblivious, he reached for a new sheet of paper, dipped his quill into the glassinkwell, and commenced to write.Four. "Aye," said the old man, putting down the black tallow candle on the silent harmonium."He is our master, and we are his slaves, though we pretend to ourselves that it is not so,but when the time is right he demands what he craves, and it is our duty and ourcompulsion to provide him with--" he shuddered and drew a breath. Then he said only,"With what he needs." The black curtains shook and fluttered in the glassless casementas the storm drew closer. Amelia clutched the lace handkerchief to her breast, her father'smonogram upward. "And...the gate?" she asked, in a whisper."It was locked in your ancestor's time, and he charged before he vanished that it shouldalways remain so, but there are still tunnels, folk do say, that link the old crypt with the burial grounds.""And Sir Frederick's first wife?"He shook his head, sadly. "Hopelessly insane but a mediocre harpsichord player. He putit about that she was dead, and perhaps some believed him."She repeated his last four words to herself, then she looked up at him with new resolve inher eyes. "And for myself, now I have learned why I am here, what do you advice me to do?"He peered around the empty hall, then he said urgently, "Fly from here, Miss Ermshaw,fly while there is still time, fly for your life, fly for your immortal hog.""My what?" she asked. But even as the words escaped her crimson lips the old mancrumpled to the floor, a silver crossbow quarrel protruded from the back of his head. "Heis dead," she said in shocked wonderment."Aye," affirmed a cruel voice from the far end of the hall. "But he was dead before thisday, girl. And I do think that he has been dead a monstrous long time." Under hershocked gaze, the body began to putress, the flesh dripped and rotted and liquefied, thebones revealed crumbled and oozed, till there was nothing left but a stinking mass whereonce there had been a man.Amelia squatted beside and dipped her fingertip into the noxious stuff. She licked herfinger and she made a face. "You would appear to be right, sir, whoever you are," shesaid. "I would estimate that he has been dead for the better part of a hundred years."Five. "I am endeavoring," said the young man to the chambermaid, "to write a novel thatreflects life as it is, mirrors it down to the finest degree, yet as I write it turns to dross andgross mockery. What should I do, eh, Ethel? What should I do?""I'm sure I don't know, sir," said the chambermaid, who was pretty and young and hadcome to the great house in mysterious circumstances several weeks earlier. She gave thebellow several more squeezes, making the heart of the fire glow an orange-white. "Will that be all?""Yes. No. Yes," he said. "You may go, Ethel." The girl picked up the now empty coalscuttle and walked with a steady pace across the drawing room. The young man made nomove to return to his writing-desk. Instead he turned and thought by the fireplace, staringat the human skull on the mantle, of the twin crossed swords that hung above it, up on thewall. The fire crackled and spat as a lump of coal broke in half. Footsteps close behindhim. The young man turned. "You?" The man facing him was almost his double, thewhite streak in the auburn hair proclaimed them of the same blood if any proof wereneeded. The stranger's eyes were dark and wild, his mouth petulant yet oddly firm."Yes, I, I your older brother whom you thought dead these many years. But I am notdead, or perhaps I am no longer dead. And I have come back, I come back from waysthat are best left untraveled to claim what is truly mine."The young man's eyebrows raised. "I see, well all this is yours if you can prove that youare who you say you are.""Proof? I need no proof. I claim birthright and blood right, and death right." So sayinghe pulled both the swords down from above the fireplace and passed one to his youngerbrother. "Now guide you my brother, the best man win." Steel flashed and kissed in anintricate dance of thrusts. At times it seems no more than a courtly and deliberate ritualwhile at other times it seems pure savagery, a wildness that moves faster than the eye caneasily follow. Around and around the room they went, and up the steps to the mezzanine,and down the steps to the main hall, they swung from drapes and from chandeliers, theyleapt up on tables and down again.The older brother obviously was more experienced and perhaps was a better swordsman,but the younger man was fresher and he fought like a man possessed, forcing hisopponent back and back and back to the fire itself. The older brother reached out with hisleft hand and grasped the poker. He swung it wildly at the younger who duck and in onemotion ran his brother through. "I'm done for. I am a dead man." The younger brothernodded his ink-stained face. "Perhaps it is better this way. Truly I did not want thehouse, or the lands, all I wanted I think was peace." He lay there bleeding crimson ontothe grey flagstone. "Brother, take my hand."The young man knelt and clasped the hand that, already, it seemed to him, was becomingcold. "Before I go into that night where none can follow, there are things I must tell you.Firstly, in my death I truly believe the curse is lifted from our line. The second--" hisbreath now came in a bubbling wheeze and he was having difficulty speaking. "Thesecond...is the...the thing...in the abyss. Beware the cellars, the rats, the...it follows!"After this his head lolled on the stone and his eyes rolled back and saw nothing ever again.Outside the house the raven cawed thrice. Inside, strange music had begun to scurl upfrom the crypt, signifying that for some, the wake had already started. The youngerbrother once more he hoped the rightful possessor of his title picked up a bell and rangfor a servant. Tombs, the butler, was there in the doorway before the last ring had diedaway. "Remove this," said the young man, "but treat it well. He died to redeem himself,perhaps to redeem us both." Tombs said nothing, merely nodded to show that he had understood.The young man walked out of the drawing room. He entered the hall of mirrors, a hallfrom which all the mirrors had carefully been removed, leaving irregularly-shapedpatches on the paneled walls, and leaving himself alone. He began to muse aloud. "Thisis precisely what I was talking about," he said. "Had such a thing happened in one of mytales and such things happen all the time, I would've felt constraint to guietunmercifully." He slammed a fist against a wall where once a hexagonal mirror hadhung. "What is wrong with me, wherefore this flaw?"Strange scuttling things shibbered and cheetled in the black drapes at the end of the room,and high in the gloomy oak beams and in the wainscoting, but they made no answer. Hehad expected none. He walked up the grand staircase and into the hall to enter his study.Someone, he suspected, had been tampering with his papers. He hoped that he wouldfind out who, later that evening after the gathering. He sat down at this desk, dipped hisquill pen in once more and continued to write.Six. Outside the room the ghoul lords howled with hunger and frustration and they threwthemselves against the door in a ravenous fury, but the locks were stout and Amelia hadevery hope that they would hold. What had the woodcutter said to her? His words cameback to her again in her time of need as if he were standing close to her, his manly framenear inches from her feminine curves.The very scent of his honest laboring body surrounding her like the headiest perfume andshe heard his words as if he were at that moment whispering in her ear. "I was not alwaysin the state you see me in now, Lassie," he had told her. "Once I had another name, and adestiny unconnected to the hewing of cords of firewood from fallen trees. But know youthis, in the escritoire, there is a secret compartment, or so my great-uncle claimed.""The escritoire, of course!" She rushed to the old writing-desk. At first she could find notrace of a secret compartment. She pulled out the drawers, one after another, and thenperceived that one of them was much shorter than the rest. She forced her white handinto the space where the drawer had formerly been and found in the back a button.Frantically she pressed it, something opened and she put her hand on a tightly rolledpaper scroll. Amelia withdrew her hand, the scroll was tied with a dusty ribbon and withfumbling fingers she untied the knot and opened the paper. Then she read, trying to makesense of the antiquated handwriting of the ancient words. As she did so, a ghastly pallorsuffused her handsome face, and even her violet eyes seemed clouded and distracted.The knockings and the scratchings redoubled, in but a short time they would burstthrough, she had no doubt. No door could hold them forever, they would burst throughand she would be their prey unless...unless... "Stop!" she called, her voice trembling. "Iadjure you, every one of you, and most of all O Prince of Carrion, in the name of theancient compact between thy people and mine." The sounds stopped. It seemed to thegirl that there was shock from that silence.Finally, a cracked voice said, "The compact?" And a double voices, as ghastly again,whispered, "The compact...""Aye!" called Amelia, her voice unsteady, "the compact!" For the scroll, the long-hiddenscroll, had been a compact, a perfect agreement between the lord of the house and thedenizens of the crypt in ages past, it had described and enumerated the nightmarish ritualsthat had chained to them, one to another, over the centuries, rituals of blood and of salt."If you have read the compact," said a deep voice from beyond the door, "then you knowwhat we need, Hubert Ermshaw's daughter.""Brides," she said simply."The brides!" came the whisper from beyond the door and it redoubled and resounded tillit seemed to her that the very house itself throbbed and echoed with the syllables of thosewords, invested with longing and with love and with hunger.Amelia bit her lip. "Aye, the brides! I will bring thee brides! I shall bring brides for all!"She spoke quietly but they heard her, for there was only silence, a deep and velvet silenceon the other side of the door and then one ghoul voice hissed, "Yesss...and do you thinkwe could get her to throw in a side order of those little bread roll things?"Seven. Hot tears stung the young man's eyes. He pushed the papers from him and flung the quillpen across the room. It spattered its inky load across the bust of his great, great, greatgrandfather, the brown ink soiling the patient white marble. The occupant of the bust, alarge and mournful raven startled, nearly fell off, and only kept its place by flappingseveral times. It turned then in an awkward step and hopped, its beady black eye lookingat the young man. "Oh, this is intolerable!" exclaimed the young man, "I can't do it and Ishall never do it, I swear now by--" and he hesitated, casting his mind about for a suitablecurse from the extensive family archives. The raven looked unimpressed."Before you start cursing and probably dragging peacefully dead and respectableancestors back from their well-earned graves, just answer me one question." The voice ofthe bird was like stone striking against stone. The young man said nothing at first. It isnot unknown for ravens to talk, but this one had not done so before, and the young manwas not expecting it to."Certainly, ask your question."The raven tipped its head to one side. "Do you...like...writing that stuff?""Like?""That life-as-it-is stuff that you do. I've looked over your shoulder sometimes, I've evenread a little here and there, do you enjoy writing it?" The young man looked down at the bird."It's literature," he explained, as if to a child. "Real literature, real life, real world, it's anartist's job to show people the world they live in. We hold up mirrors." Outside the roomlightening cloved the sky. The young man glanced out the window, a jagged streak ofblinding fire, the lightening created warped and bony silhouettes from the trees and theruined abbey on the hill.The raven cleared its throat. "I said, do you enjoy it?" The young man looked at the birdand looked away and wordlessly he shook his head. "That's why you keep trying to pull itapart!" said the bird. "It's not the satirist in you that makes you lampoon the commonplace in the humdrum, merely boredom with the way things are. You see?" It paused topreen a stray windfeather back into place with its beak and it looked up at him once more."Have you ever thought of writing fantasy?" it asked.The young man laughed. "Fantasy? Listen, I write literature. Fantasy isn't life...esotericdreams written by a minority for a minority, it's...."What you'd be writing if you knew what was good for you.""I'm a classicist," said the young man. He reached out his hand toward a shelf of theclassics... "Nevermore," said the raven. It was the last word the young man ever heard itspeak. It hopped from the bust, spread its wings and glided out of the study door into thewaiting darkness. The young man shivered.He rolled the stock themes of fantasy over in his mind. Cars and stockbrokers andcommuters, housewives and police, agony columns and commercials for soap, income taxand cheap restaurants, magazines and credit cards and street lights and computers. It isescapism, true, he said aloud, but is not the highest impulse in mankind the urge towardfreedom? The drive to escape.The young man returned to his desk and he gathered together the unfinished pages of hisnovel and dropped them unceremoniously in the bottom drawer, among the yellowingmaps and documents signed in blood. The dust, disturbed, made him cough. He took upa fresh quill, sliced at its tip with his penknife and five deft strokes of cuts, he had a pen.He dipped the tip of it into the glass inkwell. Once more, he began to write.Eight. Amelia Ermshaw placed the slices of whole wheat bread into the toaster and pushed itdown. She set the timer to dark brown just as George liked it. Amelia preferred her toastbarely singed, she liked white bread as well even if it didn't have the vitamins. She hadn'teaten white bread for a decade now. At the breakfast table, George read his paper. Hedid not look up. He never looked up. "I hate him," she thought, and simply putting theemotion into words surprised her. She said it again, in her head. "I hate him."It was like a song. "I hate him for his toast and for his bald head and for the way hechases the office crumpet girls barely out of school who laugh at him behind his back andfor the way he ignores me whenever he doesn't want to be bothered with me and for theway he says 'what, love?' when I ask him a simple question, as if he's long ago forgottenmy name, as if he's forgotten that I even have a name.""Scrambled or boiled?" she said aloud."What, love?" George Ermshaw regarded his wife with fond affection and would havefound her hatred of him astonishing. He thought of her in the same way and with thesame emotions that he thought of anything which had been in the house for ten years andstill worked well. The television, for example, or the lawnmower. He thought it waslove. "You know, we ought to go on one of those marches," he said, tapping thenewspaper editorial, "show we're committed. Eh, love?"The toaster made a noise to show that it was done. Only one dark brown slice hadpopped up. She took a knife and fished out the torn second slice with it, the toaster hadbeen a wedding present from her Uncle John. Soon she'd have to buy another, or startcooking toast under the grill the way her mother had done. "George, do you want youreggs scrambled, or boiled?" she asked, quietly, and there was something in her voice thatmade him look up."Any way you like it, love," he said amiably, and could not for the life of him, as he toldeveryone in the office later that morning, understand why she simply stood there holdingher slice of toast, or why she started to cry.Nine. The quill pen went "scritch, scritch" across the paper, and the young man was engrossedin what he was doing. His face was strangely content, and a smile flickered between hiseyes and his lips. He was rapt. Things scratched and scuttled in the wainscot, but hehardly heard them. High in her attic room Aunt Agatha howled and rattled her chains. Aweird casternation came from the ruined abbey, it rent the night air, ascending into a peal of manic glee.In the dark woods beyond the great house, shapeless figures shuffled and loped, andraven-locked young women fled from them in fear. "Swear," said Tombs, the butler,down in the butler's pantry to the brave girl who was passing herself off as achambermaid, "swear to me, Ethel, on your life, that you'll never reveal a word of what Itell you to a living soul." There were faces at the windows and words written in blooddeep in the deep crypt a lonely ghoul crunched on something that once might have beenalive. Forked lightening slashed the ebony night, the faceless were walking, all was right with the world.So, um, and it was printed and it won a Lotus Award for best story of the year. Which, Isuppose, if I'd been mean and cruel and vindictive, I would've actually hunted down oneof the people who told me not to publish it. And said, "just-won-a-lotus-award." Butinstead I think I learned a very valuable lesson about listening about other people. Whichis...not really worth the effort. Different people like different things.This one was also a request, and it's a poem...it's actually the reason that there are poemsin this book. When I did "Smoke and Mirrors" -- actually, the reviews for Smoke andMirrors were very good, people seemed to like it, but every now and then I'd read areview or somebody would come up to me, and they'd say, "Love the book...but thepoems. Just don't do poems." And I'd say, "Is it my poems, or just poems in general?"and they'd say, "Just look-- the stories were great, no poems." And I sort of took this onboard, initially, I thought, "okay, I'll do a book and it won't have any poems." And then Iwrote this one. And I really thought it seemed to go with the book. And I thought that Ishould put this poem in. And then I started thinking, "It's not like it's costing them anymore because I've put poems in." And honestly, from there it's just one short step to,"And nobody's forcing them to read them."So this is a poem which you get free in this book-- poems all come free with the storiesand it's about what to do if you find yourself inside a fairy tale. And it's called "Instructions."Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never saw before.Say please before you open the latch. Go through.Walk down the path. A red metal imp hangs from the green-painted front door,as a knocker. Do not touch it, it will bite your fingers. Walk through the house.Take nothing, eat nothing. However, if any creature tells you that it hungers, feed it.If it tells you that it is dirty, clean it, if it cries to you that it hurts, if you can,ease its pain. From the back garden you will be able to see the wild wood.The deep well you walk past leads down to winter's realm.There is another land at the bottom of it. If you turn around here,you can walk back safely. You will lose no face. I will think no less of you.Once through the garden you will be in the wood. The trees are old.Eyes peer from the undergrowth, beneath the twisted oak sits an old woman.She may ask for something. Give it to her. She will point the way tothe castle, inside it are 3 princesses. Do not trust the youngest. Walk on.In a clearing beyond the castle the twelve months sit about a fire, warming their feet,exchanging tales. They may do favors for you, if you are polite.You may pick strawberries in December's frost. Trust the wolves, butdo not tell them where you are going. The river can be crossed by the ferry,the ferrymen will take you, and the answer to his question is this:if he hands the oar to his passenger, he will be free to leave the boat.Only tell him this from a safe distance. If an eagle gives you a feather keep it safe.Remember: the giants sleep too soundly, but witches are often betrayed by their appetites,dragons have one soft spot somewhere, always, hearts can bewell-hidden when you betray them with your tongue.Do not be jealous of your sister. Know that diamonds and roses are as uncomfortablewhen they tumble from one's lips as toads and frogs. Colder too, and sharper,and they cut. Remember your name. Do not lose hope.What you seek will be found. Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have helpedto help you in their turn. Trust dreams, trust your heart, and trust your story.When you come back, return the way you came. Favors will be returned,debts will be repaid. Do not forget your manners. Do not look back.Ride the wise eagle, you shall not fall. Ride the silver fish, you will not drown.Ride the gray wolf, hold tightly to his fur. There is a worm at the heart of the tower,that is why it will not stand. When you reach the little house,the place your journey started, you will recognize it although it will seemmuch smaller than you remember. Walk up the path, and through the garden gateyou never saw before but once, and then go home, or make a home, or rest.